How to Grow a Loving Church – Loving Unbelievers (Part 2)

In Romans 12 Paul gets very practical about our relationships with other believers AND even with non-believers – especially with difficult people.  And the basis for all of those relationships, Paul says, is LOVE.

When followers of Christ begin to really love each other the way God wants them, the world will be attracted to Jesus Christ and His Gospel. And that’s because people are looking for love. So, the all-consuming question becomes: “How do I love people like God wants me to?” That’s what Romans 12:9-21 is about – loving people God’s way. And this passage is so simple it’s almost embarrassing!

There are two major questions addressed here.

First (vs. 9-16): “How Do I love my fellow believers in Christ?” Paul’s saying we need to learn to love each other. And there are eight things we can do to grow a loving church in those first 8 verses. Then in the second half of the passage (vs. 17-21) Paul answers the question: “How do I love unbelievers?” – in particular people who oppose me and who are my enemies. How do I deal with people who hate me for my faith in God?

In my last blog, I addressed how to love our fellow believers in Christ. In this blog, we’re going to see what Paul says about loving unbelievers. Paul switches to dealing with unbelievers. In verse 17-21 he uses the words “anyone” and “all men” and “enemy.”

Now he’s not just talking about the family of God, but how to relate to everybody – both inside and outside of the church. How do you relate to people who hurt you and wrong you? This passage is talking about these difficult people. It says: “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the LORD. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; and if he is thirsty, give him a drink. For in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Romans 12:17-21

Remember that Lifeway Research study of unchurched people I quoted in my last blog? It also found that 44% of unchurched surveyed say Christians “get on my nerves.” It seems the knife cuts both ways.

This passage is talking about personal relationships, not national relationships.  Person to person relationships is what this passage is all about. This is not about making national foreign policy.  It is not saying that the United States should fund all the enemies that are trying to overthrow our government.  It’s not saying you roll over and play dead, that you do not defend yourself when somebody threatens your life with a gun — this verse is not talking about that.  There are many passages in Scripture that deal with national issues and the concept of a just war.  It’s talked about very frankly in the Old Testament when Israel was commanded to go in and possess a land and to do battle and to defend themselves as a nation. This passage is not talking about relationships between nations. It’s talking about how I relate to the people I work with, and the people I live with every day.

Paul gives four principles in dealing with difficult people and the enemies who are attacking you:

 

1. Counteract your NATURAL INSTINCTS. 17a “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.” Again, our natural instinct is to strike back. Paul says: “Stifle it!”

I remember hearing of some officers during the Korean War who rented a house for themselves and hired a Korean houseboy to work for them.  He was a cheerful, happy guy and they were young and had a lot of fun playing tricks on him.  They would nail his shoes to the floor and put water over the door in a bucket so that when he pushed it open the water would fall on him.  They played all kinds of tricks on him, but he always took them in such a good humor, that they finally began to be ashamed of themselves. They called him in one day and said, “We’ve been doing all these mean things to you and you have taken it so beautifully.  We want to apologize to you and tell you we’re never going to do these things to you anymore.”  The young Korean boy said, “You mean no more nail shoes to floor?  You mean no more water on door?”  They said, “No more.”  He thought for a minute and then with a big smile on his face he said, “OK then, I no more spit in soup.”

The moral of that story is it is possible to take silent revenge! It doesn’t have to be overt.  God says don’t even do that.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.

 

2. Put yourself in your ENEMIE’S PLACE. v. 17b & 18 says: “…Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. “

Paul gives us a nice little “guilt reliever” here — “so far as it depends on you…”  There are some people you’re not going to be able to live at peace with.  They’re not going to let you live at peace with them.  But as much as it depends on you, live at peace with everybody. The secret to counteracting your natural instincts is to try and see things from your enemy’s point of view.  When you find somebody who’s being obnoxious and attacking and hurting others it’s because they themselves are hurting. Remember: “Hurt people hurt people.” Understanding that helps you be a bit more sympathetic. Look behind their anger and see why they’re hurting.  Paul’s counsel is: “Look for and support what good you can find in that difficult person’s life. See things from their perspective and as much as possible, live at peace with everyone.”

3. Leave all REVENGE to GOD. Vs. 19-20: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the LORD.’ But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; and if he is thirsty, give him a drink. For in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

But why leave revenge to God, when we can do such a good job ourselves? I’ll give you two reasons: 1)  Revenge is a worthless emotion.  Revenge saps your strength. Looking back at something that’s happened rather than looking to the future is a time waster.  Many people can’t get on with the present because they’re still reacting to the past.  Some boyfriend or girlfriend that hurt them, some parent that hurt them, some former spouse that hurt them. They’re still reacting to the past so vengefully, that they can’t get on with the future.  That’s a waste of time and energy. 2)  Vengeance is God’s specialty.  God is the only One who has the entire picture clearly in His sights. He is the only One able to execute perfect vengeance. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay. You can count on it!” Who would you rather have getting even for you?  You or God?  Who has more resources in His power? You or God?  If we take matters into our own hands, God lets us.  But then He limits Himself in taking vengeance.  We can try and teach the offender a lesson, or we can let God teach him a lesson.  If you let God defend you, you’re in good hands!  God says, “Don’t worry. I will take matters into My hands.”

What does it mean “in doing this you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Sounds good, doesn’t it? “Burn him good, Lord!”  We like this.  We think of blisters all over their head.  But there’s a lot of speculation about what this means.  The late Ray Stedman, for instance, thinks it has something to do with not having matches in New Testament times.  When you wanted to share a fire, you borrowed somebody’s coals.  You’d put them in a jar and carry them to your place in typical oriental fashion – on your head.  Stedman thinks you give somebody something that is beneficial to them and it does them good.  You’re helping them out by giving them grace and leaving them in God’s hands. Other Bible teachers, like John McArthur and Chuck Swindoll, think this refers to the shame of guilt that people feel when you have done good for them and they have continually done bad to you.  It starts to get to them, to eat at them, because they say “I’m being so bad to that person and all they ever do is return good.”  They start to feel the heat of shame and guilt.  How do you hate somebody like that?

4. Turn your enemy into a FRIEND. v. 16: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

 If you do these things, then eventually your enemy will be won over or God will deal with them. Either way you have overcome evil with good. A visitor came late to church and asked one of the ushers “Is the Bible study done?”  The usher said, “It’s been taught, but it is yet to be done.”  The Bible study has been taught today, but it is yet to be done. The Bible says be doers of the word.

Would you review this word in Romans 12 to yourself today or sometime this week and then make them a matter of prayer & action?

“Lord, we relate to being hurt by unbelievers and believers. Help us not to follow our natural instincts, not to strike back. Instead help us put ourselves in their shoes and realize that ‘hurt people do hurt people.’ Help us find ways we can do good in return for evil.  Lord, teach us to leave all the revenge with You, to let You be our defense.  Father, we thank You for the practicality of Your Word.  It has spoken to us — each of us in a different area.  Your Word is like a sword pierce unto the dividing asunder even the soul and spirit and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  It reveals our motives.  Help us to practice this word today and every day of our lives.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

 

 

 

How to Grow a Loving Church (Part 1)

In Romans 12 Paul gets very practical about our relationships with other believers AND even with non-believers – especially with difficult people.  And the basis for all of those relationships, Paul says, is LOVE. When followers of Christ begin to really love each other the way God wants them, the world will be attracted to Jesus Christ and His Gospel. And that’s because people are looking for love. So, the all-consuming question becomes: “How do I love people like God wants me to?”

That’s what Romans 12:9-21 is about – loving people God’s way. And this passage is so simple it’s almost embarrassing! There are two major questions addressed here.

First (vs. 9-16): “How Do I love my fellow believers in Christ?” Paul’s saying we need to learn to love each other. And there are eight things we can do to grow a loving church in those first 8 verses. Then in the second half of the passage (vs. 17-21) Paul answers the question: “How do I love unbelievers?” – in particular people who oppose me and who are my enemies. How do I deal with people who hate me for my faith in God?

Lets’ find out how we’re supposed to do that, starting with… LOVING FELLOW-BELIEVERS:

The first thing mentioned is Be genuine vs. 9a: “Let love be without hypocrisy…” Love, Paul says, has got to be genuine. Don’t wear masks. “Love must be sincere.” One of the greatest complaints against the church today is that it is full of hypocrites.

According to a LifeWay Research study, unchurched people in America are willing to hear what people have to say about Christianity. But of those interviewed, 72% also think the church is “full of hypocrites.” And 79% of unchurched Americans think Christianity today is more about organized religion than about loving God and loving people.

Do you know what that says to me? It says that if you want a loving church you’ve got to be authentic. If you’re going to love people you’ve got to be real. You’ve got to be yourself. You’ve got to be “without hypocrisy.”

Paul’s point is: Don’t be a phony!  In the entertainment world especially – everybody “loves” everybody, but nobody really loves anybody.”  It’s a phony kind of love.

Why do you suppose it’s so hard to love people genuinely? I think a lot of times it’s because we’re afraid to love. And we’re afraid to love because loving you means I’ve got to become vulnerable with you, and if I am vulnerable with you, you may not like me – and me is all I’ve got! It’s risky to love.  We find it hard to love genuinely because we’re insecure and afraid of being rejected. Also, truly loving someone means sometimes we have to take a stand against something.

The latter half of verse 9 says: “Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” Sometimes we have to take a stand against something because love without standards is just niceness.  And niceness alone isn’t worth that much. The word “to hate” or “abhor” literally means to “draw away.”  Love “draws away” from evil because evil hurts people. It destroys and damages them.  If it hurts others, then we ought to abhor it. Genuine love causes you to hate some things.

Proverbs 6:16ff gives us seven things that we’re told to hate because God hates them. “There are six things that the Lord hates. Seven that are detestable to Him. Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” 

These are the things God despises. And so, a loving person is going to hate these things – among others. The deeper your love for God grows the more you’re going to hate what God hates. Our problem today, as Christians, is we don’t get involved in sin; we just let it entertain us. Satan loves to break down our intolerance to sin. What Paul is saying is the best defense against sin is to be shocked by it. Unfortunately, nothing seems to shock us anymore. We “American Christians” have lost our ability to blush at sin.

So, Paul says there are some things we should hate, and then he says “…cling to what is good.”  Literally, one translation says, “Be wedded to what is good.”  In other words, we ought to spend so much time doing good, that we don’t have time to do bad.

We must reject sin without rejecting people. That’s a crucial truth. Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s just a religious cliché. That it’s impossible to do. (I.e. – the gay political activist or the straight adulterer or the bigot or the racist who doesn’t want to face his/her sin). We’re commanded here to hate sin – no matter what it may be – but still love the people involved in the sin. Usually what we do is the opposite: we love sin, but hate the sinner. The exact opposite of what God does!

So, if the Church is going to be a loving, growing Church, then all of us followers of Jesus Christ have to be genuine and authentic – we cannot afford to be insincere or disingenuous.

A second things we’re told in this passage is to Be careful of other’s needs vs. 10: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.” In other words: Be courteous. Be sensitive to the needs of others.

The word here in this verse, “brotherly love” (philadelphia), is really two words put together. It literally means “a family relationship.” It says we as believers, are to have a family kind of love – like between brothers and sisters in a family. Brotherly love is the ability to live close together with mutual respect. It means to be tender and affectionate in your love for other Christians. We ought to be affectionate towards each other as believers in the body of Christ. It involves a lot of genuine hugging.

