John’s Love Letter’s, Part 6: Little Children

“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] 

Okay, so I’m not going to lie, in our last installment of the ‘John’s Love Letters’ I guess I was feeling angry at Cessationists decided that it would be a good chance to bash them (which it was) and we ended up getting off track a little, so we’re going to go over the passage again and get down to business about what John is trying to tell us.

In verse 1, he calls us “Little Children.” This isn’t to smack us around about our spiritual immaturity, this is just John’s style. He’s an old man. That’s what old people do. They call us, “Kid,” “Sport,” “Son,” and in John’s case, “Little children.” It is said that as John was dying his final words were, “Little Children, love one another.” To know everything that I know about John and then to read his letters, I think if we listen hard enough we can still hear him call us, “Little Children” and we should feel honored that such a saint refers to us as his children. It means he loves us because the Father has loved us, and for that reason he wants to lead us closer to the Father.

Next, he tells that he’s writing to us so that we may not sin, “Little Children, I am writing these things that you may not sin.” I read that and I thought, “umm… I hate to tell you this, but it’s a little late John.” I’ve messed up big time. I’ve blown it. I’m not talking about once or twice since I got saved, but I’m talking about today. But John didn’t finish there, and I’m glad he didn’t, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” The word, “advocate” is legal term that says basically means that Jesus is our defense attorney. The Book of Revelation tells us that Satan is the accuser of the brethren. What that means is that Satan tries to stand before God and tell Him everything wrong we’ve done and try to give Him every reason in the book why we shouldn’t be redeemed.

That in mind, I can see Satan telling God, “Logan’s blown it! He really dropped the ball today!” And God in a condescending manner, looks at with sarcastically raised eyebrow and asks, “Well, what did he do?” Satan replies, “He lost his temper and flipped off an old lady in traffic.” God, already knowing the answer to the question, looks to Jesus, His son and my defense attorney, and asks, “Well, did he do it?” Jesus replies, “Nope.” Satan says, “But I saw him do it!” Jesus says, “I didn’t. All I saw was my perfect work accomplished, and my blood poured out over all his sins.” God dismisses the case, and that’s the end of the story. One day, Satan and his angels will be thrown into the lake of fire, and they’ll pay for all the harm that they’ve caused God’s children all the way down through history, and most of all, they’ll pay for offending Almighty God Himself.

I’ll deal with verses 3-6 again from a different angle in the next post. I’m tired. I’m going to get Chinese food, go home, and watch the first season of House. Good night, God bless, and thanks for reading.

John’s Love Letters, Part 5: Walking In Obedience to the Mission

“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 2:3-6 ESV 

In William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible series, he lays out the three ways in which the phrase ‘know God’ was interpreted by Jews and Greeks and I couldn’t help but notice that the first two views is how a lot of Christians today view the concept of ‘knowing God.’

To know God, to abide in God, to have fellowship with God has always been the quest of the human spirit, for Augustine was right when he said that God had made men for himself and that they were restless until they found their rest in him. We may say that in the ancient world there were three lines of thought in regard to knowing God. 

 (i) In the great classical age of their thought and literature, in the sixth and fifth centuries before Christ, the Greeks were convinced that they could arrive at God by the sheer process of intellectual reasoning and argument. In The World of the New Testament, T. R. Glover has a chapter on The Greek in which he brilliantly and vividly sketches the character of the Greek mind in its greatest days when the Greek glorified the intellect. “A harder and more precise thinker than Plato it will be difficult to discover,” said Marshall Macgregor. Xenophon tells how Socrates had a conversation with a young man. “How do you know that?” asked Socrates. “Do you know it or are you guessing?” The young man had to say, “I am guessing.” “Very well,” answered Socrates, “when we are done with guessing and when we know, shall we talk about it then?” Guesses were not good enough for the Greek thinker. 

To the classical Greek curiosity was not a fault but was the greatest of the virtues, for it was the mother of philosophy. Glover writes of this outlook: “Everything must be examined; all the world is the proper study of man; there is no question which it is wrong for man to ask; nature in the long run must stand and deliver; God too must explain himself, for did he not make man so?” For the Greeks of the great classical age the way to God was by the intellect. 

