67. Idols?

Meditations in 1 John : 67 : Idols?worship, 

1 John  5:21    Dear children, keep yourselves from idols

Of all the apparently strange ways to conclude a letter, this appears the most strange. It is short, abrupt and apparently right out of the blue – no warning of it at all! So why should John finish with such a command?

The answer is given by a quote from a Christian historian I recently came across when he wrote about the early church: “Though the Christianity of the first several centuries was merely one among many mystery religions — it differed from all other devotions in requiring of its adherents a loyalty not only devout but exclusive. The votaries of Dionysus, Cybele and Attis, Isis and Osiris, Sabazius, Mithras, or any of the other pagan savior deities were not obliged to derogate or deny the power or holiness of other gods, or to remain totally aloof from their rites or temples; they merely acquired a new, perhaps dominant, but in no sense solitary, god or goddess to adore. Only the Christian mystery demanded of the convert an absolute commitment to one God and a denial of all others.”

Within that quote he names a number of ‘gods’ or objects of worship that were commonly worshipped in the world of the early centuries of the Christian Church, through ‘religions’ that competed in the superstitious mind of the day. The writer of that quote was conveying the fact that all these religions and gods existed and happily existed alongside each other and were quite happy if you worshipped a whole variety of them. That was until you came to Christianity which stood out in the world’s ‘faiths’ as demanding allegiance to it and to the One True God alone.

This takes its roots right back into the early history of Israel when the Lord gave them the Ten Commandments (never rescinded or replaced) which included: You shall have no other gods besides me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” (Ex 20:3-5). For a simple answer to the question, “Why were these commands included?” we need only look at the verses we’ve just previously considered which included, “that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God.” (1 Jn 5:20). In other words, only the One we find revealed in the Bible is God and there are no others. Idols are merely man-made false representations of ‘gods’ that don’t exist.

Often the writings of the prophets focused on this. Isaiah wrote: “Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing.” (Isa 41:22-24). That is just one of a number of instances in the prophetic writings that derides idols and gods. They don’t exist except as a figment of your imagination, is the message of the prophets, so stop wasting your time making idols and worshipping things that don’t exist. Instead worship the One True God.

But still, in the world of John’s day they worshipped idols and superstition ran rife. The thing about an idol was that you could see it and it acted as a focus of your worship and was thus a great temptation. “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols,”  was John’s last call to his scattered flock.

Does such a call have any relevance to us today?  Well if we consider ‘an idol’ in more general terms, the answer has got to be yes. An idol is anything or anyone we esteem and lift up in our estimation and which has influence on us and which we allow to direct us (and that we ultimately ‘worship’.). Thus materialistic affluence and the pursuit thereof is clearly an idol of many. Ambition, the desire to achieve great things for oneself regardless of what it takes, is another. Superstars or ‘celebrities’ may be genuine idols for the more gullible. An idol thus becomes anything which detracts from God, and that competes with God for His lordship. It is anything that you put before the Lord and in that sense there may be many things in the modern world that compete.  Thus John’s call is still valid today.

To slightly change the words of the last line of that quote I used earlier, Only the Christian faith demands of the convert an absolute commitment to one God and a denial of all others.  That is just as true today as it was two thousand years ago. And the reason? It’s what John has been talking about throughout his letter: we have knowledge of One who is supreme and unique and He has revealed Himself to us through His Son, Jesus Christ, and through him we have a salvation which can be gained through no other means, so don’t look elsewhere. As the psalmist wrote for his day, Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” (Psa 20:7) THAT is wisdom and it is the wisdom that comes through John’s letter again and again. May we hold firmly to it!  Amen?  Amen!

66. He who is True

Meditations in 1 John : 66 : He who is True

1 John  5:20    We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

Every now and then in Scripture gems stand out, verses or phrases or words that leap out with great significance. Our verse above is one such hidden gem, tucked away at the end of this letter where it is probably missed by most. All around the world, world religions strive to make sense of their understanding of the unseen world. Through the centuries of human history, communities have wondered about and then worshipped ‘gods’, the conclusions of their superstitious wonderings. Were there ‘powers’, personal powers that influenced the world?  Today we struggle to understand the powers of El Nina or El Nino in the Pacific Ocean but still don’t understand the causes. One God, many gods, an impersonal force, or no God or gods? What is true? What is real? Who or what is there, or is there nobody? Such have been the questions throughout human history.

