Lots of Love from the Letters of John
I John Chapter 1
(1 John 1:1) - Taking on the Antichrists
(1 John 1:1-2) - Eyewitness Account
(1 John 1:3) - Purpose of Proclamation
(1 John 1:3-4) - Joy Made Complete
(1 John 1:5) - The Message
(1 John 1:5) - God is Light
(1 John 1:5-7) - Light vs. Darkness
(1 John 1:7-10) - Exposing Darkness
I John Chapter 2
(1 John 2:1) - The Advocate with the Father
(1 John 2:1-2) - More On Propitiation
(1 John 2:-2-5) - Keeping His Commandments
(1 John 2:5-6) - Imitating Jesus
(1 John 2:7-8) - The Old/New Commandment
(1 John 2:8-11) - Love vs. Hate
(1 John 2:12-14) - Children, Young Men, Fathers
(1 John 2:15-17) - “All that is in the world”
(1 John 2:18-19) - The Last Hour
(1 John 2:20-21) - “You Have an Anointing”
(1 John 2:21-22) - Truth vs. Lies
(1 John 2:23-24) - Abiding in the Son
(1 John 2:24-26) - The Promise of Eternal Life
(1 John 2:27) - Being Taught All Things
(1 John 2:29) - The Righteous Connection
I John Chapter 3
(1 John 3:1) - Exhibition of God’s Love
(1 John 3:1) - Recognizing sons of God
(1 John 3:2) - Revealing the sons of God
(1 John 3:2-3) - “Pure” as He is “Pure”
(1 John 3:3-6) - Jesus and Sin
(1 John 3:5-8) - Practicing Righteousness
(1 John 3:7-8) - Destroying the Works of the Devil
(1 John 3:9-10) - Children of God are Obvious
(1 John 3:11-12) - “Love”, not “Kill” your Brother
(1 John 3:13-15) - Life-savers and Murderers
(1 John 3:16) - Laying Down Our Lives
(1 John 3:17-18) - “In Deed and in Truth”
(1 John 3:19-21) - Getting a "Confident Heart"
(1 John 3:21-24) - Abiding "in Him"
I John Chapter 4
(1 John 4:1-2) - Spirit of Truth
(1 John 4:2-3) - False Prophets
(1 John 4:4) - Overcomers
(1 John 4:5-6) - Listening to…?
(1 John 4:7-8) - God is Love
(1 John 4:9) - Born From Above
(1 John 4:9-10) - Love Expressed Through Propitiation
(1 John 4:11-12) - God's Love Perfected In Us
(1 John 4:13-15) - The Father Sent His Son
(1 John 4:16-17) - Confidence on Judgment Day
(1 John 4:17) - “As He is, so also are We”
(1 John 4:18-19) - Love, Fear, and Hate
(1 John 4:20-21) - Who Really Loves God?
I John Chapter 5
(1 John 5:1) - Born "from above" to Love
(1 John 5:2-3) - Observing His Commandments
(1 John 5:4-5) - Overcoming the World
(1 John 5:6) - Who Came by Water and by Blood
(1 John 5:7-8) - Bearing Witness
(1 John 5:9-10) - God's Witness
(1 John 5:11-12) - Life "in the Son"
(1 John 5:13-15) - Confidence
(1 John 5:16-17) - Sin “Leading to Death”?
(1 John 5:18-19) - “Born of God” Again
(1 John 5:19) - "The World" and "The Evil One"
(1 John 5:20) - Coming to "Understanding"
(1 John 5:21) - "Guard Yourselves from Idols"
II John Chapter 1
(2 John 1:1-2) - The Truth
(2 John 1:3) - Truth and Love
(2 John 1:4-6) - The "New Commandment" Revisited
(2 John 1:7-8) - Many Deceivers
(2 John 1:8-13) - A Dangerous Movement Within
III John Chapter 1
Taking on the Antichrists
(3 John 1:1-4) - Spiritual Prosperity and Truth
(3 John 1:5-8) - Supporting Faithful Teachers and Preachers
(3 John 1:9-11) - The Deeds of Diotrephes
(3 John 1:12-14) - Standing for the Truth
Early in the church’s history, many of the problems came from the Jewish element. Hence in much of the apostle Paul’s writings, the issue of "The Law of Moses" versus "The Faith of Christ" was in the forefront. But by the time that the apostle John begins to write his epistles, an antichrist element had developed within the church. These antichrists are known to history as Gnostics, and became a very dominant factor over the course of the centuries from AD 100 onward. Influenced by Greek philosophy, and claiming to have "inside information" not apprehensible by others, these Gnostics often held that the body was bad and man was depraved from birth. The logical conclusion, then, that what the scriptures would call "sin" is not choice but inherit in human nature.
Questions concerning Jesus would then arise. Did Jesus Himself sin? The answer to that being, "No," the next question would be, "Did Jesus have a body?" Based on their initial propositions, the antichrist would have to say that He did not ever take on flesh. Thus John clearly exposes this view in his second epistle: "For many deceivers have gone out into the world," says he, "those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist" (2 John 1:8). In these letters, then, the apostle is going to confront these Gnostics head on, exposing their spiritual emptiness, their lack of love, and the immorality resulting from their flawed views.
- "Our hands handled" - The fusillade against the antichrists begins instantly with John’s first paragraph. As in His gospel accounts, the apostle uses the word Logos (the "Word") to describe Jesus. As one who was present at Jesus’ immersion (a requirement to be an apostle—see Acts 1:22) all the way through to His crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ascension, the apostle was eminently qualified to speak in first person (using a more generic "we" to include the other apostles). "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life ..." (1 John 1:1). As part of his opening salvo, the apostle emphasizes "what our hands handled!" If Jesus did not have a body, there would be nothing there to "handle." Not only did the apostles "handle" Jesus during the years of His earthly sojourn, but also following His resurrection. It was the apostle John who recorded the encounter Thomas had with the Lord following the resurrection. Following reports from the other apostles that they had seen the risen Lord, Thomas had stated, "Unless I shall in His hand the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." Within a week, the apostles were together again inside a locked room, and Jesus appeared. To Thomas He said, "Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing" (John 20:25-27). Their hands "handled" Him before and following His resurrection.
- The "Logos" - The Greek philosophers had used the term "logos" for some time to describe their view of existence. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia: "The Stoics spoke of the logos spermatikos (the generative principle of the Universe) which foreshadows related concepts in Neoplatonism." Hence the apostle John is going specify that the true "Logos" is none other than Jesus Christ Himself rather than some impersonal force that operates in some cyclical fashion.
"Our hands handled the Logos of Life," said John, fighter for the faith. Right out of the opening gate he is going after the destructive philosophy of the Gnostics. He knows that such teaching, while cloaking itself in deceptively positive terms, is counterproductive, and will destroy the faith of those entangled in its web!
Modern sceptics regard the gospel eyewitness accounts of the life and times of Jesus the Messiah as unreliable. They make that charge claiming that the apostles could not be objective in their reporting. Yet in every other case, the best accepted historical accounts are those given by eyewitnesses. Flavius Josephus, for example, was an eyewitness of the Roman onslaught on Jerusalem culminating in its destruction in AD 70. He served as a translator for the Roman general Titus in the final stages of Jerusalem’s destruction. (Titus was the son the initial general Vespasian in the onslaught who then went on to become Emperor Vespasian; Titus himself became Emperor after his father’s death.) His account of the Jewish Wars is regarded as reliable, and considered valuable, because he was an eyewitness. The problem with the gospel accounts is not really that they were unreliable witnesses, but because of the statements they record from the Lord Jesus Himself, such as "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me" (John 14:6). Mankind in general want to do what they want to do, and when the specter of God appears on their horizon telling them that they are in the wrong, then that specter must somehow be blotted out. Hence the eyewitnesses of the Majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ must be discounted.
- "What we have seen" - The apostle John lived much later than the other apostles, kept alive by God to handle the onslaught of the antichrists that infected the church as the first century came to a close. These Gnostics claimed to have inside information, and thus everyone was to listen to them. But they could not match these opening words of the apostle John in his first epistle. "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled concerning the Word of life..." (1 John 1:1). Now that is an eyewitness! He not only saw with his eyes, but he also heard with his ears, and touched Jesus "up close and personal."
- "Word of Life" - Jesus is indeed the logo, the logical means by which everything to be known about God is communicated to man. But John emphasizes here that not only is He the Word, but that He is the Word of Life. Some of the themes from John’s gospel account are very parallel, understandably, to those which are in his epistles. "Life" is one of those. "In Him was life," the apostle had recorded, "and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4). There is no eternal life apart from being in Jesus Christ, as contrasted to the only alternative, which is eternal death. "And the life was manifested," John continues in his epistle, "and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us" (1 John 1:2). This life, then, was manifested, which means that through Jesus Christ the way into eternal life has been clearly and openly communicated to man.
Those antichrists who were in opposition to the truth were leading people down the path to death. They were apparently charismatic individuals, very persuasive men, and good story tellers. They fabricated their "inside information" out of nothing, bending and perverting truth along the way. But they had no substance in comparison to John. He had seen Jesus in the flesh, he had seen the blood flow from Jesus’ dead body, he had seen Jesus buried, he had seen Jesus resurrected, and he by revelation had seen Jesus seated at the right hand of power in glory. It is no minor statement for the apostle to make, that the "life" was manifested to him.
Who, then, is to be believed? The eyewitness account, or those who claim, even in modern times, to have superior information?
Purpose of Proclamation
Jesus, the light and life of the world, was manifested to John and his fellow apostles. But this manifestation would have been worthless unless it could be verified, announced in believable form, and then be able to be acted upon. The new covenant teaching—the apostles’ doctrine—is designed to bring all these to the attention of any rational hearer that he may take the appropriate revealed action. Satan and his assistants, in perpetual opposition to the Almighty, work to create massive confusion regarding the manifestation of this Life. This confusion is designed to obfuscate the clear revelation of that which comes through Jesus Christ, and thus misdirect the souls of men into the fires of an eternal hell. Some of those first century agents of the devil were the antichrists, the Gnostics who denied that Jesus came in the flesh, and therefore set in motion a whole chain of false doctrines.
- Verifying the witness - The apostle John is very emphatic: "What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled" is his unmistakable statement that he and the other apostles were witnesses of all that Jesus did to bring the message of eternal life to mankind. Backing the eyewitnesses account of Jesus’ resurrection, the core of the message of eternal life, were attesting miracles coupled with Old Testament prophecies. For example, as Paul defended his apostleship before the church at Corinth, he stated, "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles" (2 Corinthians 12:12). John likewise had demonstrated his apostleship repeatedly through the years.
- The proclamation - The apostle continually makes the point that his role is in the proclamation of the gospel. "We have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life," is part of his opening statement. He adds, "What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you may have fellowship with us" (1 John 1:3). That proclamation focuses on Jesus Christ. John is writing to those who are already Christians, so he does not necessarily have to go back over the basics. Jesus, the "life which was manifested," did empty Himself by taking the form of a bond-servant; "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us," was the way he had previously phrased the point (John 1:14). He was in fact immersed in the Jordan by John the Immerser and He was anointed with the Holy Spirit as He came up out of the water. He was crucified, buried, and subsequently raised from the dead. Following His appearances to "witnesses chosen beforehand," He ascended to the throne of glory. Having preached that, John and his fellow apostles would announce the terms of salvation, requiring those who believed the message to repent, to confess that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and to be immersed in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins and to receive the indwelling Spirit.
- Why he preached - The apostle had devoted his life to preaching the gospel, saving souls, and setting up congregations. His earnest desire, clearly, was the salvation of people. He explains: "What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). This fellowship is "life"; apart from this fellowship, there is only eternal death.
Jesus Himself, in His prayer on the west side of the Kidron before He crossed to the Garden of Gethsemane for the final time, expressed His deep concern about this fellowship. The Father had given Jesus all authority over mankind, He averred in His prayer to the Father, "that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:2-3). For this, John labored, preached, and taught.
Joy Made Complete
Jesus, the Life, was "with the Father." It is worthy of significant pondering to consider that the Lord Jesus had to leave that position "with the Father" to make it possible for the believing/obedient among mankind to have their own personal fellowship "with the Father." The core of John’s eyewitness testimony, then, is that Jesus suffered and died in bearing the sins of mankind, then rose on the third day from the dead, and ascended to glory on the fortieth day following His resurrection. "The Life," he asseverates, "was manifested to us." Since that Life was manifested to John and his fellow apostles, it is their duty and delight to proclaim that manifestation, that others might participate in the life also.
- Fellowship - The apostle John’s clear desire is that the lost and the brethren have "fellowship" with him, and, as participants with the apostles, to have fellowship with God. While John does not specify how this fellowship is attained in the first place, it is clear that he and all the apostles preached the same gospel and taught the same doctrines. Hence that fellowship with the Father can only be accomplished as the believing individual repents, confesses Christ as Lord, and is immersed in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins and to receive the gift of the indwelling Spirit. Anyone claiming to have fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ apart from this heartfelt obedience to the gospel is making a false claim; fellowship with God is experienced only on His terms. It is worthwhile to again note this statement from the apostle: "What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). This is the only fellowship with eternal benefits.
- Joy - The scripture’s description of joy usually involves some sort of relationship-building. Reconciliation of lost souls to the Father is one of the listings of joy, as illustrated in one of Jesus’ parables. "There will be more joy in heaven," said the Lord, "over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:7). This joy also extends to the faithful saints who survive the fiery trials of faith that come to their lives and yet they still maintain their fellowship with God. "For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation?" the apostle Paul rhetorically queried. "Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming. For you are our glory and joy" (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20). The apostle John—working, praying, preaching to preserve the salvation of the brethren so much in danger of being pulled in the direction of the antichrists—in all sincerity expresses his heart: "And these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete" (1 John 1:4).
- Danger - The danger to the brethren was imminent and powerful. The antichrist movement began within the church, and hence was like a traitor working from the inside. "They went out from us," John observes later in the epistle, "but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they are not all of us" (1 John 2:19). Because they worked from within, they were able to obtain positions of influence, and then lead many others out of the true church with them. Satan was thus working to redirect their souls into the broad path of destruction.
These dangers and movements have not ceased to work. Sometimes the modern names have changed, but the false doctrines and the deceitful techniques have continued to function down to this day. Modern saints need to pay attention to these movements and modern antichrists, and heed the words of the apostle John. "And these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete!"
Simple words, big concepts! The apostle John’s concepts are so sweeping that it can be difficult to follow his thought processes, because, in part, the readership thinks "too small." As he presents the picture of Jesus, he calls Him "the Word of life." The truth of eternal life, and the means of attaining eternal life, are revealed only through Jesus Christ. "What was from the beginning," is terminology the apostle uses to denote that the incarnate Word existed from all eternity and before the foundation of the world. Processed properly, these concepts stagger the mind! These concepts, then, were revealed to John and his fellow apostles, and they were to proclaim (as witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to the right hand of power) them to the peoples of the world, that individuals among those peoples themselves might possess eternal life. This, therefore, says John, is "our joy."
Following his sweeping introduction, the apostle makes this blockbuster statement: "And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). This is the great summary verse of the whole Bible! The core thought expressed in these simple words can be brought to the attention of the hearers of the word of God by using italics and an ellipse: "This is the message ... God is light." That’s it! The core truth of the word of God is that "God is light." It takes the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, to set the stage for, and the matrix for, mankind to understand and believe the message revealed through Jesus Christ about who God is.
Many things that the Old Testament introduced could only be understood though the teaching introduced into the world by the apostles. The apostle Peter’s comment is instructive here. "As to this salvation," he emphasized, concerning that which only came under the terms of the new covenant, "the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry." The prophets, such as Moses, Samuel, or his successors onward, did not understand what they wrote down. They were "seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow." That the Christ had to suffer and die before He could live forever is one of the things hidden from the prophets of old. But not only was the suffering and death of Christ spoken of, the glories to follow were significantly emphasized! "It was revealed to them," Peter added, "that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you." The awesome truths of the Christ were for those "upon whom the ends of the ages have come." As Peter continued, he noted that the things announced to the new covenant brethren came "through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven," things so lofty that into them "even angels long to look" (1 Peter 1:10-12). Thus the apostle Paul would comment that what he called "the mystery: Christ in you, the hope of glory," was manifested only because "it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and [new covenant] prophets in the Spirit" (Ephesians 3:5). That is why John says, "This is the message which we heard from Him."
But this message of life given to the apostles, if it remained only with the apostles, would be essentially worthless in carrying out God’s eternal purpose. Hence the missive, given by Jesus (or the Spirit of Jesus) to the apostles, "we announce to you." The message and its terms are announced! They are not sold at auction, they are not bartered in the marketplace of men’s ideas. They are announced on a non-negotiable, a "take it or leave it," basis to the world. Those who "take it" enter into the eternal life which John proclaimed; those who "leave it" enter into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
God is Light
This is the message for the ages: God is light! Three simple words are in this statement, but it takes the entire Bible to bring a clear understanding of its meaning to mankind. The scripture focuses its attention on Jesus, as John made evident in his gospel account. "For the Law was given through Moses," the apostle had stated, putting the entire Old Testament in the proper perspective, "grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). "The Law," the apostle Paul phrased it, "has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith," and hence, in apprehending the truth concerning the Christ, we appropriate for ourselves the grace of Christ (Galatians 3:24). John’s "gospel" continues on: "No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him" (John 1:18). The explanation of who God is, then, is one of the major purposes of the word of God.
- Jesus in prophecy - There are hundreds of prophecies of the coming Messiah in the Old Testament writings. Everything, from His coming as the Child to be born and inherit the throne of David, His virgin birth, His death on the cross, His resurrection on the third day, to His ascension to that heavenly throne, are all there in the prophecies hundreds or even thousands of years old. These are recorded to establish the truthfulness of the claims the apostles and new covenant prophets make concerning Jesus of Nazareth.
- Jesus in the flesh - "The Word (the Logos) became flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). The purpose for the incarnation of the great "I AM" was to make the connection with the human race, that interested individuals might come to know Him who was from the beginning. By Jesus’ taking the form of a bond-servant, the proper and perfect basis for communication with the fallen race was established. Through Jesus’ life and teaching during His years in the flesh, much of the character of the unseen God was exposed to men’s view in a way that men could understand. Even His love for lost man was demonstrated as He died for the lost, and "in His body" bore the sins of all. "He who has seen Me has seen the Father," was the Lord’s personal explanation to the apostle Philip.
- Jesus in His bodily resurrection - The establishment of the truthfulness of the scripture hinges on whether Jesus actually was raised from the dead. To establish that Jesus was resurrected required the testimony of reliable witnesses, and sufficient backing to establish that their testimony was true. Hence the final twelve apostles (plus Paul, an eyewitness by revelation) were selected through a grueling process, seeing Jesus’ resurrected body in appearances over a period of forty days. But, because of the one-time nature of Jesus’ permanent resurrection and the eternal implications of this event, the apostles’ testimony had to be backed by attesting miracles and Old Testament prophecy. In this way, men who knew Him (and knew Him so well that they could not mistake His identity) could positively affirm that the One crucified was also the One resurrected.
- Jesus in glory - On the fortieth day following His resurrection, the Lord ascended to glory. Leaving behind any vestiges of flesh, He as the source of light entered the realm where He "dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see" (1 Timothy 6:16). Herein "He is the radiance" of the Father’s "glory and the exact representation of His nature" (Hebrews 1:3). In this "exact representation," Jesus is the complete revelation of God.
This is all communicated to mankind now in the holy scriptures. The mind of man, designed by God ultimately for this purpose, can process the Christ of prophecy. The honest individual, looking for the truth of God, can read the record of Jesus’ sojourn in the flesh, can marvel at the accounts of His resurrection and appearances on earth, and can stretch to understand the radiant brilliance of the glorified Christ as the finished product of the revelation of God to man. In this way, the saint understands the substance of the message, "God is light!"
Light vs. Darkness
God is, from a human perspective, a long-term planner and executor. To set the stage for the ultimate spiritual message He wants to communicate, He created a physical world with its physical attributes. "Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ " recorded Moses, "and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness" (Genesis 1:3-4). From the Creation onward, then, man has daily experience with "light" and "darkness." His body operates on the "circadian rhythm," he prepares for the oncoming night, and he greets the dawning day. Thus enveloped in the regular and unceasing cycle, he is thus prepared to deal with "light" and "darkness" in the spiritual realm.
- God is totally light - "God is light," the apostle John notes, "and in Him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Through the gospel of the glory of Christ, the message that "God is light" is transmitted in a way that the faith-center part of the human brain can process. As the Christ is pictured as moving from the babe in the manger to the awesome radiance of the Father’s brightness in glory, those who are interested can follow the process. "This is the message," John states, that "we have heard from Him and announce to you." If God had not made the message known through the complete revelation of Jesus Christ, starting with the apostles, man would be locked in to spiritual darkness.
- Fellowship - The apostle’s goal—God’s goal—is that lost man be saved and be joined in fellowship with the sinless God. "We proclaim to you the eternal life," are words which John tenders, "that you may have fellowship with us, and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." Lofty goal, lofty result! But there is a challenge for the new spiritual man: he must maintain that precious fellowship, begun in the waters of immersion. "If we say that we have fellowship with Him," John warns, "and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth" (1 John 1:6). The Gnostics (the "antichrists") were bringing their false doctrines and destructive ways into congregational interactions, and thus attempting to subvert the faith of those who were walking in light. These false doctrines were smoothly introduced into the thinking by deceivers with evil intent. "For certain persons have crept in unnoticed," was Jude’s observation, "ungodly persons who turn the grace of God into licentiousness" (Jude 1:4). The saint, then, should be on careful guard at all times against such devilish intrusions.
- Walking in the light - Christians—as the very, very special people of God—are those who have been called "out of darkness" into the "marvelous light" of the living God (1 Peter 1:9). Taken out of the "domain of darkness," they have been transferred into the kingdom of Christ, and as such are children of light. "If we walk in the light," John informs us, "as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another" (1 John 1:7). "Walking in light" means to uphold and promulgate the sound doctrines of the faith as revealed through the apostles and New Testament prophets, and to live a life that increasingly conforms to those doctrines. "Lay aside the deeds of darkness," the apostle Paul would say, "and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing or drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy" (Romans 13:12-13).
The key, therefore, is to "practice the truth." God understands the necessity of improvement for the saint coming into the light out of the darkness and offers him grace for the purpose of growth. But if that perspective were to shift over to where the saint now begins to justify poor behavior, then there is a serious problem. "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie."
God is sinless, and has no fellowship with sin. Jesus, as the great High Priest of the order of Melchizedek in glory, is thus described as "separated from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26). "The devil," the apostle John would later say in this epistle, "sinned from the beginning" (1 John 3:8). The devil and his angels’ sins took place in heaven, and it took the entire execution of God’s plan (sending Jesus into the world, His taking the form of a human being, His dying on the cross as the sacrifice, and His ascension to heaven as high priest) to purge sin from heaven. In fact, the first act of Jesus at His ascension was to cleanse heaven. "When He had made purification of sins," the writer of Hebrews described, "He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Hebrews 1:3). He purified heaven before He took the throne!! God has no fellowship with sin.
- Origin of sin? - There is much confusion on the issue of sin and its origin inside the individual. The antichrists of John’s time would claim that the body is bad and therefore sinful. Since a person is born with a bad body, sin does not have its origin in the choice of the individual but rather that man’s "sinful nature" sins apart from choice. (Modern antichrists—Catholics and Calvinists—make essentially the same claim!) Jesus, however, is emphatic that sin does not have its origin in the body of man: "For from within," says the Lord Himself, "out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these things proceed from within and defile the man" (Mark 7:21-23). Because sin is choice, the apostle John therefore writes, "My little children, I am writing to you that you may not sin" (1 John 2:1).
- Accountability - From the time of Adam and Eve, the general characteristic of the human race has been to deny personal accountability. The gospel of Christ, as it is delivered to the individual, makes the lost member of the race recognize his own culpability for his actions or his failures to act. Through the exposition of the righteousness expected of people as revealed in the Law, the goal is "that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God" (Romans 3:19). The Holy Spirit’s analysis, in looking at the human race from beginning to end from the viewpoint of being outside of time, is that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). The scripture never indicates that the members of the race "just couldn’t help themselves"; the scripture says "all sinned!" They were active in the process. Hence John is going to explain to the antichrist element of his day that "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). The apostle amplifies the thought, saying, "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us" (1 John 1:10). No one gets to say that his body did the sinning apart from his choice!
The goal set before each saint is that he "may not sin"; that is, that each may walk in righteousness and holiness before the Lord his God. The probing light of the word of God exposes the evil desires of those who still want to make the claim of being Christians but fulfill the lusts of the flesh and of the mind. Hence the thrust of these words by the apostle: "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth." The dishonest individual is thus shown to be in the sinkhole of destruction. On the other hand, the honest Christian is shown to be faithful and true, walking in light just as God is light. The difference is where each will spend eternity; one in eternal darkness, and one in eternal light!
