Some of us remember when the year 1984 seemed far off in the future. The novel 1984 imagined what such a distant time might look like. Using that idea, let’s imagine what the year 2084 might be like.
Suppose people living in America will have to appear in court every year to determine if they are qualified to be U.S. citizens. By birth they should be citizens, but by actions they may not be. Citizenship hangs in the balance as the evidence is presented.
Imagine some people standing before the judge and claiming to be loyal citizens, but he knows they have shown disrespect by consistently violating the laws of the land. The judge will rap his gavel and declare them liars: their violations disqualify them to be citizens.
Imagine others affirming that they have not committed even the smallest of infractions against any law of the land, not so much as driving a mile faster than the speed limit. The judge will again rap his gavel and declare them liars: it’s impossible not to violate some law at some point in some manner. Yet in mercy the judge will place his gavel to the side and extend to them full citizenship. At least they’re doing their best to obey the laws.
Now the point of this imaginary courtroom scene is to help us understand the message of 1 John. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it underscores some basic ideas.
God offers us fellowship with Him and citizenship in the Kingdom (1:3). It’s an amazing birthright. But God the Judge is pure light and does not tolerate darkness (1:5). Those who stand before the Judge and claim to be loyal citizens—yet dwell in the darkness of disrespect and disobedience—will be denounced as liars because they do not live by the truth (1:6). The Judge will rap his gavel: they are not true citizens.
On the other hand, those who stand before the Judge—having consistently shunned the darkness and lived in the light—will be proclaimed to be part of the true Fellowship of believers (1:7). Unfortunately, these believers can also be liars. If they claim that they’ve never committed even the smallest infractions against God’s laws (1:8), they’re liars themselves and they make the Judge out to be a liar as well (1:10). The truth is, they need to own up to their sins and confess them (1:9). But here’s good news: If we do sin, Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins (2:2). However: that doesn’t excuse us from doing all we can to faithfully obey God’s laws (2:1).
APPLICATION: Are we citizens or sinners? Are we respectful, law-abiding saints in God’s Kingdom, determined not to sin and confessing when we do? The Judge in his great mercy will extend to us full citizenship and fellowship. Or: Are we living on the border of disrespect and disobedience? What will the Judge do in that case?
Nowadays when you open the news, the main stories are usually who has dug up dirt on whom. Everyone has dirt on them (1 Jn 1:8). When the whistleblower accuses you, it often ends up in court. At that point, there is a prosecuting attorney and your defense attorney. Your defense attorney doesn’t like surprises, so you should confess ALL things that will eventually get discovered and published. Don’t worry, your attorney can keep a secret, that is the privilege referred to here. HOWEVER, sometimes it is helpful for your attorney to have you preemptively confess something that may or may not get discovered later. By preemptively confessing, a) it shows you are not hiding something, b) you can show contrition, c) you can “settle out of court.”
The two passages here are using courtroom language. Romans asks who is against us? The Accuser is Satan (his name in Hebrew means “accuser.”) John refers to Jesus as our Advocate, and that word in Greek is paraclete, which means comforter or helper, but in a legal sense (defense attorney, hence advocate). It is usually used to describe the Holy Spirit (John 14:6, 15:26, 16:7). Note that John 14:16 says, “ANOTHER Helper,” Jesus being the first (1 John 2:1) and then the Holy Spirit being the second.
So about that attorney-client privilege: consider David and Bathsheba. David broke 4 of the 10 commandments in one act (2 Sam 11). Initially he confessed it to no one, but God told Nathan and Nathan told David and David told the world in Psalm 51. Looking in the rest of the Bible, I cannot find any example where someone confessed to God and He said, “Sorry, that one is not covered, that is a pre-existing condition, you’re on your on with that one.” No, God is our Advocate no matter how bad, because nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nevertheless, while we are ALWAYS required to confess to God, we may be required to confess to the other party we wronged, and MAY be required to confess to the church at large, and MAY be required to confess in a court of law (to the world).
But through it all, we know God loves us no matter what.
I appreciate when our pastors encourage us to testify to God’s glory while we celebrate the Love Feast. I confess that I’m as guilty as anyone at the table who talks about good stuff – kids, jobs, weather – but usually no one talks specifically about how Christ’s death made it possible for us to know God’s glory and His righteousness which we accept by faith.
