Laws, rules & commands don’t produce love (1 John 2:7-11)

“Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever 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.” (1 John 2:7–11 ESV)

John is not launching a new command, but reiterating the singular command of scripture:  Love God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and others (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:34-40).  The requirement of God has always been to love Him first and to obey Him as a reflection of our love for Him.  Our obedience was always supposed to flow out of our love for Him.  However, we learn through the whole of the Old Testament and from our personal lives that being commanded to love God is impossible for us to obey.  Laws, rules & commands don’t produce love.  Love must be shown, love must be demonstrated.  The Law modeled what loving behavior looked like, but was powerless to produce it on its own.  It was all pointing to One who would demonstrate perfect love by coming and living a perfectly obedient life of love on our behalf.

John also says that this command is new.  The command to wholeheartedly love God has now been fulfilled by Jesus.  God clothed Himself in the confines of human flesh, subjected Himself to a life on broken earth, was tempted in every way (but never sinned), was spit upon, ridiculed and murdered for His goodness – all for us.  He demonstrated perfect love for God and for us.  Who goes through what He went through for His enemies?  Who does that to make enemies family?  Our love for God is the natural byproduct of believing what Jesus has done on our behalf.  The more we meditate on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection on our behalf, the more we are moved by His demonstration of love for us.  His love marks us and produces a love for God that flows into a love for others.

It is impossible walk in the light and hate others.  But, how do we learn to love others?  We abide in Him, we revel in and behold the beautiful love that Jesus had for us – the most depraved, broken and rebellious of people.  In an abiding relationship with Jesus, there is no darkness.  If we have hatred for others, we are walking in darkness and are blinded by the darkness.  So if we feel hatred boiling up in us, do we just try harder to love Jesus and that person?  No.  We run to the foot of the cross, we behold Him and Who He is and what He has done.  We beg God to awaken our dead hearts to the redemptive beauty and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  We ask to see God’s majesty, holiness & glory more clearly and to understand our depravity more deeply.  These are the things that make love and grace something that no longer needs to be explained because they are now experienced.  When we know just how bad we really are and just how perfect & powerful He really is, we fall on our knees in worship because we know how unworthy we really are to be called His children.  This worship gives way to a love for others that is supernatural.

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Transformed hearts lead to transformed lives (1 John 2:1-6)

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:1–6 ESV)

John now shifts to a practical line of thinking.  It is interesting that he says that his point in writing this is so that we would not sin – though he already acknowledged that we would (1 John 1:8).  More importantly, John ties the power to walk in increasing freedom and obedience to the atonement of Jesus Christ.  This has nothing to do with “do more and try harder.”  This is a beautiful picture of an atoning God who welcomes you back when you fail.  A good test as to whether you truly understand the gospel and its implications in your life is when you fail, do you run to God or run from Him to try to clean yourself up?  He is the propitiation for our sins – that is, He is the the “sacrifice that bears God’s wrath and turns it to favor,” ESV Study Bible.  This propitiation is not just available to John’s readers, but to all who will respond by faith.

John writes to tell us how to not sin (v1), but knows that we will sin and ensures us that Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins and then goes on to provide us with a test of how to be assured that we are His:  walk in obedience.  This is an interesting and beautiful picture that provides profound confidence in the midst of immense difficulties.  As we grow in Christ like characteristics, we are all the more assured of our election (2 Peter 1:10).  As we experience supernaturally transformed attitudes that flow into obedient actions, we become increasingly more confident that we are indeed elect because we are experiencing God working in our hearts and lives.

If we say that we “know him” and do not keep his commandments then we are lying and the truth is not in us (1 John 2:4).  If we say we are in Christ, but have no desire to love Him, follow Him or see Him glorified in our lives then we are deceiving ourselves.  Joyful obedience is the evidence of regeneration.  If you can’t or won’t forgive, you haven’t experienced forgiveness.  If you can’t love, you’ve not experienced the love of God.  We must be cautious not to use this as fuel for the self-righteousness that reigns in all of us.  This passage is far more helpful as a diagnostic for our own personal spiritual health and vitality than it is for evaluating that of others.

Obedience is the evidence of transformation.  We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, but not by a faith that stays alone.  As we abide in him, our walk of joyful obedience will increase – as we abide, we will bear fruit (John 15:1-10).  There is an ethical response to grace that we should walk in; the degree to which we will walk in it is the degree to which we will grow in our assurance of salvation.  Our love for God is perfected in our obedience to God.  This love is not a fluffy feeling, but a real, ethical response to the love that God has given to us (1 John 4:19).