The Advocate with the Father
The issue of man and his relationship to sin can be a bit challenging to explore. Because sin is so pervasive, some have assumed that sin is not a choice, that man is born a sinner or that sin is inherit in the fleshly body. These assumptions are not borne out in the word of God. Passages such as Ezekiel 18:20 make it clear that sin cannot be inherited: "The person who sins will die." Sin is not resident in the body, since Jesus plainly states that it comes from the heart of man (Mark 7:21). Sin is a choice, and God holds each adult-level minded individual accountable for his personal sin. The statement that "all have sinned" does not set aside the point that the decision to sin was a result of each individual’s choice. The just God is thusly fair in holding each person accountable for his own sin and issuing the penalty of second death in the eternal lake of fire, unless that individual is redeemed by Jesus.
- Possibility of sin after redemption - The new Christian can still make the decision to sin after his immersion into Christ; God does not take away his continuing free will. Past habitual thought patterns will often lead the saint into committing a sin, and this is something that is to be overcome. The "old self" must be laid aside, and the "new self" must continually be "put on" (Colossians 3:9-10). The disciple of Christ does not have to sin (it must be re-emphasized that all sin is choice), but the possibility is there that he might sin. That is why the apostle John uses this language: "My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father..." (1 John 2:1). The terminology is significant: the apostle did not say when anyone sins; he said if anyone sins. The saint can choose to live righteously.
- The Advocate - The non-Christian has no standing before the throne of God. But the one who has obeyed the gospel of Christ now has "an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." Jesus, sacrificed as the Lamb of God, ascended to the position of great High Priest and intercessor for His people of faith, is willing to step in as the Paracletos, the One called alongside to help. Sometimes translated "Helper," sometimes "Comforter," sometimes "Counselor" (as in legal counsel), this "Advocate" is the Lord Jesus Christ who offered Himself as a substitute in paying the price for the sins of the condemned. While there was no redemption in the Old Testament sacrifices, the offering of Jesus once for all satisfies the justice of God.
- Cleansing from all sin - This Advocate is thus more than adequate! "If we walk in the light," John notes, "the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). "If we confess our sins," he adds, "He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). "He Himself is the propitiation for our sins," is John’s emphasis on Jesus as the means by which mercy is obtained at the throne of justice. The thrust of the conversation is that sin is choice, and the record is that all men made that choice. The antichrist of the late first century tried to tie sin to an evil body, and thus deny his personal accountability for that choice, deceiving himself and thus exhibiting that the truth was not in him. Forgiveness and redemption is possible through Jesus Christ the Advocate. These things are written to help the true children of God to move past sin and to live completely righteously before the Father.
Furthermore, the possibility of Jesus’ propitiatory work is potentially open to any of the race of men who desire to be reconciled to God. "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world" (1 John 2:2).
More On Propitiation
At the cross, at the cross," are the opening words of the old song, "where I first saw the light ..." These words, penned at an earlier time when Calvinism was more openly paraded than at the present, speak of a special illumination by the Holy Spirit apart from the individual’s choice. Only a step or two removed from the theology of the early Catholic thinker Augustine, Calvinism also places an undue emphasis on the cross. Somehow, these expositors proclaim, the work of Christ was finished on the cross, and so those in the process of redemption are taken mystically back to the cross where the blood that spilt out on the ground washes away their sins. Hence, in their thinking, the cross is the point of propitiation, the point at which mercy is granted. To think that the work of Jesus was finished on the cross (merely because He said, "It is finished!" in referring to His work in His earthly body), and the corollary that the blood shed at the cross by itself is the means of mercy, is very shallow thinking. It does not take into account what is revealed in the complete picture painted by the word of God.
- Necessity of the cross - No one with a modicum of knowledge or belief in the scripture would say that the cross of Christ and the events connected with it are unimportant in the plan of God. "For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness," the apostle Paul would say to the Corinthian brethren, "but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18). The picture of Christ crucified was to the Jews a stumbling block (they had no concept that the Messiah had to die prior to His living forever), and to the Gentiles foolishness (for a lot of reasons). As Jesus would say in instituting the Lord’s Supper, "This is My blood of the covenant, which was poured out for many for forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28). But the cross, in this sense, is the beginning of the story, not the end.
- Necessity of the resurrection - The same letter to the Corinthians which emphasized the cross also stressed the importance of the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ death on the cross, had there been no following resurrection, would have been worthless. "If Christ has not been raised," Paul stated in his argumentation, "your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:17).
- Necessity of the ascension - The great work of Jesus was done at His ascension. One of the aspects of His ascension was His ministry as the High Priest of the order of Melchizedek. As the Old Testament high priest is pictured as entering into the inner room of the tabernacle on the Day of Atonement with the blood of a goat for the sins of the people, so Jesus had to enter into the true holy place with His own blood. The top of the ark of the covenant was called the "mercy seat," for here the high priest in Israel sprinkled the atoning blood, it was the propitiatory. Hence Jesus is pictured as offering His own blood in a "greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands" (Hebrews 9:11). This, then, is when the propitiation takes place: in heaven and not on the cross.
This propitiation is what the apostle Paul is speaking of when he comments that saints’ justification is "through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith" (Romans 3:25). Because it was Jesus’ own spiritual blood (which was offered by Him as the High Priest in the tabernacle that is "not of this creation") the apostle John uses the terminology "He Himself is the propitiation for our sins." Furthermore, in prospect, He is the propitiation "not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world" (1 John 1:2). Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Keeping His Commandments
There is a lot of confusion concerning new covenant statements about keeping the commandments of God. The modern-day variations of the Judaizers of the first century immediately want to point out that "keeping the commandments" obviously includes observing the fourth of the Ten Commandments of the Law—the Sabbath! Others want to jump on the Old Testament dietary requirements as included in the commandments of God. Others, the nature of man being what it is, find extreme interpretations of the "commandments" to be observed, often pulling some obscure scripture out of context and using it as a basis for their particular religious observances.
Books like 1 John have to be understood in light of other scriptures, such as the book of Acts and Paul’s and Peter’s writings. These other new covenant scriptures make it very clear that there is a clear line of demarcation between old and new covenants, and that the new is not like the old. So the immediate and quick jump to the commandments given at Sinai as recorded in Exodus is not a sanctioned new covenant jump.
- Jesus’ introduction - When asked by a lawyer about the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus’ answer was the one about loving the Lord God with all your heart, soul, and mind. "The second," said the Christ, "is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ " Then He added this blockbuster statement: "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and Prophets" (Matthew 22:37-39). In reading through the 39 books of the Old Testament, it would be easy to miss those commandments, especially the second one. The great Teacher could be counted upon to bring those to the fore in His preaching and expounding to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But as He began to impress the basis of the new covenant upon His disciples, at the time of His institution of the Lord’s Supper, He explained, "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34). What was new about the commandment was that Jesus was elevating the level of love. From simply loving "your neighbor as yourself," now the commandment is to love your neighbor enough to sacrifice yourself for the sake of your neighbor’s soul!
- Knowing God - It is easy for a person to say that he loves God and that He knows God. The question is whether God acknowledges that. The apostle John initiates some clarification: "And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments" (1 John 2:3). Those commandments are the ones connected with loving God and loving man. "The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected" (1 John 2:4-5). Anything less than loving the other person enough to endeavor to help him have the proper eternity in heaven is not the love of God. Those who really know God are always working to seek and save the lost and conserve the saved.
The Gnostics [antichrists] of the late first century were good salesmen. They were so successful in drawing saints away from the teaching of the apostles that the Holy Spirit had the apostle John write a couple of epistles exposing these men for what they were, and making sure these books were preserved as part of the sacred writ to be passed on to future generations. These Gnostics in no way loved the souls of the brethren; they were interested in promoting these antichrist doctrines for the sake of personal gain and prestige. While they clearly said that they knew God, they by their actions, as measured by the word of God, were liars, and the truth was not in them. Modern antichrists need to be exposed in the same way!
Talk is cheap. Great swelling words never carried their purveyor over an inch of ground, nor did mere expressions of intent ever accomplish a task. Good intentions and great words must be translated into proper actions, and the definition of "proper actions" must be provided by the word of God. If someone were to say that he loved other people, but was teaching a false plan of salvation, then those are empty words. If someone were to say that he loved the poor, but was stealing money from other people’s wallets to distribute, then those are empty words. The one who "does not keep His commandments is a liar." Such is the divine analysis.
- Perfecting the love of God - The humble servant of Christ is one who believes the apostles’ doctrine, who prays for the church and for the lost, who assiduously puts the kingdom of God first, and who carries the word of God to the next person. In this process, sin and self is set aside, the old man is crucified, and the new self continually steps forward to execute what is written in the word of God. "Whoever keeps His word," says John, "in him the love of God has truly been perfected." Only love for God, love for the brethren, and love for the lost provide sufficient motivation to keep the commandments of God.
- Walk as He walked - "The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ " intones John, "and does not keep His commandments is a liar." The Holy Spirit, ultimate author of this epistle, wants true saints to know exactly what their standing is with the Father. "By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same manner as He walked" (1 John 2:5-6). This is certainly getting past mere "talk." Walking as Jesus walked, teaching as Jesus taught, suffering as Jesus suffered, dying for the gospel as Jesus died ... this is the test. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it," averred the Lord Himself, "but whoever loses it for My sake and the gospel’s will save it" (Mark 8:35).
The antichrists (ancient and modern) maintain that the body, as part of the material realm, is bad. Hence the individual, regardless of good intentions, is trapped in a situation where he may want to do good but can’t because of the sin which indwells his body. Thus those late first century antichrists, the Gnostics, were continually walking in darkness while claiming to walk in the light. They also therefore were not keeping the commandments of God and were in fact a bunch of liars!
The apostle John, in this epistle, is totally destroying the doctrinal positions of the antichrists, and exposing their behavior to anyone who will process his words. Contrary to the position of the ancient antichrists, that Jesus did not possess a physical body and therefore was in a condition where He did not have to sin, the apostle states plainly in his opening salvo: "What we have seen with our eyes," he declares, "what we have beheld and our hands handled ..." Clearly Jesus sojourned in a physical body, and yet did not sin. The Gnostics were a collection of rotten sinners and walked in darkness.
The apostle John, in this epistle, also totally destroys the doctrinal positions of modern antichrists, who maintain that Jesus did not sin because His body was different from that of Christians. He did not inherit sin, would be one way of stating that position, or that He was not totally depraved like the human race would be another. Whatever the argument, John destroys it with these words: "the one who says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same manner as He walked." If that is not possible, then God is a cruel and ridiculous Master. But He is not: He provides the working of the word within and the strengthening of the inner man by the indwelling Spirit. So, get walking!!
The Old/New Commandment
The apostle John is laboring in word to salvage the church of God which was being ravaged by the late first century antichrists. They were great salesmen, and were accomplishing their purpose by offering the first century saints a twisted gospel which had a built-in excuse for continuing in sin. Appeals to the flesh sell well, and unless the individual was a truth-seeker, he would be pulled in by such appeals. Many were falling for this onslaught on the gospel, and the church in general needed correction and direction. With the other apostles executed or far away, John is the one to step forward with reminders, doctrines, and exhortations.
- Nothing new - Part of the Gnostics’ appeal was that they had new information. [The name Gnostic was given to them because of their claim that they had new or "inside" knowledge or information withheld from the apostles.] Hence John is going to emphasize that what he and the other apostles taught was not be changed; its foundations were there in the Old Testament writings and given by revelation to them by the Holy Spirit. "Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you," he discourses, "but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word you heard" (1 John 2:7). As Jude also pointed out: "The faith was once for all delivered" (Jude 1:3).
- Jesus’ new commandment - Jesus did say that He was, in one manner of speaking, delivering a new commandment to the brethren, that they love others as Jesus loves. Calling on the brethren to sacrifice themselves for the truth of the gospel, John explains: "On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining" (1 John 2:8). Before "the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared," the concept connected with love was not so clearly defined (Titus 3:4). But now that love is demonstrated, it is more readily understood as specifically sacrificing for the sake of others’ eternities. Hence, it is a new commandment.
- True light shining - For those who have been properly immersed into Christ, the apostle Paul informed us, God "is the One who has shone in our hearts" (2 Corinthians 4:6). This is not mere "metaphorical light"; this is actually the Christ of glory shining in the inner man, as revealed by the words of scripture. Thus the comment of John, "the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining." Those who are "light in the Lord," as the apostle Paul termed saints, will "walk in the light," and exhibit the characteristics of Christ Himself. "For the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth" (Ephesians 5:9).
The antichrist Gnostics of the late first century were clearly men "of flesh." Regardless of their pretenses, as men of flesh they would exhibit the characteristics of the flesh. There would be rampant immorality, fighting and jealousy, sensuality of every sort, and no doubt drinking and carousing. For some it would be out in the open; for others the deeds of the flesh would be hidden as much as possible. In either case, for those able to discern things spiritually, the fruit of walking in darkness would be evident.
The faithful saints of God "keep the commandments of God." They have their minds set on the things of the Spirit, and as a result bear the fruit of the Spirit. Their conversation is focused on things above, their interests are Biblical, and their time is spent on matters that are profitable for the expansion of the kingdom of God. Laying aside the unfruitful deeds of darkness, they are step-by-step walking as Jesus walked. They are truly "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world."
Love vs. Hate
Satan exerts tremendous energy and propaganda to confuse both the meaning of love and the meaning of hate. It is as Isaiah the prophet commented during the days of Israel and Judah’s decline: "Woe to those who call ‘evil’ ‘good,’ and ‘good’ ‘evil’; who substitute ‘darkness’ for ‘light’ and ‘light’ for ‘darkness’; who substitute ‘bitter’ for ‘sweet,’ and ‘sweet’ for ‘bitter’! (Isaiah 5:20). "Love" and "hate" are powerful driving forces inside mankind; hence it is that the "master of confusion" has spent great effort in derailing the God-given definitions of those two terms. Whether it was the Romans at the time of Nero, or moderns from AD 2000 onward, Christians are often regarded as engaging in "hate speech," arising from their supposed hatred of mankind. This, of course, is the work of Satan who twists the language. True Christians, who base their lives and views on the scripture and walk in the footsteps of Jesus, love all members of the human race. Correspondingly, they hate evil, sin, and idolatry. Because they will not compromise, they are regarded as those who hate, and whose preachments are "hate speech."
- The passing darkness - The apostle John is very encouraging in his Spirit-inspired analysis: "The darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining" (1 John 2:8). The forces of darkness and evil are always pictured as being short-lived, and this helps the suffering saint know that he can persevere a little longer. The true light is already shining, and the winning side is already winning!
- Definition of hate - The agape love of God is concerned about each person’s eternity, concerned enough for God to give up His only begotten Son. Hate, then, is attempting to turn people aside from the glorious eternity, and having them focus somewhere else. "The one who says he is in the light," John illustrates, "and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now" (1 John 2:9). The antichrist Gnostic would claim to walk in the light, and would even claim to walk in more light than the apostles. The objective analysis is that the Gnostics were leading people down the wrong path, and therefore were the ones who hated their brothers.
- Abiding in light - The individual who is properly immersed into Christ, who is faithful in the application of the new covenant principles in his life, and who is constantly strengthening the saints and leading the lost to Christ, is the one who truly has the "love of God poured out in his heart through the Holy Spirit" (Romans 5:5). Of such, John says, "The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him" (1 John 2:10). "He who loves his neighbor," commented the apostle Paul, "has fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8). If a saint really loves his neighbor and is trying to set up a Bible study to save his neighbor’s soul, he is not going to steal his neighbor’s stuff. "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love is therefore the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:10).
The apostle Paul had warned his protégé Timothy of the arise of wicked men. "But evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived" (II Timothy 3:13). What is interesting here is that the deceivers themselves are deceived, by the great deceiver himself! The Gnostics of the late first century were in the process of deceiving many, pretending to walk in the light while dragging as many as possible into the darkness with them. "But the one who hates his brother," John pointedly remarks, "is in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes" (1 John 2:11). Claiming to be super-enlightened, the Gnostics were clearly blind. "But if your eye is bad," averred the Lord Jesus, "your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness" (Matthew 6:23). How true!
Children, Young Men, Fathers
God is the great and perfect communicator! The challenge He has, as Jesus often pointed out, is to get people really to listen. Consequently, He uses common examples from earth’s experiences to be able to connect with the sons of men who are so often wayward and confused. One of the means He has of communicating is using the process of the growth of children into adults to illustrate growth of Christians. The baby learning to grab onto things, the small child taking its first steps, the little one learning to talk in sentences, the boys and girls learning the lessons of life through their experiences, the laddies challenged in growing up and the lassies stretched in developing into mature young women, both men and women struggling as the saddle of responsibility settles heavily on their shoulders ... These are universally common for the individual, for his children, for his nieces and nephews, and for his neighbors. Hence the All Wise has a beginning point universally applicable in having conversation with the descendants of Adam.
- "Little children" - The church as a whole in the later years of the apostle John struggled with the onslaught of what was called "Gnosticism." These antichrists were very successful in drawing away some of the disciples after them, creating a lot of chaos in these early congregations. Regardless of their pretenses, they were perverting the gospel of Christ and were luring others down the path toward hell; they actually hated their brothers when viewed from God’s perspective. "The one who hates his brother," John thusly emphasizes, "is in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes." John goes to work, reaching out to the newest and weakest saints, taking them back to some basic building blocks. "I am writing to you, little children," says he, "because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake" (1 John 2:12). The perverted gospel of the Gnostics offered a "Christ" who never took on a human body, an apparition who only appeared to die on a cross; what forgiveness could there be in that! Basic point: your sins are actually forgiven you "for His name’s sake." He adds, at the appropriate point in his rhythmic prose: "I have written to you, children, because you know the Father" (1 John 2:13). Basic, powerful, and reassuring point: you actually know the Father.
- "Young men" - In this section, the apostle reaches out also to the next level of spiritual maturity, to the "young men." To them, the record notes: "I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one." This is a powerful and encouraging building block. Having climbed that step, these brothers and sisters needed to maintain their faith and move forward. "I have written to you, young men," is the apostle’s further thought, "because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one" (1 John 2:14). Considering this description of spiritual "young men," the modern saint may want to stop and consider whether he is one of these, or whether he is in fact in the "little children" category.
- "Fathers" - There is some relation between the time that a person has been converted and his spiritual maturity. Some of those who lived in these later years of John had turned to the Lord many years earlier, had suffered persecution for their faith, and had learned what was really important. "I am writing to you, fathers," encourages the apostle, "because you know Him who has been from the beginning." Ah, yes, to know God, and to be known by Him, is above all else. "I have written to you, fathers," he again stresses, "because you know Him who has been from the beginning." What more could be said!
Using the natural progression of human growth as a basis for his communication, the apostle is thus able, in a very few simple words, to encourage the brethren at every level. God, the perfect communicator through Spirit-inspired John, motivates and strengthens each saint, that each might overcome temptation and sort his way through the perils of false teachers. Overcome!!!!
“All that is in the world”
Men often go to great lengths to justify their lusts. The philosophy/religion called "evolution" is one clear example. The apostle Peter, prophesying of those in the future who would deny the Flood and maintain a uniformitarian outlook, noted, "In the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts" (2 Peter 3:4). Their clear motive for kicking God out and maintaining that everything in life results from heaped up random mechanical actions is so that they might justify their lusts. The foundation for Catholicism is that all are born sinful, and the foundation for most of Protestantism is that all are born totally depraved. All these are designed to give man as a whole a religious/philosophical basis for justifying his continuation in the lusts of the flesh. This, then, is "the world."
- Warning - The pull of the things of the world is powerful, and the scripture is replete with warnings, warnings, and more warnings about its enticements. "Do not love the world," John adds his voice to the chorus, "nor the things in the world" (1 John 2:15). Behind the scenes in the "world operation" is Satan. In rebellion against God himself, he is continually putting the sons of men in a situation where, whether they realize it or not, they are having to choose whose side they are on. "If anyone loves the world," the apostle points out, "the love of the Father is not in him." The choice has always been clear: choose heaven and it will cost you earth; choose earth and it will cost you heaven.
- Triple threat - As mentioned, the world has its allures. "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world" (1 John 2:16). While there is some overlap, "the lust of the flesh" is directed toward gratifying fleshly or sensual desires (often sexual in one form or another). Even a cursory glance at the behavior of the rest of the human race around us will show how pervasive and powerful these lusts of the flesh are. This is followed with "the lust of the eyes." This category is necessarily hugely broad, encompassing every twisted thing that a person might see. Two people can look at the same thing, and for one the lusts of the eyes are generated, and in the other nothing but the good things are noticed. The modern times, with everything from giant screen TV’s to "tablets" to "smart phones," are filled with appeals to the lust of the eye. Then there is "the boastful pride of life." This one is not so easy to identify as the other two, but it may catch more people in its net than the other two combined. Family pride, national pride, or personal pride will stop an individual from a humble willingness to process the truth. Pride prevents people from admitting that they were wrong, from honestly evaluating themselves, and from submitting to the Lordship of King Jesus as revealed in His word.
The pull of "the things in the world" is an immediate gratification of some kind. The illicit sexual encounter, real or imagined, results in an instantaneous rush. Longing looks at the automobile paraded for sale will result in a person making a stupid purchase, but with a sense of fulfillment "right now." The shout of the man, when confronted with the scriptures about immersion into Christ, saying, "I am Russian, my people are Russian Orthodox, so I must be Russian Orthodox," feels good to him as he defends his country and his faith, but is a clear example of pride’s blocking the way to understanding truth. These are temporary, in contrast to the positive picture the apostle John paints. "And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:17). That abiding forever is worth setting aside any of the temporal appeals of the world!
The Last Hour
Saints and others have been waiting for "the last hour" for many generations. Jesus Himself warned all future brethren to be ready for that last hour. Referring to disciples as "slaves," He used the picture of the Master returning unexpectedly to check on the servants. "The master of that slave," He said of one who became derelict in his duties, beating his fellow slaves and eating and drinking with the drunkards, "will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know" (Matthew 24:49-50). Thus saints have been expecting Him at "the last hour."
- "It is the last hour" - Early in the church’s history as recorded in the sacred word of God, the primary issues that had to be dealt with were those connected with the difference between the system of law and the system of faith. By the time of John’s writing, however, the issues had now switched to lawlessness as contrasted to faith. The Gnostics were bringing elements of Greek philosophy into the teaching of the apostles, and these elements resulted in the antinomianism beginning to be extant in those late first century congregations. This lawlessness, this following all the things of the world (lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life), John calls the introduction of the last hour. "Children," he says, as he often addresses the saints as a whole, "it is the last hour; and just as you have heard that [the] antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour" (1 John 2:18).
- Many antichrists - 1 John 2:18 is the first place the word antichrist is used. In his second epistle, John specifically defines antichrist teaching as that which denies that Jesus actually came in the flesh. What happened was that the many teachers inside the first century church became influenced by or enamored with Greek philosophy (they probably read too many commentaries!). Following Greek views on the relationship of spirit and flesh, they decided that the flesh was sinful, and therefore Jesus could not have possessed a body of flesh. As absurd as it seems, this antichrist doctrine was very pervasive, adhered to by a huge number of those who claimed to be Christians. John notes: "many antichrists have arisen."
- Movement from the inside - Early challenges to new covenant doctrines came from outside. The Judaizers, for example, were a result of Jews pressuring saints to come under the requirements of the law. The antichrist movement, however, came from within. "They went out from us," is John’s recording, "but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they are not of us" (1 John 2:19). They started from within, but they "went out." In his second epistle, John describes as antichrists "anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ" (2 John 1:9).
God allows false teachings such as this to arise from within or without; this is a means He has of keeping the true church pure. "And for this reason," was the apostle Paul’s analysis, "God will send upon them a deluding influence, so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness" (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12). A supposed saint who does not value truth above all else will be snagged by some false doctrine. "If they had been of us, they would have remained with us, but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they are not of us!" The modern saint would do well to pay attention to what happened even to those who were taught by the apostles and by those who had the gifts of the Spirit extant in the first century.
“You Have an Anointing”
The apostle John in his letters brings out certain concepts not really talked about in other New Testament writings. For instance, he uses the term "anointing" as applied to Christians. To process this, a brief look at some history is required. God is the One who clearly introduced the practice of anointing kings in Israel, beginning with Samuel’s anointing of Saul as the first king. As the line of kings in Judah came to an end with the Babylonian captivity in 586 BC, the remnant increasingly looked to the prophecies of a coming Messiah, "the anointed one," for hope.
When Jesus was dunked by John the Immerser in the waters of the Jordan, the heavens opened up, the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form upon Jesus, and the voice from heaven said, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased" (Matthew 3:16-17). This, in the words of the apostle Peter, is the description of how "God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power" (Acts 10:38). Jesus rightly claims the title Christ as the Greek equivalent to the Messiah, anointed with the Holy Spirit rather than with oil, and thus begins to fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies of the Coming One.
- "You have an anointing" - The antichrists working inside the church of the first century brought doctrines that denied the incarnation of Christ, and resulted in the turning of many fallen saints in the direction of the world and its lusts. The pressure on the true brethren to bend was powerful. But the apostle John reminds them, "But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know" (1 John 2:20). Underlying this "anointing" was an understanding of the significant truths of Christianity, as John ties this anointing to his next comment: "I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth" (1 John 2:21).