And then Jesus Christ came into the environment of Israel in history, an environment that already had history with Jehovah, the One Creator God, a God to be worshipped through the means of sacrifices, a God at a distance, a God who knew everything and was all powerful and everywhere. In a whole variety of ways – words and works – Jesus declared himself to be the Son of God, THE unique, one and only Son of God. We look at his words, we look at his works and we look at his life, death and resurrection and we marvel and wonder, and those who have not got such strong personal prejudices as to be blinded, see and realise that this is true. This one person was who he said he was.

John’s starting point here is, “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding.”  We have knowledge – that which we just spoke about above – and that knowledge brings us understanding; yes this the Son of God, yes this is a true reflection of God, God showing Himself to us in ways that we can understand and cope with. This is like me taking a part of me and turning it into an ant to communicate with ants. That, of course, is impossible, but God is God and can do all things, and so He’s come in human form, the form of a man, and lived and spoken and acted into our world to show us the sort of being that He is. To our total surprise He is completely for us: “News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them.” (Mt 4:24)  He didn’t write them off, he didn’t reject them, he didn’t chastise them for living such godless lives that they got sick and demon possessed – he healed them!

Now within this gem of a verse comes a gem in its own right: “so that we may know him who is true.”  Remember what we pondered on earlier, about mankind’s seeking for what or who is true?  Jesus is true, Jesus is real. Most of us put on a face, we pretend to be something but Jesus was exactly who you see in the Scriptures, the unique, loving Son of God. Do you remember Jesus’ description of Nathaniel: “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” (Jn 1:47)  Likewise there was nothing false in Jesus. He was not pretending to be someone or something that he wasn’t. When we look at Jesus in the Gospels we see the unique Son of God, exactly as he is.

And then John makes it even more clear: “And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ.” So when he said before, “we may know him who is true,” we might have been confused about the ‘him’ because, we might have reasoned, surely there is only one who is absolutely true – God.  I’m speaking about Jesus, John says to remove any doubt and then comes his climax, the climax of this letter, the climax of the whole Bible even: “He is the true God and eternal life.” 

Wow! Absolutely no doubts there. He, Jesus, is the true God. Take it in word by word:

  • THE true God, i.e. the one and only One.
  • The TRUE God.  You need have no doubts about Him; there is nothing false or pretend in Him.
  • The true GOD.  THIS IS God, the one and only Creator God, the all-knowing, all-powerful One, who is loving, compassionate, forgiving, the One who is for us.

This is who Jesus is! He’s not merely a carpenter of Nazareth. He’s not merely a good teacher. He’s not merely a miracle worker. He is the Son of God, He is God!  That is the climax of the Biblical revelation!  He is God and He has come to us to redeem us from our sins. Hallelujah!

65. Freedom

Meditations in 1 John : 65 : Freedom

1 John  5:18-19    We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

Perhaps one of the reasons that cynical unbelievers reject the Gospel and the teachings of the New Testament is that it is so explicit in its revelation, and it is ‘revelation’ for we could neither know it nor teach it if it had not been revealed by God. The other thing about it, which is often missed, is that it answers the questions of the world and, in fact, without it these questions go unanswered, such questions as what is evil, why is there evil in the world and why do we need laws to protect the poor and weak, why do people do wrong, and why are people self-centred?

These questions respond to a state of affairs in the existence of life on this world that is highly questionable. In personal terms, why is it that I have aspirations to be good yet so often fail to be so? As the apostle Paul wrote, I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Rom 7:15) and “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:18,19) This doing evil that he spoke about is what the Bible calls ‘Sin’, that propensity to be self-centred and godless resulting in wrong living, resulting in individual sins, individual acts of wrong doing and that, we find, we are stuck with and cannot break away from. Why, the earnest seeker might ask, am I like that? Why is life like this?

It is to these questions that the Bible speaks and explains we are all sinners because we were born tainted with this propensity called Sin. It was because of this that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came and died on the Cross to pay the punishment for our wrong doing and offer us a new way of life as children of God empowered by God’s Holy Spirit. Paul again described this: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins,” (Col 1:13,14) explaining that there are two rulers and that the individual lives either under the domination of Satan or in the freedom of the kingdom or rule of God. Those are the ONLY two options.