The last half of that verse says: “…give preference to one another in honor.” It means we should strive to outdo each other in expressing appreciation. To outdo each other in expressing genuine affirmation. To genuinely care about each other. When you have a church family that is genuine and unhypocritical in its love, where courtesy and care of each other’s needs are the norm, then you’re going to have a church that pleases God and draws people to Him.

A third things these verses tell us is Be contagious with enthusiasm vs. 11: “Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” (NASB). “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (NIV)

Literally: “Be on fire with the Holy Spirit!”  Being “fervent in spirit” means being – super hot for God. Be full of enthusiasm!  And you don’t have to be noisy to be enthusiastic. Enthusiasm comes from two Greek words, en theos –“in God”. When you get in God you’ll be enthusiastic. Enthusiasm comes from being in God. Loving people are enthusiastic people. The church that has a lot of love is an enthusiastic church. A church that doesn’t have a lot of love is apathetic. How do you keep your enthusiasm?  By “… serving the Lord.”  It doesn’t say “serving people.”  We keep our enthusiasm by focusing all of our service, even ministry to others, on God by saying, “Lord, I’m really doing this for You.” If you want to recharge the enthusiasm in your life, memorize Colossians 3:23 and apply it in your life. It says: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for men.”

Layton Ford, Billy Graham’s brother-in-law, went to talk with Mother Teresa when she was still living. He said, “How do you keep your joy?  You’re in the worse part of Calcutta with all the death, the debris, the dirt, the disillusion, the destitution. How do you keep your joy in Calcutta?” Her answer was: “We do our work for the Lord and with the Lord and to the Lord.” That’s so simple, yet so profound. Everything you do, do it for the Lord, and with the Lord and to the Lord. When you’re serving the Lord, then you’ll have that enthusiasm. So, be contagious with enthusiasm.

Another things Paul tells us is Be positive, patient and prayerful vs. 12: “Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer” (NASB). Another translations puts it: “Be joyful in hope, be patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

He says three things here. If you’re going to build a loving church you need to…

  • Be positive. “Be joyful in hope…” We can be positive (joyful) because we have hope. People are hungry for hope, hungry and for joy. Followers of Christ ought to be the most positive, joyful people in the world. Be positive. Be joyful (rejoicing) in hope.
  • Be patient. “Be patient in affliction…” The Bible says that we can be confident that the plan of God and the power of God are greater than the problems we’re going through (Rom. 5:3-5). We can be patient because we know that God’s using even hard and difficult things in our lives to strengthen us.
  • Be prayerful. “…devoted to prayer.” How do you get God’s love? By being “faithful in prayer.” If my prayer life isn’t up to par, then I’m going to get upset with people more easily. If you’re having a hard time loving somebody, start praying for them. Praying for them will change your heart and possibly theirs.

The apostle Paul’s own life is an example of this. One of the results of Stephen’s prayer was Paul’s conversion. When Stephen was stoned for his faith, Paul stood by in approval and held the coats of those who stoned him. Stephen’s last prayer in Acts 7 was, “Father, don’t hold this against their charge.”

Here’s another thing that helps grow a loving church: Open your heart and your home to others.  vs. 13: “Contributing to the needs of the saints; practicing hospitality” or “share with God’s people” (NIV).  James 2:15 says if you see a brother in need and you just say, “I’ll pray for you,” what good is that?  I John 3:16 conveys the same idea.  If you see somebody in need, if you really love them, you’ll help meet that need in a practical way.

There are few things more enjoyable than to get together for a meal and some genuine hospitality. The word hospitality literally means “stranger love.” Paul’s saying “Be kind to strangers.” And “Never grudge a meal or a bed to somebody” (Phillips Translation). Be willing, when you have the means, to give practical assistance. Show love for strangers.

Why aren’t we more hospitable? Primarily because we’re too just too busy. We’re preoccupied. Our schedules get so filled up that we don’t have time to be hospitable.  Whenever you give your time to somebody, that’s hospitality. It’s caring and not being self-centered. Practicing hospitality builds a loving church. Open your heart and open your home to others.

Also, if you want to grow a loving church, Do your best to bless people who speak evil or negatively of you vs. 14: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”

Do Christians ever persecute other Christians? Yes, they do. Someone has said, “The Christian army is the only army that shoots it’s wounded.”  Some Christians will get “carnal.” They will get “in the flesh.” And when they do they will make church life miserable.  Phillips translation says, “Bless those who try to make your life miserable.”

 The word “bless” literally means “speak well of.” When somebody criticizes and maligns you, you are to speak well of them. It’s the exact opposite of our natural inclination. My inclination is to criticize them back. If somebody strikes out at me, my natural inclination is to strike back.

Paul is saying: “Don’t get involved in backbiting against those who make life difficult for you. Do your best to find something in them to affirm.”  In other words find a way to bless them. How? By the way you talk about them. You can’t control what they say or how they act toward you, but you can control what you say or how you act toward them. That’s what God will hold us accountable for.

When somebody criticizes somebody else in the church, they shouldn’t go around bad mouthing the offending person back. Instead, they should bless them. Find something you can approve of. Sometimes it takes a lot of creativity to find it, but you can find something to approve & affirm in them.

This is no question one of the hardest commands to follow in the entire Bible. I have no illusions about this being easy.  (I got convicted reading this.)  But it’s a very practical “rubber meets the road” kind of counsel.  Paul makes it very concrete.

James counsels us: “Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. There’s only one law giver and judge, the one who’s able to save and to destroy. But you, who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11).

CAVEAT: This doesn’t mean we are not to be discerning and wise regarding one another’s behavior and words. As one of my mentors puts it: “We may not be allowed to judge one another. But it’s OK to be “fruit inspectors.” In Matt. 7, speaking on the very subject of not judging one another, Jesus said of the false prophets: “You will know them by their fruit.” Don’t judge and backbite and criticize one another, but don’t be naive about right and wrong (truth and error) either. So…Be genuine. Open your heart and home. Be loving. Be hospital. And do your best to bless people who speak evil or negatively of you.

Here are two last things, we’re to do to help grow a loving church.

Be sympathetic to each other’s feelings vs. 15:“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” In other words, take into account each other’s moods. Be sensitive. We all love being around that kind of person, don’t we? When you’re up, they celebrate with you. When you’re down, they sympathize with you. Jesus did that.  He was at both the weddings and the funerals.  Everybody needs understanding. We all need somebody to listen to us. Paul says be sympathetic to each other’s feelings.

Finally, when it comes to loving a fellow believer, Don’t play favorites or show partiality vs. 16: (NASB): “Be of the same mind toward on another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.”

Nothing will destroy love and unity in a church faster than playing favorites. Paul says: Treat everybody with respect. Don’t think you’re too good for some people in the church. We’re all at different levels economically, age wise, and educationally. But the fact is, in Christ we’re one. That’s what counts! The book of James tells the story of the snobbish usher and the rich man who comes to church. The usher gives him the good seat down front. But he sticks the homeless kid with purple spiked hair, scraggly clothes, and B.O. at the back of the church. Paul says, “Don’t do that. Treat everybody the same. Be at home with humble folks and love everybody equally.”

“Lord, enable us to be genuine. Equip us to be courteous and devoted to our brothers and sisters in Christ in brotherly love. Establish us in contagious enthusiasm. Empower us to be positive and patient and prayerful. Encourage us not be too busy to be hospitable with our fellow believers. Empower us to do our best to not speak evil of a brother or sister who criticizes us. Help us not let them determine our response. Help us to engage with those who rejoice and weep, to be sensitive and sympathetic to other people’s feelings. Help us to eschew pride and partiality, to not play favorites even in the church. Remind us that we’re all one in the Body of Christ and to be at home with each other. And Lord, thank You for the practicality of Your Word. It has spoken to us — each of us in a different area. It reveals our motives. Help us to practice this word today and every day of our lives.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

 

 

“God is Life” – 1 John 5:4-21

John ends the last chapter in his first letter to show us how “God is LIFE.” He says that we can know that God is life when three things are operating in our lives.

The FIRST thing that proves that God’s Life is working in us is: Our Undying FAITH. “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” (1 John 5:4 – ESV) 

Faith in God is defined for us in the book of Hebrews. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. For by it the [people] of old gained [God’s] approval…” (Hebrews 11:1). For the “heroes of faith” mentioned in Hebrews 11 faith was HOPE, ACTION, and RISK.  In HOPE they looked for something better than they already had. They weren’t satisfied with the status quo. They wanted more of God. For them faith in God was an ACT of faith. They were willing to step out and trust God for their future. And faith in God to them was the willingness to take a RISK with life. 

So, the first thing that proves that God’s Life is working in us is Our Undying FAITH in Him. Let your faith in Jesus Christ – and His ability to work miracles in your life and the lives of others around you be the first evidence that “God is Life” in you!

The SECOND thing that proves that God’s Life is working in us is: An Undeniable WITNESS. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:5-12 – ESV).

Life comes from putting your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. And that life rests on three undeniable witnesses: the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ baptism, and his sacrificial death on the cross. This is passage is a reference to Jesus’ baptism and His death – two events that are critical to understanding who Jesus really is.

Remember the Gnostics? They wanted to reduce Jesus to a mere man. They said that He was only indwelt by a “Christ Spirit” from His baptism until He was crucified. But at his death He stopped being indwelt by this “Christ Spirit” – and that He never rose from the dead. Lots of people still believe and teach this today. But John says, “No! Jesus’ baptism and His death (water/blood) are a witness to His deity.” They prove He was God in human flesh. And the third witness is an inward one – the Holy Spirit. He verifies in our hearts that this is all true – and not just some made up bedtime story.

These three things – Jesus’ baptism, His death on the cross, and the Holy Spirit – serve as an undeniable witness to the RESURRECTION LIFE of God at work in each of us as we trust Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. Jesus identified Himself with our sin at His baptism…Then He died for our sins on the cross…And all genuine followers of Jesus experience in their hearts the reality and the meaning of those two events – by the witness of the Holy Spirit. It’s that simple – and it’s that profound!

The THIRD thing that proves that God’s Life is at work in us is: Unconquerable CONFIDENCE. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.  If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know 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, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:13-20 – ESV).

This confidence gives us assurance of four things: (1) Eternal Life: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (vs. 13). The assurance of eternal life is one of the greatest incentives for believing in Jesus Christ that there is. (2) This confidence also assures us of is Answered Prayer. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (vs. 14-15).

Ruby Hamilton, a businesswoman in her fifties, was stunned at the loss of her husband of 32 years in a car accident. Her anger and disappointment went deeper than a more typical expression of grief though. She had become a follower of Christ in her late twenties, but her husband didn’t share her newfound interest in spiritual things. She prayed for him unceasingly that he would come to know the Lord. And one day when she was praying, she felt a wave of peace wash over her, and that still small voice assuring her that her husband would be okay. She eagerly waited for the day when her husband would surrender his life to Jesus. And now this.

What do you do when faith doesn’t make sense? When God doesn’t seem to be answering or opening doors? Ruby Hamilton had no answers, so she stopped living for God.