- Anointing abides in you - The thread of thought here is picked up a few verses later. "As for you," John reminds his children of faith, "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, and is true and it not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him" (1 John 2:27). There is a lot to unpackage in this verse! Of prime relevance here is that "the anointing abides in you." This is a clear reference to the indwelling Holy Spirit, granted to the individual at his immersion in Jesus’ name. The picture, then, is that as Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit in His immersion, just so the saint was anointed with the Holy Spirit in his immersion. And as the voice of the Almighty was heard proclaiming Jesus was His beloved Son, just so the voice thundered in the realm of faith at each new birth, "This is My beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased." John adds this note: "See how great a love the father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called sons [KJV] of God, and such we are" (1 John 3:1).
The immersion of Jesus really illustrates the absurdity of the antichrist belief that Jesus could not have possessed an actual physical body. Luke’s account is interesting here: "Now it came about when all the people were immersed, that Jesus also was immersed, and while He was praying, heaven was opened ..." (Luke 3:21). All the people had bodies, and those bodies ruffled the water as they went down and came up. If Jesus had no body, there would have been quite a stir, starting with John the Immerser himself, at no ruffling of the water when He went down and came up. The focus instead is on the descent of the Holy Spirit and the message of the voice from heaven. "You know the truth," John reassures the faithful brethren. "The anointing which you received from Him abides in you," he stresses. And, as a result, "You abide in Him."
Truth vs. Lies
Those who teach false doctrine always have to lie at some point. At some point, they have to look at the plain teaching of scripture and say, "It doesn’t say that," when in fact it does. Some of the lies are direct, and some are subtle; regardless, they are lies. By contrast, God, in His communication with man, always tells the truth. He may communicate through His Old Testament prophets, or His New Testament apostles, but He always tells the truth. Thus the apostle Paul, in writing to the Ephesian brethren, would note: "In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation ..." (Ephesians 1:13). The forces of darkness use people to twist the truth, and the scripture therefore has many warnings about false doctrine and calls for saints to stand for the truth. Against one such group Paul wrote, "But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you" (Galatians 2:5). It is always truth vs. lies!
- "You know the truth" - The brethren at large to whom John writes had the gospel of truth preached to them. He is writing out of concern the that the antichrist/Gnostic movement of the time might pull them away. "I have not written to you because you do not know the truth," he emphasizes, "but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth" (1 John 2:21). It is a harsh but supremely important statement, that "no lie is of the truth," that any deviation at all from the truth is in fact a big lie. The apostle John is reminding these brethren that they know the truth, and that any other doctrine coming into the church is a lie.
- Specific lying - The Gnostics were persuasive and working hard to pull the brethren into their camp. John continues to warn about them in very strong language: "Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ?" (1 John 2:22). This is one of those simple statements by the apostle that requires considerable processing. The "faith of Christ" is based on the foundational truth and good confession that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." The proof that "Jesus is the Christ" is His resurrection from the dead, as the apostle Paul stated: Jesus "was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead ... Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 1:3,4). If Jesus never came in the flesh, Jesus was never raised from the dead. If a person believes that Jesus was never raised from the dead, he denies that Jesus is the Christ!
- Antichrist denial - It is axiomatic, therefore, that if a person believes that Jesus never came in the flesh, he denies that "Jesus is the Christ." This is "the liar." "This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son" (1 John 2:22). The witness of the scripture is that the Father sent the Son into the world to save the world. If order for that salvation to be accomplished, it required that the Son come in the flesh, that He die on the cross, that He be resurrected, and that He ascend to glory. The one who denies this, then, obviously denies the Father and the Son. The antichrist denied that Jesus came in the flesh, and thus denied all that followed.
"It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance," asserted the apostle Paul, "that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15). "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures," he also asseverated, and "He was buried," and "He was raised from the dead on the third day according to the scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3,4). This is the truth! He bore our sins in His body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). To deny that Jesus ever had a body is clearly a big lie, and the basis for many other big lies. Who is the liar? And who is it who tells the truth?
Abiding in the Son
Lies are always destructive. But lies about things eternal are the worst! The devil, according to Jesus, "is a liar, and the father of lies" (John 8:44). He is also "a murderer from the beginning," and it is his goal to drag as many people as he can to hell with him. The primary tool, then, that he is going to use is the practice of lying and promoting lies. He lied to Eve in the Garden, and still lies. "But I am afraid," said Paul to the Corinthians, "lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3). The Gnostic antichrists of the first century were denying that Jesus came in the flesh, and were thus twisting the gospel. Lies, lies, lies.
- Confessing the Son - There is no middle ground with Jesus; either a person confesses Him, or a person in effect denies Him. "Whoever denies the Son," says the apostle John of those who deny that Jesus came in the flesh, "does not have the Father." The contrasting point is evident: "The one who confesses the Son has the Father also" (1 John 2:23). But what does it mean to "confess the Son?"
- The first confession - When Jesus asked the apostles to tell them who they thought He was, Peter responded, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). The truth contained in this confession is the "rock" upon which the church of the Lord is being built. While the words are simple, the concepts contained therein are massive in scope.
- The Christ - King David had been promised that through His descendants the future Messiah or Christ would come. Implicit in the confession is that Jesus would be born as a human being, as the apostle Paul explained: He "was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh" (Romans 1:3). He did not come into the world as a ghostly apparition; He came into the world as a human baby! But His throne was not an earthly throne; He ascended to heaven to take the eternal throne of David, as the apostle Peter noted in his quotation: "The Lord [the Father] said to my Lord [David’s Lord, the future Messiah], ‘Sit at My right hand [on the throne in heaven], until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.’ " (Acts 2:34-35).
- The Son of God - The Jews understood anyone claiming to be the Son of God was making a claim to divinity. When Jesus healed the cripple at Bethesda’s pool, He stated that not only was He working on the Sabbath, but His Father was working also. The Jews from that point on were trying to kill Him, because He "was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God" (John 5:18). Furthermore, they were correct in that understanding!
The "good confession" contains elements of both Jesus’ humanity and His divinity. In effect, the Gnostic antichrists of the first century denied both, and thus were condemned to hell. That was ultimately why their teaching was so dangerous.
In order to be a Christian, a person has to confess with his mouth that Jesus is Lord, or that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." His immersion then immediately follows, and in that moment he is born again; for him that is the beginning. "As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you will also abide in the Son and in the Father" (1 John 2:24). As Paul reminded Timothy, "And by common confession great is the mystery of godliness: ‘He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, beheld by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.’ " (1 Timothy 3:16). Anything else is a lie!
The Promise of Eternal Life
God has given His saints a number of promises. Because of His character, He keeps His promises, as the One who is faithful and true. "For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him [Christ] they are ‘yes,’ " (2 Corinthians 1:20). God is faithful indeed. "Repent," said Peter and the other apostles to the crowd assembled on the Day of Pentecost, "and be immersed in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). This was the inspired response to the question, "What shall we do?" when the gospel message was preached for the first time. Then was added these words: "For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself" (Acts 2:39). The promise is a reference back to "the gift of the Holy Spirit," the indwelling Spirit who makes it possible for the newly born again individual to belong to Christ (Romans 8:9). God is faithful, and He keeps that promise.
- The Spirit and life - Spiritual life comes from the Holy Spirit; without the indwelling Spirit, the adult-level individual is spiritually dead. Jesus Himself emphasized, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life" (John 6:63). Hence it is that the spiritual blessings for the Christian flow from the indwelling Spirit.
- All of God - Jesus told the apostles that the Spirit of truth would be in them (John 14:16-17). He also stated "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23). The general thrust of the scriptures is that, through the Holy Spirit, all of God lives in the Christian! The Giver of life moves into the cleansed vessel upon his immersion and gives him that spiritual life. "In Him was life," was part of the opening of John’s gospel account, "and life was the life of men" (John 1:5).
- Eternal life - The idea, then, is that, as the Father and Son abide in the Christian through the Holy Spirit, so also the saint abides in the Father and the Son. "If what you heard from the beginning abides in you," affirms John, "you will also abide in the Son and in the Father" (1 John 2:24). Then he adds, "And this is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life" (1 John 2:25). This promise of eternal life likewise flows from the indwelling Holy Spirit. "The letter kills," the apostle Paul had noted, "but the Spirit gives life" (2 Corinthians 3:6). In another place the apostle also commented, "The one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:8). The promise of eternal life comes from the promise of the eternal Spirit!
- Deception unto death - The devil, the great deceiver, has a goal of pulling everyone possible into the lake of fire—the second death—with him. Hence he was working through the antichrists inside the first century church to destroy as many as possible by diverting them away from the true teachings concerning Jesus Christ. The apostle John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is very aware of the massive threat posed by these operatives. "These things I have written to you," he emphasizes, "concerning those who are trying to deceive you" (1 John 2:26).
John belabors the point: "And this is the promise He Himself made to us: eternal life." Every saint should periodically stop and consider this promise of eternal life as contrasted to eternal death. When people’s focus is too much on earth, eternity drifts into a distant, hazy, and "unimportant" background, which is the devil/deceiver’s goal. God’s goal is for His children to see the value of eternity. If they continually set their minds on the Christ in glory, then they will have the promise of eternal life realized. Worth doing!!
The Bible is like a woven tapestry, and the threads must be followed through the entire document in order that God’s truth might be defined and understood. One of those great threads or themes is the topic of "anointing." The tabernacle of Moses and its appurtenances were anointed. The priests of the Old Testament were anointed. Some of the Old Testament prophets were anointed. Even some foreign kings were anointed. The Lord spoke to the prophet Elijah the Tishbite, for example, and told him to anoint Hazael as the next king of Aram (Syria), Jehu as the next king of the northern nation Israel, and Elisha as the prophet to succeed him (1 Kings 19:15-16).
But the focus is on the anointing of the kings of united Israel and subsequently of Judah. "Fill your horn with oil," God said to Samuel the judge and prophet (1 Samuel 16:1). When David was finally identified as the next king in original Israel, the Almighty again spoke to Samuel, saying, "Arise, anoint him; for this is he" (1 Samuel 16:12). From the descendants of David, it was repeatedly prophesied, the Messiah [Hebrew], "the anointed one," the king or Christ [Greek – Christos] would come.
- The anointing of Jesus - John the Immerser explained a major part of his mission: "I did not recognize Him," John recounted, referring to the fact that he could not officially say that Jesus was the Christ without the proper signal from heaven, "but in order that He might be manifested [visibly shown] to Israel, I came immersing in water" (John 1:31). The signal, as John testified, was the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Messiah. "He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him," were the words from heaven, would be the Christ. Later the apostle Peter, preaching the gospel to the first Gentiles who were to be welcomed into the fold, would say, "God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 10:38).
- The anointing of the saints - The visible anointing of Jesus in the waters of the Jordan, as the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form as a dove, set the stage for understanding what happened as person became a Christian. John introduced the thought, asseverating, "You have an anointing from the Holy One" (1 John 2:20). A little later the apostle adds, "And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you" (1 John 2:27). This anointing that abides in the Christian is clearly the indwelling Spirit. As the anointing to Jesus happened in the physical realm, so also the anointing of the saint happens in the spiritual realm, the realm revealed through the written word. When the individual experiencing spiritual birth is coming up out of immersion’s water, the Holy Spirit descends upon him, and in effect there is an inaudible (in the physical realm) voice that says, "This is My beloved child!" Welcome to the realm of the royal priesthood, and welcome to the family of God!
- His anointing teaches you - The apostle John now continues with a thought that has to be unraveled based on the rest of new covenant teaching. "You have no need for anyone to teach you," he posits, "but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him" (1 John 2:27). There are several aspects of "His anointing" that need to be considered. The "anointing" who abides in the saint is the previously mentioned Holy Spirit, who is the ultimate teacher. The Holy Spirit is the author of the scriptures, and the teachings that became the scriptures, and in that sense "His anointing teaches you all things."
The concern of John in this epistle is that the saints remain true to the doctrines of God, and not be carried into the strange doctrines promoted by the Gnostic elements working in the first century church. He wants the true teachings coming from the Spirit of Christ Himself to be held onto by the saints, and that they "abide in Him."
Being Taught All Things
The apostle John says a great deal in a very small space. He takes the entire body of the Holy Spirit’s teaching contained in both "the law of Moses" and "the faith of Christ," and condenses it into the phrase "His anointing teaches you about all things" (1 John 2:27). All doctrines connected with Christ emanate from the concept of His anointing—not only His anointing with the Holy Spirit while He was coming up out of the waters of the Jordan, but also His "receiving from the Father the promise of the Spirit" as He took the throne in glory. For example, in a very open prophecy, Daniel predicted that "the Messiah [the Anointed One] will be cut off and have nothing," pointing to His execution on the cross. His death "put an end to sacrifice and grain offering," inasmuch as the perfect sacrifice obliterated the need for these temporary offerings (Daniel 9:25-26). In another instance, David spoke of a time when the Lord’s Anointed would be installed as King "upon Zion" (Psalm 2:6). From being the promised descendant of David according to the flesh, through His crucifixion, on to His exaltation to the right hand of power, "His anointing teaches you about all things."
- Abide in Him - The "antichrist movement" began inside the church, and the antichrists were working on members of Christ’s body to pull them away from the truth. "They went out from us," John had said. Hence he had also commented, "These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you." The deceivers were claiming to have inside information that the apostles did not have. This is one of the reasons why the apostle emphasizes that "His anointing teaches you all things," pointing out in this way that there is no more information to be had other than what was given to the apostles and new covenant prophets. If the saints would hold on to what had been taught them, they would "abide in Him."
- Abide to establish confidence - All the spiritual benefits are repeatedly stated as being "in Christ": in Christ there is no condemnation; if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; saints have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. Thus if a person has been moved away from the hope of the gospel, he loses those benefits. John therefore writes, "And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming" (1 John 2:28). If the brethren want to face Judgment with confidence, they must continue to "abide in Him"
- Jesus’ coming - The Old Testament prophets, from Enoch to Malachi, reference the coming of the Lord for the execution of judgment. Jesus Himself often spoke of the surprise nature of His second coming upon a world that neglects to hear or to obey His word. Enoch had prophesied that the Lord would come "to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds" (Jude 1:15). Malachi had noted that "the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze" (Malachi 4:1). Thus John appeals, "And now, little children, abide in Him!"
At the end of the line, so to speak, there are only two possibilities concerning where a person will spend eternity: heaven or hell. Any thinking person can clearly see that heaven is the good and sensible choice. But the devil and his deceiving assistants work very hard to get that clear choice obscured, and people’s attention misdirected. "Let that abide in you which you heard," John said. "Abide in Him," is John’s statement which cannot be over-emphasized, so that those who once walked with Christ will not "shrink away from Him in shame at His coming." An eternity in hell is beyond comprehension, but that is the "end of the line" for the deceiving antichrists, who are themselves deceived.
The Righteous Connection
"The wrath of God," averred the apostle Paul, "is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18). The scripture establishes clearly that the goal of God is to reproduce His righteousness in the thoughts, words, and deeds of those who would claim to be His children. He clothes His holy ones with Christ in their immersions into Him, and continues His teaching, in conjunction with His indwelling Holy Spirit, to produce practicing righteousness in those who make a claim to godliness.
The goal of the devil, as the initial rebel, murderer, and liar, is to reproduce his character in the sons of men. As the ultimate deceiver, he works particularly among those who would claim to follow Christ by convincing them that being righteous in word, thought, and deed is not possible. "All inherit Adam’s sin at birth," is a core teaching of Roman and Greek Catholicism, enveloping upwards of 1.4 billion people on this planet. The corollary is that they remain sinners through their deaths. Another teaching, at the core of Protestantism, is that people are born totally depraved, and remain so throughout their earthly lives. Another teaching, particularly among those of what might be called Restoration Movement heritage, is that a saint is engaged in a sanctified struggle depicted in Romans chapter seven, and, try as he might, he is going to remain in bondage to sin. All these doctrines impinge the mind with the pre-set that the individual will always remain unrighteous. And these doctrines all began with the teachings of the antichrists of the late first century with which John is dealing!
- Introductory thought - The apostle John introduces the next theme that will occupy a section of his epistle to the late first century church. "If you know that He is righteous," he posits, "you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him" (1 John 2:29). God is righteous? "Righteous are You, O Lord," stated the psalmist, "and upright are Your judgments" (Psalm 119:137). That is clear enough, and from a psalm that would be well-known to the first century brethren. What about Jesus’ famous prayer recorded in John 17? "O righteous Father," began He, "although the world has not known You, yet I have known You" (John 17:25). God is righteous, and the apostle John’s challenge is in the form of a rhetorical conditional: "If you know that He is righteous..."
- Practicing righteousness - Jesus came into the world to save sinners. But He does not expect them to stay in the rotten, destructive condition in which they were called. Those who are "born of Him," experiencing the new birth in coming up out of the waters of immersion, are called upon to "practice righteousness." In different words, saints are exhorted to "lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit," and to "put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth" (Ephesians 4:22-24).
- Born of God - The new self is the result of a new birth! This is variously described as "born from above," "born again," or as it is in this epistle, "born of God." This new creation is capable, with help from the indwelling Spirit and in renewing the mind, of walking in righteousness, of practicing righteousness.
The antichrist system of thought—whether exhibited in the first century Gnostics, or the 21st century Catholics, 21st century Calvinists, or 21st century Restorationists—that the body is by definition "bad," creates a mental block or carnal mind-set which prevents the individual from really trying or desiring to "practice righteousness." In this thought framework, the devil wins. Everyone needs to be reminded that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men."
Exhibition of God’s Love
Those who contemplate how the nature of God is revealed in His holy word can only exclaim, "How great is our God!" In the book of Revelation, the twenty-four elders are pictured as giving glory to God for His creative power exhibited in the physical realm. "Worthy are You, our Lord and our God," they utter their praises, "to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created" (Revelation 4:11). But the fullness of their adulation is expressed when they give glory for what was done in the spiritual and eternal realm. "Worthy are You," exclaim they, concerning the Lamb, the Lord Jesus, "for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth" (Revelation 5:9-10). It is also noteworthy that His motivation in doing so was His love for mankind. "God demonstrates His love toward us," are words the apostle Paul pushed to the forefront for the brethren, "in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
- Come and see - These are always enticing words, intimating something of mystery or something of interest. In this way the apostle John invites his readers: "See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us," he exults, "that we should be called the children of God; and such we are" (1 John 3:1). Those of the line of Seth in Genesis were called "sons of God," but in a very limited sense, in that they called upon the name of the Lord as contrasted to the rest of the earth-bound and earth-focused members of the human race. The children of Israel were favored of God, but they were never in the new covenant sense "children of God." No one could be "born of God," or "born of the Spirit" before the Spirit was given, and the Spirit was not given until after Jesus was glorified (John 7:39).
- How great a love - It is difficult even trying to contemplate the greatness of God. Solomon, upon completing the magnificent temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, exclaimed in His prayer to the Almighty, "Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27). The point here is that God is so awesomely and incomprehensibly huge, and man in comparison is so, so small. It is this type of comparison and contemplation that makes these words come to life, "how great a love that the Father has bestowed upon us."
- Children of God - The only way those who originally were mere sons of men can become sons of God is by participating in a new or spiritual birth. The old man of sin must be buried in the God-ordained waters of immersion, and the new self must come forth by the power of the indwelling Spirit. In receiving "the Spirit of adoption," the new born new creature is ushered into the most awesome and privileged family ever, the family of God.
Only in contemplating what it was to be in darkness, to be held captive in the devil’s domain, and then to be transferred into the kingdom or family of God can the saint begin to process the power of John’s words: "See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God, and such we are!" Why, then, would those so honored be pulled back into being mere sons of men by the antichrists and antichrists’ doctrines? Only by keeping the focus onward and upward can the saint maintain his picture of who he is and therefore live victoriously. That is why John says, "SEE how great a love ..." That is why John says, in reference to being children of God, "such we ARE!"
Recognizing sons of God
When Jesus came into the world, He was not really seen for who He was. What plaintive words are these with which John opens his gospel account! "He was in the world, and world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him." Maybe the Jews, having been entrusted with the oracles of God, would do better than the Gentiles? "He came to His own," is the inspired answer, "and those who were His own did not receive Him." A few, however, did recognize His Messiahship, as the thought continues, "As many as received Him, He gave the right to become children of God"; in other words, to those who would be obedient to the gospel and be born of the Spirit (John 1:10-13).
- Challenge in recognizing Jesus - There were a number of reasons why the contemporaries of Jesus did not recognize who He was during the years of His earthly sojourn. The prophetic word indicates that there was nothing particularly physically attractive about Him; He was not the photogenic type that is needed for the front cover of today’s magazines. He was also one hundred percent human, being a simple carpenter from backwater Nazareth in Galilee. It would take someone exceptionally spiritually interested in the word of God to begin to process Who it was inside that coat of flesh which covered the inner being. It would have to be someone who would watch for consistency in the miracles being performed. It would have to be someone who listened intently to His teaching, and who tried to understand Him. It would have to be someone who would follow His life through the cross to His resurrection and ultimately His ascension who would honestly draw the conclusion that this Man indeed was God appearing in human form.
- Next challenge - Jesus was, and is, the Son of God. The apostle John, then, has just pointed out the divine nature of the spiritual children of Jesus, that they are "sons of the Most High" or "children of God." Will they be recognized for who they are by the children of this world? "For this reason the world does not know us," is John’s inspired observation, "because it did not know Him (1 John 3:1). The same spiritual inquisitiveness that was required to "know" who Jesus was/is, is the same spiritual inquisitiveness that is required to "know" who the children of God are.
- Spiritual evaluation - "You are looking at things as they are outwardly," the apostle Paul chastised the carnal Christians of Corinth. To look at things properly, to make the proper evaluation, a person has to look at things spiritually, in the realm of the unseen as revealed by the scriptures. The enemies of Jesus were on the right track when they asked the question, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mark 2:7). They simply refused to draw the proper conclusion about the clue that would lead them to examine Jesus from a spiritual perspective. In the same way, the answers to key questions would point to whether a person were indeed a son of God or an imposter. "Do you believe Jesus ascended to glory after His death on the cross and His bodily resurrection?" would be one. "Have you consistently performed deeds appropriate to repentance?" would be another. "Were you immersed according the terms of Acts 2:38?" would be a third. This is spiritual probing a true child of God would welcome.
The sons of God, partakers of the divine nature, are magnificent in the spiritual realm. They are children of light, and shining powerfully on the inside, as contrasted to those who are in darkness. They are strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man, as contrasted to those who are still in slavery to sin. They are accomplishing great things in prayer, in edifying the saints, in spreading the gospel to the lost. They are, in the words of Jesus Himself, known by their fruits. But the world does not know for what fruits to look. "For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him."
Revealing the sons of God
The physical creation is the mechanism by which the truly spiritual creations come into existence. The process is simply stated by the apostle Paul: "The spiritual is not first, but the natural." After the natural is in place, "then the spiritual" (1 Corinthians 15:46). Natural man is part of the natural process begun at Creation. While God "forms the spirit of man within him" at conception (Zechariah 12:1), the individual comes into existence by the natural relation of male and female, and enters the world without having made the choice to do so himself. The only "creation" that comes into existence by its own choice is the "new creation"!! These are the true "children of God."
- Hidden from plain sight - Regarding these new creations, the apostle John notes, "The world does not know us." The "sons of God" (by virtue of their immersions into Christ) are not recognized as such because the transformation occurs in the inner man, the realm only revealed by the written word of God. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels," was the apostle Paul’s explanation, "that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves" (2 Corinthians 4:7). The outer coat of the human body veils the wondrous special creation of God, a creation involving the choice of the individual to desire that special creative act! "Beloved," John assures the saints, "now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be" (1 John 3:2). Only by the eye of faith can we have an idea of what lies ahead, and that eye of faith, it must be stressed again and again, must be guided by what is written in the sacred pages of the word of God.
- What we shall be - "The anxious longing of the creation," averred the apostle Paul, "waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God" (Romans 8:19). It is interesting that the big moment for the entire panoply of Creation—the galaxies, the sun and planets of the solar system, the earth itself, the plant and animals, and unsaved mankind—is when the true sons of God are manifested. The corollary to this point is that this is the reason all these were brought into existence, that the physical creation might serve as the incubator for the "new creations"! The moment, then, of that revealing will be Jesus’ second coming. "We know that, when He appears," affirms John, "we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is"(1 John 3:2). That is the moment when the glorious inner man of the saints of God will put on what is called "the glorious body" (1 Corinthians 15:43). This is the fulfillment of what Daniel had prophesied more than 500 years before Christ’s resurrection: "And many who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake ... to everlasting life ... And those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever" (Daniel 12:2-3).
It has long been known that "no one can see the face of God and live" (Exodus 33:20-23). When the face of God, the face of the One who will sit on the Judgment Throne, appears, it will vaporize the entire material universe (Revelation 20:11). Hence mankind must be resurrected before this appearing occurs—some to a resurrection of life, and some to a resurrection of eternal judgment—and receive a body that is not part of the material creation. In this way, "every eye shall see Him, even those who pierced Him" (Revelation 1:7). For those, then, whose citizenship is in heaven, their bodies will be transformed "into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself" (Philippians 3:20-21). This, therefore, is the revealing of the sons of God. "We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is."
