NOTICE: Please know that this is not a quick read. It will take about 15-20 minutes.
When Valerie & I first moved to Santa Cruz one of the things we often heard was how “spiritual” this area is. And after living here for the past seven years – I’d have to say I agree!
All you have to do is look at the sentiments expressed on popular bumper stickers in Santa Cruz to see that it’s a “spiritual” place. One of the most intriguing bumper stickers I came across was one I saw the first week we moved here. Here’s what it said: “Get a taste of religion. Lick a witch!” Only in Santa Cruz!
Here in this town, you can investigate first hand any spiritual experience you want. And it’s all part of what used to be called the New Age Movement (NAM) – although it goes by different names now in the 21st c. (The NAM is still alive and well in Santa Cruz…and many other parts of the nation).
Proponents of the NAM now use terms like “transformational” as a substitute for New Age. New Age authors, like Ken Wilder & Carter Phipps, have popularized the use of the term “integral” and “evolutionary” – and both terms can be found in some of their latest book titles.
The NAM has many sub-divisions, but it’s generally a collection of Eastern-influenced metaphysical thought systems. It’s a conglomeration of theologies and hopes and expectations held together with an eclectic teaching of salvation. It proposes to have “correct thinking” and “correct knowledge.” It’s a theology of “universal tolerance” and “moral relativism” – and even “feel-goodism.”
In the NAM human beings are viewed as divine and co-creators of the universe. Mankind is seen as the hope for future peace and harmony on earth and the universe. The NAM is an assortment of different theologies with the common thread of “toleration and divergence” weaving through its tapestry of “universal truth.”
But here’s the irony. Even though the NAM is tolerant of almost any theological position – it’s opposed to what it calls the “narrow-mindedness” of Christianity because it teaches Jesus is the only way and that there are moral absolutes.
The term “New Age” refers to the “Aquarian Age” which, according to New Age followers, is dawning upon us right now. This Age of Aquarius is supposed to bring in peace and enlightenment and reunite man with God. Mankind is presently considered separated from God – not because of sin (Isaiah 59:2/Romans 3:23) – but because of lack of understanding and knowledge concerning the true nature of God and reality. New Age spirituality is characterized by an individual approach to spiritual practices and philosophies, and the rejection of religious doctrine and dogma.
Let me illustrate it for you with something that hits close to home, here in Santa Cruz.
The January 9, 2o13 issue of the Santa Cruz publication “Good Times” reported that a local devotional singer, Snatam Kaur, and her yogi parents are raising consciousness and making miracles happen. GT’s ran an article about her – including exclusive interviews with followers Oprah Winfrey, Maria Shriver & The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir.
Snatam quotes the spiritual teacher Ram Dass: “We’re all God in drag.” In other words, behind all the costumes—the individual body types, social roles, personalities, occupations, etc.—each of us is a manifestation of the same divine consciousness.
Her particular form of yoga is called “kundalini yoga.” It promises to energize and relax you through exercise and meditation. Sounds innocent enough. But what you don’t know can hurt you.
Kundalini yoga is a Hindu practice that aims to release the “serpent goddess” (kundalini) supposedly coiled at the base of the spine. Mastery of kundalini is said to lead to a union with Brahman – the inner deity of the Hindus. But yoga experts admit to its dangers. The serpent may bite – inflicting pain, burns, ill health or even death to the practitioner. And that’s just one example of the kind of “spirituality” that’s part of the culture in Santa Cruz.
Let me offer a working definition of “spirituality” and “spiritual.”
- “spirituality” is defined as “the quality or state of being spiritual.
- “spiritual” is defined as “of or pertaining to the spirit or soul, as distinguished from the physical nature; a spiritual approach to life.”
So, with that backdrop, I want to ask and answer over the next several blogs. And that question is: “What does the Bible say true spirituality is?”
The NAM (or however you choose to refer to it) is not really new. It’s thousands of years old. Very similar thinking was prominent in Jesus’ day. (It was epitomized in the “mystery religions” of the Roman Empire).