When we come to Christ we are delivered out of that dominion of darkness and, as John now says, “anyone born of God does not continue to sin.”  i.e. anyone under the rule of God no longer is driven by that old power called Sin, is no longer self-centred and godless, but is Christ and God-centred and is led by God into right living.

But John also picks up this other aspect that was referred to in Paul’s verse as ‘the dominion of darkness’, the domination by Satan, when he says, “the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.”  Satan is still there domineering over unbelievers, and wanting to lead astray the children of God, but Jesus is there, seated at God’s right hand ruling, and he protects and guards the children of God, and his Holy Spirit within us is there countering the lies of the enemy. All we have to do is listen to Him. The enemy can no longer pressurize us into going his way and disobeying God and doing wrong; we have been freed from that and from him.

When John goes on, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one,” he is, like Paul, making a distinction between the children of God and the rest of the world. The children of God, Christians, are under God’s protection and are no longer under the control of Satan and so, as he said earlier, do not have to sin, but the rest of the unbelieving world still are under Satan’s sway and so he is able to make wrong suggestions to them (as he did to Eve – Gen 3) and lead them astray and into wrong living.

This is one of the fundamentals that the world does not like, this claim that it is being led by the nose by an evil force, even though it cannot break free from self-centredness and godlessness and thinking, saying or doing wrong things. Indeed this way of life is so common that the unbeliever doesn’t even think about it. It is so normal to think badly about others, to speak badly about them or to them, and to do things that are utterly self-centred and harmful to others, that that is all they know and expect. They might consider it normal – accompanied by the stress, worries and anxieties that go with that lifestyle –  but that is a long way from God’s design for humanity

Sadly in recent decades in the West, standards in the Christian community have fallen and so often it is difficult for the world to see the distinction that should be there. So we see divorces, we see drunkenness, we see over-eating, we see self-centred materialistic lifestyles, we see angry upsets and divisions, and it is no wonder that the world fails so often to see the distinctive lifestyle of love and goodness that should characterize the Christian community.   It is time for it to change! John reminds us, we are children of God, different (or we should be!) from those who are under the control of the evil one. Check it out: are you?



64. Different Sins

Meditations in 1 John : 64 : Different Sins

1 John  5:16-17    If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

There are two primary issues that arise in these verses: that of sin, and that of being accountable for one another. Let’s start by considering the issue of sin. The general principle was stated by Solomon: He who sows wickedness reaps trouble,” (Prov 22:8) and was reiterated by the apostle Paul: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life,” (Gal 6:7,8) who also stated, “For the wages of sin is death,” (Rom 6:23)

In our spiritual blindness, caused by the very fact of Sin in us, we so often think we can ‘get away with it’. In fact that was the very lie that Satan put before Eve that led to Sin entering the human race: “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman.” (Gen 3:4). Yes, Eve, you will, and now we all will. The truth is that sin always has consequences.

But is every sin the same? The Scriptural answer seems to be, no. For instance we find Jesus saying, “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments,” (Mt 5:19) and later he chided the Pharisees, “you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness,” (Mt 23;23) indicating variety of significance of both commandments and therefore, by implication, of breaking them. There are differences in sins by the effect they have. Suppose on one occasion I steal a pen from a colleague at work – that is sin. But suppose I commit adultery with his wife.  The ongoing implications are different for the two things, although they are both sin.

Now there is a sense whereby all Sin leads to death as Paul noted in Rom 6:23, which is why we need the work of Christ on the Cross, but when it comes to individual sins, as we’ve just noted, their effects may be different. Indeed John speaks of “a sin that does not lead to death” but he also says, “There is a sin that leads to death.” One part of the church speaks of ‘venial’ and ‘mortal’ sins, sins that can be forgiven and sins that cannot be forgiven, but Scripture seems to indicate that physical death is not necessarily synonymous with loss of salvation. For example, Paul writing to the Corinthians said, “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” (1 Cor 11:28-32) In other words, people were dying because of their wrong attitudes, but that did not seem to imply that they lost their salvation, in fact to the contrary they seemed to be taken prematurely to heaven to ensure their salvation and to prevent them slipping further into sin (and also as an example to the rest of the church, and prevent this sin spreading).

