What might be the greatest crisis in society today? Is it right-to-life issues, such as abortion? Is it a lack of faith, largely because Christians don’t share their own faith enough? Is it the role of women—in the home, in the church, in society? Is it creation, especially when and how God created the universe? Is it the need for prayer, that God’s will would be done and his kingdom would come?
Many non-believers hear Christians talk a lot about certain issues and probably think we consider those things most important. But the real question is, What does Jesus want our greatest passion, our highest priority, our deepest commitment to be?
The passage for today nails it. Note what John says:
Could anything be clearer? More important?
Randy Alcorn writes, “Holiness was once a central component of following Christ. But for many today the Christian life is little more than a celebration of cheap grace . . . with a high tolerance for sin.” In his book, The Hole in Our Holiness (p. 12), Kevin Deyoung asks: “Is obedience what your church is known for? Is it what other Christians think of when they look at your life?”
Elmer Davis said about the U.S., “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.” Well said. Using that as an analogy, consider this statement: The church will accomplish its mission only so long as it is the home of the holy.
Let us make our highest priority to become pure and holy in the image of Christ. And let’s let everything else be secondary.
(Questions to ponder: 1) Is it necessary for us to be pure to go to heaven? 2) If sin in our lives proves Jesus is not there, why did John say earlier that if we claim to be without sin, the truth is not in us? 3) If the church puts a lot of emphasis on the necessity of holiness, might that drive people away, thinking church has become too demanding, even legalistic? 4) Or have Christians become too soft on sin, which allows people to come to church and think they’re Christians, when the way they live raises doubts?)
I remember as a kid my parents telling me about a doctor practicing medicine, and I always wondered why they were allowed to do that since obviously “practice” meant they had not mastered it yet. As I got older, I learned that lawyers and musicians also practice their art, but factory workers or even craftsmen like carpenters simply do their job. I think the difference is that to practice a thing means that it will never be the exact same thing twice (even though you practice scales). Even a dentist removing two pair of wisdom teeth from identical twins will find differences. On the other hand, factory workers and carpenters are expected to produce identical results over and over again.
In 1st John 3, verses 4, 7, 8, 9, and 10 John continues his teaching by contrast. The contrast is sin/lawlessness and righteousness. Now you need to check your translations. In most of the modern translations, it says those who PRACTICE sin or PRACTICE righteousness (or some sense of continual persistence). The KJV simply says those who COMMIT sin or DOETH righteousness (which implies once and done). The danger of the KJV is that it sounds like if you screw up just once, you are disqualified for life. Or the flip side danger is that if you do one really big righteous work, then that makes you righteous. Clearly John is talking about a lifestyle of continuous sin or continuous righteousness. Even then, it is not a matter of exceeding some ratio or threshold, and especially not a matter of comparing ourselves with others. Rather it is our propensity for sin versus righteousness.
Consider a pair of clean dice (I just got back from a conference in Las Vegas). They should randomly roll any number from 2-12. John is talking about loaded dice: they can be loaded for sin or righteousness. While they still occasionally roll some odd number, they have a propensity to come up in a given pattern. Our lives are to be changed from loaded for sin to loaded for righteousness. Will we come up with a perfect roll every time? No, but more and more as we practice righteousness, we will, and “In this the children of God are manifest.”
I covered a large photograph with plain paper in which I had cut out a square hole to reveal only a small part of the picture. Then I had my students guess what they thought they were looking at. Among their answers were, “a flower,” and “a leaf.” When I revealed the entire picture they were astonished to see that what had been showing in the small opening was part of a pelican’s gullet! So it is with isolating one passage of scripture and building on it a doctrine that could never stand up in the context of the whole of Scripture.
In 1 John 3:5 where it says “and in him is no sin,” (referring to believers) could John be teaching a doctrine of sinless perfection? NO!! Actually, John was opposing a heresy introduced by false teachers who were propagating that the pre-existent Son of God had NOT come in the flesh. This lead to a presumption that one became a Christian in the spiritual sense but it had no effect on the deeds of the flesh – it wouldn’t affect what one would do with the body’s brain, lips, hands, and feet. They said what you did while in your mortal body wasn’t the real you, rather an ethereal sinlessness is what was real.
