SPIRITUAL WARFARE – Part 1

The Lord has burdened me (Jeff) to address something that many Christians are either unaware of or simply do not wish to acknowledge. It has to do with spiritual warfare – the conflict in the spiritual realm that impacts the physical realm.

For years I have battled trauma-based problems that have nearly destroyed my marriage, my family, and even my own life. I have spent thousands of dollars to receive treatment from various reputable counselors and recovery programs to find freedom from these problems that have controlled me. While I found these people and programs to be somewhat helpful, I remained stuck with these problems that were controlling my life, and thus, I was losing hope fast. That is, until I went to Biblical Restoration Ministries (BRM) in Sioux City, Iowa, over a month ago.

At BRM, I discovered that the primary roots of my problems were spiritual rather than emotional, psychological, or physical. I feel embarrassed to even say that because here I am a former pastor and missionary who failed to take my own advice that I had given to many Christians during thirty-two years of vocational ministry. I also discovered at BRM that my problems were not unique to me. There are thousands of Christians who have similar battles as I do. Why is this?       

Because every born-again Christian is a target for our enemy. Unlike the good news of Jesus’ love for us and His terrific plan for our lives, the bad news is that the Devil hates each of us and has a terrible plan for our lives. Satan’s plan can be summarized in John 10:10a: “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy…” Let’s look at each part of Satan’s plan:

“to steal” – Satan wants to rob Christians of the eternal significance of their lives. He wants us to get so focused on our problems and circumstances that we will never reach out to Jesus or to other believers who can help us. That way, we are no threat to the Devil. Our enemy wants to steal the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) in our lives. That is why every attack of the enemy is designed to get our eyes off Jesus (cf. Heb. 12:2) and onto ourselves and our problems. [1]

One of the common ways Satan attacks Christians in this area is to steal their assurance of salvation. Since the Devil knows that eternal life is free (John 4:10; cf. Rom. 6:23a; Ephes. 2:8-9) and can never be lost once we receive it by faith alone in Jesus alone (John 6:35-40; 10:28-29; Rom. 8:31-39; Ephes. 1:13-14), he will try to steal our assurance of salvation. He will seek to convince us that no true child of God would have the kinds of sinful thoughts, feelings, or actions that we may struggle with.

If he can deceive us into thinking we have lost our salvation or we were never saved to begin with, then we will be more inclined to think and act like a non-Christian instead of the true child of God we are by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. Satan knows that if he can successfully attack our identity in Christ, he has won a significant battle. He understands that we act in the way we perceive ourselves to be (cf. Prov. 23:7a). So, if we perceive ourselves to have lost our salvation or never had it to begin with, we will think and act more like a non-Christian thinks and acts.

“to kill” – The second part of Satan’s plan is to “kill” the Christian. But he cannot do that without God’s permission, so the Devil will tell the Christian to do it for him. Our enemy will try to convince children of God that the only way out of their life-controlling problems is to take their own life. Suicide is not just a non-Christian problem. Christians can also struggle with thoughts of suicide because they have lost hope, and some have even successfully taken their own lives.

The Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention reports that suicide rates increased approximately 36% between 2000–2021. Suicide was responsible for 48,183 deaths in 2021, which was about one death every 11 minutes. [2] The number of people who think about or attempt suicide is even higher. In 2021, an estimated 12.3 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.5 million planned a suicide attempt, and 1.7 million attempted suicides. [3]
Suicide affects people of all ages. In 2021, suicide was among the top 9 leading causes of death for people ages 10-64. Suicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-14 and 20-34. [4] It would be naïve for us to think that none of those statistics included Christians. [5]

Logan writes about Christians who struggle with suicidal thoughts, “‘I might as well end it all,’ they reason. Others think, ‘My situation is hopeless; I might as well give up and divorce my wife.’ And some believe, ‘Oh, I’m just born that way. I’ve got bad genes, or a physical problem.’ Each abandons hope he or she can be useful to God; they move to the sidelines as injured servants of God.” [6]

“to destroy” – The enemy wants to destroy our relationships especially with other Christians because he knows that believers who live in unity with one another provide an excellent expression of the image of God for a watching world to observe.