There are church-going folk who believe in God, carry a Bible to church, and say they have faith, but the cross of Jesus has, at most, given their self-esteem a boost since they believe God forgives and loves no matter what. So, all day long their minds focus on themselves and everything that happens is viewed according to whether or not things will affect them personally. Their joy comes from things that don’t appear evil and they believe when they die they’ll deserve heaven. John Piper says this is a “secular mindset.”
If that’s the case, what is sin? What makes us fall short of the glory of God? It’s despising God’s glory – often subconsciously – and preferring fleeting pleasures over the everlasting joys of an abiding fellowship with God. Is it perhaps even a sin to embrace God’s good gifts more than humbly recognizing and embracing Who God is? Is it also sinful to cheapen God’s forgiveness of sin when there’s the belief that God is so great and loving that Christians’ self-absorption doesn’t bother Him?
What if God had chosen to vindicate the righteousness of His name by requiring from mankind a degree of suffering in direct proportion to the degree of the worth of His glory that is despised by mans’ sin? That would be hell! God chose to demonstrate His righteousness not by condemning us as we deserve, but by killing His perfect Son in our place. We respond to this amazing truth as a core belief and a foundation of our faith. It is infinitely more valuable than any propped up self-esteem. So what will our mindset be as we work, play, and go to church? To God be the glory.
There is no fence-straddling with the Apostle John. He talks straight and writes very clearly to his readers. To him there are no “mugwumpers” in the Christian faith. I believe I heard Billy Graham once use the term, saying that you can’t have your mug on one side of the fence and your wump on the other.
No doubt, we need to hear this kind of straight talk. With John it’s either black or white; there is no gray. Let’s not forget, however, that John was the proponent of love, as evidenced later in chapter 3 and his other epistles.
Christians are to walk in the light, implying that it’s possible to walk in darkness—again a clear contrast in the way a person can live his or her life. John says, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” In today’s corollary reading from John’s Gospel (1:9), he speaks of Jesus (the Word) as “the true light that gives light to every man.” Earlier, in verse 5 he wrote that Jesus is “the light [that] shines in the darkness.”
The writer then makes some soul-searching contrasting challenges. We cannot read them without careful self-examination. On which side of these contrasts am I? The answer will either give us cause to rejoice in the one with whom we have fellowship or trigger conviction that should lead to confession and repentance before Almighty God.
If you find yourself on the wrong side of the “fence” in these contrasts, flee immediately to verse 9. John makes it abundantly clear that upon your confession of sin and rebellion against the truth, the ever-loving God will forgive and cleanse you completely.
In his Gospel, John wrote, “To all who received him [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (1:12). As we accept God’s offer of forgiveness, and confess Jesus as lord (Romans 10:9), we move from darkness to light (Colossians 1:12).
We are beginning today a several-week study in the book of 1 John, and it shouldn’t surprise us how he starts: by talking about Jesus! As we look today at John’s introduction to the letter we see a number of truths about Jesus that are worth pointing out:
The divinity of Jesus
John starts off this letter by writing about, “that which was from the beginning” (1 John 1:1). It seems likely that what he is meaning is that Jesus is “from the beginning,” speaking to his eternality. This is really similar to how John begins his gospel account, too: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). What he is getting at in both of these verses is that Jesus was from the beginning (that is, the beginning of time) and actually was before that as well. In other words, Jesus is the eternal Son of God.
The humanity of Jesus
Jesus is God, and He always has been, dating all the way back to the beginning of time – and before. But at a set point in time, He incarnated himself as a human being and dwelt among man. He was born and grew up, and when he was around the age of 30 he began his public ministry. He called people to himself, particularly 12 disciples. Among the 12 was a sort of inner three, made up of Peter, James, and John – the same John who wrote this letter! John lived life with Jesus for a few years: John heard his teachings, saw his miracles, saw him transfigured, saw him crucified, saw him risen, and saw him ascend into heaven. So when John is writing these things, he does so as an eye-witness to Jesus – which is why he says “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:1-2). John was an eyewitness to the person and work of Jesus, who was made manifest and dwelt as a human being for a specific purpose.
The work of Jesus
You may have heard the popular saying that the Gospel is like a multi-faceted diamond, and maybe the most glorious of those facets is that through the work of Christ, we can have relationship with God! John writes that Jesus was made manifest, saying “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Through the work of Jesus, we can have fellowship with God! Sin separates from a holy God, and therefore it was necessary that Jesus make atonement for our sins in order that we might have a right standing with God and experience eternal relationship with Him! Praise God!!!