And New Age thinking was also alive and well in the time that John the Apostle of the New Testament wrote his letters to the church in Ephesus at the end of the 1st C. He addressed New Age thinking in his day – and how he defined and approached “true spirituality” is still quite enlightening for us today.
I believe one of the best ways to answer the question about true spirituality is to take a look at one of the books of the Bible written by the Apostle John – someone who was arguably the closest human being ever to Jesus when He lived and walked this planet in the Holy Land over two millennia ago.
I’ve chosen to use John’s letter – 1 John – as a biblical foundation upon which we are going to build a solid house of truth which will challenge the notions of New Age thinking and its accompanying world view. It is a world view which is becoming more and more prominent and accepted in modern American culture – but which is not Christ-centered at all.
1 John shows us how utterly spiritually bankrupt New Age thinking is when it’s compared to the original new age movement begun by God Himself. When God came to earth as human being (Jesus Christ), and lived and died and rose again from the dead – defeating death for all humanity – that was the original “new age movement.” He did that so you and I wouldn’t have to come up with our own new age ideas.
Living a postmodern new age life-style will never satisfy you emotionally, spiritually, mentally or physically like Jesus can. It will leave you feeling empty and hungry. What we need to sink our spiritual teeth into is something edible and nourishing to our souls – not “spiritual cotton candy” that looks good and maybe even tastes good – but leaves you malnourished and sickly. Don’t settle for spiritual cotton candy when you can have the spiritual equivalent of meat and potatoes!
1 John is substantial spiritual food! The question is: “Are you hungry for truth?”
LET ME OFFER A CHALLENGE: If you have bought into new age thinking, I challenge you to stick with me for the next several weeks blogs. Because in 1 John you will find the way to enter into the original new age way of thinking. You will witness the exposure of modern new age thinking as a counterfeit to what God offers you through Jesus. I can guarantee you that this little book of 1 John is true spiritual life!
It’s in the Bible in the New Testament – four books before the last book in the Bible, Revelation. It was written by the Apostle John (John the Elder).
- John was one of the sons of a man named Zebedee and his wife Salome. Zebedee was a wealthy fisherman from Galilee. Salome was the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. (That would make John a first cousin of Jesus).
- John’s brother, James, was his business partner. And together they owned a fishing business. They had two business partners named Peter and Andrew – who were also brothers. All four of them became disciples of Jesus Christ.
- Initially, John was a disciple of John the Baptist. Later, both he and Andrew were converted to follow Christ together. The Bible tells us that later they quit their fishing business to become followers of Jesus, full-time (Matt. 4)
- John was a “hot-head.” Jesus nicknamed him and his brother James the “Sons of Thunder.” That was because after a Samaritan village failed to show Jesus any love, they asked Jesus if he wanted them to call down fire from heaven to destroy the village. (Jesus rebuked them and told them they didn’t know what spirit they were of). On another occasion, John and James verbally beat up a guy for not casting out demons the right way. So, they came by their nick name honestly.
- John was a very ambitious, self-centered, intolerant man who was a bigot in his attitudes. (That is until Jesus got a hold of him and changed his heart).
- We know from Scripture that John was a man of means. He owned two houses – one in Galilee in northern Israel and one in Jerusalem in southern Israel. He had servants. He co-owned the family business. John was very well off.
- In addition to that we’re told in Scripture that he was socially “connected.” He had ready access to the house of Caiaphas – the current High Priest. (That would be like knowing a senator or a Supreme Court justice on a first name basis). His mother apparently was used to leveraging her social contacts to gain favors. On one occasion, she tried to persuade Jesus to make her sons – his cousins – first & second VPs in his kingdom.
- Acts tells us that John rose to a position of influence and leadership in the early church in Jerusalem (Acts 3, 4, 8).
- After the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, he moved to Ephesus where he served as pastor in the church there that had been founded by the Apostle Paul. He enjoyed a very special relationship with at least six other churches in the area as well (Rev. 1-3).
- John lived a long time after the beginning of Christianity. He was the last of the apostles to die and the only one to die peacefully. The others all met with violent deaths. (Tradition says that John was once boiled in oil for his refusal to deny the faith – but that he didn’t die. Some report everyone in the coliseum was converted to Christ on the spot!)