Where broken people find true freedom (1 John 1:5-10)

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:5–10 ESV)

God is pure, perfect and totally holy, void of any darkness – He is absolute pure light. We are all imperfect and sinful people, but those who prove that they are His are the ones that make a pattern of walking in light versus walking in the darkness – though imperfectly, they chose light over darkness.  This is part of our progressive sanctification as we grow in holiness over time.

Our actions always speak louder than our words.  We can say that we love God and serve Him, but if we are walking in ongoing sin then we are not in fellowship with Him regardless of what we say.  We are lying to and deceiving ourselves.  Satan’s primary tool against Christians is his ability to manipulate & deceive – it is what he did to Adam & Eve in the garden and it is what he still does today.  Sin is always a declaration of autonomy, we just don’t want to submit to anyone; we want to be in control and to do what is right in our own eyes (Judges 17:6, 21:25).  This is marked by, “I think,” “I feel,” “my experience has been.”  We should never discount our thoughts, feelings, or experiences, but we should always weigh them in light of what is good, holy and right.  This is primarily revealed in the scriptures and applied in the context of Christian community.  We all have blind spots and we need others to help illuminate them and put them to death (Colossians 3:5).

If we walk in the light, we have fellowship with Him and with each other – and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from our sins.  As we walk in the light with other transformed believers, we experience increasing freedom from sin.  Walking in the light means walking in right doctrine, moral purity and not hiding sin from ourselves and from one another.  It means that we strive to put to death that which is sinful in us (Colossians 3:5).  We are to murder the sin that is within us, and not just the external symptoms, but the root from which it springs.  Extreme measures should be taken to kill sin in our lives (Matthew 5:29-30).  This requires others, but not just any “Christian Community” will do!  Putting sin to death requires a grace saturated Christian Community of people who are deeply aware of their own depravity and God’s great holiness and the unearned, undeserved, unmerited favor, approval & affection that bridges this chasm.  This community is marked by grace that is freely extended to other broken sinners who want to confess their sins & turn from them to find true freedom.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  BOLD!  Indwelling sin is a reality of life on fallen planet earth.  Even John recognizes that He is still sinful.  The height of pride and blindness is to say that we have no sin – or to say we are sinful, but are unwilling to address it specifically.  No one is without sin, and the person who wants to downplay their sin and call it dysfunction or wiring or “just the way I am” is someone who is unwilling to acknowledge their sinfulness.  God help us.  There is a difference between walking in ongoing, unrepentant sin and saying that we are without sin altogether.  Indeed, the mature believer is coming to see just how deep the roots of sin run in his heart and is becoming increasingly more appreciative for the grace of God.

The gospel declares the good news that God is faithful to heal sinners who come to Him and confess their sin to Him.  Confession and repentance are all that are required to be clean and free.  But, we rarely want to confess and repent of the deepest, darkest parts of our hearts.  To confess it means the risk of judgement from others, but to hold it in is to walk in slavery.  To be free, you must find some grace saturated Christians to confess your deepest sinfulness to so that it can be put to death (James 5:16)!  There is no penance that you must do, however there may be consequences.  We are all shocked when a “tame” lion attacks someone who is close to it.  We say, “it was such a gentle and tame lion, I can’t believe he’d attack that poor person!”  What!?!?  He is an alpha predator, all he does is kill and eat things.  We are shocked when we keep our secret sins on a leash (like a tame lion) and they turn around and attack us and destroy our lives.  We must be willing to drag our pet lions out into the light of day and put a bullet in its head.  This is a community effort, we all need to get our guns and help each other kill our sin!

Revelation is Required (1 John 1:1-4)

“That which was from the beginning, 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— 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 and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”(1 John 1:1–4 ESV)

John is attesting to what he has seen & experienced about Jesus.  What he is writing is rooted in John’s first hand account of Jesus and His teachings; this is not some man made religion or some weird eclectic vision that he had experienced in a vacuum.  John points out to us that Jesus is the preeminent, preexistent, Creator God of the universe (John 1:1).  He is God who put on flesh and died, bearing the sins of His people.  But, the grave could not hold Him – nor will it be able to hold us!