It is more probable that the only distinction between sins is, therefore, that in relation to spiritual death. Some sins don’t lead to spiritual death – and are simply dealt with by God’s discipline – while there is a sin that ensures ongoing spiritual death, and that, of course, is the ongoing denial of God and of His Son, Jesus Christ. The person who does that is lost and spiritual death is the outcome and involves the loss of eternal life. This ‘death’ involves eternal separation from God which is far worse than the mere passing from this existence into the next, which is what we normally think about when we speak of death.

The second issue raises by these verses is that of us being accountable to one another. John’s opening statement was, “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.”  This lays a duty on each member of the body of Christ, the Church, to be there for one another, and at the very least to pray for one another when we see another falling into sin.  Paul taught something similar: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens.” (Gal 6:1,2) God wants us to be there for one another, seeking to restore one another when we see a brother or sister going off the rails. Of course, John added, “There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that.”   If we are right in our earlier assessment, if a person is set in their rebellion against God, we shouldn’t pray for that to be forgiven for it can only be so when that person truly repents and comes to Christ. There our praying will be different; it will be for them to be helped to turn to Christ from their unbelief.

He concludes these verses with a simple definition: “All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.”  All wrongdoing is sin. It is that simple, but in that, as we’ve noted already there are some things that are still sin but they do not lead to death. Now I once remember hearing of a farmer who watched one of his cows trying to get its neck further and further under an electric fence to reach more and more grass without getting a shock. Does this teaching of these verses say we can sin and get away with it? That’s not the point. Stay away from all sin whether it is eternal consequences or simply spoils your walk today with God and with other people. Don’t differentiate: all wrongdoing is sin and so stay away from all wrongdoing!

63. Confident Asking (2)

Meditations in 1 John : 63 : Confident Asking (2)

1 John  5:14-15    This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.

In a previous study (No.42) we covered this same subject because earlier in the letter John had written “if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.”  In that instance the confidence in asking was because of our lifestyle – obedience to Him. There we considered a variety of reasons why we may be sure that we get what we pray for, and we concluded that meditation with: “The key to getting answers to prayer is that we ask in line with His will. When we discern that and ask accordingly, we see answers.”  Which brings us precisely to these verses we now have before us!

We might do well to pause and move slowly into these verses because they do raise questions pertinent to modern Christianity. John starts out, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God.”  Now there appear to me to be two extremes in modern Christian circles. The first extreme comprises those people who have little or no confidence in the matter of prayer, and so pray rarely. To them John’s letter, says, you can be confident, your heavenly Father delights in His children and in answering the good and right things they pray for!

The other extreme are those people who appear to be over confident in their praying and pray about anything and everything which may roam from asking for Aunty May in Australia to what shirt they should wear tomorrow. Now that may sound derogatory but I often sit in prayer meetings where the content is unguided ‘shopping lists’, things people think would be a good idea for God to answer.

Now sometimes I believe that the Lord wants us to take responsibility for our lives and so He allows us to make our own decisions – the mundane things of life – what shirt to wear tomorrow!!! Other times I am sure His response, if only we could hear it, is “Whatever are you asking for? Why are you waiting? You know what my will is; it is spelled out quite clearly in my word!  Just do it!” These tend to be behavioural things or grace issues. For instance you have someone who is not particularly easy to get on with. Don’t pray for them to change, don’t pray for grace – you know you have it because you have the Spirit of love living within you. Just love them. Be nice to them; look to bless them – that will change them! But it starts with you and God’s will is quite clear. Jesus said, “Love your enemies” (Mt 5:44) so for someone who isn’t exactly and enemy but just someone a bit difficult to get on with, it’s got to be easier, hasn’t it!

Why do we pray for things that we know we should be doing something about? Our starting point – to find the will of God, if you like – is to ask about any person or situation we might think of praying about, is to ask, what could I be doing in this situation? We need to stop telling God what we think He ought to be doing, and ask ourselves what He wants us to be doing – and then pray!

What does prayer then become? It becomes coming close to the Father, committing to Him what you believe is His will, and checking with Him in your spirit, that you’ve got it right. Prayer thus becomes submitting your will to His. Now isn’t that exactly what John has said in our verses today: “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  He then goes on, “And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.”