Roger Simmons was hitchhiking his way home. He would never forget the date – May 7th. His heavy suitcase was making him tired and he was anxious to take off that army uniform once and for all. Flashing his thumb to the oncoming car, he lost hope when he saw it was a black, sleek new Cadillac. But to his surprise the car stopped.

The passenger door swung open. He ran toward the car, tossed his suitcase in the back and thanked the handsome, well-dressed man as he slid into the front seat. “Going home for keeps?”

“Sure am.”

“Well, you’re in luck if you’re going to Chicago.”

“Not quite that far – do you live in Chicago?”

“I have a business there,” the driver said. “My name is Hamilton.”

They chatted for a while, and then Roger, a Christian, felt a compulsion to share his faith with this fiftyish, apparently successful business man. But he kept putting it off, till he realized that he was now just 30 minutes from his home. It was now or never.

“Mr. Hamilton, I would like to talk to you about something very important.” Then he simply told Mr. Hamilton about the plan of salvation and ultimately asked him if he would like to receive Jesus as his savior and Lord.

The Cadillac pulled over to the side of the road. Roger expected that he was about to get thrown out of the car. Instead, the businessman bowed his head and received Christ, then thanked Roger. He said: “This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.”

Five years went by. Roger married, had a couple of kids and a business of his own. Packing his suitcase for a trip to Chicago he found a small white business card that had been given to him by Hamilton five years previous. In Chicago, he looked up Hamilton Enterprises. The receptionist told him that it was impossible to see Mr. Hamilton, but he could see Mrs. Hamilton. A little confused, he was ushered into a beautiful office where he found himself facing a keen-eyed woman in her fifties.

She extended her hand. “You knew my husband?”

Roger told her about how Hamilton had picked him up while he was hitchhiking home after the war. “Can you tell me what day that was?”

“Sure it was May 7th, five years ago, the day I was discharged from the army.”

“Anything special about that day,” she asked.

He hesitated, not knowing if he should mention how he shared the message of Jesus with her husband. “Mrs. Hamilton, I explained the gospel to your husband that day. He pulled over to the side of the road and wept against the steering wheel. He gave his life to Christ that day.”

Explosive sobs shook her body. Finally getting a grip on herself, she sobbed, “I had prayed for my husband’s salvation for years. I believed God would save him.”

“Where is your husband, Ruby?”

“He’s dead. He was in a car crash after he let you out of the car. He never got home. You see, I thought God had not kept his promise. I stopped living for God five years ago because I thought God had not kept his word!”

God’s Word says: And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (vs. 14-15).

At this point in the passage, John seems to take a detour. He says: “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death” (vs. 16-17). At first glance this may seem like a non-sequitor. But it does have something to do with intercessory prayer – which John just mentioned. And it’s a clear reference to prayer for a “brother” or a fellow believer.

Death here refers to physical death – not spiritual death – because a child of God has eternal life. But I believe that what John is saying here is that a believer in Christ can commit a sin for which God will send them home to heaven prematurely. In other words, God may choose to remove them from this life physically because they’re disgracing his name. It’s possible to commit a sin that God determines will lead to physical death. And it’s always a sin of presumption – not ignorance – usually habitual in nature.

And if you’re wondering what that’s got to do with the fact that God is Life – if we look at the remaining verses in the chapter – we’ll get an answer. There are two more “God is Life” assurances that our confidence in God gives us.

(3) Through this confidence we are assured that the Holy Spirit gives us Physical & Spiritual Protection. “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (vs. 18-19). If you’re struggling with a particular sin in your life that’s threatening to overcome you – and your sense of peace in God is waning… John says if you’ll take it to God in sincere and desperate prayer, that He will not let it have ultimate victory over you. You will eventually overcome that sin – IF you keep bringing it back to the Father in sincere repentance. According to these verses, that sin will not have ultimate victory over you! (4) The last assurance we have through this confidence that the Holy Spirit gives is Spiritual Understanding. “And we know 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, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (vs. 20). If we’re experiencing “God is Life,” then we’re assured that we are “in Christ.” Being “in Christ” doesn’t mean that our world always stops falling apart. The storms of life may still topple some things – the storm will take its course. But our welfare depends on whether we’re in Christ – the rescue device God provides. That is our confidence!

John ends this book with a simple – but important – warning. He says: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21 – ESV). An idol is anything that stands between you and God. It may promise to give you what you want – but it always does so at cross-purposes to what God wants for you. Idols are small and they’re for small souls…No matter the level of their quality, they usually read on the bottom, MADE IN PHILISTIA BY PHILISTINES. They’re powerless and little…most of their lives people worship little things and finally lose sight of the greatness of God altogether.” (Calvin Miller)

 

 

 

 

God is Love (Part Three) – 1 John 4:1-5:3

OK…that was the first three effects of the love of God in our life. Here’s the…

FOURTH effect of the love of God is our lives: It distinguishes between TRUTH and ERROR.

John 4:1-6: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”

To John the test of truth vs. error was simple: TRUTH confesses Jesus Christ is God in human flesh. ERROR will not.

False prophets, John says, are from this “cosmos” – this worldly way of looking at life.  But prophets of God are identified by their ability and willingness to confess Jesus Christ as God.

I did some quick research online this week about a cult that was very prominent when I was in my late teens and early 20’s. It was called The Way International. I wanted to see if it was still around. Not only is it still around – it’s going strong and its still deceiving people. It has thousands of followers.

The Way International was founded by a man (now dead) named Victor Paul Wierwille. He grew up in an evangelical church and graduated from Princeton Seminary. He was ordained in the denomination in which he grew up, the Evangelical Reformed Church.

And yet, while he believed that Jesus was the Son of God – he refused to confess that Jesus was God in human flesh. He believed that “Jesus Christ is not God – never was and never will be…When my life is over I think my greatest contribution may prove to be the knowledge and teaching that Jesus Christ is not God. Before I finish, my life may stir up the biggest beehive in Roman Catholicism and Protestantism since the religious leaders took a shot at Martin Luther.” (There’s nothing wrong with his ego either). His followers today still believe his teachings.

There’s a 49-year-old man in Siberia named Sergey Anatolyevitch Torop, known to his followers as Vissarion. He’s a Russian mystic. He founded and leads a religious movement known as the Church of the Last Testament. He has around 2,000 followers living in the settlement in Siberia and around 5,000 followers worldwide.

Vissarion claims to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. On August 18, 1990, when he was 29, Vissarion claims that he had a revelation that he was the reincarnation of Christ. He teaches reincarnation, veganism, the impending end of the world (or at least of civilization as we know it), and the belief of aliens.

These are just two recent examples of men claiming to know Jesus Christ – but who refuse to acknowledge him as God in human flesh.

John says if the love of God abides in you – it will empower you to know the difference between truth and error. And that TRUTH will always confess Jesus Christ was and is God in human flesh.

The next (FIFTH) effect of God’s love is that It Causes us to KNOW God.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (I John 4:7-11)

There’s a big difference between “knowing about” God & “knowing God.” According to John we get to know God in one way – and one way only. It is through a Holy Spirit-inspired understanding of what God did on our behalf when He accepted the sacrifice of Jesus instead of our own to atone for our sins. John calls it “propitiation.” Some theologians call it “substitution.” That’s just a highfalutin word for saying that Jesus became what we are (sin) in order that we might become what He is (righteousness).

Just like 2 Cor. 5:21 says: “For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Martin Luther once wrote to a friend: “Learn to know Christ and him crucified. Learn to sing to him, and say, ‘Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and given me what is yours. You became what you were not, so that I might become what I was not.”

And John says that the result of that kind of love is that we can love others too. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

 John’s not done yet. He says God’s love has another effect (SIXTH): It Enables us to ABIDE (remain & endure) in God and Know that He ABIDES in Us.

“No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:12-16)

Here’s an amazing example story of “remaining” and “enduring” in God from the diary of John Wesley…

Sunday, A.M., May 5       Preached in St. Anne’s. Was asked not to come back anymore.
Sunday, P.M., May 5       Preached in St. John’s. Deacons said “Get out and stay out.”
Sunday, A.M., May 12    Preached in St. Jude’s. Can’t go back there, either.
Sunday, A.M., May 19     Preached in St. Somebody Else’s. Deacons called special meeting and said I couldn’t return.
Sunday, P.M., May 19     Preached on street. Kicked off street.
Sunday, A.M., May 26     Preached in meadow. Chased out of meadow as bull was turned loose during service.
Sunday, A.M., June 2       Preached out at the edge of town. Kicked off the highway.
Sunday, P.M., June 2       Afternoon, preached in a pasture. Ten thousand people came out to hear me.

The SEVENTH effect of God’s love in action in our lives is that It Give us CONFIDENCE in the Day of Judgment.

“By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:17-18)

God’s love eliminates the fear of punishment for our sin. You and I will never ever be punished for our sin by God. Disciplined because of them, yes. But never punished for them. God’s love is perfected in us and it makes us perfect in God’s sight. And because of that love, we can be confident that we will never experience God’s wrath or judgment. Jesus will rescue us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10). And Paul further assures us: “For God has not destined us to wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:9)

“By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment.” (1 John 4:17)

The EIGHTH and final effect of the love of God operating in our lives is that It REVEALS the True Nature of Our Hearts and Actions.

“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” (1 John 4:19-5:1)

Ian Pit-Watson comments on this when he says: “There is a natural, logical kind of loving that loves lovely things and lovely people. That’s logical. But there is another kind of loving that doesn’t look for value in what it loves, but that CREATES value in what is loves. Like Rosemary’s rag doll. When Rosemary, my youngest child, was three, she was given a little rag doll, which quickly became an inseparable companion. She had other toys that were intrinsically far more valuable, but none that she loved like she loved the rag doll. Soon the rag doll became more and more rag and less and less doll. It also became more and more dirty. If you tried to clean the rag doll, it became more ragged still. And if you didn’t try to clean the rag doll, it became dirtier still. The sensible thing to do was to trash the rag doll. But that was unthinkable for anyone who loved my child. If you loved Rosemary, you loved the rag doll—it was part of the package.”

 “If anyone says ‘I love God’ yet hates his brother or sister, he is a liar.” (I John 4:20) Love me, love my rag dolls, says God, including the one you see when you look in the mirror. This is the first and greatest commandment.

What’s your motivation for loving people? Do you love them because they’re “loveable.” Or do you love them simply because they’re God’s creation? Only you and God know the answer to that question.

Here’s the bottom line. Are you experiencing the love of God? How many of these eight effects of God’s love are you experiencing in your life? These are the “proofs” that God’s love is taking effect in your life – and not some cheap imitation.

  • Reassurance of your doubting heart…Bold and effective prayer
  • A Spirit-filled life…Eyes & ears to discern truth from error
  • Knowledge of God…The grace to abide (remain & endure) in Christ
  • Confidence in the day of judgment…Godly motivation in your acts of love

Have you ever wondered why God loves you and me?  Sometimes I do. The answer is found in Deuteronomy 7:7-8. What God said to his “chosen people” 3,500 years ago, I believe applies to us as well: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you…”

God loves you and me…just because. No other reason. Just because. He loves us just because He does. And how are we supposed to respond to that love? “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:11, 19)

God Is Love – Part Two (1 John 3:19-24)

So far, we’ve seen in 1 John 3:14-18, the evidence of God’s love (LIFE) and the essence of God’s love (ACTION). In this blog, we’re going to see the effect of God’s love.

