Friday, September 04, 2009

1 John 5:13-21

V13-21 – 13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15And if we know that He hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of Him. 16If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. 17All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. 18We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. 19We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true. And we are in Him who is true – even in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

John wraps up his letter now, finally giving us his purpose for writing in v13. He also reassures his audience in v14-17, especially in the context of answered prayer. In v18-20, John summarizes three things we know as Christians; and finally, in v21, John gives a concluding exhortation. Let’s look:

First, in v13, John reveals the purpose for his letter. He writes “to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” We could point out John’s reference to the name of Jesus, which he has noted previously in this letter. We could point out the specific audience of believers. Unbelievers aren’t going to get this book; they first need John’s gospel, which was written “that you may believe [or that you may continue to believe] that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). John’s gospel was for unbelievers to come to faith and for believers to continue in faith. But 1 John, we take careful note, is for the assurance of salvation, also through faith. It’s a letter that points out three tests of true faith – doctrinal discernment, especially in regards to the Person of Jesus Christ, moral righteousness, or obedience to God’s commands, and relational selflessness, or love for one another. When progress is made in these three areas, growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, personal holiness, and loving service to one another, assurance of faith and confidence before God progress as well. We hear the truth from John, we are called to believe the truth, we are called to live the truth, and we are given assurance and confidence as a result.

Next, John reassures us of confidence before God, using the example of prayer. When we pray, “Thy will be done,” John says, “God hears that prayer, and He answers it.” John is so certain that God answers the prayer according to His will (Romans 8:26) that he uses the past tense in v15, effectively saying that it is already done. But Calvin rightly causes us to consider doubt, saying, “Let us, then, bear in mind this declaration of the Apostle, that calling on God is the chief trial of our faith, and that God is not rightly nor in faith called upon except we be fully persuaded that our prayers will not be in vain. For the Apostle denies that those who, being doubtful, hesitate, are endued with faith.” It’s easy to take these verses out of context or to miss the very specific wording and make these verses seem to proclaim a “name it and claim it” or “health and wealth” sort of doctrine, but John is really just saying that God’s will is so certain to happen that it’s as good as already done. And that’s meant to be a reassuring, treasured truth for faith-filled, prayerful believers.

V16-17 are sort of an aside along this same line of confidence in prayer. John gives the example of right intercessory prayer for the brother caught in sin. Even through that, God will forgive the repentant brother. But John gets caught up thinking about the unforgivable sin – the “sin that leads to death” (v16) – and he says not to pray about that. What he means, I think, is that we ought not ask God to forgive the unrepentant, apostate sinner, the one who refuses to accept the gospel message (Mark 3:29). That would not be according to God’s revealed will. Instead, because God can restore as long as there is room for pardon, we ought to pray that God’s kindness would lead that sinner to repentance (Romans 2:4), and then accordingly, that God would forgive the repentant sinner. That would be according to God’s revealed will. In other words, don’t ask God to save someone while allowing them to remain in their stubborn rejection of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins that comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, according to Scriptures alone, and to the glory of God alone.

Next, in v18-20, John points to three things we know as Christians. First, we are born of God unto holiness, kept safe in Him. If God saves sinners, He has to do it by justifying and sanctifying and glorifying them. If He merely justifies them without making them holy, they’ll never be fit to be in His presence. That’s why the prayer issue mentioned in v16 is so crucial. We are “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29), and that’s what the rebirth guarantees. As John says, “the evil one cannot harm him.” Calvin says, “Though the faithful indeed fall through the infirmity of the flesh, yet they groan under the burden of sin, loathe themselves, and cease not to fear God.” Interestingly, while enslavement to sin is voluntary, escaping and overcoming require the Holy Spirit to be constantly at work in us. Those who are born again, or born of God from above, will be kept in the fear of God and continually drawn to repentance by the kindness of God.

Second, we are children of God, in a world hostile to God and His children. It’s not a pretty picture from the perspective of “health and wealth” or “worldly success.” But from God’s vantage point, it’s truly a beautiful thing. Calvin says, “As we have been born of God, we ought to strive to prove by our separation from the world, and by the sanctity of our life, that we have not been in vain called to so great all honor. This is an admonition very necessary for all the godly; for wherever they turn their eyes, Satan has his allurements prepared, by which he seeks to draw them away from God. It would then be difficult for them to hold on in their course, were they not so to value their calling as to disregard all the hindrances of the world. Then, in order to be well prepared for the contest, these two things must be borne in mind, that the world is wicked, and that our calling is from God.”