We know for certain John was aware that even after the New Birth we continue to be tempted to sin. Look at 1:8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves . . .” When we do sin, daily, or every hour, John reminds us we have an advocate with the Father. Those truly born again will not be at peace with ongoing patterns of sinful behavior, but will not delay in repenting. We will desire cleansing and restoration to a clear conscience and joy in the Lord.
So yes, in 3:7 those who practice righteousness are righteous. We confirm our position in Christ by what we do that honors Him, and thus we can have full assurance of our salvation. There is no condemnation for those who have passed from death into His marvelous light.
Has anyone ever told you, “You look just your father?” or “I’d know you anywhere—you look just like your brother”? When we hear those words, we realize there must be a family resemblance that we can’t avoid. That’s often true of the way we act, as well as the way we look. Remind your kids to stay out of trouble, since their actions reflect on your last name.
How much more important to reflect well on the name of our heavenly family! John reminds us that we who have trusted in Jesus are “God’s children” (2:1, 21, 28; 3:1-2, 7, 10). He says we are “born of God” (3:9). See also John 1:12.
In today’s passage John makes an amazing statement that when Jesus returns we will really take on a family resemblance because we’re going to be just like him. He writes, “When Christ appears, we shall be like him” (v. 2).
At that glorious time, he says, “We shall see him as he is.” We can hardly imagine what that will be like. We’ve read of Jesus in the Gospels, so we know something of his life, miracles, and saving work; but what did he look like? We just don’t know. And is it really all that important? Our being like him probably has very little to do with outward appearance.
Perhaps there’s a hint about what it means to be like him at the end of verse 3: “All who have this hope (of being just like him) … will keep themselves pure just as he is pure.” As we live here until he appears, we are to walk in purity. How? By walking in the Spirit, walking in love, walking in the light, walking in the truth, and walking in obedience (all direct teachings in the epistles).
As people of hope (v. 3) we are encouraged by the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Can people see our hope and the family resemblance in our daily walk?
At WL the past two Sundays, we have heard about two of the main themes of 1 John: he is writing so that believers might have confidence they belong to Christ, and he continues to refer to abiding/remaining in Christ. I think both of those concepts show up in today’s reading, too.
John again calls his audience “children” here to continue the sense of a fatherly love and instruction, and he again exhorts them to abide in Christ – to remain faithful, to continue believing and trusting and obeying Jesus. But here, his instruction to abide is “so that when [Jesus] appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” John is encouraging us to abide, which gives us confidence that we belong to Christ. Put another way: our perseverance in belief and obedience should give us confidence that we truly belong.
There is coming a day on which Christ will return and will judge, and there will certainly be mixed responses from mankind then! Some will approach with overwhelming joy and confidence, whereas others will hide in shame. I think of two teachings of Jesus here. In John 15:11, he tells his disciples to abide in his love and says, “these things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Abiding in Christ should give us joy, and that joy should lead us to run toward Christ and not shy away from him! Consider another teaching of Jesus, however, in Luke 9:26: “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Those who do not know Christ will cower in fear and shame at his sight.
I think John’s point is obvious way: we want to be like the first group! We want to follow Jesus, to remain faithful to him and to press on in following his ways. If we do so, we will be filled with confidence, and on the day of his coming we will not hide in shame but will be filled with overwhelming joy as we run to meet him. And make no mistake: every knee will one day bow and every tongue will one day confess that Jesus is Lord – will you bow in joyful confidence or in fearful shame? Let us abide in him both now and forevermore, that we may experience his joy and confidence.
Charles Templeton: newspaper editor, evangelist, broadcaster, inventor, agnostic, politician. But hold the phone: both evangelist and agnostic?! How is that possible?