What John does for the remainder of chapter three all the way to verse three of chapter 5 (1 John 3:19-5:3) is give us effect after effect – benefit after benefit – of the love of God in our life.  And there are eight of them by my count. I’m going to share three of them in this blog. I’ll write of the last five in the next blogs.

The FIRST effect of God’s love in our lives is that It REASSURES our doubting heart.  “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:19-20).

Dr. Paul Brand & Philip Yancey co-wrote a book about the parallels between the spiritual world and the physical world. In one part of the book they wrote about “phantom guilt” and related a story about a patient named Mr. Barwick. This is what they observed:

“Amputees often experience some sensation of a phantom limb. Somewhere, locked in their brains, a memory lingers of the nonexistent hand or leg. Invisible toes curl, imaginary hands grasp things, a ‘leg’ feels so sturdy a patient may try to stand on it. For a few, the experience includes pain. Doctors watch helplessly, for the part of the body screaming for attention does not exist.
One such patient was my medical school administrator, Mr. Barwick, who had a serious and painful circulation problem in his leg but refused to allow the recommended amputation. As the pain grew worse, Barwick grew bitter. ‘I hate it! I hate It!’ he would mutter about the leg. At last, he relented and told the doctor, ‘I can’t stand it anymore. I’m through with that leg. Take it off.’ Surgery was scheduled immediately. Before the operation, however, Barwick asked the doctor, ‘What do you do with legs after they’re removed?’ ‘We may take a biopsy or explore them a bit, but afterwards we incinerate them,’ the doctor replied.
Barwick proceeded with a bizarre request: ‘I would like you to preserve my leg in a pickling jar. I will install it on my mantle shelf. Then, as I sit in my armchair, I will taunt that leg, “Hah! You can’t hurt me anymore!”‘ Ultimately, he got his wish. But the despised leg had the last laugh. Barwick suffered phantom limb pain of the worst degree. The wound healed, but he could feel the torturous pressure of the swelling as the muscles cramped, and he had no prospect of relief. He had hated the leg with such intensity that the pain had unaccountably lodged permanently in his brain. To me (Yancey), phantom limb pain provides wonderful insight into the phenomenon of false guilt. Christians can be obsessed by the memory of some sin committed years ago. It never leaves them, crippling their ministry, their devotional life, their relationships with others. They live in fear that someone will discover their past. They work overtime trying to prove to God they’re truly repentant. They erect barriers against the enveloping, loving grace of God. Unless they experience the truth in 1 John 3:19-20 that ‘God is greater than our conscience [heart],’ they become as pitiful as poor Mr. Barwick, shaking a fist in fury at the pickled leg on the mantle.” (Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey, Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 3)

God’s love will reassure our doubting heart. “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:19-20).

The SECOND effect of God’s love in our lives is that It Gives Us BOLDNESS and EFFECTIVENESS in Prayer. John says: “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” (1 John 3:21-23)

If our heart does not condemn us – if we’re sure of God’s love – then it gives us confidence and assurance when we pray.

There are certain people in the family of God who I love to hear pray and who I like to pray with – because they pray with assurance. They aren’t timid about approaching God and asking Him for something. They’ve got confidence when they pray because they have confidence in God’s love.

That’s the kind of person I want praying for me. God’s love gives assurance in prayer. When your life is pleasing to God, you can expect Him to hear and answer your prayers. My wife prays like that. I deeply appreciate her prayers, because she has confidence in God – and she knows He loves her. She prays with confidence and assurance. And God answers her prayers – often.

OK, there’s one more effect of the love of God in our lives that we’ll look at in this blog. It’s found in the last verse in chapter 3: “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” (1 John 3:24) 

The THIRD effect of the love of God in our lives is a HOLY SPIRIT-FILLED life. The Holy Spirit is present in our lives in fullness when God’s love is present.

If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ – if you’ve accepted Him as your Savior and Lord – then you have the Holy Spirit in your life. But the mark that you’re assured of God’s love is that you’re filled with and controlled by the Holy Spirit – and it’s the Holy Spirit who’s constantly verifying the truth and making it real to you. 

The well-known 19th century evangelist D.L. Moody was a man known to be filled with the Holy Spirit. He was not well educated and new to ministry – but he knew how to depend on the Holy Spirit in his life. Once in England he was holding some evangelistic meetings, and an elderly pastor didn’t approve. He said: “Why do we need this ‘Mr. Moody’? He’s uneducated and inexperienced. Who does he think he is anyway? Does he think he has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?” A younger, wiser pastor responded with: “No, but the Holy Spirit has a monopoly on Mr. Moody.”

Moody once said, “I believe firmly that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and everything that is contrary to God’s law, the Holy Spirit will fill every corner of our hearts. But if we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God. We must be emptied before we can be filled.”

The emptying of our selves includes emptying our self of our own attempts at righteousness or depending on our own wisdom or our own strength or our own will or our own plans or our own ambitions.

When we’re continually living in the Holy Spirit’s filling, that’s when we get new power and new energy for life. The key to living life with continual spiritual power and energy is to continually let the Holy Spirit give you His power, and not try to live life in your own strength.

But how are we filled with the Holy Spirit? Well…

The first attitude that’s required to be filled with the Spirit is TOTAL DEPENDENCE on God. “The Spirit-filled life begins once we’re absolutely and thoroughly convinced that we can do nothing apart from the indwelling strength of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit-filled life begins with an overwhelming realization that we’re absolutely helpless and hopeless apart from the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Until then, we will always be out there doing things for God in our own strength” (Charles Stanley).
So, first is total dependence on God.

And the second attitude that’s necessary to be filled with the Holy Spirit is TOTAL SURRENDER to God. Until we surrender to the Spirit’s control in our lives, until we come to the place where we’re willing to put all of our life under His control – we won’t be filled with the Holy Spirit. To be filled with the Holy Spirit means that we’re controlled by the Holy Spirit, and in order to be controlled by the Holy Spirit, we have to surrender everything to Him.

It’s impossible to live the Christian life on our own. If we could pull it off by ourselves, God wouldn’t be necessary. That’s why Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

The Christian life is a supernatural life, and we need supernatural empowerment to live it.

Ask Jesus to baptize you in and fill you with his Holy Spirit! (John 1:32-34).

 

 

 

God is Love (Part One) – 1 John 3:11-18

We’ve been working our way through the NT book of 1 John – discovering as we go how to live in a world that claims to be “spiritual” – but not Christ-centered. 1 John’s entire message can be summed up in nine words: “God is LIGHT. God is LOVE. God is LIFE.”

To this point we’ve seen how God is LIGHT. John has so far offered us four (of six) proofs or tests in this letter…proof that our relationship with God is genuine or not by “walking in the light”; proving our level of spiritual maturity by how much we love God & love people; whether we know the Truth or not  by our willingness to genuinely confess that Jesus Christ is Lord – as one and equal with God; and, demonstrating the depth of our righteousness in Christ by “practicing righteousness” (and not “practicing sin”).

In this blog we get to the heart of John’s message – literally the middle of the book. It covers 38 verses of this 105 verse book…1 John 3:11-5:3. And I’ll give it to you in three parts…one in this blog and one each in the next two blogs.

This passage is “bookended” by three verses about God’s LOVE: 1 John 3:11: For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” And 1 John 5:2-3: By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”

So, the heart of John’s message in this passage is that God is LOVE! 1 John 4:8 says: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” And 1 John 4:16 reads: So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”

John gets right to the point by asking the question… What is love? And he answers it by telling us, first, what love is NOT. John says, love is not religious activity expressed from a self-centered heart.… “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:12-13).

Do you know the story of Cain & Abel? Genesis 4 tells us that Cain offered God less than his best. He gave God something other than what God required…a blood sacrifice. Cain wanted to approach God on his own terms. But because of his pride, God wouldn’t accept his offering. Cain’s act of worship was just “religious activity.” His worship was out of a sense of duty.

God was trying to teach Cain a spiritual truth. He wanted him to see that a blood sacrifice for sin was a picture of the ultimate sacrifice Christ was going to give for our sins.

Later, John later tells us in this book that Jesus Christ was to be the “propitiation” (satisfactory sacrifice) for our sins. God didn’t want Cain’s offering, He wanted Cain’s heart. If you read the story in Genesis, you see that God warned Cain about letting sin take over his heart: “…sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” But Cain’s response was to kill his brother, Abel, in rebellion against God (Gen. 4:6-8).

John’s point in all this is that God knew that murder and envy and rebellion were in Cain’s heart. And, by contrast, God also knew that Abel’s heart was right with Him. That’s why John could say that Cain’s “…deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12). Cain’s religious deeds were evil because his heart was far from God.

So, John says, love is not religious activity expressed from a self-centered heart.

Hebrews 11:4 says: “Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain.”  The reason it was better was because Abel worshipped God from a God-centered heart, not a self-centered one. When we approach God on our own terms – and not His – that’s not love.

John’s postscript to all this is: “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13). In other words: Don’t be surprised if most people reject this message. Because human nature hates to do things God’s way.

I once heard Pastor Jack Hayford relate, how he was preaching a hard message to his people. After the service a woman came up to him and said: “You were awfully hard on us today, pastor. You need to be more sensitive to people’s pride when you preach.” Pastor Jack responded: “Oh, I’m sorry. You must have misunderstood me. I wasn’t trying to be hard on our pride…I was trying to kill it outright!”

When our pride gets in the way, God has no compunction about dealing with it… even HARSHLY at times. John is telling us that love is NOT religious activity from a self-centered heart.

After telling us what love is not, in the next four verses, John tells us what love is:

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:14-18).

John gives us two insights here…the EVIDENCE of God’s love and the ESSENCE of God’s love.

The evidence of God’s love is LIFE. “…we have passed out of death into life…”

In other words, we know we’re experiencing God’s love when we no longer exist in a kind of “walking death” every day of our life – living in a perpetual state of fear.

Proverbs 29:25 says: “The fear of man lays a snare….” A trap is laid for us by what we fear. The “fear of man” is the fear of failure and rejection and punishment and feelings of shame. And each of these expressions of the “fear of man” has its own unique lie and false belief.

The fear of failure says: “I must meet certain standards in order to feel good about myself.” Fear of rejection argues that: “I must have the approval of certain others in order to feel good about myself.” The fear of punishment lies to us by saying: “Those who fail are unworthy of love and deserve to be punished.” And the fear of shame causes us to live without hope by telling us the falsehood that: “I am what I am. I cannot change. I am hopeless.”

These are the “wages of sin” Paul speaks of in Romans 6:23 – and they show up in our lives as addictions that control us through fear. It’s the basis of all addictions – physical or emotional. Addictions always have their roots in some sort of controlling fear. And John is saying you can’t love if you live in fear: “Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14).

So LIFE, according to John, is living in God’s ability to be loved and to love others. And that only comes from loving God and “fearing” (respecting) Him.

We read earlier in Proverbs that the fear of man lays a snare in our lives. But Proverbs 14:27 says: “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.”  The antidote for the fear of man is the fear of the Lord.