“Pure” as He is “Pure”
"When He appears," the apostle John had noted, "we shall see Him just as He is" (1 John 3:2). And while every eye shall see Him, even those who pierced Him, only those who have been immersed into Christ—and have maintained and have developed their faith—will be able to see Him as He is, in all His glory. One of the key issues in this individual’s development of faith is his purity of motive. When "the Lord comes," affirmed the apostle Paul, He "will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts" (1 Corinthians 4:5). It is clear that if a person has hidden motives and an impure agenda, that he will end up on the wrong side of that judgment. It is not surprising, then, that the Lord Jesus Himself would say, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).
- Call to purity - The word of God affirms, as would be expected, the purity of Him who reigns on high. The sweet psalmist of Israel noted, "With the pure, You show Yourself pure" (Psalm 18:26). There is no deception in the One who loves men’s souls, who tells them up-front in His scripture what it is going to cost them to be real followers of Jesus. There are no "bait and switch" scams going on with the Lord and what is written in His word; He is unchanging, the same today and yesterday and forever. Since Jesus volunteered to undergo the gruesome and challenging death on the cross for the sins of mankind, His motive is clearly established as clean and pure; He desires that mankind be redeemed and spend eternity with Him. Clearly the price was high enough that had He any other motive for His suffering, the benefits to be gained would not have been worth it! God is pure. "And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him," John animadverts, concerning seeing Jesus at His second coming, "purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:3).
- Hope fixed - It is the intention of God that each of His spiritual children be looking forward to Jesus’ second coming. The Lord Himself, in the days of His flesh, praying before crossing to the Garden of Gethsemane, expressed His personal earnest desire to the Father: "I desire that they also [all Christians and Old Testament saints] whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, in order that they may behold My glory, which You have given Me" (John 17:24). That glory, of course, will not be revealed until His second coming. Jesus wants His people to see His glory, and He has worked very hard to produce a people who earnestly desire likewise to see that glory. These are the ones who have their "hope fixed" on His return.
- The test - The test, then, of whether the disciple really is eagerly awaiting the Lord’s return is whether he does the work on his part to purify himself, to be holy in word, thought, and deed. "To the pure," the apostle Paul observed, "all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled" (Titus 1:15). Being wholly pure in motive and mind is not only desirable, it is a necessity.
But can it be done? Essentially the command is to be as pure as God is pure. Many have contended that even the child of God, born of water and Spirit, is still a sinner and cannot ever be anything but a "filthy garment saved by grace." But scriptures set forth a picture of a new creation, born from above, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, capable of walking in the footsteps of Jesus. John had already stated that "the one who says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same manner as He walked" (1 John 2:6). Here, in the next chapter, the apostle and the Holy Spirit add that the saint "purifies himself as He is pure." How pure is that?
Jesus and Sin
The antichrist movement that was ravaging the first century church was essentially an immoral movement. It appealed to the flesh, offering the excuse that the body was bad and therefore it had to keep sinning. For those who did not want to do the personal work necessary to "purify" themselves "as He is pure," this offered a release from what these lawless ones would consider a burden. The whole thought process of these antichrists illustrates the condition of those whose mind is set on the things of the flesh. What begins as a somewhat plausible excuse (the body is part of the material creation and is therefore sinful) actually ends up with a ridiculous conclusion (Jesus did not have a body). But when the fleshly mind wants the excuse, it does not care what is reasonable or what the conclusion is.
- Practicing sin - Sin has been, and is, a major problem. Sin separates a man from his God, and then begins destroying relationships and everything else in its path. Spiritual death, as well as physical death, entered the world through the sin of Adam. That sin separated mankind from the tree of life, and as a result physical death comes to everyone (even babies sometimes die). But spiritual death is separation from God, and this is a result of each reasonably mature individual’s personal sin. Christians, in their immersions, have been released from sin, and are to rise to walk in newness of life; they are to lay aside the deeds of the flesh and put on the new self. The Gnostic antichrists working in the late first century churches were teaching that the exhortation to walk in the footsteps of Christ was not possible. Hence John writes, "Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). God understands that overcoming any particular sin takes varying degrees of renewing or reprogramming the mind, and is willing to provide grace to the honest saint who is implementing that re-programming. But when the disciple moves away from making honest efforts in overcoming sin to making excuses for his sin, then God ceases to provide grace and calls this "practicing sin." This is "lawlessness," and is following the footsteps of the devil.
- Taking away sin - "Your iniquities," stated the Mighty One through His prophet Isaiah, "have made a separation between you and your God" (Isaiah 59:2). Since man by his own sin is separated from God, he cannot intercede for himself. God Himself "was astonished that there was no one to intercede." Because of His love for the sons of men, "His own right arm brought salvation to Him" (Isaiah 59:16). These prophetic sayings began to take fruition in connection with the birth of Jesus. Of the Child who was to be born of Mary, the angel said to Joseph, "You shall call His name Jesus [Yahweh our Savior], for it is He who will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Jesus came into the world to save people FROM their sins, not IN their sins! Thus John reminds his readers, "And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin" (1 John 3:5).
The conclusion the apostle John and the Holy Spirit reach is this: "No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him" (1 John 3:6). The antichrists were saying that everyone must keep sinning because sin is resident in the body, and it is impossible to meet this standard. (Modern antichrists still believe that sin is resident in the body, that belief showing up even in Bible translations such as the New International Version. The term "sinful nature" is their translation of the word "sarx" and the thrust of their thought is that the body is "bad" from birth.) God is calling the saints out of this depraved thinking, putting before them the exordium, "Everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself just as He is pure" (1 John 3:3). Let us, then, with the positive mind-set the scripture sets before us, be in the process of purifying ourselves!
Make no mistake about it! God does not sin, and He cannot countenance sin. Jesus Christ, our High Priest and Intercessor and Redeemer, is described as "holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26). If a person who would style himself "Christian" is insistent that he is clearly and absolutely a sinner, then is Jesus separated from that individual? Recognizing that Jesus is the only intercessor and the only way of salvation, this is eternally serious; no person separated from Jesus is going to enter the glorious side of eternity! The righteous Father, then, is repeatedly insistent that His children of faith are "saints" rather than "sinners." This has to do with the way God wired the human brain. Thoughts give rise to words and performance. Human experience tells us, then, that desultory thoughts lead to desultory performance, and truly positive thoughts lead to positive performance. A person who views himself as a loser will lose; a person who views himself as a winner will, over time, win! This is especially true in the spiritual battle: the individual who believes he is a sinner will sin and will continue to lose; the individual who believes in God’s picture for him will overcome.
- "In Him is no sin" - All the spiritual blessings are for those who are "in Christ." Thus it is written, that in Christ "we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:14). It is also written, that "if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Since "in Him is no sin," it is incongruous that this new creation be a sinner (1 John 3:5).
- "No one who abides in Him sins" - The mental picture for winning Christians is that they live righteously rather than living sinfully. Any other mental picture would be totally destructive to God’s goal for His saints. "No one who abides in Him sins," is the logical proposition for the disciples of Christ (1 John 3:6). The sobering corollary follows: "no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him."
- "Let no one deceive you" - The antichrist philosophy circulating in the late first century congregations was that the body was bad and that it was going to continue to sin; the battle, in other words, was lost before it was even begun. "Little children," the aged John addresses those making a claim of being Christians, "let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning" (1 John 3:7-8). The one who thus views himself as righteous, and, with the help of the Holy Spirit and renewing the mind, practices righteousness is the one who is righteous. And he has the same standard of righteousness as that which was exhibited in Jesus. The antichrists were turning the minds of the saints in the direction of sin; the apostle John is turning their minds in the direction of righteousness.
- The devil’s agenda - "The devil," John has noted, "sinned from the beginning." The one who was the deceiver from the beginning has the obvious goal of pulling mankind into his orbit through temptation and propaganda. If he can convince even those who were immersed into Christ that they are sinners, he wins. "The one who practices sin," says John to these first century immersees, "is of the devil."
The spiritual war for the mind was raging in these early congregations. Those who lost that war went with the antichrists and lost their fellowship with Christ and His church. "They went out from us," is the Holy Spirit’s analysis, "but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19). That same spiritual battle is raging today. The propaganda forces of modern antichrists maintain that the body is bad; the individual should try to practice righteousness but he will always fail because sin is somehow resident in his body. This is "doctrine of the devil!"
Destroying the Works of the Devil
Selfishness is a form of pride, and is thus really the opposite of humility. Time and time again the word of God calls for people to be humble before the great God of creation, the God of Israel, and the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the famous lines from the Old Testament comes from God’s response to Solomon at the dedication of the newly built temple in Jerusalem. God had noted that He might send famine upon the land, or locusts, or pestilence, but He said that if "My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14). James, writing under the terms of the new covenant, brought an old covenant quotation over, noting that "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6). The apostle Peter adds his instruction, "Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:6-7). The true children of God will humble themselves and do what the One with the mighty hand commands.
- Righteousness - One of the things the righteous God requires of His humble children is that they also walk in righteousness. John has just emphasized that "the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous" (1 John 3:7). The human who is prideful and rebellious will not submit himself to God’s jurisdiction, and being deceived in the process, ends up in the domain of the devil. Thus the apostle adds, "The one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning" (1 John 3:8). The Gnostics who were contemporaries of the apostle John were preying on church people’s desires to do "their own thing" rather than humbling themselves before God. They were the conscious agents of Satan’s deceptive activities.
- God’s purpose - Sometimes Christians in the middle of controversy are not aware of the seriousness of the issues, often being pulled into an analysis of the people involved rather than the issues themselves. The "antichrist movement" inside the early church was undoubtedly confusing for some of the brethren (otherwise, John would not have written this letter). The apostle narrows the controversy down to this focal point: "The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). The false doctrines propagated by the antichrists were promoting the works of the devil, and as such were promoting the very things Jesus came into the world to explode. The warfare was therefore intense, and the apostle is fighting to get the church back on track.
It is important to remember one of the most cogent statements of Jesus, brought forth when He Himself was engaged in a heated verbal dispute with the Jewish hierarchy. "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father," animadverted our Lord. "He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies" (John 8:44). The selfishness exhibited in adult-level members of the human race at the core stem from Satan Himself. Their lies, their desires, their bending of events and people to serve their own purposes are just the outgrowth of their having lost their fellowship with God and having been transferred to the domain of darkness. Jesus came into the world to rescue people from that domain, to transfer them into the kingdom of Christ, and in their new lives to destroy the works of the devil. Modern antichrists and their destructive doctrines need to be exposed, and saints need to live and teach the principles of Jesus to a very dark world.
Children of God are Obvious
"The mind set on the flesh is death," said the apostle Paul, "but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace" (Romans 8:6). It is not uncommon for someone whose mind is set on the things of the flesh to present himself as someone who is very saintly and focused on spiritual things. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were prime examples. Described by the Lord as "whitewashed tombs," He noted, "You too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matthew 23:28). So it was with the antichrists that the apostle John exposes in his epistles. They appeared very religious in their discussions, and clearly posed as leaders in the various congregations. But the apostle is blunt in his statement, exposing these people as just as lawless as the Pharisees. "Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness," is his simple, straight-forward statement, "and sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). The antichrist doctrine denying that Jesus came in a physical body and suffered the same temptations as the rest of the human race promoted an underlying lawlessness, and destroyed the mind-set that would result in an individual’s purifying himself in line with the purity of Jesus.
- Born of God - The new creation in Christ is often described as "born again," "born from above," "born of the Spirit," or "born of God." The teaching of the new covenant writings is that when a person is immersed into Christ, an entirely new being is created on the inside, as the apostle Paul noted, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should also walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). The "new creation" is just that, an entirely new creative act by the Almighty God, performed in the realm visible only by the eye of faith as guided by the word of God. That this "new creation" would be a sinner or sinful is really unthinkable. "No one who is born of God practices sin," is John’s way of stating that truth, "because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God" (1 John 3:9). The picture is that this one who is "born of God" walks in the footsteps of Jesus, and purifies himself just as Jesus is pure.
- "He cannot sin" - The belief of the "Wesleyian holiness" people, if a label were to be put on their system, is that once a person has experienced the "second work of grace" (a special second "falling of the Holy Spirit" on the individual), he cannot sin. Underlying that belief system is the idea that a person is "saved" apart from his personal choice—saved by special "cherry-picking election" by God. Since he was born "totally depraved," his sin is not choice; it happens as a result of his "sinful nature." The idea, then, that once he has received this so-called "second work of grace," from that point on he cannot sin; since "to sin" was not choice in the first place, "not to sin" is not a choice in the second place. This is not what the apostle John is talking about when he says of the new creation in Christ, that "he cannot sin." He is emphasizing the faith picture that the one who is "born of God" imitates the character of God exhibited by Jesus during the years of His earthly sojourn.
"By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious," points out the apostle. "Anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother" (1 John 3:10). The antichrist philosophy that the body is bad guarantees that its adherents are going to continue in sin, and thus it is obvious that they are children of the devil. The children of God, on the other hand, know that they are born of God, their visual picture is that they cannot sin, and their focus is on "walking in the same manner as He walked" (1 John 2:6).
“Love”, not “Kill” your Brother
As long as the apostle John keeps talking about "love," it must be reiterated that "loving your brother" means being concerned about his eternity as the first priority. When the priest of Zeus brought oxen and garlands to sacrifice with the crowds in celebration of Paul’s healing a man in Lystra, that was not an act of "love," although it might have seemed so to the ignorant or emotionally carried away people present. When that priest wanted to offer a sacrifice to Zeus, he was in the process of propagandizing the pagans, and working on sending their souls to hell. Someone who is a propagandist for doctrines that send people’s souls to hell does not love them, regardless of how "kind, compassionate, caring," or "helpful" he may seem.
- Message from the beginning - "Practicing righteousness" is connected with "loving your brother"; "practicing sin" is connected with "hating your brother." "Anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God," John has just stated, to which he appends, "nor the one who does not love his brother." Jesus Christ, in His own words, came into the world "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). The devil, by contrast, "who has sinned from the beginning," has as his goal the confusion and resultant destruction of the human race. When a person becomes a Christian, he is "delivered from the domain of darkness, and transferred into the kingdom" of Christ (Colossians 1:13-14). The general idea, then, is that the new creation is to turn from helping Satan carry out his agenda to working with Christ and helping Him to seek and to save the lost. "For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning," John therefore writes, "that we should love one another" (1 John 3:11). John’s earnest desire is that the brethren maintain their focus on sound doctrine and reaching the lost with the gospel.
- "Not as Cain" - The Gnostic antichrists who were working inside the late first century congregations were destroying the eternities of any brethren whom they could get sucked into their false doctrines. That, of course, is not love, regardless of how personable these purveyors of falsehood might be. The faithful brethren, then, were exhorted to continue loving the brethren, and not to be "as Cain, who was of the evil one, and slew his brother" (1 John 3:12). Genesis, in its depiction of the Cain/Abel story (a true one!), does not mention the devil; it only mentions that "sin is crouching" at Cain’s door (Genesis 4:7). The apostle John here lets his readers know that the murderous sin of Cain was instigated by "the evil one." The apostle then poses a question: "And for what reason did he slay him?" The answer comes, directed at these antichrists hard at work inside the congregations, "Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous."
The saints of God, whose picture is such that they cannot sin because they are born of God, end up "practicing righteousness" in imitation of the practicing righteousness of Christ Himself. The Gnostics, operating under the proposition that the body is bad, of course are going to be practicing sin and furthering the works of the devil. They, in effect, like Cain, "are of the evil one." They, like Satan ("Satan" means "adversary") are going to be direct adversaries of those who were preaching the truth. They, like the devil ("devil" means "one who slanders") are going to be slandering those who were taking the gospel to the lost and living righteous lives—righteous so as to cause no hindrance to the gospel. Why would they engage in such opposition and engage in such slander? Their minds were set on the things of the flesh, and "the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God" (Romans 8:7). In consequence, they were hostile toward those who were working God’s program; they were walking in the footsteps of Cain. Why would they "kill" their brothers? Because their brothers’ deeds were righteous, and theirs were evil. Modern saints: pay attention!!
Life-savers and Murderers
Evil qualities like "pride" and "hate" can be hidden under a careful veneer of geniality and good-naturedness. Sometimes "hate" is explosive, and sometimes "pride" shows itself to public view. But generally both of those are working a long-term agenda, and hence have to be hidden in order to effect their outcome. "Hate" in particular can be a simmering monster, boiling below the surface, waiting for the strategic moment before it pops into the foreground. As the sage of Proverbs noted: "He who conceals hatred has lying lips, and he who spreads slander is a fool" (Proverbs 10:18). The devil, then, the big liar and the father of lies, clearly is concealing his hatred—hatred, especially of God, and of those who follow the commandments of Jesus. The antichrists of the days of the apostle John were these types who hid their hatred of God and of the disciples of Christ. John is in the process of exposing them for what they are to the view of the saints, those who will see with spiritual eyes.
- The world hates you - One of the things that Jesus made very clear to the apostles, as He made His way from the observance of the Passover meal to the Garden of Gethsemane, was that the world hated Him. "If the world hates you," He had taught them, "you know that it has hated Me before it hated you" (John 15:18). Why would the world hate the Forgiver of Sins, the Prince of Peace? In simple terms, it is because Jesus holds the world accountable, and mankind as a whole does not like to be held accountable for their actions. "If I had not come and spoken to them," He explained to the apostles, "they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin" (John 15:22). That is the core problem: now they have no excuse for their sins! For this Jesus must die, as He further elaborates: "They hated Me without a cause" (John 15:25). "Do not marvel, brethren," adds the apostle John, "if the world hates you" (1 John 3:13). Through their godly lives and exposition of the gospel, Christians are holding the world accountable and the world hates them. Especially those first century antichrists!
- Death to life - Jesus loves the people of the world, and the world hates Him. Saints love the people of the world, and the world hates them. Disciples of Christ, in imitation of the One who by the Great Commission sent them, are bringing people to a knowledge of their sins and the solution to those sins (through belief in and obedience to the gospel of Jesus). Any child of light who is knowledgeable enough to do this knows where he stands with the Supreme Judge. "We know that we have passed out of death into life," John also avers, "because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14). The opposite is therefore true also: "He who does not love abides in death." This is true for the first century Gnostic or the twenty-first century propagandist who "perverts the gospel."
- Murderers - A preacher or teacher who deliberately distorts the gospel, and thus is in the process of sending his listeners down the wrong road, is a wicked, wicked person. In fact, the scripture calls such proponents "murderers." Hear how the apostle John phrases it. "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer," is his statement concerning the antichrists and other scripture-twisters, "and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him" (1 John 3:15).
The apostle John, in this general epistle to the first century church, is laboring to expose just how wicked and destructive the antichrist philosophy is. The antichrist doctrine that Jesus did not come in the flesh, or its more palatable modern counterpart that Jesus did not have a body like we have, is what gives men the excuse to keep sinning. Jesus, by contrast, made it clear that His words cut off any excuse for sinning. The antichrists—ancient or modern—therefore hate Jesus, and they hate any of His disciples who proclaim the truth that saints are to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Such disciples are encouraged by that knowledge that "we have passed out of death into life!"
Laying Down Our Lives
The apostle John frequently uses the phrase "we know" in his comments to faithful brethren. This certainty of "knowledge" is based on factual presentations of the gospel and scriptural teaching rather than propaganda or "hype." The apostle begins his first epistle by taking his readers back to facts of which John was a witness. "What we have heard," says he of himself and the other apostles, "what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled..." They had visible, audible, and tangible proof that Jesus was resurrected with a "flesh and bones" body, albeit with nail holes and spear wounds still evident. Jesus was indeed raised from the dead, and the gospel truths followed, explained by logical presentations beginning from that point. Thus the words of John, backed by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, "we know," are factual words and not mere promotional material.
- Knowing love - "We know that we have come to know Him," John had earlier stated, in one of his earlier "we know" statements (1 John 2:3). "We know that we are in Him," he had added (1 John 2:5). Another statement was just exposited by the apostle, saying, "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14). In the process of exposing the antichrists (who were "haters"), the apostle now points out that, "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us" (1 John 3:16). This is once again a foundational Biblical principle. The apostle Paul pointed out this truth, and a powerful and reassuring truth. "But God demonstrates His love toward us," stresses that there is a factual rather than purely emotional basis for understanding that God loves each person, "in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). And what a demonstration! It is impossible for a rational person to contemplate what Jesus went through in paying the price for each individual’s sin, and not process that as love in the highest degree. So if someone is just not "feeling the love," it is because he is unwilling to process the significance of the demonstration. "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us!"
- What we should do - It is wonderful that Jesus loves people enough to lay down His life for them. It is wonderful that a lost-and-damned-to-hell-sinner can be rescued from the domain of darkness and be transferred into the kingdom of light. Is this rescued, or "saved," individual simply to bask in the wonders of his salvation and the blessings of like-minded brethren? Here is the inspired answer: "and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 John 3:16).
What does "laying down our lives for the brethren" look like? What are the practical applications of this precept? There is a whole set of writings called "the new covenant" which gives principles and more detailed instructions in what it means to lay down our lives for the brethren. First of all, there will not be any "brethren" if the lost are not being saved. It is important to remember that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly," and that we, in imitation of the Master, are to go and do likewise. Secondly, "we" are to do everything we can, inside the guidelines the new covenant lays out for us, to love and edify the brethren. This ranges from "Be hospitable to one another without complaint," to "Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so by the strength which God supplies" (1 Peter 4:9,11). This comes under the heading, consistent with the apostle John’s appeals, of "above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8). "Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called," was the apostle Paul’s entreaty, "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1-3). There are hundreds of pages more of instruction on "laying down our lives for the brethren," if we need them!
“In Deed and in Truth”
Edgar Guest wrote a poem about how he would rather see a sermon than hear one. God knows, however, that the sermon really and truly must come first; otherwise the proper action with proper motive will not be forthcoming. People can perform acts of kindness without being particularly scripturally directed. So God needed to inject His knowledge into the world by revelation (for our time, the completed Word of God) in order for men even to begin to know what love, especially God’s love, is. "For since in the wisdom of God," the apostle Paul informed the Corinthians, "the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the ‘foolishness’ of the message preached to save those who believe" (1 Corinthians 1:21). The knowledge of God and the knowledge of God’s love must begin with the preaching before there can be any meaningful demonstration of that love to the lost and to the brethren.
- Love is not merely theoretical - Love for the soul of the other person and caring about his eternity is paramount. But there is a danger that this love can become very theoretical in the mind of the one who is supposed to love his brother; because love of the other person’s soul is in the realm where there is no visible evidence, the possessor of "love" can actually deceive himself. He can say to himself and others that he is loving, but because his love is in the ethereal realm, he is not going to lift a finger to help that other person in the physical realm. The apostle John stops that sort of thinking with these words: "But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (1 John 3:17). God loves the inner man of every member of the human race, and really wants the proper eternity for each; but God also provides for the outer man as well. True love is going to evidence itself in caring for the whole person. True love will not "close its heart" to a brother in physical need.
- Getting past the talk - It is a well-known saying and obvious truth that "talk is cheap." The apostle then exhorts the first century brethren, "Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth" (1 John 3:18). It seems that whenever John wants to bring up an elementary but important point, he uses the phrase "little children." All the kids are supposed to process this! It is interesting that the apostle not only talks about loving "in deed," but he also brings up loving in "truth." This is an inclusive caring, a caring about the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of the brethren in ways that really count.
- Knowing we are "of the truth" - The true Christian periodically engages in a little self-examination. Warnings from the scripture come to the saint’s mind, such as "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!" (2 Corinthians 13:5). Others pertain not only to the saint’s standing in regard to his eternity, but also to his participation in the body of the Christ. "I say to every man among you," adverted the apostle Paul, "not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment" (Romans 12:3). When the disciple of Christ loves others in word, tongue, deed, and truth, then he presents the complete package as an offering to God. John says, "We shall know by this that we are of the truth" (1 John 3:19).
Edgar Guest said that he would like to see a sermon rather than hear one. The true Christian would make sure that Edgar Guest heard the truth as well as seeing the truth in action. "Let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth!"
Getting a “Confident Heart”
The Christian is to examine himself in the sight of God. He is to examine his salvation, his motive, his performance, his method, and his love. Because the bar of performance that has been set is the perfection of Christ, the saint’s heart can quiver a bit and feel as if he is falling short of God’s expectations. While God wants each of His children of faith to make an honest examination, and while He continues to set the performance bar high, He does not want His "child" of faith to wallow in a pit wherein he lacks confidence. Hence God has provisions for mercy, grace, and justification to provide for maximum motivation without regret for the sincere saint. Those who really try to follow the commandments of God as defined by the new covenant writings continue to be welcomed into the fellowship of God and the council of the holy ones.