(ii) The later Greeks, in the immediate background time of the New Testament, sought to find God in emotional experience. The characteristic religious phenomenon of these days was the Mystery Religions. In any view of the history of religion they are an amazing feature. Their aim was union with the divine and they were all in the form of passion plays. They were all founded on the story of some god who lived, and suffered terribly, and died a cruel death, and rose again. The initiate was given a long course of instruction; he was made to practise ascetic discipline. He was worked up to an intense pitch of expectation and emotional sensitivity. He was then allowed to come to a passion play in which the story of the suffering, dying, and rising god was played out on the stage. Everything was designed to heighten the emotional atmosphere. There was cunning lighting; sensuous music; perfumed incense; a marvellous liturgy. In this atmosphere the story was played out and the worshipper identified himself with the experiences of the god until he could cry out: “I am thou, and thou art I”; until he shared the god’s suffering and also shared his victory and immortality. 

This was not so much knowing God as feeling God. But it was a highly emotional experience and, as such, it was necessarily transient. It was a kind of religious drug. It quite definitely found God in an abnormal experience and its aim was to escape from ordinary life. 

(iii) Lastly, there was the Jewish way of knowing God which is closely allied with the Christian way. To the Jew knowledge of God came, not by man’s speculation or by an exotic experience of emotion, but by God’s own revelation. The God who revealed himself was a holy God and his holiness brought the obligation to his worshipper to be holy, too. A. E. Brooke says, “John can conceive of no real knowledge of God which does not issue in obedience.” Knowledge of God can be proved only by obedience to God; and knowledge of God can be gained only by obedience to God. C. H. Dodd says, “To know God is to experience his love in Christ, and to return that love in obedience.” – William Barclay, Daily Study Bible 

Imagine, if you will, a road. On both sides of the road is a very deep ditch. The left side of the ditch is called ‘cessationism.’ The right side of the ditch is called, ‘charis-mania.’ On the side of cessationism you have those who reject God’s sovereign operation of His gifts and working of miracles in the Church to the point that they are dry and stagnant in their mission. (Let’s face it. There’s virtually no such thing as a growing cessationist church.) On the other side, you have those who only desire to have an emotional experience with God and reject sound doctrine and teaching on the basis that they just don’t ‘feel’ it. Not to be confused with mainline charismatics (e.g. Assemblies of God, COGIC, IPHC, etc. ),  charis-maniacs often believe that modern-day ‘prophecy’ supersedes the authority of the real Word of God, the 66 books of canonized Scripture that we call the Bible.

Now, if you can’t tell, these are caricatures of both sides, but in some cases they are very real.

Both of these camps are wrong, and I would even argue that some individuals in both camps have no real relationship with God because they’re too busy feeding and worshipping their intellect or their emotions, but back to the analogy.

In the middle of this road you have a balance that applies both knowledge of God’s Word and fiery adoration for Jesus Christ and uses them both as a propeller in the mission of God through action.

Churches that will be driving forces in the Kingdom of God will always be ones that preach the uncompromised Gospel and demand action from their people to be a community of Gospel-preaching, Christ-saturated, Spirit and fire-baptized believers on mission.

So, what does 1 John 2:3-6 have to do with all of this? Our passage teaches that radical intimacy with God is born out of a true knowledge of God and is fueled by obedience to God. This does not mean that we never disobey God, but it means that are lives are generally characterized by obedient living and we are always seeking to live out our knowledge and understanding of God through our fulfillment of the Great Commission.

How do we do that? We simply be the Church. In “Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe,” Mark Driscoll offers this insight about fulfilling the Great Commission.

“The church is to be an evangelistic people on mission in the world, passionate to see lost people meet Jesus Christ as Savior, God, and Lord. Any church submitting to the Holy Spirit and obedient to Scripture wants fewer divorces, addictions, thefts, and abuses and knows the only way to see that happen is to make more disciples. The church loves people and is continually and painfully aware of the devastation that is wrought in this life and in the life to come for those who are not reconciled to God. Therefore, while not imposing religion on anyone, the church of Jesus Christ is to constantly be proposing reconciliation with God to everyone.” – Mark Driscoll, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe

In conclusion, walking in obedience out of love for God reveals the faith that’s within us. We live out our knowledge of God by preaching gospel, making disciples, and living missional lives.

