Friday, August 21, 2009

1 John 3:7-16

V7-16 – 7Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous. 8He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 9No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. 11This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. 14We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. 16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

John pours out his heart to his audience in v7-9, calling them his “dear children.” He doesn’t want any false teachers to lead them astray by claiming that one can be righteous and yet not do righteousness. In other words, John is saying something very important: you do what you are. Paul says the same thing in Galatians 5:25, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” The things you do reflect who you are, and even to whom you belong. Do you lie? You are a liar? Do you cheat? You are a cheater. Do you steal? You are a thief. “He who does what is sinful is of the devil” (v8). As Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You do the things your own father does… You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me”(John 8:41, 44-45)! Jesus appeared “to destroy the devil’s work” (v8). He did this by freeing us from the condemnation of the law – the very tool of the devil taken captive by sin (Hebrews 2:14-15).

On the other hand, do you avoid sinful behavior? Do you flee temptation? Do you show compassion? Do you care for the needy? Do you love one another? Are you selfless and humble and patient? Do you do things Jesus did? Do you exhibit the fruit of the Spirit? God’s seed remains in you! You have been born of God! You cannot, John says, continue to sin. It would be inconsistent with the rebirth. That’s what John says in v10. If you do not desire and do what is right, then it would be impossible to declare that you are a child of God. Beginning the transition from the moral to test to the relational test, John says, “If you do not love your brother, you aren’t a child of God.” It’s quite a statement, quite a challenge, quite a test. The moral test of authentic Christian asks, “Do you do what Jesus did?” The relational test asks, “Do you love your brother?” If you don’t meet these tests, which really none of us do, then you might want to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” and take heart in “knowing that it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13). And thus we all ought to humbly consider these exhortations and rely on grace.

John has transitioned from a reminder of the moral test to this reminder of the relational test of authentic Christian living. He hearkens the audience to see the urgency of this message, which was “heard from the beginning.” It might be easy to drift off mentally, hearing the same message over and over, but it’s truly a matter of life and death. John says in v14, “Anyone who does not love remains in death.” And then he says in v15, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.

John gives the message, “We should love one another,” says it’s “from the beginning,” and recalls Cain and Abel from the beginning, from Genesis 4. Cain, the first person born into this world, “belonged to the evil one and murdered (literally slaughtered, or butchered, as in “slit the throat”) his brother.” John interprets the historical event for us: The murder of Abel is not what gave Cain over to Satan; the murder of Abel confirmed that Cain had been given over Satan already. Cain was evil, as proven by his evil deeds; Abel was righteous, as proven by his righteous deeds (v12). And John uses this illustration of sharp dichotomy to say, “Do not be surprised if the world hates you” (v13). Not loving is equivalent for John of hating, and therefore murdering. But the believer, the one who loves his brother, has “passed from death to life” (v14); on the contrary, “no murderer has eternal life in him” (v15).

Finally, for those in his audience who may have wondered what love is, what love looks like, John gives us Jesus. Jesus, laying down His life, is love. It was self-denial; it was sacrifice. And it was “for us.” Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And John says that we ought to mimic that kind of love for one another. We ought to practice self-denial and sacrifice for the benefit of others, not like Cain but like Jesus.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

1 John 2:29; 3:1-6

V29,1-6 – 29If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of Him…. 1How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. 2Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears [or, when it is made known], we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 3Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. 4Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin. 6No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him.

John has laid out three tests of authentic Christianity for his audience, the moral test, the relational test, and the doctrinal test. He visits those themes repeatedly, and here in this passage, John is transitioning from the doctrinal test with which he wraps up chapter two (v29) into a revisiting of the moral test mentioned earlier in chapter two (v1-10). “If you know that Christ is righteous (that’s a doctrinal assertion), you know that everyone who does what is right (there’s the moral test) has been born of Him.” In other words, “If Jesus is righteous, and we are united to Him, then we are to be righteous, even if for no other reason than to show our union with Him.”