- Of the truth - The Gnostic/antichrists of the first century were creating doctrinal havoc inside the first century congregations. The apostle John and other solid teachers and preachers of the truth were pulling in one direction, and the forces of darkness were working hard on the saints to pull them in the other. The antichrist movement by definition was immoral, fleshly, and hostile toward the teachings of the scriptures on righteousness. During the infighting that would be taking place in each of those congregations, the antichrists would be engaged in slander and name-calling, derogating the apostle John and those standing with him. Such a one was Diotrephes, whom the apostle describes as "unjustly accusing us with wicked words" (3 John 1:10). In the midst of that kind of confusion, the honest saint would want to make sure that he was still on the right track to have heaven as his eternity. Thus John had listed some things for the brethren: loving the brethren, laying down our lives for the brethren, loving the brethren in deed and in truth. "We shall know by this," says John regarding his list, "that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before Him" (1 John 3:19).
- Steadying a quivering heart - Brethren, as the new testament verifies, do not always live up to the potential God expects of them. A Christian may have had an altercation with another brother and not conducted himself in a manner worthy of Christ; he was not exhibiting the love of Christ as he should. Another brother or sister may have temporarily closed off his heart to another disciple of Christ in need. Perhaps the best words did not flow from the mouth of the one professing faith in Christ, and he at that moment did not even come close to the standard of loving his brother "with word or with tongue," much less loving his brother "in deed and truth." Upon reflection, then, his heart condemns him. "We shall assure our heart before Him," John assists the brethren, "in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart, and knows all things" (1 John 3:20). God knows! That is why He is willing to justify the honest saint who really is attempting to work with Him. "If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light," the apostle had earlier written, "we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). How reassuring is that for the somewhat struggling saint!
When the disciple of Christ knows that the blood of Christ has cleansed him from all sin, his heart no longer condemns him. "Beloved," John writes in endearing terms, "if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God" (1 John 3:21). It is tremendously reassuring to the saint for him to know that all has been forgiven, that there is open communication between him and the Father. In this confidence, which the Father earnestly desires that each of His children of faith possess, the Christian can move forward, victoriously fighting the good fight of faith.
Abiding "in Him"
"Confidence" is a major factor in a person’s performance. If a saint walks in confidence before his God, he is able to perform and to provide service to Jesus His King. If he is insecure, or his "heart condemns him," he is timid when he should be courageous, he is wavering when he should be decisive. This confidence is also important in a saint’s "assurance of faith" in approaching the throne of God. The Father is very interested in each of His children’s spiritual success, and He has therefore gone to great lengths to give the saint a "clean heart" and thus also a "confident heart." The apostle John reminds the brethren, "Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God" (1 John 3:21).
- Answered prayers - Jesus Himself averred, "With God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26). Important challenges that would be humanly impossible to orchestrate can be handled by the almighty God. In the Old Testament, these orchestrations were often carried out in a physical manner and recorded for the benefit of the new covenant saints. The children of light thus understand that God can do great things for them in the realm of spiritual warfare. David, for example, "the man after God’s own heart", was trapped on a hilltop as King Saul’s army was surrounding him and his men. But Saul suddenly received a message that the Philistines were attacking elsewhere, Saul immediately left off chasing David, and David and his men were spared. God answered David’s pleas for help and orchestrated. The new covenant "chosen people" know that God "is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us" (Ephesians 3:20). Brethren are thus encouraged to pray gigantic prayers "on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we might lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity" (1 Timothy 2:1,2). The saint with the confident heart joins the throng that knows that "whatever we ask we receive from Him…" (1 John 3:22).
- Pleasing in His sight - The Gnostic antichrists were creating havoc inside the late first century church. These were lawless individuals, parading under the guise of having "inside information" that the rest of the congregation did not have. It is obvious from the modern vantage point that these antichrists were not pleasing to God, although it might have been a bit confusing for some of the early saints caught in the fires of the conflict. John reassures the faithful brethren that "whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight." Doing the right thing is usually simple and straightforward; what confuses it are the forces of darkness. "And this is His commandment," reiterates John, "that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us" (1 John 3:23). Believing "in the name" means to recognize and obey the authority of the King, Jesus Christ.
The antichrists of the first century did not "believe in the name" of the Son of God. They were lawless and rebellious, and smart enough to cover that rebellion with religious terminology. The faithful saint, on the other hand, fighting for his spiritual life under the pressure from these Gnostics who often positioned themselves as leaders and teachers in the local congregations, is reminded that his faithfulness is not without reward. His heart is clean and does not condemn him. "And the one who keeps the commandments," is John’s further assurance, "abides in Him, and He in Him" (1 John 3:24). Properly understood, this is the greatest reward of all. The name of the eternal city, chosen by God Himself, is "The Lord is there" (Ezekiel 48:35). To be able to be in the presence of the Lord, and to be in His presence eternally, is to be most earnestly desired by all followers of Jesus Christ. Not only to abide in Him, but to know that He abides in us...forever!!
Spirit of Truth
The apostle John comes back time and time again to the idea that the Spirit of God indwells the Christian. "The anointing," noted he, concerning the saint’s receiving the Holy Spirit in his immersion just as Jesus was visibly anointed with the Holy Spirit in His immersion, "which you received from Him abides in you" (1 John 2:27). The disciple of Christ, then, is regarded as "knowing the truth." "But you have an anointing from the Holy One," is John’s comment on this point, "and you all know" (1 John 2:20).
In order for the brethren of Christ to know for certain that they know the truth, and to have the security that they received the indwelling Holy Spirit, God went to a lot of work to establish the truthfulness of His word. The prophecies, the types and antitypes, the accuracy of the historical record, the evincing of His long-term plan with Israel, the marvels of Jesus Christ during His earthly sojourn, the bringing in of the Gentiles...and so much more establish to the objective mind that God is the author of the scripture. On that basis, then, the individual knows that when he is immersed into Christ, he receives the indwelling Spirit. John phrases it thusly: "And we know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us" (1 John 3:24).
- Testing the spirits - It is clear throughout John’s first epistle that the forces of evil were hard at work in trying to confuse the saints. The antichrists had developed within the church and were doing as much damage as possible, endeavoring to convince the brethren that Jesus did not come in a physical body that was just as human as theirs. This doctrine created serious overtones, among them that the saints were locked in to leading unholy lives and continuous sinning. "Beloved, do not believe every spirit," cautions the apostle, "but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). The brethren of the first century had to "test the spirits" based on their knowledge of "the apostles’ doctrine." Modern saints can compare the messages from these spirits, who are still at work today, against the written word of God. Christians know that they are indwelt by the Spirit of God because of what the Bible says, and they can test any other doctrine against that same word.
- A test for first century revelation - In the first century AD, messages were given under inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes that would make it difficult to determine who was telling the truth and who was lying. When the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he illustrated how the saint could tell who was prophesying under the influence of the Holy Spirit and who was not. "Therefore I make known to you," he emphasized, "that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is accursed’; and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3). Just because some modern can plaster "Jesus is Lord" on the side of his "Pentecostal pickup truck" does not mean he is operating under the influence of the Holy Spirit. This has to do with someone clearly receiving revelation from somewhere. In modern times it is easy; anyone receiving revelation is not getting it from God. In the first century, they had to run the test the apostle Paul laid out for them.
The apostle John put forth another test for the brethren: "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God" (1 John 4:2). That test would keep the first century Gnostic antichrists from having any credibility with the brethren. But the brethren would have to test those spirits with care and thoroughness. Then, as now, some of the false teachers were very crafty in presenting their false doctrines, and only a precise and exhaustive examination would expose their errors. "Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God." Good advice then, and good advice now!!
Every century has false doctrines introduced by false teachers and false prophets. Jesus Himself warned, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:15). Filled with some sort of selfish ambition, these wolves feast on the sheep, shake people’s faith, and destroy congregations. Utterly ruthless, they smile and joke and flatter people for the sake of gaining advantage. They look like sheep, but these are the wolves about which Jesus said, "You will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16). The key is to know what kind of "fruit" for which to look. "Test the spirits," the apostle John had said. "Do not believe every spirit," was part of the sincere exhortation. "Many false prophets have gone out into the world." The spirits need "testing," and the fruit needs "inspecting."
- Finding Gnostics - The Gnostic antichrists were assiduously working in the last part of the first century AD. The apostle is writing this epistle in order to help the brethren sort out these false teachers from the true ones, and has given them some relevant tests for this particular controversy. "By this you know the Spirit of God," says he. "Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus [that He came in the flesh] is not from God" (1 John 4:2,3). The antichrists, as discussed, did not believe that Jesus took on a physical body, which in effect justified their continuing to live lives of sin. Modern antichrists are more subtle when they operate inside the modern church, but they essentially say that Jesus’ body was not like ours, and therefore they justify their continuing to live lives of sin.
- The spirit of the antichrist - Ideas spread, and ideas create an "atmosphere" or "ambience." This "ambience" is often called "a spirit" in the sense that there is "a spirit of peacefulness" or "a spirit of tension" in a setting. The antichrists working in the early congregations had created such a "spirit" connected with their denial of Jesus’ humanity. "This is the spirit of the antichrist," John explains, "of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world" (1 John 4:3). Certainly the Gnostics’ focus on the flesh would lead to disruption, selfishness, and schisms of all kinds, which would create an atmosphere completely opposite that which would be created by the Spirit of Christ. It is interesting that the apostle repeatedly speaks, concerning the antichrist philosophy, that "you have heard that it is coming." The apostles and new testament prophets must have been warning the church that such thinking was on its way. John emphasizes here that "now it is already in the world."
The devil has had another 2000 years or so to work on creating false doctrines since the time of the new testament writings. The "Darwinian revolution," for example, has totally changed the general world view about the Bible’s authority, about the nature of man, and many other things. The modern church therefore has to fight a major battle to combat this "spirit of error" in order to establish that the Bible is indeed the word of God. The false prophets have come, teaching that a person is saved by "faith alone," and denying the necessity of immersion into Christ for salvation. The "lying spirit" has shown up in creating all kinds of confusion about the indwelling Spirit, about the baptism in the Spirit, about "speaking in tongues." The plethora of false teachings pushed in every area of human existence by false teachers creates major problems for modern evangelism. It takes a lot of one-on-one teaching to dismantle the ideas that get into the heads of potential Christians, and a lot of repetition from scripture in order to show them the Bible way. The apostle John’s statement is so, so true: "many false prophets have gone out into the world."
The life of a Christian is guaranteed to be challenging. Paul and Barnabas, as they closed off their first missionary journey, warned the brethren in these fledgling congregations which had been established, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). In addition to the physical persecution to which these early saints were subjected, there were the confusion factors of false teachings and baseless rumors which abounded. "For there are many rebellious men," the apostle Paul reminded Titus, "empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things which they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain" (Titus 1:10,11). Paul also warned Timothy about false teachers, "men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and thus they upset the faith of some" (2 Timothy 2:18). Controversy and confusion always abound!
- Positive reminders - The apostle John is writing this general (or catholic) epistle to encourage the brethren in the first century congregations to keep fighting the intense doctrinal battle in which they found themselves embroiled. False teachers, such as the Gnostic antichrists, are aggressive in the promotion of their positions. As promoters of doctrines which they know are untrue, they cannot be persuaded by reason, and their only goal is to figure out how to "sell" their teachings to those who are caught in the middle. The saints, then, have to be intelligently aggressive as well in teaching and promoting the sound doctrines of the new covenant. "You are from God, little children," the apostle encourages the brethren who are still standing for the truth, "and have overcome them…" (1 John 4:4). While the battle might seem to be raging, the saints had in effect "already won." The same principle was expressed by the Lord Jesus near the end of His earthly journey when He told the apostles, just prior to His crucifixion, "In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). The brethren in the first century, by faith, had to see that the battle was won in order to continue to fight on victoriously.
- Strength vs. strength - In all battles, whether it be out-and-out warfare or a friendly game of football in the back yard, the contest involves strength-vs.-strength. The goal is to put the strength of your team against the strength of the other, and to exploit any weaknesses if possible. The same is true in the spiritual realm where the intense spiritual battles rage. "You have overcome them," are John’s words of exhortation to the brethren in their battle against the antichrists and antichrist doctrines, "because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4). The indwelling Spirit, strengthening the saints in the inner man, is greater than "the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2). The Christians can continue to move forward victoriously in their fight against the forces of darkness, just as surely as David and his mighty men mowed down the lines of Philistine soldiers arrayed against them.
The eternal souls of men hang in the balance in this great warfare. God, therefore, is not idle in this conflagration. "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all," the apostle Paul pointed out to the brethren in Rome, "how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32). God was willing to send Jesus into the world to be crucified to rescue lost men; He is also willing to strengthen the brethren through the Holy Spirit within so that they might be effective in prosecuting the warfare against false doctrine and carrying the torch of spiritual freedom to truth-seekers in all the corners of this dark world. What encouraging words: "You are from God, little children, and have overcome them!" And praise God for His indwelling Spirit: greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world!!
Jesus would often say words to the effect, "He who has ears, let him hear" (Matthew 13:43). From God’s perspective, people actually choose to whom they will listen. If they choose to listen to the beckoning voices of darkness, that is that path they will choose. If they choose to listen to "the voice of Jesus" (that which is written in God’s word), that is the path they will choose. Another way that Jesus expressed the concept was in these words: "And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit" (Matthew 13:14). Every individual of an accountable age is responsible for whom he decides to follow, or to whom he decides to listen.
- Antichrist voices - The propaganda of the Gnostics in the first century was making progress inside the early church; if that were not the case, it would not have been necessary for the apostle John to write a couple of epistles exposing their heresy, or have been so emphatic in his gospel account that "the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:4). Hence the apostle is working very hard to help the brethren caught between two positions to know which voice should garner their attention. "They are from the world," John emphatically states, "therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them" (1 John 4:5). The apostle always equates the antichrist philosophy as being part of "the world." As such, the doctrines pander to "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life" (1 John 2:16). So the saint is to deafen his ears to the Siren song of such antichrists, and turn his listening attention to those who speak the truth of God.
- The voice of the apostles - The "word of truth," as James termed it, has in it the "hard sayings" [KJV] of Jesus. "It is the Spirit who gives life," said He, followed with the hard saying, "the flesh profits nothing" (John 6:63). This is a difficult statement for the individual who really wants to follow the flesh to process, especially if he is making a pretense of being a Christian. He is thus open to the charlatans who "speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage" (Jude 1:16). Such were the antichrists. "We are from God," John simply but emphatically states of himself and the other apostles. "He who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (1 John 4:6). Jesus had promised the apostles, just before His crucifixion, that the Spirit of truth [the Holy Spirit] would come, and that "He will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13). The apostles knew that they (including the apostle Paul) had all received the same revelation from the Spirit, and that anyone else claiming to preach Christ had to agree with them. (Thus another name for all new covenant teaching is "the apostles’ doctrine.") This greatly simplifies the whole problem of discerning ancient or modern antichrists, ancient or modern false teachers: He who is of God listens to the apostles; he who is not of God does not listen to the apostles.
Everyone chooses which voice he is going to hear. Most people, unfortunately, do not want to hear the teaching of the Holy Spirit as revealed through the apostles. They will, in the words of the apostle Paul, "turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths" (2 Timothy 4:4). It had to be somewhat frustrating to the apostle John to see so many turn away from the truths he and the others had brought into the world, and so few by comparison who would believe and obey the words from God. This frustration would possibly have been magnified, since the antichrist movement began within the church. "They went out from us," he had pointed out to the brethren earlier, "but they were not really of us" (1 John 2:19). "They are from the world," was his warning reminder to the faithful brethren. "Therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them." Anyone who listened to the voices of the antichrists, of ancient or modern times, is of the world.
God is Love
Satan hates God, and Satan hates man. Satan is a liar and the father of lies, and he hates the truth. The great deceiver knows he is going into the hell fire, and he hates mankind so much that he is trying to drag every son and daughter of Adam and Eve down with him. He thus engages in deception. He collaborates with the other demonic forces who use "liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron" to confuse people, and to turn people away from the apostles’ doctrine so that they too follow the downward path into the lake of fire. God, however, loves people, and it is not His desire to send people into Gehenna, "the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41). "God our Savior," said the apostle Paul, "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:3,4). The war, then, for the eternal souls of men is between God and Satan, between love and hate. And each adult-level person is choosing one of those options
- Love one another - The apostle John keeps circling back to "love." The antichrists working inside the congregations in John’s day were pretending to be loving, pretending to care with their flattering words and ear-tickling comments. But they in fact were the epitomes of hate, and were doing their utmost to persuade saints to follow their Christ-denying doctrines into the pits of hell. "Beloved, let us love one another," appeals the apostle, "for love is from God" (1 John 4:7). It is important to re-emphasize that godly love is concerned about the other person’s eternity, and will teach the true doctrines of Christ and His salvation; any teachings that are counter to these is not "love" at all. Thus when the apostle appeals that the brethren love one another, that love is to include the teachings that would refute the doctrines of the Gnostic antichrists. Such love is the true love that is from God; apologizing or making excuses for the Gnostic philosophies is in fact the opposite of love.
- God is love - In order for a person to love others in the new covenant sense, by definition that person would have to be a Christian. Only a Christian can bear "the fruit of the Spirit," the first listing being that of "love" (Galatians 5:22,23). John’s statement, then, is implicit that "everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." The apostle continues the thought, noting, "The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:8). Any person can make the claim that he loves God and that he knows God; the question would be whether God verifies those claims. The apostle is making it very clear that only a person who stands for the truth of the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ and the apostles’ doctrine loves God and knows God. All other claimants are discounted in the courts of heaven.
Love and truth are just different faces of the same coin. "God is love," is certainly true, and just as certain is the statement of Jesus that He is "the truth." God, "who cannot lie" (Titus 1:2), is not happy with liars and those who teach lies as doctrines. Thus, those who tell lies and teach unscriptural doctrines are agents of satanic-driven hate; such were the antichrists. The saints of God, by major contrast, love the brethren by teaching the truth, by helping struggling brethren in compassionate ways, and reaching out to the lost with the gospel. They love "in deed and truth" as well as "with word or with tongue" (1 John 3:18). They take up their crosses daily, and deny themselves for the sake of the gospel. They are not swayed by peer pressure or the appeal of earth’s accolades; they fix their eyes on Jesus above, and march through the obstacles of persecution and ridicule because they love the truth and they love souls. "God is love," and they in imitation of God (Ephesians 5:1) exhibit His character to the world.
Born From Above
One of the key words connected with scriptures is begotten. It is the past participle of the verb beget, which we scarcely use in modern English, and as such its meaning is a bit obscure. Beget has to do with fathering a child, that "fathering" being evident at the child’s birth. Hence, in the King James Version, it is said that "Abraham begat Isaac" (Matthew 1:2), or, if we were to use a little more modern terminology, "Abraham begot Isaac." Isaac, then, was the first and only begotten son of Abraham through his wife Sarah. Begetting has to do with physical birth. But God is going to take the physical term connected with a physical birth and give it a more spiritual meaning as it applies to Jesus, who is going to be described as "the first-born from the dead" (Colossians 1:18)
Hence the apostle Paul defined begotten as it applied to Jesus when he was preaching in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia: Using Old Testament scripture in addition to his personal eyewitness testimony to prove to the skeptical Jewish audience that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead, he quoted from Psalm 2. "And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘You are My Son; today I have begotten You.’ " (Acts 13:32-33). The term begotten as it applies to Jesus’ Sonship has to do with His being resurrected from the dead and seated at the right hand of power. It is important to note that He had that title the only begotten Son from all eternity, but as it played out in the revelation to mankind, the specific point in time where the "today" applies is the consummation of the ages when Jesus took the heavenly throne. It is similar to the apostle Peter’s statement on the day of Pentecost where, at the conclusion of his message, he stated, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). Jesus always was the Christ, but in the revelation of these truths to mankind the apostle used the expression made Him Christ to express a specific point in time as to how this played out for the understanding of those who would obey the gospel. This is how the plan of God, as expressed by the apostle Paul, was executed, that Jesus "was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit" (Romans 1:3-4). Jesus always was the Son of God, but the specific point in time in which that was made known to the sons of men was His resurrection all the way to the throne on high. This is what begotten means when referring to Jesus as "the only begotten Son of God."
"By this the love of God was manifested in us [that is, revealed to the world through the apostles], that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, so that we might live through Him" (1 John 4:9). Jesus, as the One born from above, made it possible for those who are truly His disciples to be born from above also. This tremendous love on God’s part was also expressed by the apostle Paul. "For we were foolish ourselves," he noted, listing some of the fleshly proclivities into which we fell. "But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:3-5). In that "washing" (referring to immersion into Christ) and "renewing" by the Holy Spirit, the individual is thus "born from above," or begotten in a spiritual birth in the likeness of Jesus’ being raised from the dead and seated on the heavenly throne. Hence Paul describes the spiritual birth of a lowly run-away slave: "… my child [in the faith], whom I have begotten in my imprisonment" (Philemon 1:10). The love of God is indeed manifest!!
Love Expressed Through Propitiation
God really does love all men. His love of all was exhibited in the prophetic words of Ezekiel as he looked to a prophetic Israel (the Gentiles who would come into Christ). " ‘Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!’ " the prophet cries out. "For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,’ declares the Lord God. ‘Therefore, repent and live.’ " (Ezekiel 18:31-32). How powerful and wonderful it is, then, that "that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him" (1 John 4:9).
Fleshly-minded men think of the word live as getting the most out of the blessings of earthly life. But when God uses the word live, He uses it in a spiritual meaning and in terms of fellowship with Him. There may not be many earthly blessings for the one who is in fellowship with the only begotten Son, but there is the blessing of eternal life, which far outweighs any earthly blessing. Those who walk by faith "look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are unseen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18). True life is in the realm of the eternal, and only those who are truly spiritual place the correct value on it.
- Love begins with God - Just as God is the source of physical and spiritual life, He is also the source of love. "In this is love," John reminds the saints, "not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). Love began with God; through the gospel man understands that God loves him, and he in turn (as he processes what Christ went through to purchase his eternity) comes to love God. It is worth remembering: "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Without the death of Christ on the cross, God’s ability to communicate that He "is love" and that He loves mankind, would have been limited. This magnificent plan, which was set in motion before the foundation of the world, included laying the foundation for proving that the Bible is the word of God, and therefore that the message of God’s love exhibited in Christ’ death is true.
- More on propitiation - The death of Christ on behalf of men is easier to understand than what is involved in the propitiation. Many, in fact, think that Christ’s propitiatory work was accomplished on the cross. Christ’s death on the cross was clearly seen when He as the sacrifice was killed, as foreshadowed by the sacrifices on the Old Testament Day of Atonement. But the sacrifice has no efficacy unless the priest offers the blood of the sacrifice. In the case of Christ, He had to become His own priest in His ascension, and the propitiation took place when He offered or sprinkled His blood in the true tabernacle in glory. "You have come," asseverated Hebrews’ author, "to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood" (Hebrews 12:24).
It is interesting and significant here that the apostle John states his proposition this way: "In this is love … that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." The apostle is anticipating that the brethren would have enough spiritual depth to be able to process beyond the cross to the ascension of Christ as the high priest of the new covenant. The Gnostic antichrists among the churches to whom John wrote denied that Jesus even had a body for the sacrifice, much less a resurrection from the dead and an ascension to the power position on high. Therefore they "knew not" the love of God, and thus they had no true love for the brethren.
God’s Love Perfected In Us
Love is a big word! In English, it is only four letters, but the concept of love—especially God’s love—has many different aspects and is challenging for the brain of man to apprehend. "Love is patient," "love is kind," "love does not take into account a wrong suffered" … these statements just begin to open the door of understanding the magnificent aspects of God’s love. Among other things, love is unselfish. Hence the Almighty and All Wise God, being "love" Himself, set in motion a plan wherein that love could be shared. The two great commandments of the old covenant—"love the Lord your God with all your might …" and "love your neighbor as yourself"—laid the groundwork for what was to be accomplished under the terms of the new covenant. The new covenant gives Christ’s disciples significant reasons why they should love God, and sets in motion the mechanism by which the love of God can be shared.
- Love one another - Real love is a powerful force and a brightening presence. (Hate, love’s opposite, is also a powerful force but less powerful than love, and brings darkness and bitterness wherever it goes.) "Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails [love never quits working]…" Love thus is the powerful force that sent Jesus from heaven to earth. Participating in that love through belief in and obedience to the gospel of Christ brings a clear conscience, a brightened countenance, and light in the inner man. And it shares! "Beloved, if God so loved us," posits John, "we also ought to love one another"(1 John 4:11). God is patient toward us; we should be patient toward the brethren. God is kind; we should be kind to the brethren. God cares deeply about our souls, enough to sacrifice His Son; we need to care deeply about the souls of the brethren, and be willing to sacrifice on their behalf. And the list goes on!
- God’s abiding in us - At this point, the apostle John sticks a statement into the discussion that seems to come from nowhere: "No one has beheld God at any time" (1 John 4:12). But the apostle is a deep thinker, and he is laying the groundwork for a concluding statement when he finishes this section. He continues: "If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us." The point that "God abides in us" is predicated on the supposition that the individual has been properly immersed into Christ, and is walking faithfully with his God. A person can be "very loving" in human terms and not be immersed into Christ. Godly love, as a point of re-emphasis, first of all loves the other man’s eternity, and, while acts of kindness may save that other individual’s earthly life, those acts do not help to save that person’s soul unless they are coupled with the gospel message. When the basic elements are in place, and "we" are reaching out to the lost and strengthening the brethren, then "God abides in us."