LIFE is receiving God’s love in place of fear. And that, John says, results in inner peace and joy and the ability to love others. That’s the evidence of God’s love in your life. BUT IT ONLY COMES FROM GOD. It’s not accomplished by paying a guru or a shaman or some “self-help” expert to give you the “insight” to do it.

So, the evidence of God love in your life is you’ve “…passed out of death into life.”

And then there’s the essence of love –  ACTION. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18)

Love always involves the willingness to die for the one you love – or it’s not love.  Love has to cost us something. In order for love to be God’s love it must be a deed. Action is required.

Dick Hillis of OC International tells the story of a young East Indian mother and her starving child. In an article called Love is a Costly Thing, he writes:

“She was lying on the ground. In her arms she held a tiny baby girl. As I put a cooked sweet potato into her outstretched hand, I wondered if she would live until morning. Her strength was almost gone, but her tired eyes acknowledged my gift. The sweet potato could help so little — but it was all I had.

“Taking a bite she chewed it carefully. Then, placing her mouth over her baby’s mouth, she forced the soft warm food into the tiny throat. Although the mother was starving, she used the entire potato to keep her baby alive. Exhausted from her effort, she dropped her head on the ground and closed her eyes. In a few minutes the baby was asleep.

“I later learned that during the night the mother’s heart stopped, but her little girl lived. Love is a costly thing.”

Of course, John says, the greatest loving deed of all was God sacrificing His Son for you and me. That’s the truest essence of love.

So we’ve seen the evidence of God’s love (LIFE) and the essence of God’s love (ACTION). In my next blog, we’re going to see the effect of God’s love.

 

To read more about becoming a godly man see Every Man Jack – Becoming the Man God Wants You to Be, by Daniel L. Clubb. You can find it at Westbow Press //westbowpress.com/en/search?query=Every+Man+Jack and on Amazon at //amazon.com/Every-Man-Jack-Becoming-Wants/dp/1973680386 or wherever books are sold.

The Test of Truth

Today we discover another test  or “proof” found in 1 John – the test of Truth.

18 Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come. 19 These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us.20 But you are not like that, for the Holy One has given you his Spirit, and all of you know the truth. 21 So I am writing to you not because you don’t know the truth but because you know the difference between truth and lies. 22 And who is a liar? Anyone who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist. 23 Anyone who denies the Son doesn’t have the Father, either. But anyone who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.24 So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. 25 And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us.26 I am writing these things to warn you about those who want to lead you astray. 27 But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.    1 John 2:18-28 (NLT)

 Notice, John addresses his readers as “little children” (vs. 18 & 28). That’s an indication of their spiritual condition: still spiritual infants or toddlers. They need constant care and attention and guidance. They’re stumbling around in the dark as much as they are walking in the light.

They were in danger of being deceived by the antichrist spirit of their day – of being deceived by people who claimed to be followers of Jesus Christ – but were not. Today we call those deceivers “Gnostics.” Spiritual “know-it-alls.” John is clearly warning against “…those who want to lead you astray” (vs. 26).

John refers to these deceivers as “antichrists”: “Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come” (vs. 18). This reference to the “last hour” is about the “latest last days of the last days” – the time period between Christ first coming and His Second Coming.

The word “antichrist” is used only used in John’s writings. “Antichrist” means those who are “against” or in “opposition” to Christ OR those who offer an “imitation” of Christ. Put together it means “those who, assuming the guise of Christ, oppose Christ.”

Also “antichrist”  is a reference to the evil power operating in John’s world then, and in our world today, in anticipation of the revelation of the two “beasts” (another name for “Antichrist”) mentioned in the book of Revelation.

So, what is it that identifies an “antichrist” according to John? What are they like and how do they operate?  We can find clues in Jesus words in Matthew 24.

  • Matthew 24:5, 24:“…for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many…for false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones.”

So, “antichrists” are DECEIVERS and liars!

In our lifetimes or the recent past we have seen many “antichrists”…

  • Adolf Hitler…who deceived a whole nation…who believed he and his followers were a superior race destined to take over the world. He was “antichrist.”
  • Jim Jones…A San Francisco minister and city council member who deceived over 900 people (poor & uneducated + rich and well-educated) into believing that he was God… …He and his followers died in a bizarre ritual by drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid in French Guana, where they had located to build their utopia. He was “antichrist.”
  • Sung Myung Moon…the founder and leader of the Unification Church established in Seoul, Korea…Moon considered himself the Second Coming of Christ…He was believed by Unification Church members (“Moonies”) to be the Messiah…anointed to fulfill Jesus’ unfinished mission…He died in 2020. He was “antichrist.”

And this is a very short list. The list could go on and on and on…

The main deception of “antichrist” is to deny the divinity of Jesus Christ.

And who is a liar? Anyone who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist. Anyone who denies the Son doesn’t have the Father, either. But anyone who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” (vs. 22-23) 

The primary definition of an “antichrist” is anyone who denies Jesus being equal with God, while simultaneously being against Christ and claiming to be Christ or have His authority.

Notice the last part of vs. 23: “But anyone who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

That’s the test of knowing the Truth…acknowledging and confessing Jesus for who He is…the “Word of Life,” equal in every way with God!

So, John says, the primary definition of an “antichrist” is denying the Son (Jesus Christ) by being against Christ and claiming to be Christ or having His authority – simultaneously.

I believe that’s what John is saying to us in Revelation 13. There are going to be two people at the end of the age, who will especially embody this definition – claiming to be Christ and being against Christ at the same time.

  • 13:5-8 speaks of one “beast” – a person with great political power to deceive, raised up by Satan himself. They will be against Christ. “Then the beast was allowed to speak great blasphemies against God. And he was given authority to do whatever he wanted for forty-two months. And he spoke terrible words of blasphemy against God, slandering his name and his dwelling—that is, those who dwell in heaven. And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in the Book of Life before the world was made—the Book that belongs to the Lamb who was slaughtered.”
  • 13:11ff tells us of a second beast – a religious ruler. This beast “…looked like a lamb…but spoke with the voice of a dragon (cf. Rev. 12). This beast will have great religious power to deceive and to persuade people to worship the first beast. This beast  “performed astounding miracles…and deceived all the people who belonged to this world…”

So, these two beasts are both coming at the “end of the age.” They are both “antichrist” in nature – one “against” Christ, the other “instead of” Christ.

John says a second thing about “antichrists” in vs. 19: “These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise, they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us.” (vs. 19)

Not only are they deceivers – but they are DEFECTORS, too.

Some people who had made a confession of faith in Jesus and claimed to be His followers in John’s day had all the appearances of being Christians – but they weren’t. They…

  • Called themselves Christians
  • Identified with a local church gathering
  • Were baptized and received communion

But John says the way you can tell whether or not someone is really a child of God is by where they end up – inside the church or outside the church.

An “antichrist” is someone who will eventually withdraw from other Christians and stop identifying with the body of Christ – and they end up right back in the “world”!

A Biblical example is Judas Iscariot, of whom Jesus said: “But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me.” At the first Lord’s Supper was a “pretender” who identified himself with the apostles. He looked and acted like an apostle – but he was an “antichrist.”

John’s making a very serious point here when he says: “These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us…” He’s saying there are people who look and act as if they were children of God – but they proved who they really were by their view of who Jesus Christ really is.

This ought to cause every person who calls themselves a follower of Jesus Christ to ask themselves a few hard questions, like:

  • “Have I really faced up to my sin in the light of the cross of Jesus Christ?”
  • “Have I come to God in repentance – owning my guilt and acknowledging my sin?”
  • “Do I depend only on Jesus for my salvation?”
  • “Is there any evidence in my life of being a new person in Christ?”
  • “Do I love the Word of God – and do I want it in my life?”
  • “Do I love my brothers & sisters in Christ?”
  • “Do I really love Jesus Christ?”

The Bible says that we’re supposed to examine ourselves from time to time. “Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.”  2 Cor. 13:5

Ask yourself: “Am I really following Jesus? Or is it some imitation of Jesus that I’ve bought into?”

If you’re secure in your faith in Jesus Christ, the “Word of Life” – God in human form and the only way to salvation and eternal life – then your faith will hold up to the test of self-examination.  Don’t be afraid to ask yourself. “Am I really a follower of Jesus…or am I just caught up in all the ‘hype’?”

One of my favorite Bible teachers, J. Vernon McGee, said: “I believe in the security of the believers. But I also believe in the insecurity of the make-believers!”

We need to examine ourselves to see what kind of believers we really are!

The sleeper box office hit movie, Jesus Revolution, is an accurate depiction of the “Jesus Movement” of the 1960’s & 70’s. I lived those glorious, supernatural days as a young Christian in my late tens and early twenties. And a whole bunch of people I knew who professed faith in Jesus Christ, eventually “fell away” from their professed faith in Jesus Christ – some very well known, others anonymous self-proclaimed believers. All I can say about them is…Only God can make the final “examination.”

But John’s point is this: Antichrists and the “antichrist” spirit that pervades large portions of the so-called “church” in America today, will cause those caught up in it to be two things: DECEIVERS of others & DEFECTORS from the faith.

In verses 20, 21 & 27 in this passage, John gives us the “antidote” for the “antichrist” spirit and those who deceive others while claiming to convey Christ’s truth: “But you are not like that, for the Holy One has given you his Spirit [you have an anointing – NASB], and all of you know the truth. So, I am writing to you not because you don’t know the truth but because you know the difference between truth and lies…But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.”

This is a “play on words” by John…

“Gnostics” [the New Agers & Evolutionaries of John’s day] believed that you had to be “initiated” in certain beliefs to be spiritually “in the know.” You had to have exclusive knowledge (“gnosis”) before you could be really spiritual.

But, John says, that’s not true. Why? Because “the Holy One has given you his Spirit, and all of you know the truth.” Other translations say: “You have an anointing and you know…”        

John says that the manifestation of that “Holy Spirit anointing” is that it allows the Holy Spirit to teach you everything you need to know so you can know the difference between truth and lies.

Jesus taught the same thing to his disciples: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you…But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” (John 14:16-17, 26)

This “anointing” is from the “Holy One” – the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of all true followers of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit permeates this planet. He’s WITH everyone on the planet…He’s IN all true believers & followers of in Jesus Christ…but, He can be UPON every believer who chooses to live a life dedicated (consecrated) to serving Jesus and “walking” and “abiding” in the Light of the Truth of God and His Word!

That’s what John is referring to here as an “anointing” (“holy confidence”) from God.

 Unfortunately, the concept of being “anointed” has suffered from a lot of “false press” and “unnecessary hype” – especially in circles in which that word is used often. Like the…

  • TV evangelist selling his DVDs: “The most anointed message you’ll ever hear!”
  • Revivalist preacher: “I feel the anointing tonight!”
  • Vocalist introduced as: “The most anointed singer in Gospel music!”
  • Threatened pastor: “Touch not the Lord’s anointed!”

I do not want to minimize the concept of being anointed…BUT…we need to gain and keep a biblical perspective of just what the “anointing” means for ALL NT believers…

So, what does the phrase “You have an anointing and you know…” mean for each of us?

There are three main words for “anointing” in the Old Testament…

  • “mashach” = “to massage/rub oil on someone/thing”; an act of dedication/consecration
  • “mashiyach” = reference to a person/object being anointed; Messiah = “anointed One” or “the Christ”
  • “suwk” = use of oil for personal hygiene; “anointing” yourself with oil and lotion.