Do you see the logic of that? Check out His will, find out what it is (and sometimes that happens while we pray). Then pray and ask for it and know it is what god wants we know that He will hear and receive that request and then go on to bring it about – and we can have the confidence that it will work like that.

The crucial thing – and that is where we finished the previous meditation – is finding out what His will is and then asking for it, but the tricky bit is finding out what our part is in it all, because that may well be part of His will.

The one area where, it seems to me, that there will be difficulties, is when we pray for the salvation of someone else, because the Lord never forces the will of people. He may put so much before them that their hearts are opened to respond, but only He knows who such persons are. There are clearly other people whose hearts are set and will remain set for the rest of their time on this earth, but we never know who these will be (unless the Lord specifically shows us, which seems rare). Yes, we can pray for their salvation for we know that “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9) but that doesn’t mean that every person will be saved. Pray for them by all means, but also ask, “Lord, is there a part you want me to play in drawing them to yourself?”

So there it is: find out God’s will – read His word, listen to Him – and find out how it involves you, and pray and do it and then expect things to happen! May it be so!

62. Source of Life

Meditations in 1 John : 62 : Source of Life

1 John  5:11-13    And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

John is strong on testimonies. We’ve seen it from the outset of this letter and now he refers to testimony again and again here – six times in verses 9 to 11. Remember what a testimony is – a record of what someone has seen or heard, what they know because they witnessed it. Now, says John, this is what I know because it has been conveyed to us: “God has given us eternal life.”  Perhaps because we see this so often in the New Testament or we’ve heard it said so often, we take it for granted, but it is a question that worries people throughout the world: is this all there is? What happens after death? According to the testimony of the New Testament, for the believer at least, life carries on and has no end. That is what this says.

But, might come the question, how can this be? Why should life carry on after death? Is it automatic? Is it just how things are, or is it conditional? Back comes the answer: “this life is in his Son.” What does that mean? It means that Jesus is eternal, as part of the Godhead for God is eternal, He has no beginning or end (and yes, our minds cannot grasp that concept but that doesn’t stop it being true). So when we became a Christian, as we’ve noted many times in these studies, He puts his own Holy Spirit into us and we are united with Him. Our spirit is knit together with His.

So when John goes on, “He who has the Son has life,” he means that he (or she) who has received Jesus into their life has Jesus ‘life’ (eternal life!) in them, because he has been dwelling in them throughout their time on earth since they became a Christian. His presence in them takes the real them (the real us is more than just the body) on after what we call death when the physical body stops operating. We often refer to our ‘soul’. That is the personality aspect of our spirit and so the real me, that is more than just the physical body, continues to exist, linked with Jesus’ spirit, after death. In fact it goes on and on. This is eternal life, life without end.

Does this happen for everyone, someone might ask. No, is John’s answer, “he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”   If you have not received Jesus into your life, if you have not received his Holy Spirit into your very being, you do not have this eternal energy within you to take you on into eternity.  Is there nothing for this person, therefore, after death? Do they simply cease to be? No, the Bible indicates that each and every one of us will have to appear before God after death and account for how we have lived.

For those who have rejected God’s overtures to them throughout their lives, there is a clear indication that there is nothing about God or living on in His presence that would appeal to them, and therefore He conforms to their wishes and they cease to live in His presence. The concept of hell is quite clear in the New Testament, as either a place of exclusion from God’s presence or a place of destruction (views differ). The graphic pictures that Jesus painted of it, simply scream at us, you don’t want this!  Who, in their right mind, would reject the wonder of living in the presence of wonderful God in a most glorious existence? Only someone who is so blinded by sin and self-centredness!

But there may be believers who are uncertain about their future, which is why John continues, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”   i.e. if you are a believer, if you have invited Jesus into your life, realise that this does mean that you have eternal life. After death you have the wonder of an incredible life continuing on with no restrictions of Sin, Satan or Self. There, united to God, you will enjoy the wonder of all the goodness that God brings to you without restriction. It is, in reality, beyond our comprehension, at this moment. It is rather like a blind man trying to understand colour.  We hear or read the words of the New Testament, and our minds scrabble to grasp the wonder of it. But it will be ours and it will be wonderful!