- At one point he was exiled to the island of Patmos where he wrote the book of Revelation. He was later freed.
- Legend has it that as an old man he had to be carried to church in the arms of his disciples where he was accustomed to preach the same message every week. His message was always: “Little children, love one another!” His disciple got tired of hearing him repeat the same words over and over again and asked him: “Master, why do you always say this?” To which he replied: “It is the Lord’s command. And if it alone be done, it is enough.”
- He died around 100 AD in Ephesus at age 94, surrounded by his closest friends.
Merrill Tenney comments on the Apostle John by saying: “John is the example of a man who could have been a great sinner – out of whom Christ made a great witness.”
The overall message of 1 John has only three main points:
God is LIGHT (Truth) God is LOVE (Grace) God is LIFE (Assurance & Abundance)
John 1:14 says: “And the Word became flesh…and we beheld his glory…full of grace and truth.” John 10:10 says quoting Jesus: “The thief come only to steal and kill and to destroy….I am come that they might have life – and might have it abundantly.”
In this blog, we’re going to cover just the first four verses of 1 John.
“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— 3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.” 1 John 1:1-4 (NASB)
Let’s break this passage down verse-by-verse. John begins by saying:
“What was from the beginning…”
There are actually three beginnings in the Bible.
- The FIRST beginning is found in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created…”
That would be the beginning of the earth as we know it. Genesis tells us that God made something out of nothing. And – as much as scientists and theologians have wanted to date this beginning for us – it’s an undated beginning. But there was a beginning in time and space somewhere when God created the universe. Can you see how from the opening words of this book we already have a clash of world-views?
So, when was this beginning? We don’t know. Did it actually happen? Did God create the earth? The Bible says He did – and we have no reason not to believe it – except for being told differently by other people with letters after their names, who at best, are guessing at how the universe came to be. And unfortunately, when someone of scientific stature suggests that there may be an “intelligent design” behind the universe they’re most often eviscerated by the scientific community which is biased toward a “chaos theory” of creation – anything but intelligent design! But according to the Bible the universe didn’t just happen. It was created – by God.
J. Vernon McGee comments on this verse by saying: “My friend, there is intelligence behind this universe in which you and I live. As to a date of the beginning, we do not know; but if you need a few billion years to fit into your scheme of interpretation, it is here because we are dealing with the God of eternity. God has eternity behind Him. Although I don’t know what he was doing before He created the heaven and the earth, I know He was doing something. Then God created the heaven and the earth, and He did it for a purpose. He is working out a plan in His universe today which is bigger than any human mind can comprehend. When God recorded His act of creation, he wasn’t trying to give us a study in geology. However, He put a lot of rocks around for you to look at if you are interested in trying to figure out a date.”
- The SECOND beginning in the Bible is found in John 1:1-3: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. [Then comes creation]. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.”
This second reference in the Bible to “the beginning” is really the first beginning – the beginning before time – the beginning of all things! The irony of it is that it’s not really a beginning at all. But for our puny little brains God’s Spirit decided to communicate it to us this way so that we could understand it.
Go back before Creation – way back billions and trillions of years – and out of eternity stepped Jesus Christ. Way back there he’s already “past tense.” That’s why the Hebrew prophet Daniel called Him “the Ancient of Days.”
John 1 says you can go back into the past as far as you want to and Jesus comes out of eternity to meet you!
And that’s YUGE when it comes to developing a Christ-centered worldview. “Yuger” than we can ever imagine! And if you claim to have a Christ-centered worldview you must accept it by faith as true – just like you must if you believe in the tenants of evolution. Because both are based on faith!
- The THIRD beginning in Scripture is here in 1 John 1:1. It’s a reference to when Jesus Christ came into this world as a baby in Bethlehem.
When Jesus was about 30 years old, John became acquainted with Him. Apparently, even though they were first cousins, they didn’t travel in the same circles. John and his brother James met Jesus in Jerusalem. (Jesus was from Bethlehem in the south. John was from Galilee in the north). Later, James & John were with their father – mending fishing nets at the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 4). It was there that Jesus called John to become one of His disciples.