We normally think that with enough information about something that we can figure it out.  We think that we can work out certain scenarios in our minds to learn how they will play out.  We think that we can think through things and get all of the pieces put together.  We give ourselves too much credit.  The Creator’s revelation is what we need; revelation is required. Revelation about God has always been what is required – even for Adam & Eve.  We don’t naturally seek God or have eyes to see, ears to hear or hearts to believe.  We need God to reveal Himself and His will to us.

Jesus & the gospel is God’s revelation to us.  The gospel is not just the saving power of God, but the bonding agent in His church.  It connects us and enables us to pursue authentic community.  This is because when we truly embrace the gospel, we are embracing an incredibly high view of God and a realistic view of ourselves.  We naturally tend to lower our view of God to a grandpa in the sky who gives us good gifts.  We naturally tend to think that we are pretty moral, pretty capable, pretty good.  We think that Jesus’ sacrifice was necessary to make up for our shortcomings, but that we don’t really have that many.  We rarely see ourselves as we really are – selfish control freaks who are stiff necked and refuse to lovingly submit to the God of the universe.  The gospel frees us from pretending that we have it all together (we don’t) and it frees us from performing as if we could please God by our hard work (we can’t).  The interesting thing about the gospel is that it most fully marks those who know how wicked they really are.  That is because God chooses the messiest of people so that THEY WILL NEVER FORGET WHO FREED THEM. 

Once you have been freed from believing that you are justified OR ACCEPTED based on your performance, you begin to see that obedience to Christ’s commands actually lead you to greater joy.  His commands are not harsh or burdensome.  His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).  This a recurring theme for John in his gospel (John 15:11; 16:24) and he visits it here in this epistle as well.  He sees that joy is to be had in an abiding relationship with Jesus.  This is for his joy and for ours.  Lord, give us eyes to see.

Day After Day

The sovereign rule and reign of God provides a ballast for our souls on the sea of uncertainty in life.  Knowing that nothing happens by chance, catches Him off guard or has not first been filtered through His loving hands is profoundly hopeful.  He is in control of all things and does good to His children.

Men will try to rule the world You made
But we know power is Yours alone to give and take
A day will come when every knee will bow
And every tongue confess that You are Lord both now and forever

Day after day our God is reigning
He’s never shaken, my hope is in the Lord
Time after time our God is faithful
Trustworthy Savior, my hope is in the Lord

The fear of man and what they plan will fade
But we know You alone are God of every day
Like the flowers, man will rise and fall
But You are everlasting, never ending God eternal

Day after day our God is reigning
He’s never shaken, my hope is in the Lord
Time after time our God is faithful
Trustworthy Savior, my hope is in the Lord

Let the songs of adoration rise, our God is reigning up on high
He’s worthy to receive The praise and the glory
Let the songs of adoration rise, our God is reigning up on high
He’s worthy to receive The praise and the glory
Oh, the glory

Day after day our God is reigning
He’s never shaken, my hope is in the Lord
Time after time our God is faithful
Trustworthy Savior, my hope is in the Lord

Day after day our God is reigning
He’s never shaken, my hope is in the Lord
Time after time our God is faithful
Trustworthy Savior, my hope is in the Lord

A Grandfather in the Faith (1 John)

This starts a series of posts on the letter of 1 John.  John probably pinned his first epistle over 30 years after the death, burial & resurrection of Jesus so there was a sense of Christian’s “settling in” to what it meant to walk with the Lord over the long haul.  Jesus had not returned yet and John was aiming to help them understand what a walk of faith really looked like over the long haul.  John was getting old and would have been viewed as a “grandfather” in the faith.  He had walked with Jesus, experienced much and walked faithfully.  It would be wise for us to listen to what he has to say to us because their faith and ours are the same.