61. God’s Testimony

Meditations in 1 John : 61 : God’s Testimony

1 John  5:9,10    We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.

Perhaps we take the word ‘testimony’ for granted. It appears mostly in respect of Court cases and witnesses share their testimony. They share what they have seen and heard. That is why the beginning of John’s letter is so powerful, because it is a testimony to what John and the other apostles had seen and heard. It is also why the previously blind man’s testimony in John 9 is so powerful because he simply tells what has happened – “I was blind but now I can see.”

When John says “We accept man’s testimony,” he is not seeking to define something but is making a generalisation. Generally we accept what someone says when they were a witness. It’s worth noting in passing that often a defence counsel may try to discredit a witness and that’s what crusading atheists do with Christians, just like the Pharisees did with that man in John 9 we referred to who had been blind from birth. It’s not possible, was basically what they said, such things don’t happen. It’s what the crusading atheists say about miracles – they can’t happen! Well they can because there IS a God.

Now the point John is making in these verses is that we can believe about Jesus because of what God Himself has said. Human testimony is good, is what he implies, but God’s testimony is better – because He is God and a) He knows and b) He only conveys truth. God knows everything and He knows all about Jesus and so if He says, You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mk 1:11) He means it – this IS my Son.

Then John says something very significant: “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.”  God has testified that Jesus is His Son, and anyone who has come to that belief, believes what God has testified, because that’s where this belief comes from, from God,  which is why he goes on to declare, “Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.  If you say that Jesus isn’t God’s Son then you deny what God has said. Of course skeptics then say, “Well, I don’t believe God spoke” at which point they are denying the testimony of those who heard His voice and so the skeptic then says, “I believe their testimony is wrong” and has to then go on finding reasons to discredit those witnesses, but ultimately in such cases, such people are denying because of their starting place: it is inconvenient for me to believe.

I have come across that in many forms over the years: “I like my lifestyle and so it is inconvenient to believe in a God who might challenge that,” or “I like being the sole ruler of my life and it is inconvenient to have a God who knows better than me and may point out my failings.”  Of course they never say the second part, the part about being inconvenienced but that is the truth of the matter. So, for many, it is in their interests to discredit the testimony, the testimony of believers, the testimony of the Gospel writers, the testimony of the apostles, the testimony of Jesus Himself and, of course, the testimony of God. It is, for many, a case of not believing, not because it fails intellectually, but simply because it is inconvenient to believe, so they deny from the outset.

But John’s testimony and John’s argument does not let such people get away with it. His letter starts with that amazing testimony – we saw, we felt, we heard – and then continues on with this strong argument. I’ve seen, I’ve heard and so I know about God, is what he is saying. I know that God knows everything and I know that God only speaks truth and so I know that when God says that Jesus is His Son, we can accept that! If you don’t, you’ve got a problem and you need to look inside yourself to see what it is.

Listen to the crusading atheists and so often you will find there was a silly person or a person who simply failed in some aspect of life, that they knew when they were a child, and on the basis of that person’s silly words, or that person’s failing to live up to expectations, that child was hurt and has grown up into an adult who doesn’t judge on intellectual grounds but on the emotional bias they never got to grips with when they were younger.

Yes, it is a question of the veracity of the witnesses. So there were people with feet of clay when you were small who said silly things about faith, or who lived lives that were inconsistent with the Bible, but recognize them for what they were – poor witnesses. Put aside the emotions of those days of childhood and grow up and give fair assessment of the Gospel writers, of the apostles, of Jesus and of God, and maybe, just maybe, you will come to see that they are witnesses who can be replied upon and their testimony is true. But beware and be honest, you may prefer to avoid the truth because you know it will mean life change, an acknowledgement that you got it wrong before, or other changes, and you may not like that!  But be honest about it at least and don’t come up with any silly excuses about this not carrying intellectual integrity – it does!

60. Threefold Testimony

Meditations in 1 John : 60 : Threefold Testimony

1 John  5:6-8    This is the one who came by water and blood–Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

When the writers of Scripture move into using figurative or picture language, sometimes we find ourselves on less secure ground than before and have to speculate exactly what the writer was meaning (unless he spelled it out), and so this is true now of John as he starts writing about water and blood and the Spirit.