If God had not created man, then His love would have been encased, and not even understood by angels. But by setting in motion His plan to redeem man and to establish fellowship with the redeemed through His Holy Spirit, God’s love is now manifested to the human race and to the angels as well. But if God’s love were to remain with God alone, His love would be incomplete. When, however, His love "is poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit," and saints begin to take the message of hope and love to the lost world, then God’s love is being "perfected [made complete] in us." When the saints love the brethren in the church and develop their relationships through interactions, having to learn forbearance and patience and grace, then God’s love is fully "perfected in us." Love your lost neighbor (who may become your brother in the future), and love your brother who meets with you about the Lord’s Table!
The Father Sent His Son
"No one," said John, "has beheld God at any time" (John 1:18). If no one can see Him, how can anyone know that he has fellowship with Him, or that He abides in that person? To answer this question, which is one that God wants answered, God made sure that the Bible was written, preserved, translated, and distributed. The Bible, which can be proven to be the word of God, can then authoritatively establish that God exists and that it is possible to know Him through the revelation given through His Son Jesus Christ. "He who has seen Me," said Lord Jesus, "has seen the Father" (John 14:9). It is through Jesus Christ, as revealed in the scriptures, that we may come to know God and to be known by God.
- The indwelling Spirit - Again, the word of God is emphatic: "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him" (Romans 8:9). Forgiveness of sins, or redemption, is a vehicle to the indwelling Spirit; the vessel must be cleansed before the very Holy Spirit of God can move in. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law," noted the apostle Paul, describing Christ’s having become a curse on our behalf by hanging on "the tree." The apostle then describes the reason for this substitution on our behalf: "… in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles." That needs some clarification, so Paul restates the point as "so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Galatians 3:13-14). Hence immersion in Jesus’ name is not only for the remission of sins, but it is for receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. The brother in Christ knows, then, that he is indwelt by the Spirit of God because there is a clear and specific protocol by which the Spirit is given, and there is a distinct and definite point when "the Holy Spirit is given to those who obey Him" (Acts 5:32). The apostle John, then, encourages the brethren of the first century who are under tremendous attack by the antichrist elements among the congregations, and who are trying to get the true brethren to doubt their fellowship with God. "By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us," reiterates the apostle, "because He has given us of His Spirit" (1 John 4:13). That settles the issue for the solid saint!
- Further security - The apostle John, along with the other apostles, were "witnesses," not only of the life of Jesus upon the earth, but also of the events connected with His ascension into glory and His being "made both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). This "witness" was by revelation from the Holy Spirit, a revelation of things in the spirit realm and not visible to the eye. The apostle therefore uses the verb "behold" to describe this special revelation. "And we [the apostles] have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world" (1 John 4:14). This is the type of statement that the apostle John could make as contrasted to the Gnostic antichrists, who presented themselves as having special "inside information," but who really could not make such claims. Those who trust the word of the apostles are on solid ground; everyone else’s "revelation" was and is bogus.
The saint and the congregation which follow "the apostles’ doctrine" are the ones who are secure in their knowledge of their salvation. "The Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world," and the ones who believe and obey that teaching are walking in that knowledge. "Whoever," then, in accordance with that which was delivered through the apostles, "confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God" (1 John 4:15). Those faithful first century brethren were thus reassured of their standing with the Almighty, and were able to face persecution and death with their faith unfazed. The twenty-first century saint can follow the same process, be confident of his resurrection with the righteous at the Second Coming, and also successfully face the challenges in front of him.
Confidence on Judgment Day
The scripture repeatedly refers to the saints’ eagerly looking for Jesus’ return. That expectation can only be eager if the saint is confident in His fellowship with Christ; otherwise, the expectation is very different. As the writer of Hebrews put it, in reference to saints who were not faithful in attending assembly, there is "a certain terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries" (Hebrews 10:27). Hence the apostle John continually hammers at the first century Christians about being certain of their fellowship with the Almighty based on the truth of God’s word. Anyone being sucked into the doctrines of the Gnostic antichrists would lose that fellowship and be facing that "fury of a fire."
- Knowing and believing - God set things up so that it can be proven that Jesus rose from the dead and that the whole Bible is true. Dr. Luke, the beloved physician, noted in his opening of the book of Acts concerning Jesus’ resurrection: "To these [the apostles] He presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days" (Acts 1:3). The testimony of the apostles was confirmed by attendant miracles and Old Testament prophecies. Hence those first century believers could be certain that the teachings called "the apostles’ doctrine" were absolutely true. "And we have come to know and have believed," affirms John, "the love which God has for us"(1 John 4:16). Knowledge is certainty! This knowledge and belief which was held by first century disciples of Christ can be held with the same certainty by the twenty-first century disciples. Modern Christians can know and be certain of the love which God has for them because of the written testimony of the apostles and new testament prophets.
- God is love - The apostle is going to cycle back through one of his major themes: "God is love." That love was demonstrated through Jesus’ death on the cross for the possibility of reconciling a lost and hostile world. Most of the human race operates like selfish and ungrateful children, taking all of God’s blessings in the material realm without giving Him thanks on terms He will accept. The fact that the love of God, and exhibition that "God is love," is often unrequited does not lessen its wonder or greatness in the least. Anyone, therefore, who comes under the terms of the new covenant, recognizes that "God is love," and is very excited to be in His fellowship. Thus, "the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him."
- Love is perfected - As "the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who is given to us," the saint in that love begins to carry the gospel to friends, family, neighbors, and anyone who crosses his path (Romans 5:5). This is how, as mentioned previously, "the love of God is perfected" in us; that is, it is completed as the saint personally comes to an understanding of God’s love and helps the next person to do the same. "By this," John reiterates, "love is perfected with us," with the result "that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because as He is, so also are we in this world" (1 John 4:17). Jesus Himself said, "The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). That, then, is the mission of the saint who is "as He is," the light to the world.
When the disciple of Christ is in the process of making other disciples, of expounding and defending the scriptures, of exhorting the brethren and refuting those who contradict, he ends up having tremendous conviction about the truth of the scriptures and the faithfulness of their testimony. Based on those scriptures, his belief in them, and his obedience to them, the saint knows where he stands in relationship to the favor of the Supreme Judge. He therefore has "confidence" as he faces the day of judgment, and eagerly awaits the return of the Lion and Lamb of God!
“As He is, so also are We”
"I am the vine," said Jesus Christ as He neared the end of His earthly sojourn, "you are the branches" (John 15:5). His goal, as the vine, was to bear much fruit. But the vine cannot bear the fruit without the branches; hence it is that the Lord has placed Himself in the position of being dependent upon His disciples for the fruit of the harvest to come in. "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit," stated the Lord in frank and brutal honesty, "He [the Father] takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:2). The loving Father is working intimately with each branch, pruning and trimming it back (discipline, suffering, etc.) so that each Christian can become more effective in his participation in seeking and saving the lost; every non-productive branch is stripped away. This culminates in the block-buster statement of the Lord, "By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples" (John 15:8).
The most effective "person" in impacting the lost and turning them in the direction of righteousness and God was Jesus Himself. In Him, during the days of His earthly sojourn, was the love of the Father for each soul demonstrated. His perfect patience, His kindness, His reaching out to even the "lowest" of mankind…all this was exhibited in the gospel accounts of the Christ who came into the world "to seek and to save that which was lost." Underneath that, however, was the continuing firm recognition that man needed to turn to God on God’s terms. "Unless you repent," averred the Lord, "you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:5). Having died on the cross to demonstrate the love of God for lost man, Jesus was buried, was resurrected, and was raised to the heavenly throne. In this whole process, the nature and character of God was exhibited for all who might be interested in "knowing God." "No one has seen God at any time," animadverted the apostle John. "The only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him" (John 1:18). This "explanation" of the Father is sufficient to give every saint every piece of information He needs to be a "partaker of the divine nature," exhibiting the character of Christ and fruit of the Spirit to a lost world.
The Father, however, is not content with merely demonstrating His nature or character to His disciples. He has put in motion a mechanism wherein the disciples can themselves also demonstrate the character of Christ to the world. "Be imitators of me," exhorted the apostle Paul, "just as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). How is this to be done? By mere human effort? Just as Jesus came in the flesh, died on the cross, was buried, was resurrected, appeared to the world, and ascended to the throne in glory, so also the follower of Christ. He begins in the flesh, through repentance and immersion into Christ he dies to his old self and is buried, is resurrected to walk in newness of life; he then appears as a light in the world, and is seated with Christ in a spiritual way on that heavenly throne (Ephesians 2:6). His inner man, now "beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, is being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18). This transformation, accomplished in the inner man, provides the mechanism by which the outer man is transformed also, as he engages in a regular process of renewing the mind.
Jesus is not still on the cross, although most certainly He died on that cross. Jesus is not still standing by the empty tomb, although He certainly was raised from the dead. Jesus is not still appearing to witnesses, although He certainly did for forty days. The Jesus who is, in His current state as it plays out in time for the revelation and understanding of mankind, is the Jesus in glory. The apostle Paul stated that point in this way: "Even though we have known Christ in the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer" (2 Corinthians 5:16).
The Christian’s inner man is raised with Christ and seated with Him on that heavenly throne. The character transformation is occurring. The apostle John states this ultimate picture in these simple words: "As He is, so also are we in this world" (1 John 4:17). This is who we are! Let’s go and bear much fruit!!
Love, Fear, and Hate
Love, fear, and hate are powerful motivators. Love is positive, fear has both positive and negative aspects, and hate (other than hating evil) is negative. One of the great aspects of God’s plan as revealed in the scripture is that God is producing His characteristics in His spiritual children, including the ability to love as He loves. "Let love be without hypocrisy," the apostle Paul exhorted the brethren in taking on the characteristics of the Father. "Abhor what is evil," he further stated, "cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love" (Romans 12:9-10). As the saint "grows in the grace and knowledge of God," as Peter stated, he becomes more like his heavenly Father, has increasingly deeper fellowship with Him, and is less motivated by fear and more by love.
- No fear in love - The apostle John had just commented that "love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment." In the process of learning to love others, we increasingly learn to love God. The eventual result of this increasing love for God, and corresponding recognition of how much God loves each of His spiritual children, is an understanding that "there is no fear in love" (1 John 4:18). The saint never loses his reverential respect for the majesty and potency of the Almighty, which is a different use of the word fear, as in "work out your salvation in fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). The "fear" that John is talking about is a fear that paralyzes a person in the awesome dread of what is about to befall him. This fear of hell-fire is an important initial motivator in the process of helping a person "count the cost" of becoming a Christian, but it is not a good long-term means of keeping a person upbeat and following the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. "Perfect love casts out fear," John informs the brethren, "because fear involves punishment." Fear of punishment does not work as a motivator in taking the message of love to the lost.
- Perfected in love - The apostle again swings back to the theme of "perfected in love." "The one who fears," he notes, "is not perfected in love" (1 John 4:18). As previously stressed, this "love" is concerned first of all about where the other person is going to spend his eternity. This concern about the other individual’s spiritual welfare is an underlying drive that brings the saint to also be concerned about the other individual’s mental, physical, and emotional welfare. When the brethren in the local congregation are truly interested in helping people get to heaven, as a by-product they also are involved in helping others in the other aspects of their lives. But when the goal of the "son of the Most High" is helping the lost find the "strait and narrow way," and helping the saints maintain their proper spiritual focus, then the disciple of Christ is being perfected in love. And in being perfected in love, he knows what his standing is with the Almighty, and is not afraid of judgment day. This is really emphasized in John’s oft-repeated statement: "By this we know"!
"We love," the apostle re-emphasizes, "because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Saints would not know about the great underlying love of man’s eternal soul if it were not for the information in the apostles’ doctrine that communicates and educates the brethren on this topic. The Gnostic antichrist movement that had arisen in the early church did not have that underlying love as its foundation. As an antichrist movement, its adherents in fact hated the true brethren and were destructive to the purposes of the gospel. The apostle John’s repeated emphasis on "love" and "being perfected in love" were critical for the preservation of the church then, and are equally critical for the preservation of the church now. "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 John 3:16).
Who Really Loves God?
Probably no word is bandied about meaninglessly more than "love." The problem with such bandying is the major destructive consequences which follow. Words are verbal representations of mental concepts, and an incorrect mental concept leads people’s minds down the wrong road. Hollywood, for example, portrays love as feeling; "follow your heart" instead of using your head. That misdirection, driven by cinema’s influence over countless minds, has contributed in a major way to the breakup of the family, and has sent morals spiraling into the mud tank. Words do have meaning, and concepts have consequences.
The apostle John works constantly on the theme of "love." The antichrists who operated within the early church were very destructive, both to the saints’ eternities and to their discipline in living up to Christian moral values. In their masquerade as proclaimers of a "new gospel," they would pretend to be loving and kind in order to provide the façade for their continuing exploitation of the brethren. Thus John repeatedly hammers on what true love is in his attempt to get the brethren to see through the clever façades of those antichrists.
- "I love God" - The ranks of mankind are thick with those who say, "I love God." "God," apart from the specific revelation of Him given in the Bible through Jesus Christ, is an ethereal concept which can be manipulated to serve the individual’s desires. Such a "God" allows a person to believe what he wants to believe, and allows him to do (or not to do) whatever he wishes. The two great commandments coming from the Old Testament writings establish the connection between loving God and loving people. But the apostle John puts a stronger exclamation point to the connection: "If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother," the apostle expostulates, "he is a liar!" (1 John 4:20). Underneath the façade, the antichrists of the first century actually hated the brethren, and were doing their best to send them down the road that leads to hell. They are being exposed as liars before the eyes of those first century congregations.
- Loving what you can see - Things in the physical realm are easier to understand than things in the spiritual realm. God uses the principle of "first the natural, then the spiritual" over and over again in communicating things of a spiritual nature to man. The physical temple of Solomon, for example, is used to communicate the value and beauty of the spiritual temple of God in the new covenant, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence John makes his statement: "for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom has he has not seen" (1 John 4:20). There is no such thing as loving God apart from loving the lost and caring for fellow Christians.
- The commandment - Jesus clearly came from heaven to seek and to save that which was lost. In His parables, He would talk about leaving the safe sheep to find the one that was lost. This is the means by which the lost and spiritually dying people of the world—those trapped in a darkness that they personally cannot escape without heaven’s help—become the brothers of Jesus. And God expects His spiritual children to take on His character and His fruit of the Spirit. "And this commandment we have from Him," avers the apostle, "that the one who loves God should love His brother also" (1 John 4:21). A commandment, no less!!
The "bottom line" is simple: if you really love God, you will love the soul of every person with whom you come in contact. If that person is dead in his sins and trespasses, you try to save him. If he is a brother in Christ, you try to edify, encourage, and strengthen him. You exhibit perseverance and patience, concern and compassion, encouragement and exhortation, that you may by all means save some and present every man complete in Christ.
Born "from above" to Love
The plan of God was set in motion before the Creation. The apostle Peter, in commenting on this, stated his proposition this way: Jesus "was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you" (1 Peter 1:20). The goal of God, before the Creation, has been to use the earth as an incubator, to use the race of physical man to produce a race of spiritual man, a race that would be "born from above" by their own choice. This was only possible through the direct intervention of Jesus Christ into the world, for Him to become flesh and dwell amongst the race of physical man. The whole plan of redemption was necessary, as well as giving the indwelling Spirit in accomplishing a new birth for the transformation of physical man into spiritual man. Man could have never done this by his own effort, or even conceived of such a thing; it took that plan and action of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ to get this done. "For we are His workmanship," emphasized the apostle Paul, "created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
- "Born of God" - "Created in Christ Jesus," Paul had stated. The only way to be in Christ is to be immersed into Christ (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27). This is the way in which the statement of John in the opening section of his gospel account is fulfilled: "But as many as received Him [recognized that Jesus is the Messiah], to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born—not of blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but—of God" (John 1:12-13). This new creation is an entirely new creative work by God in the inner man; the outer shell is the incubator by which this new creature comes into existence in conjunction with his faith in and obedience to the gospel of God. Thus the apostle John writes in his first epistle, "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (1 John 5:1). The individual is born of God, and thus described as "born again" or "born from above."
- The good confession - The apostle Peter, following along with the progressive revelation God was giving through the life of Jesus, in answer to the Lord’s key question stated, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). This confession, or profession, then, became the core of Christianity, and a requirement that a person make that confession prior to his immersion. Therefore, the apostle John, writing his gospel account, described his reason for his authoring it: "These [events] have been written," is his annotation, "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ" (John 20:30). It is not surprising, therefore, that the apostle would come back to that point in his first epistle, with the statement that "whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God."
Since the saint is "born from above" or "born of God," he now begins to love in willing imitation of his Father. "Whoever loves the Father," notes John, "loves the child born of Him" (1 John 5:1). The future of the church depended upon brethren, especially those in a teaching/preaching position, to love the children of faith enough to continue to preach the truth and oppose the antichrists who were savaging the church from within. The technique often employed by those who oppose truth is to intimidate those who are on the side of truth, to "shout them down," and do everything they can to prevent those who in the right from speaking up. The result is a "silent majority," who are afraid to get involved, or to become visibly vocal, because of the reprisals that would come their way. John is encouraging those who are "born from above" to love their brethren enough to "exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict" (Titus 1:9). "He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 John 3:16). Modern saints, likewise, need to lay those lives down!
Observing His Commandments
The forces of darkness have some significant strength. The apostle Paul, for example, was "thwarted" by Satan in some of his attempts to reach Thessalonica, for example. The same apostle also spoke of how the enemies of the gospel among the Jews "hindered" Paul and his fellow proclaimers from "speaking to the Gentiles" (1 Thessalonians 2:14-18). He also referenced those who promote "every wind of doctrine," and "the trickery of men," who operate "by craftiness in deceitful scheming" (Ephesians 4:14). Among those who would be so classed were the Gnostic antichrists working in the first century congregations. These liars (the apostle John’s description – 1 John 2:22) always pretend to take the "high ground." They claim to be enlightened when in fact they are in the darkness. They claim that they are the ones who love, when in fact they are the great haters. Furthermore they charge the ones who are truly enlightened with being in darkness or without understanding, and they charge the ones who truly love others’ souls as being the ones who are unkind, unloving, and unmerciful. In the midst of this manufactured confusion, the saint needs some direction from the scriptures in order to keep his bearings.
- How do we know? - The false teachers are often intelligent and conduct their agenda with wisdom, but not with "the wisdom from above." Their "wisdom" is "earthy, natural, demonic" (James 3:15). In their lying, slanderous ways, their accusations directed toward the saints can unnerve the brethren. The apostle John comes to their aid: "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments" (1 John 5:2). So who loves the children of God? One of the commandments of God is to speak "the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). The one who keeps this commandment is the one who loves; those lying and slandering antichrists are not loving and kind at all. Those who love God and love the brethren are those who are trying with every bit of honest care and persuasion to help others on the road to heaven.
- What is the love of God? - From the perspective of the Bible, the word love is an action word, not just an inner feeling. "For this is the love of God," is John’s comment, "that we keep His commandments" (1 John 5:3). Many of the core commandments of the Old Testament were negative, or restraining, in nature. "You shall not commit murder," or "you shall not commit adultery" were designed to stop harmful behaviors. By contrast, the thrust of the new covenant, hinted at in the old covenant’s two great commandments, is positive, directed at creatively reaching out to others in positive ways and in positive actions. Love not only does no wrong to its neighbor; love actually bridges the gap between saint and sinner so that the sinner can receive the information and example necessary for him to have eternal life. Love also bridges the gap between brethren in Christ so that the continuing information and edification necessary for successful life in Christ is transmitted.
Love, then, is the simple carrying out of new covenant instructions. These instructions—these commandments—are not a yoke or a burden as was the old covenant system. "His commandments are not burdensome" is John’s straight-forward statement. If "you do what you love, and you love what you do," then your activities are not so much described as work but as passion. Having passion for carrying out the plan and purpose of Jesus Christ changes the perspective of the Christian, and he does not think of the things he is doing for the kingdom as burdens but as blessings. When the saint honestly views his service to the kingdom as a blessing, he really looks forward to ways in which he can creatively make a positive impact for his King. Such a saint really begins to live the abundant life which Jesus had in mind for His disciples.
Overcoming the World
"The world" is a big term, certainly beyond detailed description. "For all that is in the world," John had earlier stated, giving his general breakdown, "the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world" (1 John 2:15). The antichrist movement within the first century congregations was "of the world," its doctrines designed to pander to the flesh rather than focus on "the things of the Spirit." Because the pull of "the world" is strong, described as "the lust of the flesh," each member of mankind generally adjusts his religious beliefs to justify his personal lusts of the flesh, with the antichrists of John’s time coming up with their own particular justification. Hence the apostle John points out the danger of "the world," and calls for saints to have their personal victories over its attractions and enslavements.
- "Born of God" - The Christian is to be no longer "of this world. He is to become a partaker "of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust" (2 Peter 1:4). In order for that to happen, he must undergo a second birth, a spiritual birth. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh," said Jesus, "and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). Thus the saint is the one pre-intended by the Lord Himself in the words to Nicodemus, "unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). In this spiritual birth, God becomes the newly-born saint’s spiritual Father, and he is thus spoken of as born of God. How powerful a birth is this? "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world" (1 John 5:4). Furthermore, this is the only thing that overcomes the world!
- "Our faith" - The simple act of immersion by itself will not save anyone or give anyone victory. Immersion into Christ is valid only when it is coupled with repentance as well as the heart-felt confession that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." All this is predicated upon an individual’s belief in the testimony that the scripture gives concerning Jesus Christ—His life, His crucifixion, His burial, His resurrection, and His ascension—as well as his willingness to act on that testimony in accordance with the terms given in the new covenant documents. These together constitute the initial faith of the newly-born saint; hence this faith is the key basis of the child of God’s victory over sin and death, and over the world. "And this is the victory that has overcome the world," the apostle John assures us—"our faith" (1 John 5:4). The apostle is willing to superadd, "And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God" (1 John 5:5).
- Overcoming the world - The saint can and must win the victory, with the help of the indwelling Spirit and reprogramming by the word of God, over the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life. But the saint can take on and have victory over the doctrinal arguments that take away the ability to have victory over these things; this too is part of the battle against the world and its lusts. Words, and the mental images which are connected with them, are food for the mind. Hence it is that the battle is over words, going all the way back to the Garden where Eve was told she surely would not die. The antichrists working in the first century churches were twisting the words of the gospel to justify the flesh, and the true saints needed to overcome and oppose that nonsense.
Whoever, then, really believes that Jesus is the Son of God—and all that is implied in that profession—is on the winning track. Such Christians are "destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God" (2 Corinthians 10:5). They, furthermore, are marching forward in an undefeatable phalanx, and "no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed" (Isaiah 54:16 ESV). Victory! Victory! Victory!
Who Came by Water and by Blood?
The Father, the perfect communicator, labored long and hard in the Old Testament to connect water and blood. Moses, said the writer of Hebrews concerning the institution of the Law, "took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people" (Hebrews 9:19). In the process, the All Wise was connecting the cleansing properties normally associated with water to blood, which generally would not be considered a cleansing agent. The writer of Hebrews also notes the difference between Jesus and the various atoning and cleansing rituals of the Old Testament, commenting that "if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling [connected with the water of purification] those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ…cleanse your conscience" (Hebrews 9:13-14). The stage was set, then, for the coming of the sacrifice and the Savior, the Prophet and the Priest of God, the One who could and would redeem the sons of man. "This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with water only, but with the water and the blood" (1 John 5:6).
- Coming by water - So how is Jesus "the one who came by water"? In the apostle’s gospel account, he recorded the words of John the Immerser concerning the Coming One: "In order that He might be manifested to Israel, I came immersing in water" (John 1:31). The signal, given on earth, to the Jews that Jesus was their Messiah was that He was anointed with the Spirit (rather than with oil or ointment as was done to the Old Testament kings). The Immerser explained, "I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him." This was one of the eyewitness accounts of that major event. John further gave his "inside information" perspective. "He who sent me to immerse in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who immerses in the Holy Spirit’ " (John 1:33). John the Immerser would then add the words of this powerful testimony: "And I have seen, and have borne witness, that this is the Son of God" (John 1:34). It was very important that Jesus "came by water."
- Coming by blood - So how is Jesus "the one who came with the blood"? In order for Jesus to be the sacrifice, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," His blood would have to be shed. The writer of Hebrews noted the principle set in motion throughout the whole Old Testament, "without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness" (John 1:29; Hebrews 9:22). It is interesting that the apostle John would be the one who would record the testimony of the Immerser concerning the importance of Jesus’ immersion (water) and the descent of the Holy Spirit, and that he would also be the one to record the shedding of Jesus’ blood. His own eyewitness account highlights the event: "One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water" (John 19:35). But not only was Jesus’ blood shed on earth, it was sprinkled in glory—as His first action as High Priest—in order to accomplish the forgiveness of sins for, and the redemption of, mankind. The writer of Hebrews put the point in these terms: It was "through His own blood He entered the holy place [heaven] once for all, having obtained eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:13). It was very important that Jesus "came by blood."