Unlike Paul’s letters, John follows no clear outline. He, instead, seems to wander from topic to topic, and often returns back to the same topic. His logic seems to be circular instead of linear as he jumps around.  Despite some of these difficulties, it is extremely rich in theology and ethics.  The major themes of the letter are:

  • Belief
  • Love for God & Others
  • True Doctrine
  • Obedient Living
  • Fervent Devotion
  • Assurance of Salvation (1 John 5:13)

However, “the main theme is tests by which we can know if we are in Christ—beliefs and attitudes that authenticate one’s claims to be a Christian.”  ESV Study Bible.  Many people can produce certain external behaviors by their own moral striving or self discipline.  But, John says that what we believe informs our attitudes which in turn produce our behavior.  John uses the verb “believe” over 100 times in his gospel and 9 times in this letter.  In John 6, Jesus miraculously feeds 5000 people, and He is rocketed to “rock star” type popularity.  However, Jesus wasn’t looking to be popular so He withdrew to the mountains, perceiving that they were about to make Him king (6:15).  During the night, Jesus & His disciples crossed the sea to the other side.  The following morning, the people could not find Him and crossed over looking for Him.  Then they asked Jesus, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (John 6:28 ESV).  Great question!  What was His answer?  Feed the poor?  Share the gospel?  Serve tirelessly?  Be morally upright?  Jesus’ answer is peculiar, especially to people who just want to know what to do!  Jesus’ response was:  “this is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29 ESV).  Our work is to believe the seemingly impossible promises of God – that He is perfect and we are not and yet He loves us, justified us and adopted us as His children.  Before anything was formed, He determined to make you His and died to accomplish that goal (Ephesians 1:3-6).  That should make you worship!  How do we build belief?  Here are a few suggestions (herehereherehere & here).

John focuses on faith, love & obedience as he avoids to do lists – he boldly focuses on what has already been DONE on their behalf!  “It is finished” (John 19:30) is the anthem of this epistle, indeed this is the anthem of all of Scripture.  It is by knowing that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for our sin that transforms our hearts.  This does not only mean that we are justified and forgiven, but that we are also adopted as sons & daughters.  Justified is a legal term, but adopted is a familial word.  No one wants to play catch with a judge, but things are different with a dad.  Once we have been freed from believing that we are justified OR ACCEPTED based on our performance we begin to see that obedience to Christ’s commands actually lead to greater joy.  His commands are not harsh or burdensome.  His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30)

Let’s listen to John’s words and see how they help us to build belief, love God, obey joyfully & see our affections for Christ increase exponentially.

The Fruit of Faith

It seems that most people in the south claim the name of Christ.  People have prayed prayers, walked aisles and stirred the waters of baptism.  But, how can we know if we really are His children?  According to Jesus, there will be many who say that they are His, but they really aren’t (Matthew 7:21-23).  How can we know that we are born again and are His children.  John addresses this in his first letter.  Here is a note from Crossway’s ESV Study Bible that I found very helpful!

“Being born again, having received the Spirit, abiding in God and God abiding in them, and knowing and loving God, Christians bear observable fruit:

  • Practice truth/righteousness (1 John 1:6; 2:29; 3:7, 10)
  • Walk in the light/as he walked (1 John 1:7; 2:6)
  • Confess sins and have forgiveness (1 John 1:9; 2:12)
  • Keep/obey his commandments/Word (1 John 2:3, 5; 3:22, 24; 5:2, 3)
  • Love one another/the brothers (1 John 2:10; 3:10, 11, 14, 16, 18, 23; 4:7, 11, 21)
  • Overcome the evil one/them/the world (1 John 2:13, 14; 4:4; 5:4)
  • Do the will of God/cannot keep on sinning (1 John 2:17; 3:9, 22)
  • Confess the Son/believe in Jesus (1 John 2:23; 3:23; 4:2, 15; 5:1, 4, 13)”

ESV Study Bible Introduction to 1 John

Forgiveness is Costly

“At every point in the Bible, the writers are at pains to stress that God’s grace and forgiveness, while free to the recipient, are always costly for the giver. From the earliest parts of the Bible, it was understood that God could not forgive without sacrifice. No one who is seriously wronged can “just forgive” the perpetrator. If you have been robbed of money, opportunity, or happiness, you can either make the wrongdoer pay it back or you can forgive. But when you forgive, that means you absorb the loss and the debt. You bear it yourself. All forgiveness, then, is costly.

Keller, Timothy (2009-10-20). Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters (Kindle Locations 1117-1121). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

Good people don’t need grace

Good People Don’t Need Grace

The Gospel Centered Life

““A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who…

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Cornerstone

Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; it is in His righteousness alone that we will stand faultless before the throne.  Once we have been freed from believing that we are justified OR ACCEPTED based on our performance we begin to see that obedience to Christ’s commands actually lead to greater joy.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus name

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus name

Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all

When Darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
My anchor holds within the veil

Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all
He is Lord
Lord of all

Christ alone
Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all

Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless stand before the throne.