In the previous verses he had declared, Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (v.5) Yet again he is focusing on the fact of the person known as Jesus was in fact the Son of God. In the first centuries there had been a variety of speculations about Jesus, for example, that he only became God at his baptism and that he ceased to be God before his death on the Cross. We might think that the reference to coming “by water and blood” might simply mean he came in a fully human form for these two elements comprise the human body and enable it to live, but when he continues it would seem to be more than that.

When John says, “He did not come by water only but by water and blood,” that would seem to suggest something more than a mere reference to his being a human being. Possibly the water element might refer to his humanity because Jesus himself had used this language when he said, “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (Jn 3:5) If we took water to mean his human life, that in the same way we might take ‘blood’ to refer to his death, so John would appear to be saying, he came and showed himself to us through living a human life and then revealing himself as God’s Son by his death and resurrection.

Now if, as many do, we take the reference to ‘water’ being a reference to his baptism and ‘blood’ being a reference to his death, we have two instances that point to him being the Son of God. At his baptism, the Father from heaven acknowledged His Son: “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:16,17)  John in his Gospel has John the Baptist explaining this: “Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, `The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” (Jn 1:32-34). Perhaps this is why John now says, “And it is the Spirit who testifies” and adds, “because the Spirit is the truth.” In other words, when the Spirit came down upon Jesus at his baptism He was acknowledging that this is the Son of God – and then the Father confirmed it in words spoken aloud.

As we have already noted, ‘blood’ must be a reference to his death and subsequent resurrection, being THE all-important proof that Jesus was who he said he was. So John concludes, “For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”   i.e. listen to the Spirit, see Jesus’ baptism and see his death and resurrection and all three confirm the same thing: Jesus is and always has been, fully the Son of God. He was the Son of God when he was born, he was the Son of God before and after he was baptized and he was the Son of God before and after his death. Nothing changed in respect of his being. These are the things John is pointing out to counter the heresies that existed in that first century. It would take hundreds of years before the various creeds were agreed by the early Church, laying down this particular truth.

It is a vital truth because it tells us that God has come down and shared in our humanity, that he revealed His character and nature in the three years of ministry recorded in the Gospels, and that He died in human form to take our sins. No one less than God could be ‘big enough’ to take the sins of the whole world, past, present and future. This person we see in the Gospels was, is and always will be the unique Son of God.

59. Overcomers

Meditations in 1 John : 59 : Overcomers

1 John  5:3-5    This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

In the start of these verses John repeats what he’s said before and what we’ve considered before: “This is love for God: to obey his commands.”  In fact we’ve said it so many times in these studies that it almost becomes repetitious but, as we’ve said, it is vitally important. Truth is important and it is important that we face the truth about ourselves. If we say we love God, are we doing all that we find are His commands throughout the New Testament?  If there are things that we come across in the New Testament that we balk at, we must question our love for God.

Look, says John, “his commands are not burdensome”. Let’s take a random selection of verses. Are these ‘burdensome’?  Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually.” (1 Thess 5:13-17)  What is burdensome, heavy or hard about these ‘commands’?  Yes, of course we need the grace of God to live out these things but actually when we do we find it is a good life, an enjoyable life we’re living. When we find ourselves living in harmony with the instructions we find in the New Testament (or the Ten Commandments for that matter) we find we are living in peace and security and it is good.

Consider for a moment what is found so often in ‘the world’, the community of people living outside the kingdom of God, living under the dominion of Satan, see it through some of the things we’re warned against in the New Testament, for example, “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry…. anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language.” (Col 3:5,8)  Which sort of community is it best to be living in, that one or one that is described as with, “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive … put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Col 3:12-14) It’s pretty obvious really, isn’t it!

Now the truth is that in the background of life there is Satan and there is Sin and there are temptations to disregard all that God does, and do you own self-destructive thing. That is how ‘the world’ lives, but when we were born again, we turned our backs on all of that. I recently came across a description of what often happened in the early church in respect of baptism. It is worth recording: “Perhaps the most crucial feature of the rite, however occurred before descent into the font: at the bishop’s direction, he or she would turn to face the west (the land of evening, and so symbolically the realm of all darkness, cosmic and spiritual), submit to a rather forcibly phrased exor­cism, and then clearly renounce—indeed, revile and, quite literally, spit at—the devil and the devil’s ministers. Then he or she would turn to face the east (the land of morning and of light) to confess total faith in, and promise complete allegiance to, Christ.” That was a really vivid renouncing of the world, Satan, Sin and temptations of the world, and giving over to Christ. However we may have done it, in this way we thus ‘overcome the world’.