The apostle Paul writes to Christians in the city of Ephesus,  25 Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 nor give place to the devil.” (Ephes. 4:25-27). Christians are to speak “truth” to one another (Ephes. 4:25) in love (Ephes. 4:15) because God’s “truth” is what sets us free from Satan’s lies (cf. John 8:31-36, 44). However, hearing the truth from another believer can sometimes be hurtful.

Hence, God instructs us in those instances to “be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” (Ephes. 4:26). The feeling of anger is not wrong in and of itself. Even God feels anger (cf. Exod. 4:14; Num. 11:10; Deut. 7:4; Mark 3:5; John 2:13-16; 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 12:19; Col. 3:6; Heb. 3:11; 4:3; Rev. 6:16; 19:15; et. al). Why is it important to resolve our anger before we go to bed? Because unresolved anger gives “place to the devil” (Ephes. 4:27).

The Greek word for “place” (topos) can mean “an inhabited place, a favorable circumstance for doing something, an opportunity.” [7]  When believers let their anger control them instead of taking control of their anger, bitterness and resentment can set in and give the devil a “chance” or “opportunity” to exert his influence [8] and create division among God’s people.

Let’s remember that the apostle Paul is writing to Christians at Ephesus whom he calls saints (Ephes. 1:1), who are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephes. 1:3), including their redemption in Christ and their forgiveness (Ephes. 1:7), their salvation from hell (Ephes. 1:13a), and the seal of the Holy Spirit which guarantees their safe and secure delivery to heaven in the future (Ephes. 13b-14). Yet the apostle also teaches that Satan can influence these believers who are destined for heaven.

The key word is “influence.” You may ask, “Can a Christian be demon-possessed?”  There is much debate among Christians about this topic. The word “demon-possessed” itself causes a lot of confusion.

Tim Warner says, “We obtain our English word ‘demon’ by transliterating the Greek word daimon. We should have done the same with the Greek word daimonizomai – a verb form of the same Greek root. It would then come into English as ‘demonize’ and we could then speak of the degree to which a person could be demonized rather than being limited to the either-or options imposed by the possessed-not possessed view.”[9]

Warner concludes, “Spiritual ‘possession’ clearly implies ownership and would seem to include the control of one’s eternal destiny. [It] would be impossible to be owned and controlled by Satan and have a saving relationship with Christ at the same time. So, if the question is, ‘Can a Christian be demon-possessed?’, the answer is clearly no.”[10] [emphasis added]

The apostle Paul already taught that those who “heard” and “believed” the gospel “were sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Ephes. 1:13-14). The word “sealed” (sphragizō) was used in the ancient world to refer to a legal signature which guaranteed the promise or contents of what was sealed. It signifies ownership and security caused by the backing of the owner. [11]

“In Ephesians 1:13-14, we are told that the Holy Spirit Himself is the seal. He is impressed upon us, so to speak. His presence in our lives is thus a guarantee of God’s protection and that we are owned by God. A broken seal was an indication that the person had not been protected. The Holy Spirit cannot be broken. He is the seal of ownership. In Ephesians 4:30, we are told that we are sealed unto the day of redemption. This sealing ministry of the Spirit is forever and guarantees that we will arrive safely for the redemption of our bodies and entrance into heaven (Romans 8:23). He is the seal that we are now owned and protected by God until the day of redemption.” [12] [emphasis added]

The word “guarantee” (arrabōn) was a regular feature of the Greek business world. The “arrabōn” was a part of the purchase price of anything paid in advance as a guarantee that the rest of the price should in due time be paid. [13] The seal of the Holy Spirit guarantees that the remainder of our “inheritance” blessings will eventually be given to us. The primary aspect of our inheritance involves life in heaven with the Lord Jesus.