At that moment John was destined by the Holy Spirit to become a “mender” of the Body of Christ – His Church. John is a corrector of error – especially those who profess to be of the truth, but are not. Through all five of his New Testament books and letters – John is a spiritual mender. And as we look closer at 1 John we’re going to see that more and more clearly.
John says, here in this letter: “I want to tell you about Jesus – the One and Only God – who became a human being!” (John 1:14). He asserts: “…what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands touched…”
That’s a reference to the “flesh and blood Jesus” – a real, live, human person! John was an eyewitness to Jesus’ physical presence – what theologians call the “incarnation.” Jesus was with God way back before the beginning (whenever that was) – and in fact was God. And He chose to become a human being!
John is saying: “I saw Jesus. I heard Jesus. I touched Him. I watched Him – and He really was God in the flesh!”
NOTE: The Greek word in this passage for “beheld” is the root word from which we get our English word “theater.” Translated literally, it means “to gaze intently upon.”
So, what John is saying by using this word is: “I and the other disciples watched Jesus closely for over three years. We know who this Man is, people! He is God!”
They saw, they heard, they touched and they watched Jesus very carefully – both before and after His resurrection – and they had no doubt whatsoever that He was God in human form.
And this is a very important thing to get right because after the death of the Apostle Paul, about AD 67, a heresy infiltrated the church. It was called “Gnosticism.”
Gnosticism is the opposite of “agnosticism.” Agnosticism believes that the reality of God is unknown – and probably unknowable.
There are a lot of agnostics in the world today. Some of the more recognizable self-proclaimed agnostics are:
- Warren Buffett, a wealthy American financial investor, is an agnostic
- Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, is also an agnostic
- Many people in media and the arts from years gone by and some who are currently popular were and are agnostics. The list includes actors like: Charlie Chaplin, Henry Fonda, Richard Dreyfuss, Carrie Fisher, Emilia Fox, Sean Penn, Sydney Poitier, Howard Stern, Brad Pitt – and on the list goes
- Lewis Black & Bill Maher – two popular (albeit irreverent) political satirist/comedians are also self-proclaimed agnostics
- Scientists Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan were all agnostics
The well-known English preacher Charles Spurgeon used to say that agnostic is just the Greek word for the Latin word “ignoramus.” So one might say, “I don’t believe the Bible because I’m and ignoramus!
My point is that an agnostic says: “I don’t know!” and a Gnostic says: “I do know!” And most new age thinkers are “Gnostics” of a sort.
The Gnostics of John’s day – much like modern-day Gnostics – were people who came into the church claiming to have a superior knowledge which simpler, less knowledgeable Christians did not have. They considered themselves “super-saints” – who knew more than anyone else.
And these Gnostics came up with quite a few novel ideas. One of their heretical teachings was that Jesus was merely a man when He was born. He was just like any other human being at the time of His birth – but at the time of His baptism, the “Christ” (or God power) came upon Him. And when He was hanging on the cross – the “Christ” left Him.
The Gnostic Gospel of Peter (not part of the inspired canon of Scripture) quotes Jesus on the cross saying not “My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken Me?!” – but “My power! My power! Why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
But John refutes this teaching in no uncertain terms in his gospel when he states that “The Word became flesh…” And here in 1 John he emphatically declares again – that when Jesus walked the earth, He was a human being.
All this talk of what he saw and heard and touched was about one Person – Jesus Christ – who He called “…the Word of life…” (vs. 1) And the message of salvation, the very center of that message of life – true spiritual life – was none other than Jesus.
According to the Bible, true spiritual life is something people do not naturally possess. It has to be given to them by God. And that flies in the face of new age thinking – which asserts that we’re all God.
John’s point in all this is that when we see and hear and get in touch with God through Jesus Christ – when we take a good, long look at Him – it will result in a whole new way of living life – but it will be God’s way, not our way!
So, what is that new way of living? Its two things: fellowship and joy.
Here’s how John puts it in vss. 3-4: “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.”
Let’s talk about fellowship first.
According to verse 3, our fellowship is on two planes: horizontal (person to person) and vertical (God to man).
