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 1: For Your Joy

“Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10: 17). And so in the first place the apostles heard the Word of life, and thus were able to apprehend Him.” – F.B. Hole

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

 As we read the beginning of this letter we learn something about John. John is after our joy. That’s what he wants. He wants to complete our joy. He’s not just focused on his joy, and he’s not just focused on our joy, but he’s focused on our joy and his joy corporately. His joy is found in writing us this letter, and it is implied that our joy will be found in reading it.

Now, there is a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness fluctuates like a fair weather friend. Joy is a constant rock in times of sorrow that aids us and comforts us through the fiercest of storms. John desires that we know this kind of joy and he’s persistent that the thing he’s writing about cannot only bring us joy, but can make our joy complete.

So, what’s he writing about? In verse 1, John says, “…we have heard…we have seen with our eyes…we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.”

A Plymouth Brethren theologian from the 19th Century offers these words concerning this particular passage.

“By the fact of His becoming flesh He placed Himself within the reach of three out of the five senses or faculties with which man is endowed. He could be heard, seen and felt. Hearing comes first, for in our fallen condition it is to that faculty that God specially addresses Himself. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10: 17). And so in the first place the apostles heard the Word of life, and thus were able to apprehend Him.

But then they also saw Him with their eyes, and even “looked upon,” or “contemplated” Him. There had been in earlier days fleeting manifestations of this great Person as “the Angel of the Lord,” only then it was impossible to contemplate Him for He was seen but for a moment. Now, come in flesh, all was different. The apostles spent years with Him, and could scrutinize Him with attention. They gazed at Him long and earnestly, even though they did not properly understand all that they observed until they had received the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Also they came into physical contact with Him. Their hands actually handled Him. This guaranteed that He was no mere Spirit manifestation. He was amongst them in a real human body of flesh and blood. After His resurrection He sojourned among them in His risen body of flesh and bones, and we may remember how He specifically enjoined them to handle Him and see He was not a Spirit after His resurrection.

All this establishes then beyond a doubt that there had been this real manifestation of eternal life before them.” – F.B. Hole

John is describing to us his testimony of the risen savior, Jesus. John had an intimate knowledge of who Jesus is. Matthew and Luke start their gospels with the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life, and Mark starts his gospel with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It’s interesting to note that John makes shows us that Jesus has no origin, but always been.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. -John 1:1-3 ESV

 John shows us in his Gospel that God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). This holy, untouchable, unseeable, magnificent God became lowly flesh because He was on a mission to bring us the ultimate joy, Himself. He knew that only He could fill the vacancy in our souls. Jesus is the only one that can fill the God-sized hole in our hearts.

In the words to ‘O Holy Night,’ the hymn writer says, “Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth!” Only Jesus can bring that feeling, the feeling of joy made complete.