In 1946 Charles Templeton was an up-and-coming pastor and world-wide preacher. He and Billy Graham were best friends, traveling together, rooming together, and preaching to thousands. Preaching on alternating nights during crusades, together they saw many come to Christ.
But two years later things changed drastically. Doubts about Christianity took over, and Templeton began to turn away from God. Later in life he would entitle his memoir, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith. His book sought to explain not only his own disbelief, but to undermine others’ faith as well.
Lee Strobel, in the first chapter of his book, A Case for Faith, recounts a conversation with Templeton near the end of life. Regarding Jesus, Templeton said, “He was the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. He had the greatest compassion of any human being in history. There have been many other wonderful people, but Jesus is Jesus.” Unfortunately, for Templeton, Jesus was not God, because Templeton could not be sure God exists.
Is Charles Templeton unique? Actually, the landscape of Christian history is dotted with people who have turned away from the faith. And based on what John says, the early church was not immune to the problem. The possibility is confronted in the book of Hebrews (for example, 6:4-6), and it’s a key part of John’s argument in his letters. Take heed!
Actually, this is a very uncomfortable idea. We don’t like to think about it. Were these castaways never Christians to begin with, even though they thought they were and even were instrumental in others becoming Christians? (Wrestling with that question will have to wait for another time.)
The reality is, Satan is lurking, looking for any opening to undermine any person’s faith, maybe teenagers especially, but all the way up to senior adults. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re young or old, into the milk of the Word or the meat of the Word. Apparently any of us have the potential to turn away from God.
What do we do? Actually there are lots of things we can and should do. The starting point is recognizing the real possibility of falling off the cliff of faith; we won’t want to get too close to that brink lest we do fall. We’ll want to pray and ask for God’s protection from the evil one. We’ll want to immerse ourselves in the truths of God’s Word. And we’d be wise to have friends around us who also are keeping their distance from the cliff of disaster.
In other words, if we’re serious about not losing our faith, we’ll take all the proactive steps we can to avoid crashing and burning. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2)
Our presidential inaugurations are so … sanitary. In OT times, leaders were “crowned” by anointing them with oil. Messiah and Christ both mean “anointed,” in Hebrew and Greek respectively. At WLGBC, there is still anointing with oil when the elders pray for the sick. When we do it, it is a small sign of the cross on the forehead with a finger dipped in oil. The Catholics call that a chrism, the same word used in 1 John 2 for anointing. However, the OT anointing was a bit more oil than that. In Psalm 133, David writes, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes.” That is probably a cup or more of oil!
OT symbols were usually an amplification of a physical thing: a bath washed away real dirt, a baptism (mikvah) washed away spiritual dirt. Oil on the head was used for marking one as physically honored (Psa 23:5, Luke 7:46), and a king was anointed with oil as a spiritual honor. Which brings us to 1 John 2:26-27. John refers to anointing as a mode of teaching. I don’t believe that anointing is referred to anywhere else as a means of conveying teaching. To be honest, I do not know what this picture represents. I have to take it at face value, and I see the spiritual side of it, but I cannot see why John uses a picture of oil for learning, unless the teaching is supposed to “soak in” to your head like oil into your skin. But there it is: “The anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things.”
A friend bequeathed to me some potted plants. When I brought the fuchsia inside before the first frost most of the branches had become barren and brittle. I wanted the plant to live in memory of my friend but it looked hopeless. I removed all the dead branches and it’s been a living parable as new shoots full of healthy leaves keep sprouting.
I’m not too fond of silk plants that always look green but they’re fake and will never grow. Are we alive in Christ or faking Christianity? Those who are truly alive are described in verses like Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom . . .” Isn’t it amazing that there can even be a relationship between the human and the divine? The initiative comes from the divine and then humans can respond. Martin Luther said about the divine indwelling us, “He is the basis, the cause, the source of all our actual righteousness.”