It was comparatively easy for Jesus to come "by water"; all He had to do was to show up on the banks of the Jordan and convince the Immerser that he should dunk the Lord. It was not so easy for Him to come "by blood." That not only took the excruciating death on the cross, but it also took the tremendous power of God to raise Him from the dead and position Him at the right hand of power. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came "not with the water only, but with the water and the blood."
The entire Bible rests on testimony, similar to what might be given in court. The witnesses are called, one by one, over the centuries, and their testimony is written down for the benefit of those willing to examine the records. In this way, God has provided a basis upon which a rational faith might be built, a faith that notes the records of the past, verifies the events of the time of Jesus, and sets forth the certainty of the predicted future. Thus the apostle Paul would say, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). The Holy Spirit of God, then, is always the one to whom the authorship of the scriptures is attributed. "Men moved by the Holy Spirit," the apostle Peter pointed out, "spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:20). Jesus noted, when about to quote one of David’s prophecies in the Psalms, that it was "David in the Spirit" who spoke (Matthew 22:43). The entire scripture, therefore, is "the testimony of the Spirit."
- The Spirit bears witness - How are denizens of planet earth supposed to know that Jesus "came by water and blood"? It is through the Holy Spirit, working through the dissemination of His word. Jesus, referring to the fact that He would return to glory and that He would send the Holy Spirit to carry out His work during earth’s final age, averred, "And He [the Holy Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment" (John 16:8). The Spirit has been accomplishing this, in conjunction with the words of Jesus, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself" (John 12:32). "All men" are being drawn, through the testimony that the Holy Spirit is distributing throughout the world. The apostle John again frames the proposition this way: "And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth" (1 John 5:7). He is convicting men concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment to come, and He is bringing the message of truth. The antichrists, on the other hand, were a bunch of liars and charlatans.
- Three bear witness - The King James Bible and other versions include wording in 1 John 5:8 that clearly was not in the original text. "For there are three that bear witness," begins the verse, and the added words are "in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth…" These words come from later Roman Catholic sources, and even Erasmus did not include them in his early publications of his Greek/Latin New Testament. He was pressured to add them in later editions, and the result was that they made their way into the King James Version and what is sometimes called the Textus Receptus (Received Text). But the original text reads that "there are three that bear witness, the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement."
When a lost soul comes to the waters of immersion for his redemption and new birth, there are three that bear witness. The "witness" of the water is the most obvious, being physically present at the point of the individual’s being "born of God," as he comes out of a watery tomb but also a watery womb. The blood also bears "witness," in that the blood is now "sprinkled" on his heart to cleanse his conscience from "dead works" that he might serve the living God. The "witness" of the Spirit is there also, causing the obedient penitent to experience a spiritual birth and to become a true child of God. That these three would be "in agreement" at immersion signals the importance of that point of obedience in God’s overall plan. The saint thus has a clear line of demarcation when he moved out of darkness into God’s marvelous light, and he has three "who bear witness" to that movement. In this magnificent way, the All Wise has provided security for the saint as he faces the challenges and struggles that are generally associated with life in Christ.
God is very desirous, and rightly so, that mankind receive "His witness." The serpent of old, lurking in the depths of the Garden of Eden, attacked the witness God had borne when he said to Eve, "You surely shall not die!" (Genesis 3:4). Thus the war on the "witness of God" began, and thus it continues.
Jesus said, "I am He who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me" (John 8:18). He explained that the witness that the Father bore concerning Christ was the "works" or miracles which He was able to perform. "If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me," was the Lord’s challenge, "but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father" (John 10:37-38). Unable to deny the works, the opposition drifted to the charge that "This man casts out demons only by Beezebul the ruler of demons" (Matthew 12:24). Thus the war on the witness of God continued.
"There are three that bear witness," John has just noted in this first epistle, "the Spirit and the water and the blood." Clearly the witness that these three bear is in immersion into Christ where, in the water the blood cleanses the individual from sin and he receives the indwelling Spirit. The false doctrines deny that this being "born of God"occurs in immersion, and the war on the witness of God continues.
- Witness of men/witness of God - God set the testimony in motion, that through men "moved by the Holy Spirit" the sacred writings would come into existence. Through men, specifically the apostles of Jesus Christ, the testimony was given that Jesus rose from the dead. But God originated the basis for that testimony, and backed that testimony with miracles and Old Testament prophecy. "If we receive the witness of men," the apostle John points out, "the witness of God is greater; for the witness of God is this, that He has borne witness concerning His Son" (1 John 5:9). The witness of God is totally comprehensive, and overwhelms all objections. Anyone who rejects the witness of God is rightly eternally condemned.
- Witness in himself - Part of the comprehensive witness of God is the witness of His placing His Spirit within the obedient believer. Again, John had earlier noted, "We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us" (1 John 3:24). This "giving of the Holy Spirit" is objective, being stated in terms such as this poignant question from the apostle Paul: "This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?" (Galatians 3:2). This "hearing with faith" is objective, buttressed with the necessity of precisely defined obedience to the gospel, as the apostles noted early on: "The Holy Spirit is given to those who obey Him" (Acts 5:32). Hence John says, "The one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself" (1 John 5:10).
The creation itself testifies that there is a Designer/Creator. But the definitive witness is what is written in the word itself, proving by its internal contents that God is its ultimate Author. But the words are not mere words on a page; they "are Spirit and they are life" (John 6:63). These words are living and active, and contain the spiritual DNA which makes it possible for the one who hears, believes, and obeys these words to be "born again." These words make it possible for the three to bear witness: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood. These are the very words of God. "The one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the witness that God has borne concerning His Son." Absolutely correct, and absolutely worth considering!
Life "in the Son"
Satan did major dirty work in the Garden of Eden when he lied to Eve and tempted Adam. "Through one man," the apostle Paul therefore informed us, "sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so [spiritual] death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Romans 5:12). This "death" was their separation from God; this "death" was their loss of fellowship with God; this "death" is the opposite of "life," which is defined, then, as fellowship with God. As each adult-level member of the human race walks in the footsteps of Adam, he steps into sin and thus suffers the same death as Adam. "Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God," the Lord explained through Isaiah, "and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear" (Isaiah 59:2). So how is that fellowship to be restored? God, the All-Loving, sent His only begotten Son into the world to pay the price for man’s sin, and then sent the Holy Spirit into everyone who would be immersed by Jesus’ authority and cleansed from sin. "These things we write," says John, speaking for himself and the other apostles, "that you may have fellowship with us, and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:4,3).
- God’s witness - In Jesus’ prayer west of the Kidron, He noted that the Father "gave Him authority over all mankind, that to all whom [the Father] has given Him, He may give eternal life. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [the Father] has sent" (John 17:2-3). Jesus had also stated, "He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life" (John 5:24). The challenge God faces is making those statements believable to mankind, who live in the midst of Satan-caused confusion. So Jesus did miracles of a nature and number such as had not been seen since the foundation of the world. "The works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I do," the Lord pointed out to His hearers, "bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me" (John 5:36). As the apostle John states, obviously having learned from his Master, God "has borne witness concerning His Son" (1 John 5:9). John superadds, "And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life" (1 John 5:11).
- Life where? - If, then, God has given saints eternal life, under what conditions might this eternal life be secured? The scripture clearly teaches that not all humankind is going to heaven, that there will be a resurrection to judgment for some, and a resurrection to life for others. That being the case, there must be certain conditions to be met before a person could be said to have entered into this eternal life. These conditions, of course, are clearly outlined in God’s carefully written, carefully preserved, and carefully distributed word. A belief in the testimony of the scriptures of necessity comes first, then repentance, then confession of Jesus’ Lordship, then immersion by Jesus’ authority. "This life," says John, "is in His Son." That is why immersion is the capstone of the first steps of faith; proper immersion places the individual "into Christ" (Romans 6:3).
A person is either "in Christ" or he is outside Christ. John notes therefore that "he who does not have the Son does not have the life" (1 John 5:12). Every saint must maintain his fellowship; if he loses that fellowship, he loses his standing of being "in Christ." The antichrists of the first century, if they ever had that fellowship, lost it. "They went out from us," was the apostle John’s analysis. The dedicated brother or sister in Christ will follow the teachings of the new covenant diligently in order not to lose what he has gained. As John again points out, "He who has the Son has the life." Thus the apostle Paul would concur, elegantly and forcefully pointing out his desire to "gain Christ," that he might "be found in Him" (Philippians 3:9). Life is "in the Son." Get there, and stay there!!
The earnestness of the apostle John shines through in his epistles. As one of the first two to have Jesus pointed out to him by John the Immerser, having walked with Jesus through the years of His earthly sojourn, having witnessed the crucifixion of Christ and the subsequent resurrection and ascension, and having seen the formation and spread of the church, John is clearly invested. He is therefore intensely concerned about the church’s ability to continue to walk in the apostles’ doctrine. The aged apostle had seen the church fight her way through the issue of the Law of Moses versus the faith of Christ, and had seen the triumph of "the faith." The anguish of his heart can be imagined as he now witnesses the church in her battle against lawlessness, being aggressively pushed by the Gnostic antichrists. He is earnestly appealing for the sincere brethren to hold the course set from Acts chapter two onward.
- Those who believe - The antichrists working in the early congregations really did not believe in the Jesus the apostles preached nor in the doctrines the apostles taught; they might have used some of the same words, but it was a different "Jesus" and a different set of doctrines. Hence John in his sincerity and concern addresses the true brethren: "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you might know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13). The "other guys" did not recognize the authority of (the name of) the Jesus who came in the flesh, was crucified, raised bodily from the dead on the third day, and who ascended to glory. The faithful brethren did, and John wants to assure them that they are the ones who are on the right track and participating in eternal life.
- Faith results in confidence - The brethren were being tested and effectually battle-hardened by the challenges within the church due to these Gnostic influences. They knew what they believed and why they believed it. Their faiths, being thus tested on an individual as well as collective bases, were therefore very solidly based and very strong. They could, in John’s words, "know" that they had eternal life. This knowledge results in confidence in their fellowship with God. "And this is the confidence which we have before Him," John asserts, "that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us" (1 John 5:14). What an awesome source of courage and confidence, to know that every petition, especially those that line up with God’s will, is heard! The Creator of the universe, the One Who raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of power, is willing to hear and to act on the prayers of these faithful saints.
- Granting the requests - According to the apostle Paul, God "is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20). That means that the brethren can pray huge prayers on a global scale on behalf of the church and the spread of God’s gospel. How God gets that done is obviously under His orchestration, and it may involve persecution or jail time for the saints. But He is there, He is listening, and He is acting. "And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him" (1 John 5:15).
The apostle himself is a great example of this faith and confidence. Even though he was in exile on the barren isle of Patmos when he wrote the book of Revelation, as he put it, "because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (Revelation 1:9). Though his external circumstances were challenging, he knew that when he asked of the Almighty, if it was according to His will, He heard John’s praises and petitions. The modern saint, if he maintains his faith and focus, can have that same assurance that God hears and acts, and that he has that precious eternal life in the Son of God!
Sin “Leading to Death”?
Context always plays a huge role in exegeting the meaning of scripture. For example, when the apostle Paul was commenting about the abuse of the Lord’s Supper to the Corinthian brethren, he stated, "When you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper" (1 Corinthians 11:20). On the surface, it might seem as though Paul was saying that the purpose of the assembly is not for communion; but in context, it is clear that he was making the point that the reason that they should have been assembling on the first day of the week was for participating in the table of the Lord. Context, then, is very important in understanding this statement in the apostle John’s first epistle: "If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death" (1 John 5:16-17). What? Pray for some people and not for others? Doesn’t all sin lead to death? Context is going to be necessary to sort this out.
- Work of the Gnostic antichrists - The Gnostic movement, as it is known to history, or the antichrists, as John called them, were in a movement that began inside the church of the Lord. "They went out from us," was the apostle’s earlier description (1 John 2:19). It wasn’t, then, that these people were unfamiliar with the doctrines of Christ; they knew what the teaching was, and they deliberately rejected it and aggressively attempted to impose their own twisted doctrines. This conscious, destructive effort to present "lawlessness" as the doctrine of Christ was blasphemy of the highest order. The writer of Hebrews pointed out that there is a "hardening" process that occurs when a person is falling away from the living God, and that there is a point of no return for such a rebellious individual (who once was a participant in the Holy Spirit and the good things of God—Hebrews 3:12-13; 6:4-6). This is what John describes as "sin leading to death."
- Sin not leading to death - Taking on "the mind of Christ" is a reprogramming process which takes time and diligent effort. The saint, then, battles a host of past thought patterns and bad habits as he makes progress in His walk with Christ. Because it is a long and challenging journey, it can happen that a brother in Christ would have a "bad weekend," wherein he temporarily fell back into some old company and some old sinful habits. Very conscious of his guilt, and earnestly desiring to please the Christ who died on his behalf, he might ask the brethren to pray for him. "All unrighteousness is sin" is the unvarnished truth, and there is no justifiable reason for sinful conduct. But this, to be repented of, "is a sin not leading to death."
The faithful Christian can pray with the confidence that he will be heard. In fact, he is invited to pray for brethren who are struggling to get on the right path and to stay on that right path. If the dedicated Christian "sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit a sin not leading to death." That is a powerful prayer, indeed. But the faithful brethren does not need to pray for those antichrist types who are deliberately "going out" from the Lord’s church and developing doctrines such as the idea that Jesus did not have a body. These doctrines are actually crafted to enable the individual to live a licentious life while pretending to be under the cover of Christ’s grace. "There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this." That would make sense; why would a saint pray on behalf of those who started inside the church, and who are deliberately trying to subvert the doctrines of Christ and destroy the church?
“Born of God” Again
"Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness," the apostle John had noted. The Gnostic/antichrist movement which infected the first century congregations thus was an essentially "lawless" movement parallel to that on which Jude had commented, describing the perpetrators as "ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (Jude 1:4). The "lawless" element has no trouble lying while pretending to be truthful, and it has no difficulty in painting a false picture of those who stand for the truth and doctrines of scripture. "The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God," the apostle Paul pointed out to the brethren in Rome, "for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so" (Romans 8:7). Hence the forces of darkness would have been attacking the faithful brethren in the early church, and would have been battering them severely in every way possible. Hence the faithful apostle John writes encouraging words to those brethren, lifting them up and helping them to focus on the big and final picture.
- The power of the new birth - The saint indeed died to the old self and was resurrected an entirely new creature in the waters of immersion, by the power of God. The magnificence and power of this truth must not be understated or under-appreciated. While the treasure is in "an earthen vessel," to use the terminology of the apostle Paul, the earthen vessel must not obscure the wonder of what is within, visible to the eye of faith as revealed in the scripture. And that new creature is endowed with enough power to overcome personal sin and to carry the torch of Jesus’ revolutionary message to the world. "We know that no one who is born of God sins," is John’s reminder of the present, positive, affirmative picture of each saint (1 John 5:18). The only alternative picture is that "the one who is born of God continually sins." Certainly "the seed" of God is not going to produce "a plant" of sin! Only an antichrist would say otherwise.
- Protection for faithful brethren - The Christian soldier, although maybe occasionally isolated in the physical realm, is never alone and never without powerful protection from above. The NASB says, "But He who was born of God keeps him [the faithful saint] and the evil one does not touch him." Rotherham makes more sense: "Nay He keepeth him." Rephrasing it, God "keeps" or protects the one who has been born of God. Even though in the physical realm the child of God might be beaten, persecuted, jailed, or executed, he is still spiritually protected in the spiritual realm. The antichrists cannot ravage his soul, nor can Satan extract the saint from the hand of God!
As previously stressed, God did a tremendous amount of work to orchestrate the history of the world, and particularly of Israel. In the process, the Old Testament writings were produced, collected, and distributed to set the stage for Jesus to come to the world. In the first century, the witness to the life of Jesus was verified through the apostles, new testament prophets, and those who had the gifts, and the word spread all over the earth. Today, the number of New Testament manuscripts—over 5,000—establishes for the modern saint the truthfulness of the record. God, in short, has gone to great lengths to ensure the preservation of His word, and that the faithful saint of today might have the same security expressed to the first century saint by the apostle John. "We know that we are of God," emphasized the apostle, "and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19). The brother in Christ, child of God by adoption, new creation by the power of God, knows where he stands with God. Nothing else is significant!
“The World” and "The Evil One"
Jesus Christ, said the apostle Paul, "gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4). Ever since sin entered the world through Adam, earthly existence has been "this present evil age." Sometimes there are times of relative peace, and sometimes there are times of open warfare, but underneath the visible surface the collective corruption of man makes each age "this present evil age." This collective corruption is simply the accumulation of the individual corruption that takes place as each member of the human race chooses to commit sin, and therefore places himself under the dominion of the prince of darkness. Reminding saints of their lives before being in Christ, the apostle Paul noted: "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:1-2). There is no room for smugness on the part of any Christian; at one time he too was a part of the problem rather than being a part of the solution.
- "The world" - "The world" is a very broad term, thus occasionally making it difficult for the saint to determine what is "worldliness" and what is "holiness." Often it is not so much as "the thing" which is worldly or holy, but the perspective of the one using "the thing." Picture, for example, dinner for two: for one of those present, it is a holy time wherein God is being served and motives are pure (this one is being holy in all his behavior); for the other, the same meal is being used as a means pursuing an earthly lust. "The world," then filled with physical things, is primarily a spiritual concept having to do with those who use earthly things to fulfill some selfish and earthly purpose.
- "The evil one" - The "evil one" is a clear reference to Satan, the great deceiver and adversary. Leader of the rebellion in heaven, he is the one who brought temptation and destruction to earth. Jesus said, rightly and justly, that "the eternal fire" was prepared for the devil and his angels. But the "evil one" does not have physical form; he is called by the apostle Paul "the prince of the power of the air. Satan’s domain, then, is spiritual. So those who have been immersed into Christ have been "delivered from the domain of darkness" and have been transferred into "the kingdom of Christ" (Colossians 1:13-14). Since both the domain of darkness and the kingdom of Christ are spiritual entities, it follows that all who are not in the kingdom of Christ (excluding children) are in Satan’s domain. Those who are under Apollyon’s sway cannot in any sense voluntarily serve God nor can anything righteous be attributed to them. The gulf between the domain of darkness and the kingdom of Christ is immense and is impossible to cross by human effort alone. "The evil one" then holds people in the slavery of sin, with the concomitant misery, destruction, and futility of lives lived in darkness.
"We know that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one," including those destructive antichrists working in the first century congregations. Saints, by contrast, whose faith and obedience is based on what the word of God says, can say, "We know that we are of God." How blessed it is for brethren to be delivered "from this present evil age"! How blessed it is for Christians to be inside the kingdom of Christ. How blessed are those who know that "the evil one does not touch them." How blessed, indeed, are those who know that Jesus came in the flesh, lived a sinless life, died on the cross, was raised from the dead, and ascended to the power position on high. How blessed are those who as repentant individuals, confessed Christ as Lord, and were immersed into Him. How blessed, indeed, are those who are indwelt by "the blessing of Abraham"!!
Coming to "Understanding"
Jesus said, "If anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him" (John 11:10). The physical picture of someone stumbling around in the darkness because he can’t see where he is and what is around him is a great picture of the spiritual realm. When a person is in physical darkness, he knows it (unless he is blind, in which case he is in darkness all the time). But when a person is in spiritual darkness, he usually is not conscious that he is in that darkness. God, then, sent His Son into the world to "open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God" (Acts 26:18). Thus the Light of Christ is described as shining in the darkness, but that which stays in darkness does not comprehend the Light.
- God’s educational program - Jesus’ command is to "go and make disciples of all the nations" (Matthew 28:19). The job of the saints, then, is to go out and enroll people in the school of Christ, and begin teaching them the basics and educate them so that they can become educators themselves. By this means, those who are total heathens can begin at the beginning and can eventually come "to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13).
- Coming of Christ into the world - The entrance of King Jesus to this world, His coming as a humble and sacrificing bond-servant, is a key eye-opener for turning people from darkness to light. The apostle Paul described it in these terms, calling the event the appearing of "the kindness of God our Savior and His love of mankind" (Titus 3:4). The apostle John speaks thusly, "And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding" (1 John 5:20). Yes, He came, and through the discipling process which He instituted, true saints do have understanding!
- Purpose of His coming - All the way through the first epistle, the apostle John puts a tremendous emphasis on "knowing." "By this we know that we abide in Him," he had earlier stated, "and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit" (1 John 4:13). These statements are direct shots at the antichrist Gnostics working in those early congregations, who claimed as "Gnostics" (which means "those who know") to have inside information in excess of that which was given to the apostles. The ones who really had "knowledge" were the apostles and those who listened to the apostles. "We are from God," John had emphasized, and "he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us" (1 John 4:6). The Son of God, then, through revelation given to the apostles, "has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true." The ultimate purpose of the "knowledge" is to "know Him."
The antichrists claimed to have more knowledge than the apostles, but in fact had plunged into the darkness. The true saints, following the teaching of the apostle John and the others, were the ones who were in good standing with the Almighty. They are described as "in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ." By virtue of their belief in the gospel and obedience in immersion into Christ, they could make the claim that would stand in the courts of heaven that they were "in Christ." By being "in Him who is true" they had access to all the blessings found "in Christ" as listed in the New Testament writings, to know Him who is true and to be in Him who is true. "This is the true God and eternal life." Amen!
"Guard Yourselves from Idols"
God’s long war against idolatry did not end with the resurrection and ascension of Christ. It continues, and will continue, until Jesus comes again. As John closes his first epistle, he makes sweeping statements about how God has given saints understanding (through what is written by the New Testament prophets and the apostles) that "we might know Him who is true," and "we are in Him who is true." This understanding of Jesus Christ, given in the complete revelation of the word of God, clearly establishes that "God is light" and "God is love." Knowing this God and being in Him in Jesus Christ make it possible for the saint to have fellowship with Him who is, who was, and who is to come. "This is the true God and eternal life." After completing these great encompassing statements, the apostle closes with these abrupt words: "Little children, guard yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21). God’s long war against idolatry did not end with the resurrection and ascension of Christ!
- Work of the antichrists - The underlying work of the antichrists in the first century congregations was to turn saints away from the true Christ. The false Christ that these teachers and preachers were presenting was a Jesus who did not come in a physical body and therefore did not physically rise from the dead. The corollaries to these basic propositions are that Christians’ bodies are sinful and that Christians therefore are locked into lives of sin. Because concepts, rightly or wrongly held, direct people’s thinking, the effect of the antichrist doctrine was that people in the church would be sinful, fleshly, worldly, hateful, and divisive (to name just a few characteristics). Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God, these antichrists and their followers would be attacking and putting pressure on the true saints to compromise their doctrine and their lifestyles.
- False Christs - It is possible, in the words of the apostle Paul, for someone to preach "another Jesus," talk about "another gospel," and speak of "receiving another Spirit" (2 Corinthians 11:4). Even though the same terminology is deceptively used, this "other Jesus" is not the Jesus of the Bible, and therefore is an idol raised up against the knowledge that God has graciously imparted through His word. As John closes his first epistle, he thus speaks in terms of "we know Him who is true." He says, referring to God, "we are in Him who is true," giving clarifying information as a parallel instructive thought, "in His Son Jesus Christ." Jesus Christ as revealed in the scripture is therefore the true God. "This is the true God," John pointedly states, adding, "and eternal life." His final words seem abrupt apart from the background of the long war against Satan’s trickery of moving people into worshiping idols. But the false Christ portrayed by the antichrists was such an idol, although without physical form. "Little children," is John’s earnest exhortation, "guard yourselves from idols."
- The long war against idolatry is not over. A "Jesus" whose name is used at a sprinkling (for "baptism") ceremony is not the Jesus of the Bible. A "Jesus" who is "accepted into the heart" by prayer is not the Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus of the Bible is the One that the prospective saint is "immersed into." The Jesus of the Bible is the One who now dwells in the heart of the saint, being described as "receiving the Holy Spirit" in Acts 2:38. Inside what are called "churches of Christ" is a "Jesus" similar to the antichrists of the first century. This "Jesus" had a body that was different from ours, and because He was different was why "He didn’t sin" and why "we will continue to do so." But the scripture is clear and emphatic: "He had to be made like His brethren in all things" (Hebrews 2:17). This includes the point that He was "tempted in all things as we are"; He was one hundred per cent human!. Yet "He was without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). He thus left us an example that we should walk in His footsteps (1 Peter 2:21). "My little children," is John’s pleading, "I am writing these things to you that you may not sin" (1 John 2:1). The abrupt warning of the apostle John still stands: "Little children, guard yourselves from idols."