The pursuit of holiness is not how we gain rebirth; rather the pursuit of holiness proves that we have already been born again, born from above, born of God. This teaching echoes John’s earlier teaching, from his gospel (John 1:12-13). Faith saves; but Jesus did not come only to forgive our debts. He came to change us, as v2 declares. Romans 8:29 says, “We are predestined to be conformed to the likeness of [Jesus].” Since that is true, we are to strive for righteousness, holy living in this life by the Spirit.

John teaches in v1-2 that God’s love is so deep and amazing that we have been made children of God. Again, the teaching echoes John 1:12-13. We who were by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), have been adopted as sons and daughters, given new natures worthy of being called children of God and co-heirs with Christ of all things. And in v2 John elaborates on the claim that we are children of God. He says that we already are, but that “what we will be has not yet been made known.” In other words, we don’t look like Christ just yet; but “we shall be like Him.” We already bear His image, but it’s faint; at glorification day, we’ll see the fullness of “Christ in me” revealed (Philippians 3:21; Colossians 3:3-4). 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” John says, “We shall see Him as He is.

John recognizes the hope that v2 brings, and so he builds on that hope to bring a proper response in v3. We don’t just hope and sit back and wait; rather, we purify ourselves, “just as He is pure.” Calvin says, “Though we have not Christ now present before our eyes, yet if we hope in Him, it cannot be but that this hope will excite and stimulate us to follow purity, for it leads us straight to Christ, whom we know to be a perfect pattern of purity.” If we truly want to be like Christ, we’ll pursue that end starting now.

V4-6 offer illustrations of this truth. First, in v4, John claims that continuing in sin is lawlessness, a rejection of God’s word and provision in Christ. He is affirming the need to obey God’s law as part of the new covenant Christian life. Second, in v5, John reminds his audience of the doctrine of Christ’s sinlessness and the purpose of His coming – to take away our sins as the Lamb of God, echoing John the Baptist. And third, in v6, John ties v4-5 together, explaining that true faith brings change. “No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning.” But if we continue to sin, we prove that we do not know Him. It’s the moral test of genuine Christianity.

1 John 2:24-28

V24-28 – 24See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25And this is what he promised us – even eternal life. 26I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. 27As for you, the anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as His anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit – just as it has taught you, remain in Him. 28And now, dear children, continue in Him, so that when He appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming.

John has moved around quite a bit in this letter. He’s not like Paul going methodically from point to point. But we can make a pretty good outline nevertheless. In this chapter, John has laid out three tests of genuine Christianity – the moral test, do you strive to follow God’s commands; the relational test, do you love one another; and the doctrinal test, do you believe in the Jesus of the Bible. He has also paused to encourage his audience at their specific levels of understanding. And now John gives two commands to help his audience stand firm in the truth during divisive times and the presence of many differing false teachers.

First, in v24-26, John says that to avoid erroneous teachings, to avoid those trying to lead us astray, the teaching we heard at first must remain in us. In other words, we must cling to the original, simple gospel that we first received. The Holy Spirit ordained the original apostolic teaching, and having that abide in us, we remain united to the Father and Son, even unto eternal life. The teaching of the apostles, as recorded in Scripture, is what we must cherish and feed on and devour in order to be free from falsehood. We don’t simply acknowledge its truth and value; we embrace it as our life preserver in the raging seas of our fallen world, where the world, the flesh, and the devil try to make us fall away. Paul calls this lifestyle living by the Spirit, and the way we do it is to let the word of God dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16).

Second, in v27-28, John says that to avoid false teachings we, anointed by the Holy Spirit of Jesus, remain in the power of the Holy Spirit. We received the anointing from Jesus, and just as the Spirit’s teaching has taught us to do, we remain in Him. When John says, “You do not need anyone to teach you,” he’s not contradicting his own teaching. Rather, he’s contradicting the false teachers who are offering something not in the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit can teach on that. We don’t need external help there. But we definitely do need expositors of Scripture, whom the Spirit uses to feed and grow us. That’s how we continue in Christ and gain confidence in Him in order to be unashamed before Him when He comes. John will talk more about the Spirit as his book continues. But for now, we avoid error by remaining in the word and having the Spirit remain in us to keep us in Christ. We'll pick up with the final verse of chapter two, which fits better with John's thought process moving into chapter three, in the next post.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