Third, we know Jesus and are in Jesus, who has come and given us understanding. John says that Jesus is “the true God and eternal life” (1 John 1:2; John 17:3). It’s as clear a statement to the divinity of Jesus that you’ll find in Scripture, and it brings the truth of Jesus as God Man in this letter to a climax.

Finally in v21, John closes with an exhortation: "Dear children, keep yourselves from idols." Lacking the context of John's letter, you may find this abrupt closing to be an awkward return to Old Testament troubles of worshiping statues of pagan deities. But John has been teaching against false claims of a Jesus other than the Biblical Jesus, and so this exhortation fits that perfectly. When we make our own Jesus, we engage in idolatry. To deny His virgin birth is idolatry; to deny His complete humanity is idolatry; to deny His complete divinity is idolatry; to deny that He died on the cross is idolatry; to deny His bodily resurrection is idolatry; to think Him Savior but not Lord is idolatry. But to worship the Jesus of Scripture as the true God and eternal life is to "keep yourself from idols."

Thursday, September 03, 2009

1 John 5:6-12

V6-12 – 6This is the One who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7For there are three that testify: 8the [Late manuscripts of the Vulgate testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. 8 And there are three that testify on earth: the (not found in any Greek manuscript before the sixteenth century)] Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about His Son. 10Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about His Son. 11And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

John has made it clear that faith in Jesus is our victory over the world. But he keeps the tests of authentic Christianity at the forefront throughout this letter. The moral test, right living through obedience, is crucial; the relational test, loving one another the way that God loves us, is crucial. But neither of these surpasses the importance of the doctrinal test, the truth test. Believing what the Bible says about Jesus is of utmost importance, according to John, because the Person of Jesus Christ is the topic for assault by false teachers. That was the case for John’s audience and throughout history. And it’s the topic for today’s false teachers as well. And so in v6-12, John testifies to the Person of Jesus.

First, in v6, Jesus “is the One who came by water and blood.” Though commentators differ over the precise intention of John with his language, most agree that he means to say, “The Holy Spirit testifies to the Person of Jesus Christ by His baptism [or birth] and His death.” In other words, we saw Him at His birth or baptism (water), effectively the beginning of His earthly ministry; and we saw Him at His death (blood), effectively the end of His earthly ministry. By saying, “He did not come by water only,” John is refuting the false teachers of his day who denied that the Christ was crucified. They may have taught that the man Jesus was entered by the divine Christ at His birth or baptism, but that the Christ left the man Jesus before His death. John says, “No, Jesus the man and Christ the divine were One, and they didn’t become One at birth or baptism and cease from being One at death; rather Jesus Christ was revealed as One through birth and baptism and in death.” John knows this, because the Holy Spirit testifies to that truth; in fact, He “is the truth” (v6).

Other commentators consider this to refer solely to Jesus’ death and resurrection (John 19:34, 20:20,25-27), when the spear was thrust into His side and blood and water flowed out; others suggest that the blood and water refer to the two sacraments in which we engage today – the Lord’s Supper and baptism; still others consider the water to be that which cleanses us (as in outward behavior, the fruit of sanctification) and the blood to be that which atones for our sins (as in inward forgiveness and the imputation of righteousness, the fruit of justification); others make no distinction between the water and the blood but claim that John speaks of both as a way of making a more powerful argument for the complete satisfaction of Christ for our salvation. But these alternative suggestions do not easily fit, as John seems to be referring not to our experience but to Jesus’.

Second in v7-8, John summarizes his stance on the testimony regarding the Person of Jesus Christ. Two physical, historical, objective events – Jesus’ birth or baptism and Jesus’ death – along with one spiritual Person (experiential and subjective) indwelling the children of God – the Holy Spirit – declare that Jesus is the God Man. In other words, as one preacher put it, “The Father bears witness to the Son through the Spirit” (Isaiah 44:6). And third, in v9, John claims that the Spirit’s testimony is the most important of these three, since it is in fact the very testimony of God (see Jesus at John 5:31-39). Apart from God’s testimony to Christ, through the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:2), no one would ever believe the truth about Jesus Christ. The claims that Jesus was born and baptized and that He died are true and good, as man’s testimony. But God’s testimony, in full agreement, is necessary to make us see the truth (v8). And thus, when we believe men over God on an issue to which God speaks in His word, we make God out to be a liar (v10).