You’ll also notice in that verse that we have fellowship with each other! Believers in Jesus Christ, those who have come to experience this incredible fellowship with God, are also brought into the fellowship of redeemed believers, the church, united around this shared interest. John is inviting people to come into this fellowship: to experience the gospel, the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God that is effected by Jesus’ work on the cross, and to thus experience fellowship with God – and when that happens, we also experience fellowship with other believers.
The joy of Jesus
Finally, John gives us his purpose in writing this letter: “And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:4). John is all about experiencing the fullness of joy that comes from knowing Jesus. He actually seems to be echoing the words of Jesus here. For example, in John’s gospel he records Jesus as saying, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11), and also, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). Both of those verses use the same Greek word that John uses here. I do not think that is coincidental; John here is alluding to the complete joy that comes from knowing and following Jesus. That’s his desire in writing this letter: to promote the joy of fellowship with Jesus.
Writing 200 years ago, the poet William Blake poignantly expressed his earnest longing: “Bring me my chariot of fire.” Subsequently the words became the inspiration for the title of the movie, “Chariots of Fire,” the remarkable story of the runner Eric Liddell winning a gold medal in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Liddell was a devout Christian and would go on to give his life as a martyr while a missionary in China.
Now if the Apostle Paul had been a poet, he may well have reflected on the life of Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) and also written “Bring me my chariot of fire!” Paul was writing his last words from death row. He had been imprisoned multiple times, but there would be no escaping the executioner’s sword this time: “The time has come for my departure.”
Paul’s last will and testament was a somber appraisal of what the early church was facing, as well as what he personally was facing. The battle for the hearts and lives of people was intensifying. Many were turning away from the faith (2 Tim 4:4). False teachers were “spreading like gangrene” (2 Tim 2:17). The wave of persecution begun by the Emperor Nero led to many Christians being tortured, crucified, and burned alive.
Paul himself was not only suffering severe persecution in a dank Roman prison—“chained like a criminal” (2 Tim 2:9) and “being poured out like a drink offering” (2 Tim 4:6)—but people he had discipled were deserting him, including “everyone in the province of Asia” (2 Tim 1:15; see also 4:9, 16). Incredible! (We don’t know why people abandoned Paul: Were they afraid for their own lives? Had they turned away from the faith?)
Yet in spite of the dark circumstances, Paul had complete confidence that he had run the race well, and—like winners of races in the ancient world—he would receive the victor’s wreath. Paul didn’t have much to live for in the present, but looking forward, he had everything to live for: “The Lord will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim 4:6, 18).
In the movie “Chariots of Fire,” Eric Liddell said, “I believe God made me for a purpose. But he also made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure.” It’s clear that Paul ran hard all the way to the end. Though the course was difficult, he sensed God’s pleasure because he knew he had “fought a good fight and finished the race” (2 Tim 4:7).
How are we doing? Paul’s running shoes are big ones to fill. Yet God calls all of us to be “Pauls.” Will we be “chariots of fire”?
When a newborn baby first arrives, they do not appear as they will appear in later life. Perhaps by checking the size of their hands you can determine if they will be a football player, or the size of their foreheads if they will be a thinker. A better measure of the child’s future appearance might be to check out the present appearance of their parents. The child will often grow up to more and more resemble the parent.
In this passage of 1 John, he writes of appeared (past), appears (present), and will appear (future). The players are Jesus, us, and antichrists; each appearing with children that look progressively more like them.
In 2:18, the antichrists appeared in John’s day (and are still at large today). But never fear, Jesus appeared shortly thereafter in 2:28 (the Incarnation). While on Earth, He birthed children, and promised His return. That promise of imminent return rightly frightened the antichrists, but cheered His children.
In 3:2, the children observe that they do not yet appear as Jesus appeared, neither in body characteristics nor in maturity of character. Later in 3:2, Jesus promises that He will appear in the 2nd Coming (exact time TBA).
In 3:4, Jesus’ mission is described: He appeared (1st Coming) to take away sins, and in 3:8 appeared to destroy the works of the Devil.
In modern terminology we could say Paul contextualized. He didn’t alter the Message depending on who he was witnessing to, but he adapted to their culture in uncompromising ways — which prevented barriers, or walls, from getting in the way of people hearing the message of the gospel.