John’s Love Letters, Part 4: Atonement

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. 2He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. -1 John 2:1-2 ESV

 There are two theological camps within Christianity, Calvinism and Arminianism. As a general rule, I associate myself with the Calvinist camp 9 times out of 10 on any given theological debate. However, when it comes to the issue of the atonement, verse 2 of today’s passage in 1st John always runs through my mind. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

You see, the Calvinist would argue that Jesus’ atonement is effective for God’s elect. The Arminian would say that Jesus’ atonement if effective for the whole world. Who is correct? Both. There are passages in Scripture that cannot be denied that point to God’s particular love for His elect people. There are also passages that point to God’s plan of Salvation that invites ‘whosoever will.’ You see, salvation is all at once inclusive yet exclusive, inviting yet restrictive. This subject of salvation, this passage alone is worth more than a 5 minute blog post so I encourage you to meditate on it and study it more in depth, but that aside, let’s get into our topic, Atonement.

The very root word, ‘atone’, is made up of two words, ‘at one.’ That’s exactly what atonement means, to make one with something or someone. Sin separates. Isaiah 59 tells us that our iniquities have separated us from God. Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and as a result of that sin we deserve death according to Romans 6:23, but Jesus came to offer and give eternal life. He does that by taking away our sin and giving us the priceless gift of salvation by His atonement. Today, think on this wonderful subject. Rest in the finished work of Christ.

John’s Love Letters, Part 2: God is Light

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. -1 John 1:5 ESV

God is light.

This simple statement is gospel for those in darkness.

If you’re in darkness and you’ve never seen light, then you would have no idea what darkness was or even that you lived in darkness. It’s not until the light comes in and actually shows you what darkness is or even the evil things that the darkness is hiding from you do you realize that there is even something other than darkness.

One commentator writes the following,

“It is the property of light to discover all things; and it is perfectly pure and incapable of pollution: when therefore it is said, that “God is light,” we must understand it as designating… Light is perhaps the only thing which is incapable of being polluted; and therefore is peculiarly fit to represent the immaculate purity of God.” – Charles Simeon’s Horae Homileticae

I heard a theologian make an analogy very similar to this one,

When you’re in a completely dark room, you might find something that feels soft and cuddly. You’re convinced it’s harmless. How can something this soft and loveable be this bad, right? But then, one day, someone comes to the door of that room and invites you to come out from the room. You decline on the grounds that you want to stay in the room and cuddle with this thing you’ve found in the dark, but then the person inviting you out of the room opens the door, and shines a light inside the room revealing the thing to which you’ve been clinging to was the leg of a humongous spider knitting it’s web of destruction for you. All this time the darkness was hiding from you the thing that could’ve killed you.

This is what God does for us. He sheds light on our sin.

Still there are those that have not seen their sin for the death that it is. For them, their end is destruction, misery, and judgment. Only God can shine the revealing light of Christ upon their hearts.

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. -John 3:18 ESV

We sometimes wonder if our darkness is too dark for God. We never consciously think that or even say it, but we live out that thought by running away from God because of our sin rather than running to God asking Him to take it from us.

The first part of John 3:18 tells us that whoever believes in Him is not condemned. So what must you believe? Simply believe that He is light and that He exposes and rescues from darkness.

Run to Jesus and repent.

“If from the lips of Jesus thou dost never drink sweet honey—if thou art not like the bee, which [sips] sweet luscious liquor from the Rose of Sharon, then out of the selfsame mouth there shall go forth against thee a two-edged sword; and that mouth from which the righteous draw their bread, shall be to thee the mouth of destruction and the cause of thine ill.” – Charles Spurgeon

Paul’s Thanksgiving, My Frustration, And God’s Work of Salvation

Paul is communicating that those who partake in grace have hope that God will continue His work in them by His grace and His lovingkindness toward His elect.

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”  -Philippians 1:3-11 ESV

 Can I just say something? I never really liked reading Philippians all that much. The reason is this, in Philippians, Paul doesn’t tell the Church at Philippi anything that they’re doing wrong. He just expresses his thanks for them, gives them a huge pat on the back and tells them that God will provide all their needs for them.

In a way, this is foreign to me. Very few people have ever talked to me just to tell me that they were proud of me and that they were thankful for me. I was always getting chewed out for something I did or said. I was always messing up something so I almost avoided the whole book altogether. That’s part of the reason I couldn’t finish my devotional series over Philippians 3.