So, being “anointed” in the OT referred to being dedicated and consecrated and set apart for a purpose. The Tabernacle and its furnishings were set apart for exclusive use in worship of God. Also, prophets and priests and kings were “anointed” for God’s purposes.

 And “anointing” in the OT had a three-fold purpose:

  • To establish authority
  • To dedicate or consecrate
  • To spiritually empower

Prophets, were given authority to rule the state along with the king; they were dedicated as God’s unique messengers; and empowered by God to give His Word to His people.

Priests, were given authority in matters of worship; they were dedicated unto God; and they were empowered for the daily tasks they performed.

Kings, were given authority to lead God’s people; He and the nation He ruled were dedicated by God to bless all other nations; He was empowered to rule over God’s people as their sovereign King and commander-in-chief.

TODAY in the New Testament era in which we live, Jesus Christ is the ultimate “Anointed One,” the “Messiah.” He’s our Prophet, Priest and King. And Jesus…

  • Fulfilled the office of Prophet by being the Word of God (John = “the Word of Life”). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:1, 14
  • Fulfilled the office of Priest by being the only mediator between God & humanity. “For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 2:5
  • Fulfilled the office of King by being hailed as King in His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a colt. It was a fulfillment of a prophecy of Zechariah who predicted that the “Anointed One” would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zachariah 9:9. “‘The whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’” Luke 19:37-38

And John’s message in Revelation tells us…Jesus will return as a “warrior king” riding on a white horse, with the inscription ”King of Kings and Lord of Lords” written on His thigh.

 So, what about us New Testament believers? Is there an anointing for us as well?

John’s answer is that there is an “anointing” – and it’s not just for the few who are “super spiritual.” It’s for ALL who want it!

The NT word for “anointing” is “charisma”, the same as the Old Testament word for “massage or rub”… (think of it as being spiritually “massaged by Jesus” relieving the tension in your spirit).

“Anointing” also has the same purpose in the New Testament as in the Old Testament: to give authority and to dedicate (consecrate) and to empower.

  • Authority to be His children…to live as accepted by Him…without shame or guilt as we approach Him…being confident in His love for us…John 1:12: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right [authority] to become children of God.” 
  • Dedicated/Consecrated to walk and live in the Light of who Jesus is…living obedient and trusting lives in the ways of God…because His ways work better…and they produce life in us and in the lives of the people we touch everyday (spouse, children, coworkers, friends, extended family…). 1 Corinthians 6:11: “But you were washed, you were sanctified [dedicated /consecrated], you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 
  • Empowerment to be a witness to the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ …to share God’s truth and love with others with holy confidence… leaving the results up to Him. Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power [empowerment] when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

So, what’s the point of this passage for us? What can we take home today and apply to our lives?

There is an “anointing” for each of us as people of the New Covenant. Each of us who have confessed faith in Jesus Christ are authorized, dedicated, and empowered by this anointing to do great things for God while we live on this planet!

If you are a member of God’s family by faith in Jesus Christ – then you have this anointing!  It’s not just for those you see as “super spiritual” – it’s for every one of God’s children – and that includes you.

Are you living in the “anointing”? Are you experiencing the authority…dedication …empowerment of that anointing?  If not, why not? Jesus has extended it to us…“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:11-13).  “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

 The same anointing and the same authority Jesus had – He’s given to us!

 John ends this part of his letter with the following exhortation to us: “So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us…And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame” (1 John 2:24-25, 28).          

If Jesus promises to abide with us forever – then it’s not too much of John to exhort us to remain faithful and in fellowship with Jesus and the Father and each other. “Remain” means to continue, to live, to endure, to stand…in the TRUTH.

The test of whether we’re living in the TRUTH, whether there’s any evidence of the TRUTH in us is found in our confessing Jesus Christ as the One and Only Lord and the one and only way to God AND by living daily in the authority and the dedication and the empowerment of the “Anointed One” – Jesus Christ Himself.

That’s the test – the proof – that the TRUTH is living in us.

To know more about defining true spiritual maturity and how to develop it, read my book Every Man JackBecoming the Man God Wants You to Be, available on Amazon (//www.amazon.com/Every-Man-Jack.../dp/1973680386), WestBow Press (www.westbowpress.com), and wherever books are sold.

The Test of Spiritual Maturity

NOTE: Please know that this is not a quick read. It will take about 15-20 minutes.

What comes to mind when you hear the words “spiritual maturity”?

John Wimber wrote: Many of us treat church life like immature adolescents. From other Christians we want thrills, constant exhilaration and to have our needs met. When Christian brothers and sisters fall short of our expectations, when they are boring and imperfect and fail to meet our needs for strokes, we pout, turn away and isolate ourselves from them. Jesus calls us to mature commitment of love for his people – the very people in our fellowship!”

This is our third look at 1 John…He’s been contrasting the New Age Movement of his day (very similar to our own) with the Truth… But we’ve noticed a significant difference…

New Age thinking = “spiritual knowledge” (enlightenment)

New Testament thinking = “spiritual maturity” (love)

John’s message is that spiritual maturity is expressed through love. That’s what  empowers us. By contrast, the message of the New Age is that spiritual enlightenment is what empowers us. Those two ways of looking at life are worlds apart. The Bible says: “Knowledge makes [us] arrogant…Love edifies [us]…” (1Cor. 8:1)

What we’ve learned so far in I John is…

  • That ALL of life begins and ends with Jesus Christ.
  • That Jesus Christ – the man – was GOD in human flesh. That He is the “Word of Life.”
  • That fellowship is (friendship/partnership) w/God & His people – IF we “walk in the light”
  • And to “walk in the light” means keeping Jesus’ commandments

In the passage we’ll cover in this blog, John offers us a test to measure the degree of our “spiritual maturity.”

1 John contains six tests, where he addresses and refutes the New Agers of his day. They were known as Gnostics. They were the know-it-all so-called-Christians who said that they alone had been spiritually enlightened. And that their enlightenment set them head and shoulders above the rest of the believers.

The first test in 1 John that refutes that kind of thinking is…

The TEST of a relationship with God. The test of fellowship with God and His people is based on accepting Jesus as God in the flesh and receiving Him as the One and Only “Word of Life.” We’ve already looked at that test in 1 John.

The second test is the TEST of spiritual maturity (2:7-17). We’ll discover what that is in this blog. (The third is the TEST of truth [2:19-28]…The fourth is the TEST of righteousness [2:29-3:10]…The fifth is the TEST of love [3:11-5:3]…The sixth and final test in 1 John is the TEST of confidence and assurance of faith is Jesus [5:4-2]). We explore each of them in future blogs.

In this blog we’re going to discover the test of spiritual maturity.

 “Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.” I John 2:7-8

 John begins by contrasting an “old commandment” with a “new commandment.” What does that mean? Well, they’re actually one and the same. The “old commandment” was what Jesus taught His disciples throughout His earthly ministry. John recorded it for us in the Upper Room Discourse in John 13:34-35 & John 15:10-12:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”

This was Jesus expounding on the will of God. Love the Lord your God & love your neighbor as yourself. It was an “old” commandment to his disciples. They were familiar with the commands of what we’d call the “old” testament. And it was also “old” because it was given prior to Christ’s death on the cross.

But it becomes “new” as John repeats it on this side of the cross. It was “new” because now they had the Holy Spirit to guide them in exhibiting that love. (John has lots more to say later in chap. 3-5 about how to live a life of love).

Listen to how John applies it in the next three verses.

“The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” I John 2:9-11

John says the mark of a genuinely spiritual person, a spiritually mature person, is that they will love their sisters and brothers. That’s another way of saying everybody you meet.

If you want a test for spiritual maturity, this is it. If you’re spiritually mature you’ll love the people around you. If you’re “walking and abiding in the light” – then you’ll show it by loving the people around you – especially your brothers and your sisters in Christ.

And by contrast IF we let so-called “spiritually enlightened” people lead us – who are really spiritually blind – they’ll lead us into a place of darkness.

Jesus said about the Pharisees who claimed to know the truth – but didn’t:  “…they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14). Spiritual blindness always leads us into a pit!

 John’s point is that spiritual blindness comes from first hating God (His revealed truth found in the Bible) and then hating our brother (by not living in the truth ourselves and leading them astray with our teaching and lifestyle).

BUT, again by contrast, John says, to love is to have spiritual sight (“walking in the Light”). And when you walk in the light, you won’t stumble around falling into a pit of untruth, and taking those you influence with you.

How do we “stumble”? One way is by being unaware of our “blind spots” – that cause other people to stumble, too.

I heard of a pastor who instead of a tip left a snarky note for her waitress which read: “I give God 10 percent why do you get 18?” It made the news because a photo of the receipt was posted online and it went viral. The server was fired and after her stinginess was exposed in the social media, the pastor issued a public apology. It was a big deal for a few days.

Now, do you think that maybe that pastor could have addressed that situation a little more graciously? Could she have shown a bit more love to her fellow man?

Tipping isn’t the only thing that makes some Christians bad witnesses. Alcohol is another. Many American Christians consider abstention from alcohol as a mark of strong faith—and it often is, especially for those in recovery – but some seem to think that dramatic displays of that abstention in restaurants are a further sign of strong faith.

A student waitress tells this story: “One Sunday afternoon, I asked a lady, “What can I get you to drink today?” and she looked horrified and said, “I don’t drink! I am a Christian, and it is Sunday, and my goodness it’s 12:30 in the afternoon!”

After an awkward silence, her husband said, “I’d like a Diet Coke, please…”

By contrast a couple had a bad experience at a restaurant. The server was terrible. She was distracted and she made errors with their order. But instead of leaving a very small tip or nothing at all, the couple left a $20 tip on their $15 bill with a note that said something like: “It seems you’re having a bad day, hopefully this will help a little.”

The server caught up to them as they were in the parking lot and told them how she had recently experienced a tragedy in her family but couldn’t afford not to work. Their action had made a world of difference to her. What this couple did sounds a lot like what Jesus would do – and what John is saying we should also do.

 “The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”

In the next three verses, John shows us how to determine our level of spiritual depth and maturity.

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” I John 2:12-14

I blogged on this topic a few blogs back for Father’s Day, but I believe it bears repeating in the context of the whole book of 1 John.

John says that here are basically three levels of spiritual maturity… “children” …“young men”…“fathers.” And they have nothing to do with gender or how long you claim to have been a Christian. But they have everything to do with your capacity to love people.

One thing all kids have in common is that they can’t wait to grow up. Ask any kid what they want to be when they grow up and they’ll say, “When I grow up, I’m gonna be….” EVERY KID WANTS (AND NEEDS) TO GROW UP!

The words in this passage for “little children” (vs. 12) and “children” (vs. 13) are two different Greek words with two different meanings.

In verse 12, teknia or “little born ones” refers to all Christians, regardless of age or maturity level. So, John is addressing ALL believers who are reading his letter, as teknia – all of God’s born-again children (“little born ones”).

However, in verse 13, John is addressing paidia or “immature little folk” spiritual children who know that their sins are forgiven and that they know the Father. They are sure of their salvation – but they’re almost entirely dependent on others for spiritual care.