Is Paul’s strategy one we can emulate? When we’re “Out Plantin’,” can we humbly forget about socio-economic status and personal comforts so that there is no appearance of a superior attitude? Can we get close enough to unbelievers to know how they view life, know what their questions are, or what makes them anxious and frustrated? This requires us to be approachable and empathetic with heaps of patient listening.
God is not a Middle Eastern first-century man and yet he did live on earth as one – deliberately limiting His divine attributes in order to be fully human and fully God. I imagine his hair style and clothing didn’t look any different than those of the other Jewish men in Israel. He could be touched, questioned, followed, and rejected. Now we are the Body of Christ and have a mission to live and tell the gospel – even if we get rejected.
Here’s a Tim Keller quote: “Contextualism is not – as is often argued – giving people what they want to hear. Rather it is giving people the Bible’s answers (which they may not at all want to hear), to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel. . . . “
When I see a billboard with peeling paint that says JESUS IS THE ANSWER, I wonder what an unbeliever who has massive struggles thinks about that. Could that board be more of a wall than of hope if there’s no one to explain what it means? Christians’ car tires go flat, computers crash, and we get sick because we live in a broken world. But knowing Christ and becoming more like Him puts all these aggravations into perspective and that’s why each of us has a testimony to share.
If you’re a runner, you want to know something about the course you’ll traverse and the prize being promised. So, you may talk to someone else who’s run it before you. In the “marathon of life,” we don’t have that advantage, but we can look at the lives of others who gone before us and learn from their experience.
The end of Hebrews 11 (vv. 39-40) tell us that the saints who have preceded us are still awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promises to them which they will receive along with us (v.40). And God’s promise is “something better” than they or we could possibly imagine. The promises we receive from God today are often temporal, but his “something better” will be eternal.
There are at least four essential elements in the Christian’s running a successful race:
The writer of Hebrews adds another consideration for us as we run the race (the Christian’s life time “marathon”). In verse 3, he tells us to “consider” the endurance of Jesus “so that [we] will not grow weary and lose heart.” The implication is that we indeed might become tired and want to quit because of fatigue and the “opposition from sinful men.” It brings to mind the words from the Old Testament prophet: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Although we have the reminders of the faithful who have gone before, we must not look back but always face forward.
Those who know me know that I am an unabashed Star Wars nerd. At one point in the newest movie, The Last Jedi, the villain Kylo Ren says: “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become who you were meant to be.” He wants to take it to some extremes, but at the heart of Kylo’s efforts is a desire to move on from the past in order to move forward.
I think we often need to be reminded of that lesson, don’t we? It might not be healthy to be as radical or extreme as Kylo is, but nonetheless we like to hold on to the past – sometimes too much. While it’s good to remember the past and to treasure fond memories and events, it’s not good to get so caught up in the past that we miss what’s ahead.
I appreciate Paul’s example of this in the first half of Philippians 3. He starts by explaining how good he is, by the Jewish standards: he was circumcised on the eighth day, he belonged to Israel from the tribe of Benjamin, he was “a Hebrew of Hebrews,” he was a Pharisee when it came to the law, he was a persecutor of the church of Jesus Christ, and he was “blameless” under the law. He says it plainly: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more.” In other words, Paul lays his credentials on the table and says, “I was as good of a Jew as there is.” But he doesn’t linger there, instead saying, “but whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” For Paul, his accomplishments and his past success didn’t even compare to how worthwhile and valuable knowing Jesus is. He treasured Jesus above all else.
This is important context to what we read Paul saying later in the chapter: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul wasn’t interested in getting caught up in the past; he was solely focused on pressing on to pursue Jesus. Paul wrote in Philippians that he has more reason to boast in the flesh than anyone, but in 1 Timothy he wrote that he was the worst of sinners (1:15) – and all of that he leaves behind as he runs after Christ.
For some, it might be past sin that is getting in the way of pressing on, as it may be easy to get discouraged and burdened and ensnared. But for others, it might be past accomplishments that are getting in the way of pressing on, as it may be easy to rest on one’s laurels and coast. Whatever it is, Paul’s point isn’t about getting us to completely forget or give up the past, but rather to do whatever we need to so that we can run forward in pursuit of Christ. So what is it that is holding you back?
There is nothing that can even attempt to compare to the glory of Jesus Christ. That’s how Paul is able to say that he counts everything as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus! Let us do whatever needs to be done in order to stop being hindered by the past and press on toward Jesus, because he is infinitely and eternally worth it!