1 John 2:18-23

V18-23 - 18Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. 20But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth [or, and you know all things]. 21I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist – he denies the Father and the Son. 23No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

In this passage, John returns to the relational test of authentic Christianity that he has already discussed and moves into the doctrinal test of authentic Christianity as well. He says that we can know “it is the last hour,” or the end is near, due to the fact that “many antichrists have come,” just as Jesus said they would. The end times were ushered in with Jesus’ coming and subsequent Ascension. John’s audience had heard about the antichrist, and so they were well prepared. We need to be mindful of that, understanding that, though Christians generally look for the prophesied Antichrist, the principle of antichrist is all around, even in our local congregations. Therefore, we need to live with urgency and expectation, even as the first century faithful did.

As far as the relational test goes, John notes in v19 that some of the church’s members had left the fellowship over doctrinal disagreement. Calvin supposes that the Church was accused of producing “these pests,” but by their departure from the fellowship of believers, they prove that they were never true Christians. That’s what John is saying. He doesn’t claim that they were true believers and fell away; he says that their going showed that they didn’t belong. None of those who left the fellowship of believers ever belonged to the fellowship of believers. They may have held a membership card and made a profession, but apart from perseverance, John says we can be sure they were never part of the Body of Christ. Their inward apathy or hostility to the gospel could only be masked by outward conformity for a time. And that relational test also moves into the doctrinal test. For “what fellowship can light have with darkness” (2 Corinthians 6:14)?

One commentator says, “The fellowship of God’s people is built upon the reality of Jesus Christ and union with Him. And when we reject the reality of Jesus Christ, we are not capable of sharing fellowship with those who are in fellowship with Jesus Christ.” Those who remain, however, do so because they have the Holy Spirit (v20). Believers are bound to one another in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one Body, and one Lord. And the anointing John speaks of is the same anointing Jesus experienced; it’s a calling to fulfill duties like those of prophet, priest, and king, for the benefit of the Kingdom of God (John 14:12). John has not written to these believers, because they didn’t know the truth (v21). Instead, he writes to them precisely because they do know the truth. And thus, his encouraging words help them to persevere and confidently take hold of the assurance of their salvation in light of the false teachers and division in their midst. Remember John’s purpose in writing (1 John 5:13), “so that you may know you have eternal life.”

John has discussed how these antichrists come and go. And their going reveals that they fail the relational test of authentic Christian, among other things. But furthermore, these antichrists deny that Jesus is the Christ (v22). And that hits the heart of the doctrinal test of authentic Christianity. Whoever denies the Son denies the Father as well. And that makes him, one who professes to know God but denies Him by denying Christ, a liar, and an antichrist. Now John is specifically targeting the false teachers who claim any Jesus other than the Biblical Jesus. They may claim Jesus as Savior but deny his humanity. They may claim Jesus as Messiah but deny His divinity. They may claim Jesus as Christ but deny that He really died and rose from the dead. They are all false teachers. Note Calvin’s words here:

“I readily agree with the ancients, who thought that Cerinthus and Carpocrates are here referred to. But the denial of Christ extends much wider; for it is not enough in words to confess that Jesus is the Christ, except He is acknowledged to be such as the Father offers Him to us in the gospel. The two I have named gave the title of Christ to the Son of God, but imagined Him to be man only. Others followed them, such as Arius, who, adorning Him with the name of God, robbed Him of His eternal divinity. Marcion dreamt that He was a mere phantom. Sabellius imagined that He differed nothing from the Father. All these denied the Son of God; for not one of them really acknowledged the true Christ; but, adulterating, as far as they could, the truth respecting Him, they devised for themselves an idol instead of Christ. Then broke out Pelagius, who, indeed, raised no dispute respecting Christ’s essence, but allowed Him to be true man and God; yet He transferred to us almost all the honor that belongs to Him. It is, indeed, to reduce Christ to nothing, when His grace and power are set aside. So the Papists, at this day, setting up freewill in opposition to the grace of the Holy Spirit, ascribing a part of their righteousness and salvation to the merits of works, feigning for themselves innumerable advocates, by whom they render God propitious to them, have a sort of fictitious Christ, I know not what; but the lively and genuine image of God, which shines forth in Christ, they deform by their wicked inventions; they lessen His power, subvert and pervert His office.”
John is set on affirming the truth; the Jesus of Scripture is the only Jesus who saves. If you don’t get that, you can’t have fellowship with God the Father. And that’s huge. I always wonder here about genuine misunderstandings. I mean, say I’m a student of the Bible, and you’re a student of the Bible, and we disagree about something to do with Jesus that I deem crucial (like, as Calvin noted above, His sovereignty in salvation) but you deem relatively insignificant. If either of us is wrong, does that bring eternal condemnation? I don’t know. I hope not. But based on John’s teaching, I might conclude that it does. Getting Jesus right, according to the Scriptures, is the difference between heaven and hell. Thankfully, by grace, I remain certain that all who belong to God will be kept safe, as v23 declares. “Whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” I acknowledge, if even imperfectly, the Jesus of the Bible.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