V10-12 declare the testimony of God in regard to Jesus. It is an essential part of the gospel (it may be the whole gospel in a nutshell) that “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” You cannot say, “I believe in Jesus,” and then deny that your Jesus is the Jesus of the Bible. You can’t truly trust Jesus but deny who He claims to be in the Scriptures. Yet some do… In rejecting the Jesus Christ of the Bible yet claiming to trust Him or love God or be a good person, you are calling God a liar (Luke 16:15). God has given His testimony to Jesus Christ, and if you deny that or even think it to be true for some and not for others, then you are rejecting God Himself. There is no neutral position to take on the Person of Jesus Christ. There is no in-between. He was/is either the God Man and Christ, as Scripture declares, or a complete fraud who has no value at all. It’s the C.S. Lewis argument – Jesus is liar, lunatic, or Lord. And God testifies that He is Lord. And by the Spirit, we cry out, “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3).

John speaks with urgency, saying, as one pastor put it, “Life, the eternal life, the life of the age to come, the life of the new heavens and the new earth is in Jesus Christ. It is in faith-union with Him. It comes only when a person has been united to Christ by the Holy Spirit because that life is in the Son. That’s why you cannot reject the claims of Christ and have life, because in Him is life. And if we are going to participate, if we are going to share in that life, we must be in Him. We must be trusting in Him, believing on Him, believing what the Scriptures say about Him. And so, consequently,” John separates people in two categories in v12 – those who have life through the Son and those who do not.

Notice three things about eternal life: First, God has given it to us. We don’t earn it; it’s a gift. Second, it is only in Jesus Christ; “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). And third, it is in the present; eternal life is not something that starts in heaven. Eternal life started the moment God gave you Christ. “He who has the Son has life.” It is the present possession of believers. Apart from Jesus Christ, there is no eternal life.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

1 John 5:1-5

V1-5 – 1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands. 3This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, 4for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

John has reminded us in chapter four that love for one another is the sign of our love for God. He has been uniting the doctrinal test with the relational test of authentic Christianity, and we see that immediately as we enter chapter five. Doctrinally, if you believe that Jesus is the Christ, then you prove to have been reborn, born from above, or born of God (v1a). This is speaking of the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration (John 1:12-13; 3:1-15; 1 Corinthians 2:12). But John also notes that a love for God, as in your Father, brings about a love for Christ, His child, as well as all of His children, as in your siblings in Christ (v1b). That’s the relational aspect of genuine Christianity.

John has told us how we prove our love for God – by loving one another. Now, in v2, he seems to reverse that idea. John says, “This is how we know that we love” one another – “by loving God.” Is it circular reasoning? Is John saying that to love God is to love one another, and that to love one another is to love God? I think the key to understanding John’s logic is to finish v2. We know that we love one another if we “carry out” God’s commands. See, to love God is to love one another. And by carrying out God’s commands, we will exhibit that love for one another that proves our love for God (Deuteronomy 10:12). It is good for others that we obey God. John ties the doctrinal and relational tests to the moral test of authentic Christianity.

In v3, John brings back the moral test, obedience to God’s commands, as proof of authentic Christianity. It’s a blessing to us, to others, and to God when we discern the truth and believe it, live according to it, and love each other. John even claims that obeying God’s commands are not burdensome, thanks to the indwelling Holy Spirit (“everyone born of God overcomes the world” (v4)). In other words, living the Christian life rightly is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, and to the glory of God alone. It’s about being reborn; it’s about believing; it’s about love; it’s about obedience; and it’s about victory – in, by, and through faith.

Do you see what John says in the second half of v4? Our faith is the victory that has overcome the world. We will be bombarded by the world, the flesh, and the devil throughout our Christian lives; but persevering in faith is the way – the only way – to overcome all of that enticement. Calvin says, “Having such a force to contend with, we have an immense war to carry on, and we should have been already conquered before coming to the contest, and we should be conquered a hundred times daily, had not God promised to us the victory. But God encourages us to fight by promising us the victory. But as this promise secures to us perpetually the invincible power of God, so, on the other hand, it annihilates all the strength of men. For the Apostle does not teach us here that God only brings some help to us, so that being aided by Him, we may be sufficiently able to resist; but He makes victory to depend on faith alone; and faith receives from another that by which it overcomes.”

On the last day, we won’t give testimony to our strength in fighting off temptation or our service in helping widows and orphans. Our testimony will be Jesus Christ. He is the source of our strength and service; and those efforts are good, even providing confidence and assurance for us. But those things can be taken away. We can fail to be strong against temptation; we can be removed from service by failing health. But our faith will never fail. Our faith will never fail, not because we won’t let it, but because the Holy Spirit won’t let it. Remember from John 4:4, “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” And that’s John point in asking the rhetorical question in v5. The only people who overcome the world and persevere (Philippians 4:13), proving themselves genuine children of God, are those who have faith to the end, those who believe “that Jesus is the Son of God.”