I also appreciate Sinclair Ferguson who said, “Allow His Word to fill our minds, direct our wills, and transform our affections.” When this is happening we will more likely pray according to God’s will and that’s why we can ask God for what we desire because our desires will be God-honoring. Note that a quick, casual scan of a few verses a day and grabbing a few desperate seconds to pray for help, won’t have much power to cause us to desire holiness.
What is your day going to be filled with today — writing computer code, doing data entry, research and/or writing, watching T.V., traveling, or teaching? These endeavors may require different levels of focus, so how does a person allow the Living Water to flow through his or her soul in order to abide in the True Vine? Do all to the glory of God with integrity and seize opportunities to love those with whom you cross paths on this last day of January.
John had much to say about how we live. He called it walking. In John 2:6 he says if we claim to live in Jesus, we should walk as he did. Previously he had said that such a walk resulted in having fellowship with other believers and included the purifying of one’s life. (1:7). Later (2:9-11) he contrasts walking in light and walking in darkness.
In today’s passage, John emphasizes another facet to walking as Jesus did. He says in vv. 20-21 that believers “know the truth.” …the implication being, walk in truth.
In his second epistle, v. 4, he again says children of God should “walk in the truth.” It seems evident, then, that walking as Jesus walked is to walk both in the light and in truth. To do so, of course, we need to know him, and to know him we must understand all that the Holy Spirit teaches us about him (the living Word) in the written Word. Again, in 2 John (v. 9) the writer emphasizes the importance of “continuing in the teaching of Christ.”
Because there can be no lie in truth (v. 21), John explains that anyone who denies the truth, specifically that Jesus is the Messiah (God’s anointed One), is against Christ (anti-Christ). By denying Christ, they make it clear that they really don’t know God the Father, either.
As you walk today, be careful to walk as Jesus walked, reflecting light and truth. Are you intentionally following the teaching of Jesus? If so, take joy in your walk and relationship with God. If not, go back to 1:9, confess and accept God’s forgiveness and cleansing.
There is a striking contrast found in this passage of 1 John today: the contrast between those who abandon the church and those who belong to the true church.
A few weeks ago, Roger Peugh challenged us during a sermon at WL that we don’t want to be “playing church” – that is, we don’t want to just be going along with the motions of church and not actually belong to the body of Christ, the church. We see in today’s passage that these antichrists who have come don’t belong to the church. In many ways, they’re those who are just “playing church.”
Note that John identifies this as “the last hour” twice in this passage, and he says that the reason we know it’s the last hour is because many antichrists have come. It seems that John has in mind here two antichrists: the antichrist that will appear in Revelation, and many antichrists who appear in the meantime. Jesus was up front about the reality that as the Gospel message spread, so would false teachers (Matthew 24:4-5). This last hour was kicked off with Christ’s death and resurrection, and it will continue until his second coming – essentially, this is just the period in-between his arrivals. And during this time, many antichrists – those who are anti to the Gospel and opposed to Christ and spewing lies – will rise up. This should not surprise any of us.
John explains that these antichrists “went out from us,” using another contrast: “they” versus “us.” He uses “they” to make it clear that these people were not a part of “us” – because “if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they are all not of us.” What this makes clear is that these antichrists are not people who have lost their salvation; rather, these antichrists are people who were never saved in the first place. They might have been playing church for a while, but they eventually left and it was evidence that they never truly belonged; they were never truly saved.
These people – the “they” – are contrasted by the “us.” After explaining that these antichrists were not a part of them, he writes, “But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you have all knowledge.” These people had experienced God’s anointing power on their lives through the person and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who guides them into knowledge and truth. We see later that these antichrists are liars (v.22), which makes the contrast with the Spirit who gives knowledge and truth all that more important.
The anointing of the Holy Spirit is more than just an evidence that we belong; it is a way in which we resist the sways of antichrists and false teachers and abide in Christ (John’s main point in this section, as we see in verse 27). The Spirit opens our minds to know and understand truth, and through His work and power we are able to discern the lies of false teachers.