I want to be careful not to condemn people young in their faith. Patients who have undergone organ transplants are placed in intensive care units. The care they receive is while they’re in “critical, but stable condition.” Under constant watch, they stay there until they’re strong enough to be transferred out of ICU. New believers are similar. They’ve undergone a spiritual “heart transplant” and are in spiritually critical, but stable condition. The care they need and get in the spiritual ICU is vital to their spiritual maturity.

The issue is not that spiritual children are immature. That’s their normal state. The real issue is when the time to grow up arrives – and they don’t want to grow up!

When a mother eagle builds her nest, she starts with thorns, broken branches, sharp rocks. But then she lines the nest with a thick padding of wool, feathers, and fur from animals she’s killed, making it soft and comfortable for her eggs – and the baby eaglets to come. The issue with the cozy nest is that it eventually makes the young eaglets reluctant to leave when they reach flying age. The comfort and warmth of the nest makes the baby eagles reluctant to leave. So, the mother eagle begins “stirring up the nest.” She starts pulling up the thick carpet of fur and feathers, bringing the sharp rocks and branches to the surface. As the nest becomes more and more uncomfortable for the young eaglets,  they are prompted to leave the comfort of the nest and learn to fly.

John says spiritual maturity is like that. Our spiritual maturity level should progress from “children” to “young men.” From dependent to independent. But unfortunately for the Church, a vast majority of God’s people want to remain paidia – “immature little folk.”

YOUNG MEN is the next level of spiritual maturity. John tells us: “I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one…I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” Spiritual “young men” are adept at “spiritual warfare.” They can fight the devil and his temptations and come out winners. Why? Because they know the Word of God. It’s their primary defense.

Spiritually mature “young men” have begun to master the spiritual disciplines of prayer, personal Bible study, and fellowship. They discover the deep spiritual strength found in letting God develop character (the fruit of the Spirit) in their lives, along with learning to lead by serving, and sharing their faith in Jesus Christ. And those spiritual disciplines only develop through time and discipline and determination. Fewer believers are “young men” in their spiritual maturity level.

The third level of spiritual maturity is what John calls FATHERS. Men and women who are intimate with God. “I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning.” Spiritual fathers know Jesus intimately. They are constantly maturing in their relationship with Him. They know how to “hear” God the Father. And that discipline is acquired through patience and suffering and obedience (in that order) while God’s Word is “sown” in their lives over time. Far fewer people in the Church have learned to live as spiritual fathers.

James spoke of this level of maturity when he said: Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” James 5:7-11

Spiritual children are dependent (“I need your help”). Spiritual young men are independent (“I can do it alone – if I must”). Spiritual fathers have learned the value of being interdependent (“I am strong enough to do it myself – but I need you, too”).

 John ends this passage by warning us about what will hinder our spiritual maturity. He does that by contrasting loving the world with loving God. There are three things, which, when “loved” by Christians are a sign that the love of God is not in us and thus, spiritually immature. We know we love the “world” more than we love God when we get “wrapped up” in pursuing and satisfying these things.

  • “the lust of the flesh” – Life’s physical addictions (food, drugs, alcohol, sex, possessions) – anything physical that we can become addicted to. These things can be “good” in and of themselves. But if we take them to extremes…they become “loves” & “addictions.”
  • “the lusts of the eyes” – Life’s mental addictions (unbridled quest for knowledge) – the desire and demand to know everything. We seek to probe into the occult, and the world of the future.  But there are certain limits to these. There are limits within nature, and there are limits within revelation. There are certain extremes of knowledge of which God has said, we, as fallen men and women, are forbidden to enter into because they’re dangerous. This is the lust of the eyes.
  • “the boastful pride of life” – Basically, this is the desire to envy other people or to get them to praise us for our accomplishments in life. The pride of life seeks to create a sense of envy, rivalry, and jealousy in the hearts of others and gives us pleasure in doing this to them. It’s the desire to outshine or to out rank someone else.

These are the three appeals of the “world” [cosmos]. They comprise a worldview that’s essentially anti-God.  And when we make satisfying our appetites our goal in life, it leads to a distorted view of life, and it’s never truly satisfying.

John ends this passage by saying not to love these things because God doesn’t love them and because they’re not going to exist one day. “The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” 1 John 2:17

Love for the world and love for God are mutually exclusive. And not only does loving the world exclude the love of God in our lives, it’s an utterly foolish choice – because the world is passing away. It’s only a temporary thing. But by contrast “the one who does the will of God lives forever.”

Martin Luther wrote, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all. But the things I have placed in God’s hands I still possess.”

So, John tells us in this passage what God’s will is. God’s will is that we “Love Him and love one another.” And we do that by letting His love help us discern between the love of God and the love of the world. That’s the path to spiritual fatherhood.

John says, in effect: “It’s not about how spiritually enlightened you are. It’s about how spiritually mature you will allow God to make you – who you allow God to love through you with what He’s given you.”

 

Read more about Spiritual Maturity and How to Develop It in my book Every Man Jack available on Amazon (//www.amazon.com/Every-Man-Jack…/dp/1973680386), WestBow Press (www.westbowpress.com), and wherever books are sold.

 

God is Light

NOTICE: Please know that this is not a quick read. It will take about 15-20 minutes.

If you’ve just joined me in this series of blogs, we’re learning how to define “true spirituality.” It’s our response to the new age thinking that has saturated our culture.  The so-called New Age has been around since the 1970’s. It’s taken on different names like “evolutionary thinking” or “integral thinking” over the decades since the 70’s, but it’s all the same philosophy. It’s a “spiritual movement” intent on spreading the message that “All is One” and “Everything is God and God is Everything,” and that “We are all God in drag” and “All Religions are the Same.” The upshot is that if we buy into New Age thinking and living, it can pull the teeth out of the uniqueness of Christianity and its claims of truth found in Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life.

I’ve chosen the little NT book of 1 John to be our Biblical guide as we define true spirituality. (BTW: Keep in mind that the Bible is the most direct source of truth about life available on this planet. It’s not the most detailed – but it is the most direct source of truth available to mankind. And as such we hold it in high regard as God’s Word).

In this book written over 2,000 years ago by the Apostle John is the answer to the longing of every human heart, especially the hearts and minds of those who consider themselves “New Agers” or 21st c. “Evolutionaries.” And it has the answer to the BIG question: “What is the Source of Life?”

 In my last blog we began by discovering, through the testimony of the Apostle John, that ALL of life begins and ends with Jesus Christ. He begins his testimony with the words: “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 …” (1:1)

 So, in effect, John says, “If you want to discover the true New Age Movement, then you need to discover Jesus Christ. Because He alone is the Word of Life. Everything else pales by comparison.”

John also clearly implies, “If you doubt the unique divinity of Jesus Christ – setting Him apart from all other so-called “sons of God” – let me tell you something. I saw Him with my own eyes!  I heard Him with my own ears!  I touched Him with my own hands and I watched Him very intently and very carefully and very closely for 3 years.  I KNEW THIS MAN!  He was a real “flesh and blood” human being and He was God – I was an eyewitness to it all!

Then John goes on to say that hearing and seeing and touching and watching Jesus Christ gave him a whole new perspective on life. And that perspective resulted in fellowship with God. John became friends and partners with God. And God became friends and partners with Him. He began to “connect” with God. And not only that, he began to connect with God’s people as well – ones who had discovered Jesus as John had. And once he acted out his fellowship with God and with God’s people, he experienced a joy so complete and full that it couldn’t be duplicated anywhere else!

And now, in his old age (nearly 100 years old) John says: “I’m here to tell you that God is light!”

John is saying that God (Jesus Christ) is the light that came into the world to illumine my sin and your sin so that we can see our way clear to experience God’s forgiveness and life. And unlike the “god” of the New Age, where “everything is God and God is everything” – there’s no darkness in this God at all! God may allow us in flail around in the dark for a while so He can prove to us that He’s the Light – but there’s no darkness in Him and His character. So it can’t be that “God is everything and everything is God.” That would be impossible with God!

What I want us to get is this: The key to a fulfilling life (what every New Ager and Evolutionary is looking for) is found in having FELLOWSHIP with God – being friends and partners with God.  And the key to friendship and partnership with God is in recognizing Him as the Light and, as John puts it, “walking in the Light.”

1 John 1:5 says: “And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that GOD IS LIGHT – and in Him there is no darkness at all.” John says “God is light!”  Not “God is like light” or “God is similar to light” – but “God is Light!”

 Light has two primary qualities: light enables and light energizes.

Light enables us to see things we never saw before. Light reveals reality that darkness conceals.

Have you ever gone into a familiar – but dark – room, thinking you know exactly where all the furniture is, and then promptly tripped or stubbed your toe on a sofa leg or chair?  Or worse yet fallen over something you thought wasn’t there?

The only way to avoid that is to turn on the light BEFORE you go into the room – no matter how familiar you think you are with the lay out of the furniture.

Light can also be used as a “measuring stick” of sorts. Light enables us with a point of reference from which we can determine distance from one object to another.  Light can tell us how far off course we are!

 Light also energizes. Light energizes our personality and our humanity. Just step out into the sunshine sometime and you can “feel” the energy returning to your cold, achy body. Some people actually can’t live without sunlight. They become physically and psychologically depressed without it. Studies have proven this to be true.

So, God is Light – and as such He’s an enabler and an energizer!

So, if as John teaches, “God is Light” – we ought to respond to the Light that God is in such a way that we live our lives in its spiritually enabling and energizing power.

John then goes on to explain in this passage, how people respond to the Light in one of four ways.  We can have one of four responses toward the Light of God in our lives.

The FIRST attitude is to REJECT the Light.

“If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” (1:6)

When we reject the Light, we’re choosing to ignore it. And we ignore the Light by walking in darkness and by living as if there is no God to whom we are accountable. Many people live like that today. They go about their everyday lives as if God didn’t exist. They’re like I was as a child. I naively believed that if I just closed my eyes so that I couldn’t see then nobody else could see me either. I tried that once with my parents in the room. I thought if I closed my eyes that they wouldn’t see me try to sneak out of my room and walk across the living room (in which they were sitting) and go outside and play – (I was supposed to be taking a nap). In my 5-year-old reasoning, it made sense. But it just wasn’t true – and it didn’t work!

 Many self-proclaimed “believers in God” are really nothing more than “practical atheists.” They “believe” in God – just to be safe. After all, He actually might exist and they wouldn’t want to offend Him by not believing in Him. “But let His will shape my will on a daily basis? Not for me!”

 John says they reject and ignore the Light by “practicing” sin. Instead of practicing the truth they practice sin.  How do they do that?

  • They never fellowship with God’s people. Instead, they live in isolation. Proverbs says that a person who isolates them self from others “…seeks his own desire, and he quarrels against all sound wisdom” (Prov. 18:1).
  • They seldom, if ever, read the Bible. They’ve forgotten that the Bible says: “He who gives attention to the Word shall find good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord” (Prov. 16:20).
  • They never examine themselves for spiritual growth. Instead, they’re content to let others think for them. They live on spiritual “baby food” all their lives. And as a result, they never grow up. They ought to be taking care of other genuine “baby Christians.” But too often they’re still demanding to be cared for – and making a big mess at the same time. Paul tells us to: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” 2 Cor. 13:5
  • And if they do begin to grow spiritually, they compare themselves with others. And the problem with comparing ourselves to other is that we always use our own standard of maturity instead of God’s.