1 John 2:12-17

V12-17 – 12I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name. 13I write to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. 14I write to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one. 15Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

Coming to v12-14, John wants to reassure his faithful children in the faith that they are secure in Christ. His teaching to this point in the letter may have caused them some concern over their own salvation. So he speaks to “dear children,” “fathers,” and “young men,” commending their faithfulness to God. Some commentators suggest that this address to three groups is actually to one group. That one group would be “children” – through forgiveness, now a part of God’s family – “fathers” – experiential knowledge of Christ brings responsibility to train the next generation – and “young men” – decisive rejection of Satan equals victory akin to Jesus’ in the wilderness.

Other commentators say that this address is indeed to three different groups within any given congregation. First, speaking to the “dear children,” or “little children,” John is addressing the newer believers in his audience. He says that their sins have been forgiven – for the sake of Jesus’ Name (or on account of His Name – see Acts 2:38, 3:6; 4:12, and John 17:11), and that they have known the Father. Do you see how critical these simple statements are to new believers? They are objective statements, encouraging and edifying and reassuring; forgiveness is not based on our performance in any way. God saves sinners when they are in their sin, not those who try hard not to be sinners. And they know God.

Second, speaking to “fathers,” John is addressing the spiritually mature people in his audience. He says they “have known Him who is from the beginning.” It’s a beautiful description that we know well. Certainly you have been around the spiritually mature and walked away thinking, “That person just loves Jesus.” There’s not necessarily a specific thing that stands out, because their full character carries the aroma of Christ and Life and Love and Light. It’s because they have know the eternal Lord.

Third, speaking to the “young men,” John is addressing those Christians who might not yet be considered spiritually mature, but who are certainly on their way in the growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ that Peter commands (2 Peter 3:18). John encourages them by declaring that they have overcome the evil one; they are strong, and the word of God lives in them. Basically, they can take heart, because the power of sin has been broken in their lives. They still fall, but they experience deliverance not only from the penalty of sin but also from the power of sin. And they do that because the word of God dwells in them richly. They fight sin by the word of God, and equipped to live for God and die to sin, they have overcome.

Since the fifth verse of the first chapter, John has combated three errors, described a moral test and a relational test of authentic Christianity (he still will discuss the doctrinal test later), and provided words of encouragement for every level of Christian, the new believer, the believer growing in grace, and the spiritually mature believer. In this short passage (V15-17), John describes perhaps the most noticeable thing about Christian behavior – being in the world without loving the world.

The word “world” can mean several things, but here John means, as one preacher put it, “‘evil men over against God’ – the sum total life of human life, human culture, the ordered world considered apart from, alienated from, hostile to God with Satan as its head” (1 John 3:1,13; 5:19). John likes dichotomies, and he often makes our grays into black and white; light and darkness, truth and lies, love and hate, and here, love for the things of God and love for the world. Also, the word “love” refers, as the preacher put it, “to a fondness and affection for an object because of its value, an appetite, a desire, something that I take pleasure in, something that I set my heart upon; what I am emotionally, physically, spiritually invested in; where I get my comfort, hope, and security. We’re not talking about things in and of themselves but our attitude toward things.” In other words, what is precious to you? Appetites for the things of the world are in complete conflict with those for God and His Kingdom. John Piper’s ministry, Desiring God, is all about making Jesus supremely valuable to mankind.