How have we done this? “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”  We have done this as an act of faith, and faith, we know, is built on what we have heard. Thus John goes on to say, “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”   This ‘overcoming’ took place when we believed in Jesus as the Son of God who came and died for ME. When I turned my back on my old life and surrendered to God, I rejected the ways of the world that we saw earlier and opted to live under Christ’s lordship, so that the other way of life would now be my way under the guidance, direction and empowering of the Holy Spirit, and as I continue to let Him do that in and through me, so I continue to ‘overcome the world’ so that no longer the ways of the world and the direction of Satan will have a place in my life. Now, I am filled with God’s presence and filled with His love and I live out His ‘commands’ – and it’s great! Hallelujah!

58. Love Flow

Meditations in 1 John : 58 : The Love Flow

1 John  5:1-2    Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.

Verses 1 to 5 start and finish with belief in Jesus, that he is the Christ and that he is the Son of God. ‘Belief’ for John is not merely acknowledging some truth but committing your life to it, so someone who gives casual assent to the truth about Jesus hasn’t actually believed it because when you do genuinely believe that Jesus is the Christ, the One sent by God to die for our sins, we will bow before God and be born again.

But it may be that there are people who say, “Oh, I believe in Jesus but I haven’t been born again.”  Well belief and being born again are the two sides of the equation and you don’t have one without the other. If you genuinely belief and have been convicted by this truth, you will come to a place of acknowledgement that you need Jesus as your saviour and will confess it and surrender to God. When you genuinely do that you will have an encounter with God and God will place His Holy Spirit within you and you will be in Jesus’ words (Jn 3:3-8) ‘born again’, you will be given a new Spirit-empowered life. This is the clear teaching of the New Testament and it doesn’t matter what anyone claims about their life, unless they have surrendered to God and trusted in the finished work of Christ on the Cross, and received His Holy Spirit, you are not what the New Testament calls a Christian.

Now earlier (4:7) John had written, Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God,” and we considered similar things then: when you have genuine love as we have defined it previously, an unrestrained, self-sacrificial desire for the well-being of others, that can only come by encounter with God and being born again so it is the Spirit of love, the Holy Spirit, who lives that love in us. That in itself is a sign of being born again. Subtly John is again and again pointing out the characteristics or marks of true believers, true Christians, because he lived in a time, we saw previously, where there were those who “went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.” (2:19) Then, as now, and as there has always been, were those who purported to be believers but the marks of a true believer were missing. John is concerned, and has already expressed it a number of times, that we be discerning and recognize who is and who isn’t a true believer, and to do that we look for the marks of a person having been born again. Some parts of the church today may play this down but it is as important now as it was in John’s day.

But of course, as we saw in the previous meditation, John is still talking about love and so now he adds, “everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.”   He has appealed to us to love one another (and because we saw that again in the previous study we won’t repeat the verses here) and so really all he is doing here is to give us yet another reason why we WILL love one another if we are true believers. If we do truly love God our heavenly Father, then we must love the other members of His family as well – because He does. We won’t simply do it because we’re told to, but if we are truly submitted to Him and allowing His Spirit to flow in and through us, then we will do it naturally, as His Spirit loves through us for, as we’ve seen, God is love.

John is utterly persistent in this and so he hammers it home: “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.” He turns it right round. You’re not quite sure how to love other believers? Right, you start by loving God. You do that? Very well an expression of that love is obeying what the Father says.  John covered that early on in the letter: “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.” (1 Jn 2:3) and then “Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them.” (1 Jn 3:24) Obedience is an expression of love. Now if you are obedient to God then a) you will obey His commands to love one another and b) you will obey the prompting of His Holy Spirit within you as He seeks to reach out to others and love them through you. When you do thee two things you will be loving other believers.

However, as we’ve commented before, when you look and listen to what goes on in the Christian world, it does make you doubt the state of people when you hear criticisms and judgmental talk of other believers, when there is acrimonious disharmony in church meetings and when there are acrimonious splits and divisions. These things should not be and John has hammered in the nails of the coffin of this sort of thing. Don’t ever be a part of such things.