The "catholic" epistles of the apostle John ("catholic" because they are addressed ultimately to the "church at large") emphasize "truth." This is certainly true of the second epistle just as it was with the first. John opens his first epistle describing how he and the other apostles beheld the Word with their eyes and handled Him with their hands—they were eyewitness to the truth that Jesus came to earth in a physical body. He emphasized that the saints could know the truth, stating "We shall know by this that we are of the truth" (1 John 3:19). He warned about the devil and false teachers, exhorting the saints to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God"; modern saints test the teachings against the inspired and complete word of God. The apostle closed the first letter talking about "we know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true." This, he said, "is the true God and eternal life" (1 John 5:20). The first epistle clearly emphasized "truth." Exposing the Gnostic/antichrists working in the first century church continues as part of the theme in the second epistle, as well as setting forth "the truth."
- The lady and her children - The opening of the epistle is a little bit enigmatic. "The elder," says John of himself, "to the chosen lady and her children..." (2 John 1:1). While it might have been written to a certain Christian lady, the internal language indicates that it is a much broader epistle in scope than that of one that would be addressed to a single person. John also indicates that he can’t say everything he would like to say in print, thus indicating that he is protecting the identity of his recipient. The "lady and her children" thus most likely represents an unnamed congregation, with the content to be distributed to other sister congregations as well.
- The truth - The truth of the gospel of Christ was being attacked in the late first century churches by antichrist elements within, those who claimed that Jesus did not come in a physical body and who therefore pushed all kinds of concomitant false doctrine as well. John speaks to "the lady" and "her children." The "children" are the new people continually brought into the body of Christ by the preaching of the true gospel rather than a false one. John thus says, "whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever" (2 John 1:1-2).
- Truth seekers - The scripture is designed to reach those who love the truth, wherever they be on this planet, and whatever their background or upbringing. In fact, God sends "a deluding influence" down through the ranks of earth, so that those who are enemies of the truth will be separated from those who "love the truth" (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). Those who love the truth have to fight for it, and have to fight to maintain it. Hence those who love the truth love others who love the truth; they are soldiers in the same army fighting for the same goal. And it is the only army that counts, and it is the only goal that counts.
The devil, of course, is the great liar and deceiver, and is tremendously opposed to the truth. Since the whole world lies in the power of this evil one, the world itself is not only full of lies but is set up so that the truth gets suppressed, ridiculed, and shunted aside. Truth seekers have to overcome all this opposition. They thus have brotherhood-bonding with all those who have fought through those same battles. The churches at the close of the first century were being battered by the Gnostic influences, and need the encouragement from the apostle John. He reassures them that "the truth which abides in us" will be "with us forever." His opening to this short epistle thus contains this expression of joy from John: "I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth" (2 John 1:4). Would that this would be his analysis today!!
Truth and Love
Only "in Christ" are found all the spiritual blessings of God. Listen to these woeful words as the apostle Paul described the lost condition of the Gentiles before they entered "into Christ" in their immersions: "You were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12). "There is," said Paul in another place, "no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). The problem, of course, is that there is plenty of condemnation for those who are not in Christ Jesus. The forces of darkness, including the Gnostic antichrists working in the latter first century churches, always try to keep a person from entering into Christ, or, failing that, to get the saints off track in some way so that they lose their salvation. The apostle John, conscious of this raging warfare, encourages the brethren who will read this epistle.
- Big blessings - It is nice to have a roof under which to sleep, or clothing to wear. As important as those physical blessings are, they are temporal, and pale in comparison to the spiritual blessings offered by God to those who are in Christ. "Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us," John positively points out to the faithful brethren fighting off the antichrist forces; there is no grace, mercy, and peace for enemies of the cross (2 John 1:3). "Grace" is that huge umbrella word that includes all that God gives, but especially His provision for the saint to lay aside the old self and walk in newness of life, strengthened and encouraged by the indwelling Spirit and by fellowship with the brethren. "Mercy" is the Just One’s willingness to suspend His judgments for the sake of those who are "in Christ" and who have Jesus as their Advocate. "Peace" is especially focused on the inner sense of being at one with God, having a clean conscience offered through the gospel of Christ and with all the former inner turmoil gone. None of these can be purchased by the individual; they were purchased by Jesus Christ Himself by His offering of His body on the cross, and by His sprinkled blood offered in heaven itself. These faithful brethren of the first century obtained these by faith and obedience to the gospel, and John is letting them know that these same blessings will continue so long as they do not fall pray to the deceiving spirits working inside the early church.
- The truth - The truth of the gospel of Christ was being attacked in the late first century churches by antichrist elements within, those who claimed that Jesus did not come in a physical body and who therefore pushed all kinds of concomitant false doctrine as well. John speaks to "the lady" and "her children." The "children" are the new people continually brought into the body of Christ by the preaching of the true gospel rather than a false one. John thus says, "whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever" (2 John 1:1-2).
- It is always going to come back to the core elements of truth and love. Only the truth will set people free, and the message of truth has to be delivered in love. "Who is the liar," John queried in his first epistle, "but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ?" (1 John 2:22). Liars are obviously not delivering the truth, and are in fact the ones who "hate," regardless of how smiling are their countenances. Modern saints need to be able to detect modern antichrists working among the congregations; regardless of how personable they may be, they are deceivers and working the devil’s plan for side-tracking and destroying the saint. Grace, mercy, and peace come "in truth and love." And all brethren who stand steadfast, preaching the truth and supporting those who preach the truth, will be honored by Jesus Himself on Judgment Day.
The "New Commandment" Revisited
Occasionally brethren need to be reminded of Jesus’ statement while on His earthly sojourn: "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled" (Luke 12:49). He explained that He still had to undergo the immersion of suffering, which would be followed by the general upheaval which accompanies the gospel because of men’s rejection of its terms. "Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth?" was His query. "I tell you, no, but rather division" (Luke 12:51). The forward movement of the gospel is always accompanied by much friction. Hence it was, in the congregations at the close of the first century, that the antichrist movement was wreaking havoc and putting great pressure on the true Christians. "I was very glad," therefore says John, "to find some of your children walking in truth" (2 John 1:4). The "children" are the brethren, and the "lady" is the congregation to which this epistle is delivered. What is the "bottom line" motivation for the brethren to walk in truth? John includes the point in concluding the sentence: "just as we have received commandment to do so from the Father." "Abba," (Dad), expects that the kids will "walk in truth" regardless of pressure.
- The commandment - Jesus upgraded the concept of "loving your neighbor" to "loving your brother in the same way as ‘I have loved you.’ " This "new love" is sacrificial, patient, positive, and instructive. It always speaks "truth," and it also exposes lies. The first century brethren, then, were not only in the midst of fighting for their own spiritual lives but also fighting for the preservation of their congregations, and were going to have to speak the truth in love. "And now I ask you," pleads the apostle, "not as writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another" (2 John 1:5). Patient, persistent, promotion of the truth, exhibiting the character of Christ in all respects—that’s the only solution which could salvage the maximum number of brethren caught in the midst of this.
- Walk in the commandment - The brethren are not only to "walk in truth," but they are also to walk in love. "And this is love," John reiterates, "that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it" (2 John 1:6). The apostle keeps taking the brethren back to "the beginning," back to the first principles. The first words of the first epistle are: "What was from the beginning..." (1 John 1:1). Jesus Christ, come initially in the flesh, later glorified, was the manifestation of life and love. The apostles not only witnessed Jesus in the flesh, but they witnessed "love" and "truth" in action. This, adverts the apostle, is that "which we have had from the beginning." This commandment was passed on to all disciples of Jesus Christ, and thus John could say that it was also what "you have heard from the beginning." The first and primary principle is love for all mankind, exhibited in speaking the truth.
Biblical love requires an uncompromising stand for the truth. False doctrine, similar to lying, comes from the ultimate liar and deceiver, Satan himself. Satan is aggressive, and unleashes upon the uncompromising saint every force in his arsenal. Malicious gossip, threats and imprisonments, beatings and misrepresentation … and much more are used to shove the saint off his track of walking in the commandment of love. But the scripture is there to encourage the sometimes battered child of faith: "Therefore, take up the full armor of God," exhorted the apostle Paul, "that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm" (Ephesians 6:13). Stand firm, brethren, stand firm!! And walk in the commandment!!
Page after page of the new covenant writings are lined with positive, uplifting encouragement, but those are interspersed with tremendous warnings. The road the saint travels on his way to what the apostle Peter called "the eternal kingdom" (2 Peter 1:11) is a tortuous one, with many spiritual pitfalls and traps along the way. The disciple of Christ has divine help on this journey, but he must walk by faith and not allow himself to be turned aside by temptations or deceptions. It is his responsibility to sift and sort the messages coming at him, as the apostle John had warned in his earlier epistle: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). The positive encouragements and teachings of the scriptures are there, encouraging the saint to follow the upward call of God. But the warnings are there also, and thus must be carefully heeded.
- Deceivers - The ultimate deceiver is Satan himself. "Satan," averred Paul, "disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14). The devil’s agents, then, often work inside the church as well as in the world, seeking to draw away disciples after them. "It is not surprising," the apostle Paul added, "if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness" (2 Corinthians 11:15). The apostle John encountered a slightly different twist from the false doctrines with which the apostle Paul dealt. But the ultimate deceiver and his agents were still the same ones at work. "For many deceivers have gone out into the world," John again animadverts, "those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh" (2 John 1:7). This time there is a flat-out denial that Jesus even had a body! Of course the Lord anticipated the coming of such antichrists; even after His resurrection, He appealed to the disciples present at one of His early appearances. "Touch Me and see," was His invitation, "for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have" (Luke 24:39). He was not merely an apparition, even after His resurrection! The deceivers of John’s day, greatly influenced by pagan Greek philosophy, denied the physicality of Jesus’ presence during the years of His earthly sojourn. "This," emphasizes John, "is the deceiver and the antichrist."
- Watch yourselves! - The antichrist doctrines (and modern variations) have serious and destructive subtleties. The reason that the antichrists maintained that Jesus did not have a body was their belief that anything in the material realm is flawed. Since He was not flawed, therefore He did not have a body. Mankind in general and thus saints in particular have bodies; therefore they are permanently flawed, the reasoning goes. And since they are permanently flawed, they will always go on sinning (thus really held captive by Satan to do his will). It is easy to see, when the reasoning is clearly brought out, why Satan really promotes these antichrist doctrines. His agents, often working inside the church, are deceivers themselves, and with the appearance of righteousness doing the devil’s work. "Watch yourselves," John says (2 John 1:8).
If a disciple of Christ were to lose his moorings, and be pulled into the tide of this antichrist philosophy, he would lose his salvation. "Watch yourselves," is indeed the warning, "that you might not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward." The apostle is concerned about all the brethren. He knows that anyone who once walked with Christ but who somehow gets imbued with this "new teaching," will lose that salvation, for which proclamation John personally suffered and bled. He truly loved the brethren, and he knew the seriousness of the doctrinal challenge facing the early church. His opening appeal in his first epistle is particularly poignant here: "What we [apostles] have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). The severe warning here in the second epistle is for the brethren to maintain that fellowship with John, and therefore with the Lord, and to resist pressures within the congregation.
A Dangerous Movement Within
Most of the false doctrinal issues that the apostle Paul and others dealt with were doctrines that were from outside the early church. The issue of the law of Moses and its relationship to the new covenant teaching was from outside; it was a holdover from the fact that most of the early Christians were first Jewish. That this pressure was from outside is evident in one of Paul’s statements to the Galatian Christians over the issue of compelling those of Gentile background to be circumcised and keep the Law: "Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh," said he of those of Jewish background being pressured by Jewish society, "try to compel you to be circumcised, simply that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ" (Galatians 6:12). But the antichrist movement that the apostle John is trying to forestall is a movement that came from within the church, which presented a little different set of challenges. Because it was a movement that began within, those who were a part of it tended to get the brethren off track and to pull those early congregations apart. Commenting on this in his first epistle, John had noted, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us" (1 John 2:19). They were within, but they went out and went on.
- Going too far - In writing to "the chosen lady," the apostle is really working hard to warn the brethren as to the danger of these antichrist doctrines, and what is the end for those who promote them. "Watch yourselves," he had stated, "that you may receive a full reward" (2 John 1:8). He then discusses the antichrists themselves, who had started inside the church of the Lord. "Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God" (2 John 1:9). When these people backed away from the basic teachings concerning Christ—that He came in the flesh, died a physical death on the cross, and was bodily raised from the dead—they separated themselves from any fellowship they might have had with the Father. What a horrible eternal loss!!
- Encouragement - The pressures on the true brethren to bend were real, intense, and persistent. How encouraging, then, these words from the apostle, "the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son." Properly understood, there is no greater blessing than to be in fellowship with the Father and the Son.
- How the saint should handle himself - The real question arises, "How do I conduct myself when I encounter those who have gone out from us as antichrists?" These charlatans were, in accordance with a clearly dishonest nature and a driving agenda, working on the faithful brethren to get them to come over to participate in their false doctrine. "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching [solid doctrine]," says the apostle John and the Holy Spirit, "do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds" (2 John 1:10-11). That possibly seems brutal and running counter to social norms, but that is the instruction of the Holy Spirit Himself.
The apostle would like to write more on the subject for the brethren, but there apparently is a lot of pressure on the saints, and what he has to say, he needs to say in person. "Having many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that your joy may be made full. The children of your chosen sister greet you" (2 John 1:12-13). He looks forward to greeting the brethren personally, and he knows these battered saints will likewise be happy to see him as well. And the letter closes with greetings from what is apparently a sister congregation.
Spiritual Prosperity and Truth
All sound doctrine is truth, and is based on truth. Satan’s agenda, as part of his warfare against God, is against truth. Jesus, as "the way, the truth, and the life," was contested by the devil and his forces at every turn. But the resurrection triumphed over the crucifixion, and truth could not be kept in a grave. Similarly, the church, also known as "the Way," faced tremendous opposition and encountered much confusion, from the time of her beginning as recorded in Acts chapter two through the close of her recorded history in the new covenant writings. The epistles of John give us a glimpse of the antichrist philosophy and the throes of confusion it caused the church. We moderns can sense the intense concern the apostle had for the purity of her doctrine and preservation of her love for truth, for the brethren, and for the lost. In particular, the third epistle, directed to the faithful brother Gaius, gives us a personal look at some of the inner workings of the congregations as they fended off the Gnostic/antichrists of the late first century AD.
- Opening greeting - The apostle John, writing to his personal friend, disciple, and brother in Christ, uses an unusual greeting. Instead of "grace and peace," or "grace, mercy, and peace," he introduces himself and then greets this beloved man in a way no other letter recorded in the New Testament does. "The elder," he opens, "to the beloved Gaius, who I love in truth" (3 John 1:1). The apostle, like Peter, describes himself as an elder. While Peter’s description himself as "a fellow elder" is very clear (1 Peter 5:1), John’s description may be that he is simply commenting on his personal age, which is probably somewhere near ninety at this point. But even in his greeting, he comes back to "truth"—"whom I love in truth." Then comes the unusual part: "Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers" (3 John 1:2). The apostle clearly believes that Gaius is on the right spiritual path and doing well. John then prays for the good brother’s physical health. This lets saints know that it is good to pray for the good health of brethren, that they may be productive in the vineyard of the Lord, where good health is necessary in order for the labor to get done. The "elder" also prays for Gaius’ physical prosperity. This makes sense also, for the Lord provides finances and other resources for the spread of the gospel through the prosperity of faithful brethren.
- Walking in truth - By the latter part of the first century, the devil’s forces had been able to set up battlements and defenses against the church of God and the apostles’ doctrine. The forces of unrepentant Jews turned against her early on. In addition, some were already setting themselves up as "bishops" over the elders of local congregations, and were perverting the structure of the church. And now, arising within the church itself were the antichrists, denying that Jesus came in the flesh with all the concomitant destruction that comes with that set of false doctrines. Even Rome itself was beginning to turn on Christianity. John, who lived longer than other apostles had seen all this. "For I was very glad," he exudes, "when brethren came and bore witness to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth" (3 John 1:3). How exciting for John to see his disciple demonstrate pure motives, fend off all the pressures and temptations, and move forward against all persecution, opposition, and confusion!
John, the aged, from the time he left his fishing net behind at Bethsaida of Galilee, spent his entire life seeking and saving the lost and fighting to preserve the churches of the first century. "I have no greater joy than this," is his expression, "to hear of my children walking in truth" (3 John 1:4). John had spread the seed of the word of God on a lot of rocky soil in his day, and had seen the weeds choke out many who had so much potential. But what joy he had in knowing that his brother and spiritual child Gaius was "good soil," who was bearing fruit for the Lord!
Supporting Faithful Teachers and Preachers
The word of God is spread by preaching and teaching. "God was well-pleased," said Paul, "through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (1 Corinthians 1:21). Hence we see in the early church (sometimes called the primitive church, meaning "first, or primal") many who traveled preaching and teaching in addition to the apostles. For example, Luke recorded how some came into the regions of Cyprus and Phoenicia. "So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone" (Acts 11:19). Others soon followed, bringing the gospel message to the first significant number of Gentiles to be brought into the fold of Christ. But it is absolutely critical that this message be the total truth; an "adulterated" message is pure poison. With Gnostic antichrists of the apostle John’s time battering on the walls of truth, it would be really important for the brethren to know who was preaching the true gospel, and who was preaching a twisted gospel. Furthermore, it would be of major importance to support in a financial way those brave men who would teach the whole truth about the Christ and not be swayed by the pressures of the day.
- Gaius’ faithfully helping - Gaius was not only standing firmly for the gospel of Christ against the antichrist movement, but he was helping those who proclaimed the true gospel. "Beloved," is John’s affectionate sub-greeting, "you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, especially when they are strangers" (3 John 1:5). The "brethren" here are the traveling preachers and teachers who, in a sense, are strangers in that they are not local brethren and therefore not necessarily previously known by helpful supporters such as Gaius.
- Testifying of Gaius’ love - The apostle John would have had many connections due to his apostleship and his work in God’s "vineyard" for a period amounting to about 60 years by this point, and he clearly has a good communication network. He knows, then, that many of these traveling teachers and preachers "bear witness to your love before the church," and the apostle encourages Gaius to continue his efforts in these words: "and you will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God" (3 John 1:6). The statement "in a manner worthy of God" is one to arrest the reader’s attention. The preaching/teaching brethren are to be provided for in a generous rather than a tight-fisted way.
- Why "they went out" - When saints sincerely and deeply process the gospel, one of the conclusions to which they come is how "lost" the world is. This realization motivates them to do everything they can to spread the word, to broadcast it as the old-time farmer spread seed on the ground by hand. The apostle John knows of these brethren in the late first century, and comments to Gaius, "For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles" (3 John 1:7). Again, an interesting expression from the aged apostle, "for the sake of the Name." The "Name" is going to be the great Yahweh God, revealed through Jesus Christ. All the way through the scriptures, God says He is doing things "to vindicate the holiness of My great name" (Ezekiel 36:23). Even the apostle Paul noted that the apostles’ purpose was "to bring about the obedience of faith among the Gentiles, for His name’s sake" (Romans 1:6).
Those who demonstrated as trustworthy workers for the Lord are worthy of support. These men of whom John speaks were focused on saving the Gentiles (not using them as "cash-cows") so they did not accept anything from those whom they were trying to convert. John rightly exhorts Gaius and anyone else reading this epistle. "Therefore we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers with the truth" (3 John 1:8). It’s always about the truth. Those who preach and those who support are "fellow workers with the truth." May God continue to bless this partnership!!
The Deeds of Diotrephes
There were times in the Biblically recorded history of the church when things were peaceful. After the immersion/conversion of Saul of Tarsus, there was some relaxation from the persecution in which he was the driving force. Luke the physician and inspired historian noted, "So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase" (Acts 9:31). Because those times were rare, when they happened, the scripture duly makes its annotation. Generally, however, there were persecutions without and challenges within. And when the apostle John was writing his epistles, the antichrist movement within was creating chaos and many were being pulled into the false doctrines of the antichrist philosophy. It should have been peaceful, but it wasn’t.
- "Does not accept what we say" - In this letter addressed to Gaius, who was clearly a leader in a local church, John comments on an internal situation in the congregation. "I wrote something to the church," he informs the faithful brother, "but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say" (3 John 1:9). Diotrephes had managed to catapult himself into a position of leadership inside that congregation, and was not about to listen to John or any of the other people who would teach sound doctrine. The conclusion to be drawn is that Diotrephes was teaching false doctrine, and therefore one of the antichrist opposition against which the apostle was having to engage so ferociously.
- Calling out the opposition - The apostles, during their time with Jesus while He was still on earth, ended up being trained and tested men. John, now being about another sixty years tested and experienced, in true love and concern for the souls of the saints, was not about to be intimidated by such as Diotrephes. "For this reason," John adverts, referring to Diotrephes’ refusal to listen to doctrine and instruction from the apostle, "if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words…" (3 John 1:10). Moderns, through this interchange, get a glimpse into the workings of the antichrist opposition. They were engaged in slander, using a "win at any cost" approach in shutting down the apostles’ doctrine and imposing their own twisted views on the congregations. John continues, "and not satisfied with this, neither does he himself receive the brethren, and he forbids those who desire to do so, and puts them out of the church." Diotrephes was engaged in a "scorched earth policy" of shutting down all contact with those who would teach the brethren the true gospel, and step-by-step imposing his antichrist views on the remaining congregation. The ones who still held forth for the truth of the ancient gospel were being expelled!
The battle of goodness, truth, and light against the forces of evil, lies, and darkness is intense, and will be ongoing until the return of the glorious Christ. The brethren then, and hence the brethren now, are exhorted, "Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good" (3 John 1:11). God’s program of "truth" cannot advance by the use of evil techniques. Saints thus have always been exhorted to do what is right regardless of how hopeless it may seem. "Do not be overcome with evil," was the apostle Paul’s eternal exhortation, "but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). "Good" will eventually overpower "evil." The apostle John superadds, "The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God."
John said that when he came to "the church," he would call attention to the deeds of Diotrephes. For all that individual’s pretense, he was in fact an evil, evil man using "wicked words" and unjustly accusing John and those working with him. The antichrists then and now were men "of flesh," opposed to the doctrines which produce practicing righteousness, and deeply hostile toward God, regardless of the language in which they attempted to cloak their agenda. The exhortation is for brethren to "imitate good." It can be done!!
Standing for the Truth
There are, in the midst of difficult times, those who will stand up for the truth. The opposition recognizes that their voices must not be heard, that they must be ridiculed or intimidated into silence. Or, failing that, they must be eliminated. A look at the history of the church as recorded in the word of God shows that all those techniques were used by enemies of the gospel. So while the apostle John does not detail those types of challenges as he talks about the Gnostic antichrist movement, the above-mentioned things would have been ongoing. He does point out that one Diotrephes was falsely accusing John and those who worked with him, and putting major roadblocks in front of those who would preach and teach the true gospel of God. He also commends men who would take a stand for truth and righteousness, and names Demetrius as one of those.
- Demetrius - The apostle, in writing to Gaius, is willing to name names, pointing out Diotrephes as a bad guy, and Demetrius as a good guy. "Demetrius," says he, "has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself" (3 John 1:12). What a positive statement, to be recorded and read for all eternity!! Truth is of utmost importance to God, and those who stand for that truth will be likewise commended. John adds his statement, speaking for himself and his trusted fellow workers, "We also bear witness, and you know that our witness is true." In the midst of the antichrist storm battering the church, Gaius could trust Demetrius.
- Proof of pressure - There were many evil people working inside the church and promoting rebellion against the faith "once delivered." Even the apostle has to be careful, and cannot write what he would like to write in a letter that might be read by wrong people. "I had many things to write to you," he states, "but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face" (3 John 1:13-14). There were many pressures on John as he works assiduously on behalf of the congregations and does everything he can to expose the errors and hypocrisy of the antichrists and their adherents.
- Closing well-wishes - As the apostle comes to the end in this letter to his friend and brother-in-Christ Gaius, he makes a fairly standard and yet personal closing. "Peace be to you," he writes. This is not a mere formality; he really earnestly desires that peace from God for Gaius. "The friends greet you," he adds, knowing that Gaius would know who those were. And in return, John asks for greetings from himself to the faithful brethren where Gaius assembled. "Greet the friends by name." And thus ends the epistle…
The epistles of John give modern saints a look at the battles the church was facing at the closing decade of the first century AD. In the days of Peter and Paul, the church faced major problems from the attempts of the Judaizers at injecting the Law of Moses into the new wineskin of the new covenant. This effort to function by "law" had to be opposed so the system of "faith" could be shown to be the only system that would transform man from the inside out and bring peace and stability to those congregations. But the apostle John is writing from a time twenty plus years after Peter and Paul passed from the earthly scene, and he now has to deal with the element of "lawlessness" at work within the congregations. Specifically, this lawlessness manifested itself in the antichrist doctrines, beginning with the core concept that Jesus did not come in the flesh. This provided the excuse for rebellious men, operating under the cover of "Christianity," to follow the lusts of the flesh, to follow the lust of the eyes, and arrogantly to function within the sphere of their "boastful pride of life." These John exposes.
The epistles ultimately are about truth and love, and the battle is against the forces of darkness whose wish is to crush that message. Love is transmitted by the carrier of truth, and when truth is destroyed or suppressed, then the love of God remains uncommunicated. May modern saints pick up the torch, and continue to "speak the truth in love" and to communicate the love through truth.