“Koinonia” is the Greek word for fellowship and it means “having in common or sharing with.” So, Christian fellowship means sharing the things of Christ with one another and with God. And in order to do that, John says, we must know Jesus Christ. And you can’t just know about Him – you have to know Him by believing in Him and accepting Him as your Savior and your Lord.
Most churches and their people don’t have fellowship together. They may enjoy some good food together. They may even have some fun together. But when they talk – they usually talk about anything but Jesus Christ. (“How about them Chiefs! AFC Champs! Super Bowl-bound! Woo hoo!” And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just not fellowship.
The irony of what passes for “Christian fellowship” is that we often ignore the ONE thing and the ONE Person that will give us true fellowship with each other and with God – and that’s a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Let me go one step further in describing true Christ-centered fellowship.
When we have true fellowship with one another and with God we experience two things: friendship and partnership.
Jesus told His disciples, “No longer do I call you servants – but FRIENDS!” And the Bible also says that God has made us “joint- heirs with Christ.” In other words, we’re friends with the One who created the universe and He’s made us co-regents with Him as we reign over it together.
And the same is true of us as fellow believers in Christ in our individual relationships. We’re “friends” and “partners” in the Kingdom of God.
But Christian fellowship really must transcend friendship. It will always include some level of friendship – BUT friendship is essentially human while fellowship is essentially spiritual.
For the believer, friendship is an agreement. And in that sense, it’s optional. You can agree or decline to be friends. BUT for the believer, fellowship is not optional – it’s a command. It’s a requirement. If we’re going to be true followers of Jesus Christ – we must be willing to have fellowship with each other.
In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that fellowship is the TEST of Christian living. If you’re not in fellowship – befriending and partnering with others in the local church that you attend (and it can include those who attend other churches as well – but it must be present and expressed in the local church) – then you’re not living the Christian life!
Fellowship for the Christian means that we meet regularly to share the things of Christ – face-to-face and heart-to-heart – where we talk about the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word.
That’s the kind of fellowship John is speaking of when he says: “…so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed, our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
Now there is also a second aspect of fellowship – and it’s JOY. Joy is another characteristic of a life which has seen and heard and looked closely at Jesus.
“These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.”
Joy is the outcome of genuine fellowship.
It’s worshipping in song and prayer and sharing the Lord’s Supper – together. It’s reading and studying the Bible – together. It’s talking about how much Jesus has done for us and in us – together. It’s giving our money and our time and our God-given abilities – together with one another. Those are all acts of fellowship. And what they cause us to experience is joy.
Deep, soul-satisfying joy is the result of fellowship with first God and then His people.
King David wrote: “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11). That’s the result of fellowship with God. And the Apostle Paul tells us “…for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)
Our fellowship is not about eating and drinking together (and arguing about what we can eat and drink). It’s about the righteousness and the peace and the joy we experience when we truly fellowship together around our faith in Jesus Christ and its practice.
I love this verse in Proverbs because of how it juxtaposes peace and joy. It says: “Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but counselors of peace have joy.” Prov. 12:20
Charles Spurgeon used to say: “Joy is peace dancing. Peace is joy sitting down.” The OT prophet, Nehemiah said it best: “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Neh. 8:10
Let me finish our first look at 1 John by saying that the test of whether we have a relationship with God and His people – an expression of true spirituality – is found in our personal answer to the following questions:
- “Have you HEARD and do you know and obey the voice of Jesus? “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” John 10:26-28
- “Have you SEEN Jesus and do you look intently upon Him?” “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth…For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.” John 1:14-16
- “Have you gotten close enough to Jesus to TOUCH Him (and let Him touch you)? “…and they implored Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were cured.” Matthew 14:36 “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see…” Luke 24:3
- Do you enjoy intimate FELLOWSHIP with Jesus? “…and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:3
- What is your source of JOY? “These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.” 1 John 1:4
So, how do we get there?
We stop long enough to look, and we get quiet enough to listen. Turn off the TV. Put down the book. Slow down the pace of your life. And then ask Jesus to open your eyes…and to open you ears…then reach out and touch Him.