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.

Neither Shall They Learn War Anymore

“He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” – Isaiah 2:4-5 (ESV)

There’s a fighter in all of us. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but sometimes that can be a bad thing.

Sometimes we want to fight against cancer, oppression, or injustice. Other times we want to fight against God, the Church, those that want to help, and we end up biting the hand that feeds us.

What’s interesting is that the passage tells us they (referring to the people of God) shall not learn war anymore.

Let’s think about what war is. War, at it’s simplest, is fighting. As humans, we don’t need to learn how to fight, it comes naturally with our depravity. The desire to fight is always there. We may be taught how to strategize in our fighting like how to throw a punch or where we should kick a predator if he traps us in an alley, but our fighting is natural.

But, Isaiah 2 points to a time when there will be no more war, no more conflict, nor more fighting.

Our days on earth are filled with constant fighting. From personal spats with family members or spouses all the way up to global conflict between nations, but all this conflict will be no more when the weapons once used for war are used for mutual good.

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” That’s the goal. That goal will only be achieved when Jesus returns and fully establishes His Kingdom. Until then, we cry with John the Revelator, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

“He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen.Come, Lord Jesus!” – Revelation 22:20 (ESV)

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 3: Fellowship

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 1:6-10 ESV

At first glance, it seems that there is almost a contradiction. John is telling us that we shouldn’t walk in the darkness and say that we are in the light because if we do, we make ourselves liars and the truth is not in us. However, if we say we’ve not sinned, we make God a liar and His Word isn’t in us. Most of our modern interpretations of this passage imply that when we ‘walk in the light’ we never sin, but for those of us that are realistic, we know sometimes we slip and fall.

Walking in the light is our sanctification. It is a continual process of repentance and growing in love and grace as the Holy Spirit empowers are lives for service in the Lord’s work.

This is why John tells us that He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins. Jesus knows that imperfect human beings are incapable of being perfect. William Barclay offers some insight into what John means here.

“John is laying down the blunt truth that the man who says one thing with his lips and another thing with his life is a liar. He is not thinking of the man who tries his hardest and yet often fails. “A man,” said H. G. Wells, “may be a very bad musician, and may yet be passionately in love with music”; and a man may be very conscious of his failures and yet be passionately in love with Christ and the way of Christ. John is thinking of the man who makes the highest possible claims to knowledge, to intellectual eminence and to spirituality, and who yet allows himself things which he well knows are forbidden. The man who professes to love Christ and deliberately disobeys him, is guilty of a lie.” – William Barclay

As we have fellowship with Him, it strengthens and empowers our fellowship with others. Sin is antisocial. It separates us from God and as a result, separates us from others. Let’s walk in repentance and fellowship and be ever fighting in the war against sin in our lives.

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

Present(s) In the World

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
– Matthew 5:13-16 (ESV)

“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” – Ephesians 5:6-11 (ESV)

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” – 1 John 2:15-17 (ESV)

“The principle by which we live is not “how can I avoid contact with the world so as to be separate from it?” Rather, it is “how can I live in the world yet be free from its influence and by my life actually expose its contagion?” …As the light of the world, we shine in its darkness; as the salt of the earth, we preserve only if we are present in it.” 
– Sinclair B. Ferguson, Guidelines For Separation (Article in Tabletalk, June 2014, pg. 17)

As I think about these passages of Scripture and the Sinclair Ferguson quote, I’m reminded of a Jewish sect called The Essenes. The Essenes weren’t talked about much in the New Testament because they chose to live monastic lives in the wilderness because they wanted to remain separate from the world and not be stained by the culture. The Essenes were reported to be some of the most honest, studious, morally upright, and God-fearing people the world had ever known, but they eventually died out because they refused to live within a culture of people outside themselves.

As Christians, I think we can be guilty of the same thing. Let’s think about small churches that have 10-15 active members all over the age of 70. More than likely, that church won’t be around for too much longer. More than likely, it’s because somewhere along the way, the church decided it was better to live outside the culture than to live in it.

Let me clarify some things. We just read in 1st John 2 that we shouldn’t love world or the things in the world, but Jesus tells us that we are lights in the world in Matthew 5. Are these contradictory statements? No. As a matter of fact these passages of Scripture present us with a powerful truth. We are in the world, but not of it. We cannot be lights in the culture of the world if we refuse to live outside of it. That’s why I have my weekly Bible study at Hastings. It’s a coffee shop and a bookstore. It’s the epicenter of culture in our town. All different kinds of people walk in there of different religions, ethnicities, and walks of life. I have my Bible study there because the gospel is for all people of any background.

As Christians we cannot deny that we are in the world. It does us no good to try to live outside of the world while we’re here. However, we are not present in the world, but we are also presents in the world. As Christians, we are gifts to world because we have something that they need, the gospel. As we live out the gospel, we show the light of Christ and the light of Christ exposes the works of darkness in the world as Paul tells us in Ephesians 5 and shows the world that there is a better way.

Today, pray about how you can be a light in the world.

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.