I mean, really, let’s look at this. Philippians 1:6 gives us hope for our salvation, but then he follows it up with verse 7, “It is right for me to feel this way about you all…”

Wow! They’re doing something to make Paul confident about the completion of their salvation. I’ve never had say that about me. In fact, in some cases, I’ve had the exact opposite experiences. People have told me that this “Christian thing is just a phase and I’ll grow out of it.”

So, for a long time, I read Philippians 1:7 like a child who was being told my parents to be more like my harder-working,better-behaving brother. It was so frustrating. I didn’t want to be told to be more like my brother every time I read the Bible so I almost avoided the book of Philippians.

But then, I learned John Piper’s arcing method which I’ll include a link to at the bottom of the page. I began looking at Philippians with a different perspective when I got to 1:7. Let’s look at it.

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” -Philippians 1:7 ESV

 So, let’s break this down.

  1. It is right for me to feel this way about you all
  2. Because I hold you in my heart
  3. For you are all partakers with me of grace.

If we just take the first two clauses, then we could easily read it the same way that I’d been reading it for a long time. We would fall in the trap of thinking that the Philippians are just super Christians and we’ll never match up, but look at the third clause.

“…for you are all partakers of grace with me.”

So, let’s look at verse 7 backwards just to see how this flow of logic plays out.

“You are partakers of grace with, and as a result of that grace partaking, I hold you in my heart and because of that I’m sure that God who began a good work in you will continue it and complete it at the day of Christ Jesus.”

Paul is communicating that those who partake in grace have hope that God will continue His work in them by His grace and His lovingkindness toward His elect.

Resources:

http://www.biblearc.com/

http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-is-arcing-and-why-is-it-important

http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/do-you-use-arcing-when-you-study-the-narrative-passages-of-the-bible

Treasuring God’s Word

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“How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”
– Psalm 119:9-16 (NIV)

 
The Bible in the picture that I used is my own Bible and after 3 1/2 years of owning and using this Bible, I’ve decided that it’s time to retire it. I’ve preached many a sermon with it over the last few years and now, laden with duct tape, highlights, underlines, and post it notes, it will now have a special place in my top dresser drawer. I will confess though that as much as I’ve read the Bible, I’ve not always applied it to my heart like I should, and I can promise you that if I had applied God’s word to life all the times that I should have my life would’ve gone a lot easier and possibly would have turned out much differently.
David starts out this part of Psalm 119 by asking a legitimate question. “How can a young person stay on the path of purity?” The answer is by treasuring God’s word. Treasuring God’s word is not just reading it, but living it. James tells us,
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” – James 1:22-25 (ESV)
 
Did you catch that last part? James actually tells us we will be blessed by applying the word of God! He’s not talking about necessarily material blessings, but he’s talking about an inner sense of peace. The word blessing in the Bible means happiness. James is telling us that if we apply God’s word to our heart then in the end, we’ll be satisfied with living by God’s prescribed order.
Today, pray about how God would have you apply His word to your life and ask Him to put people in your path that you can share His word with.

Don’t Believe Everything They Tell You

“but the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.” – 1 Timothy 5:6 (NRSV)

 “Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
– Luke 9:23-26 (NRSV)

As young boys growing up, we’re told things like “You need to grow up big strong so you can be a firefighter or a policeman.” “You need to become a doctor or a teacher or a scientist so you can help people and make a difference in the world.”

All those things are good. All of those professions are honorable professions that do help and do make a difference in the world. But what’s happening to our children is they are being trained to chase the ‘American dream’ and make a kingdom all on their own and their being taught to be the king of their castle.

When you really step back and examine what’s going on, you see that parents are trying to encourage their children to be their own god. Don’t get me wrong, we must encourage our children to follow the dreams that God has given them but we instill in this upcoming generation a love and a passion for Jesus Christ.

This morning as I was praying in my devotional time the passage in 1 Timothy 5 came to mind and I thought and mulled over it a few minutes and I came to the realization that even though that particular passage was directed at widows, it applies to us to. We are dead if we live for our own pleasure. I taught over this passage yesterday in Sunday School and I made an illustration that the widow who is living in an income-based apartment and clipping Clorox coupons may look poor but if she’s one of those crazy old ladys that have two million dollars stuffed under their mattress for a rainy day then they have no right to be financially taken care of by the church.

Our problem is that we have this mentality that we must have the cars, the houses, and all the material things that we can get our hands on but the reality of it all is just that we need Jesus.

I hope this has blessed you and encouraged you today.

You are loved by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!