 Have you ever noticed how immature children can act at birthday parties or at Christmas time? They pout because they didn’t get what the “birthday boy or girl” got. Or they complain because they didn’t get what they wanted for Christmas.

The Apostle Paul saw this tendency for comparison and conflict among immature followers of Christ. So, he wrote to the Corinthians church and said: Brothers and sisters, don’t think like children. In evil things be like babies, but in your thinking you should be like full-grown adults (1 Cor. 14:20). In other words: “Grow up and stop comparing yourselves to one another!”

  • Another way we can reject the Light is by not listening to our conscience. And what happens when we ignore our conscience is predictable – we suffer the consequences.

Remember back when cars used to have voice-warning systems? A voice – usually a female voice – would gently remind you of a problem in your car engine or if you were running low on gas. She’d say something like: “Your fuel level is low.” And then you’d look at your fuel gauge and say to yourself – I know I can go at least 50 more miles before I need gas. And you’d keep on driving – until you’d get another gentle warning.

Those gentle warnings can be annoying – especially when you think you can outsmart the warning system by second-guessing it. I heard of one guy who was at first amused by what he called voice of the “little woman” in his dashboard.  But eventually He got so annoyed at her voice that he stopped the car, crawled under the dashboard and gave the wires to the warning system a good yank. “So much for the little woman in the dashboard” he told himself. He was still smiling to himself a few miles down the road when his car began to sputter and cough – as he ran out of gas.

We have to learn some things the hard way. We have to learn that the “little voice inside” – even though ignored or even disconnected – is often exactly what we need to hear. And we if we ignore it there will be consequences.

So, what’s the remedy for rejecting and ignoring the Light?

It’s found in verse 7: “But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

The remedy is HONESTY. The remedy for ignoring the Light is to begin to get honest with God about yourself and your sin. When we get honest about our sin we can get clean from your sin though the blood of Jesus Christ – and the result will be restored fellowship with others. You’ll become less critical of others. You’ll stop comparing yourself to others. You’ll be less demanding. And you’ll become easier to live with.  That’s restored fellowship.

 The SECOND attitude we can have toward the Light is to RUN from it.

Running from the light is denying your sin. Vs. 8: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

There are three ways we can be deceived: (1) by demonic forces; (2) by other people; and (3) by ourselves.

Paul wrote: “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing – he deceives himself” (Gal. 6:3). When we deceive ourselves, we’re living in denial.

An old story is told of a desert nomad who woke up hungry in the middle of the night. He lit a candle and began eating dates from a bowl beside his bed. He took a        bite from one date and saw a worm in it – so he threw it out of the tent. He bit into a second date, found another worm, and threw it away also. Reasoning that he wouldn’t have any dates left if he continued, he blew out the candle – and quickly ate the rest of the dates. Some people prefer the darkness of denial to the light of reality. “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

So, what’s the remedy for running from the Light and denying the presence of sin in our lives?

The answer is CONFESSION. The cure for our sins is to genuinely and sincerely confess them to God. Vs 9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Honesty about our sins is good…but that must be followed by confession.

 The word confess, in both Greek and Latin, means “to say with.” So, to confess your sins is to “say with” God (and everyone else who knows you) what He and they already know. “I’m not perfect. I have major flaws. I need a lot of work.” Confession always melts conflict.

 We can respond to God’s conviction of our sins in one of two ways – by “suppression” (that’s running from our sin) or by “confession.” When we deny and suppress our sins – it results in frustration and resentment and hurt. By contrast, confession results in forgiveness, joy and peace. James says to confess your sins for a reason – so that you may be healed. (James 5:16)

 The THIRD attitude we can have toward the Light is to RESIST it.

“If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1:10). When we resist the light, we’re rationalizing our sins. We may admit to having character flaws, but we don’t call them sins – we call them by more socially acceptable names. For example…

  • If we have a problem with uncontrolled anger and temper tantrums, we excuse them by saying it’s because of our “Latin temperament” or our “Irish heritage”.
  • If we’re dishonest in business we excuse it by saying: “Well, everybody does it! If I don’t go along – I’ll lose business.”
  • If we’re fooling around sexually, we rationalize it with: “Hey, I’m only human. And I have certain needs. I’m sure God understands.”

 Have you ever heard of “action-addict syndrome” or “depression-suicide syndrome”? Lawyers use it as a defense in court.

A Boston court acquitted a man of flying illegal drugs into the United States. His attorneys argued that he was a victim of “action-addict syndrome” – an emotional disorder that makes a person crave dangerous, thrilling situations. He wasn’t a drug dealer – he was merely a thrill seeker.

An Oregon man who tried to kill his ex-wife was acquitted on the grounds that he suffered from “depression-suicide syndrome,” whose victims deliberately commit poorly planned crimes with the unconscious goal of being caught or killed. He didn’t really want to shoot his wife – he wanted the police to shoot him.

Those are just two examples of how in our culture our defense is that nobody’s at fault for anything. We’re a nation of victims – who rationalize away our lack of self-control.

But listen to what the Bible says about self-control: “A person without self-control is like a house with its doors and windows knocked out” (Pro. 25:28 – TM). Or how about (Pro. 25:28 – TM): “The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.”

That means when you let ungodly people set the agenda for your life you can count on being caught in a trap where you care more about what the surrounding culture thinks than what God thinks. And it will cause you to rationalize sin in your life.

So, does this passage give us a remedy for our tendency to rationalize away sin in our lives?  Yes, it does. It’s found in 1 John 2:1-2.

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

John is giving us a theology lesson here. He says that the remedy for resisting the Light and rationalizing our sin is to recognize that when we do sin – and when we’re willing to honestly admit and openly confess our sin to God – that He deals with our sin in a very specific way. It’s called PROPITIATION.  (John will mention propitiation twice in this book).

God says someone has to pay for your sins and my sins. And if it’s not us who pay, who will it be? The doctrine of propitiation answers that question. Jesus has been allowed by the Righteous Judge (God the Father) to take the punishment that our sins deserves – on our behalf.

Back in the OT where it refers to the “mercy seat” in the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:17-22). On the Day of Atonement, the high priest of Israel would enter into the holy of holies with the blood of a young bull. There in front of him was the Ark of the Covenant (a chest that looked like a coffin). In it were the tables of the Law which Israel had broken over and over again. Above the Ark were the covering cherubim and God’s glory was said to rest between them. So, you have a holy God, a broken law, and, in between, a mercy seat (same word as propitiation). There the high priest would sprinkle the blood. So, now the blood stood between a holy God and the broken law. The blood was an atonement or a covering – a propitiation – for the sins of Israel. God’s offended sense of righteous justice could only be propitiated (satisfied) by the blood that was sprinkled. All of this was a shadow of the final once-for-all sacrifice of the Lamb of God – Jesus Christ.

When I think of “propitiation” in terms of providing a “covering” for sin, I think of the expression, “I’ve got you covered.” If we were in a restaurant, and I said, “Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered,” you’d understand that I was paying your bill, right? Think of this world as being like a restaurant. God is the creator and proprietor of this restaurant. When He first created His restaurant, it was a show place. In fact, God said it was “very good.”

Now, like any restaurant, God made it for customers to enjoy. God made this world for mankind to enjoy. We were intended to enjoy the benefits and blessings of God’s world – His restaurant – but instead, we’ve chosen to disrespect the owner. We’re like the customer who constantly complains about the food and gripes about the service, vandalizes the facilities and mistreats and abuses his fellow diners. And all the while he’s contending that he’s the owner of the restaurant and can do as he pleases. Consequently, God’s restaurant, this world, is no longer the show place it once was – and this has gotten the real owner – God – very upset.

Our lack of appreciation for the provisions of God, our mistreatment of His world and of one another – and our refusal to acknowledge Him as the true owner – is what the Bible calls sin, and sin makes God angry. Not only do we owe God for all the good things He’s provided us in His restaurant, we owe Him for the wrong things we’ve done, too.

Unfortunately, the human race is like a person who not only doesn’t have enough money to pay the bill, but when the time to pay the bill arrives, he discovers he doesn’t even have his wallet! Because we can’t pay the bill, we’ll be condemned to work off our debt in the kitchen. That’s what death and Hell is – having to pay the price for our own sin. The problem is that since the price for our sin is so great, it will take an eternity’s worth of suffering to pay the price. But just then the Son of the restaurant owner comes and takes a seat at our table. He knows our dilemma – that we owe for all we’ve consumed and destroyed – and He has good news for us. He says, “Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!”

So now, not only can we escape having to pay the price for what we’ve consumed and destroyed (our sin) – but He tells us that He and His Father plan on remodeling the restaurant and restoring it to its former “showcase” status. He tells us that if we will accept His payment for our bill, we can avoid working it off in the kitchen AND we can be part of the restoration of the restaurant.  We’ll be allowed to enjoy its benefits forever!

Through His death on the cross, Jesus, the Son of God, paid the price for the sins of the entire world. That’s the point John makes here in 1 John 2:2. Jesus paid ALL the debt for ALL the sins of ALL the people in ALL the world!
When Jesus cried, “It is finished” from the cross, the word for finished in Greek is “tetelestai” –  which was a word written on a receipt of payment in the ancient world. It could also be translated, “paid in full.”
John 3:35-36 (NIV) says: “The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”

We can escape the wrath of the Father by trusting in Jesus and accepting the payment He made through His sacrifice on the cross to cover our sins. To not do so is to condemn ourselves to an eternity in Hell.
To carry the illustration to its logical conclusion, God the Father’s patience is wearing thin. He won’t always allow those who have ruined His restaurant to do so indefinitely. One day, He will clean house, and send those who have not accepted the Son’s covering of their bill to the kitchen forever, while those who have accepted the Son’s covering of their bill will celebrate the Father’s goodness in a restored restaurant at His VIP table forever!

And that brings us to the FOURTH attitude we can have toward the Light – and it’s the only one that a genuine follower of Jesus should have. And that is to RESIDE in the Light.

“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (2:3-6).

 John uses the phrase “by this we know” two times in these four verses. He uses it as a play on words. It’s a reference to the Gnostics – like the New Agers/Evolutionaries of our day – who had infiltrated and challenged the church and claimed to “know” things about God that other lesser enlightened followers of Christ didn’t know. John countered that challenge by saying: “We know Him if we keep His commandments and if we walk in the light as He did.”

 Jesus said it best: “If you love me, obey my commandments!” (John 14:15). If you love Me – show Me by your life-style and your actions. Because…“When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” (John 15:10)

Walking in the light is to do just one thing: OBEY Jesus! Nothing more is required. Just obey Him – that’s all. The key to fellowship with God is walking in the Light. And the key to walking in the Light is obedience – doing things God’s way, not ours!

We can REJECT the light…

We can RUN from the Light…

We can RESIST the Light…

Or we can RESIDE in the Light.

It’s our choice.

 

“Love, Fellowship & Joy”

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).

BACKGROUND:

  • 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)

CHARACTER:  

  • 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).

RESOURCES:  

  • 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.

CHURCH LEADERSHIP:

  • 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— 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— 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.”  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.