John breaks down the things of the world – desires (natural and necessary), lust (natural but unnecessary), and boasting (neither natural nor necessary) – and acknowledges that they do not come from the Father. What does your appetite say about who you are and what you love? What do the things you watch or look at say about who you are and what you love? And what do the things you have and way you spend your time say about who you are and what you love most? And these things, John says, pass away; but “the man who does the will of God lives forever.” Regarding God’s will, Calvin says, “What is spoken of here is not the perfect keeping of the law, but the obedience of faith, which, however imperfect it may be, is yet approved by God.”

Monday, August 17, 2009

1 John 2:3-11

V3-11 – 3We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands. 4The man who says, “I know Him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5But if anyone obeys His word, God’s love [Or, word, love for God] is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in Him: 6Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did. 7Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in Him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. 9Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 10Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him [or, it] to make him stumble. 11But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

Coming off his rebuttal of false teaching, John moves into how we ought to recognize true Christians, both in ourselves and in our teachers. He begins with a moral test; v3 is very brief and very clear. “We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands.” In v4, John gives a negative example. And in v5, John gives a positive example, along with a fruit of living this way. The phrase, “made complete” refers to God’s love being irrevocably established in those who live by it. Finally, in v6, John exhorts his audience to holy living, to prove that our claim of knowing God is true by walking as Jesus did. He assumes his audience is familiar with Jesus’ lifestyle, as recorded in his gospel.

We don’t come to know God by obeying His commands; notice John’s order – we know that we have come to know Him if we obey. We come to know Him by grace through faith. But once we know Him (not merely about Him), we must strive to live holy lives, which gives us assurance of our knowledge of God. Calvin’s comments are helpful: “The knowledge of God, derived from the gospel, is not ineffectual, but obedience proceeds from it… The knowledge of God leads us to fear Him and to love Him. For we cannot know Him as Lord and Father, as He shows Himself, without being dutiful children and obedient servants.”

John is teaching that salvation is evidenced by obedience, and, in turn, that obedience contributes to our assurance. And if we don’t progress in obedience, then our profession must be called into question. Actually it’s much harsher than that. Calvin says, “In short, no evil has been more common in all ages than vainly to profess God’s name.” The truth is not in the man who claims to know God but does not obey. God’s truth always turns a person to godly behavior; otherwise, it isn’t in the person. We must love God’s law in our striving to obey it (Deuteronomy 10:12, 30:19-20). Jesus loved God’s law; it was His passion; He lived to obey it. And His obedience revealed that God’s love was complete in Him. We strive to emulate Jesus (v6) to show that God’s love is truly made complete in us.

Having issued the moral test for authentic Christianity, John begins this passage in v7 with a relational test, by claiming to write an old command, a command that his audience has “had since the beginning” – the command to love one another. Since it is right to be suspect of “new” doctrine, John may mean that he has preached this command since his ministry began; or he may mean that this command is ancient, founded just after the Exodus at the giving of the law, in Leviticus 19:18. He may even be suggesting, rightly, that this is eternal truth, such as the gospel itself. And then in v8, John declares that he is writing a new command. In John 14, Jesus gives this same “new command.” It’s a call not just to obey the command, but also to be a daily and ever-renewing example of obedience to this command. In other words, this command does not grow old with time; as Calvin says, “It is perpetually in force… no less the highest perfection than the very beginning.” The old command has been there, even in times of darkness; but darkness is passing away in the lives of these believers. So the new command is given as “the true light is already shining.”

John is commanding believers to love one another not merely as an end in itself but also as an example to others, as a means to another end, that all would love one another as Jesus showed. Thinking of Jesus, it’s a call to a self-denying love. This is the relational test of true Christianity. And John wraps up his thoughts on this command by declaring in v10-11 that if you love this way, then you can’t stumble, because you’re in the light. But if you don’t love one another this way, as in 1 Corinthians 13, if you don’t progress toward this kind of selfless love, like Jesus’ love, if you hate your brother, even without using that word, then you’re in darkness, and you’re blind. So we’ve seen an introduction to the moral test and the relational test of authentic Christianity.