Registered mail is a good example of the seal of the Holy Spirit. When something is registered at the post office it is sealed until delivered. Only two persons can open registered mail – the sender (if it is delivered back to him) and the recipient. When we believe in Christ for eternal life, we are sealed by God the Holy Spirit until we go to heaven. God is the One who sends us on our way to heaven, and God in heaven is the Recipient on our arrival. There is no power greater than God who can break the Holy Spirit’s seal. Only God can break this seal and He promises not to do so “until the redemption of the purchased possession” which is when the Christian is delivered safely and securely to God in heaven.   

I love the way Tony Evans describes this: “When you believe in Christ as your Savior, God puts you inside an envelope called Christ. You are ‘in Christ.’ But God also guarantees delivery. He registers the letter and seals it with the Holy Spirit – indicating that He is its owner and the only One qualified to open it.

“Paul also says the Holy Spirit is God’s pledge to us – the down payment of our inheritance (1:14), the guarantee that God will do for us everything He promised for His children. Like an engagement ring, the Holy Spirit is like a down payment on an eternal commitment. The Spirit is a heavenly first installment given in anticipation of eternal life, a life that is eternally secure. He’s a foretaste of what’s ahead.” [14] [emphasis added]

The Bible clearly tells us Jesus Christ bought or redeemed us at the cost of His own blood (Ephes. 1:7), and therefore, we are forever owned by Jesus (I Cor. 6:19; Ephes. 1:13-14). Nowhere in the Bible are we told that Jesus sold us to the Devil. Satan does not own a Christian nor control his or her eternal destiny. Jesus does.

But to what degree can the Devil and his demonic armies influence believers in Jesus? The kingdom of darkness can only influence Christians “to the extent that we allow them to do so… The act of giving or allowing Satan to take any amount of control in our life is referred to as ‘giving ground.’” [15]

If we hold on to sin in our lives and do not deal with it in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are giving the enemy an entrance into our lives. This is the idea Paul presented in  Ephesians 4:26-27 when he said that unresolved anger gives place or opportunity to the devil. So as believers in Jesus, we can give ground to Satan. He cannot take it in our lives without our cooperation and permission. All he can do is influence us: plant evil thoughts, make suggestions, or place temptations in our path. [16]

Satan wants to gain ground in our Christian lives so he can use it on which to build his “strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4) of lies which will begin to undermine our relationship with and testimony for Jesus. A stronghold can be defined“as a mindset impregnated with hopelessness that causes me to accept as unchangeable something that we know is contrary to the will of God.”  [17]

This does not mean that every time a Christian sins, he is giving Satan ground on which to build a towering fortress of lies. No, we give the Devil ground when we refuse to let go of our sin, confess it, and forsake it (Prov. 28:13). This is made clear in Ephesians 4:26-27. It is not one moment of anger that gives Satan ground on which to build a stronghold. It is anger that is stored up, nurtured, and allowed to develop into bitterness and the other terrible things the apostle Paul describes in Ephesians 4:31. Hence, Satan can turn an act of sin into a regular practice of sin, and from there it degenerates into a habit which leads down into bondage where the believer is “caught in the cords of his sin” (Prov. 5:22). [18]

Logan explains it this way: Giving ground is like giving Satan the land and the ‘building permit,’ the permission he needs to erect his stronghold. All he has to do then is start digging the foundation.”

Satan’s strongholds are built upon the foundation of lies. Satan is “a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44). Since the Devil was stripped of his power at the cross of Jesus Christ (Col. 2:13-15; Heb. 2:14-15), his only power now is in the lie. He uses deception to get our eyes off the Lord Jesus and on to our circumstances and problems.

The past several years I had gone down this path of destruction. I gave Satan ground in my life where he built strongholds that nearly destroyed my life. But God in His great mercy and grace intervened and is bringing me out of this spiritual bondage. Next time, Lord willing, I will share with you what I am learning from Jesus through BRM concerning the biblical process for finding freedom in Christ that delivers us from spiritual bondage.

FOOTNOTES: 

[1] Jim Logan, Reclaiming Surrendered Ground (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), pg. 27.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. National Vital Statistics System, Mortality 2018-2021 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released in 2023. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 2018-2021, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed at http://wonder.cdc.gov/mcd-icd10-expanded.html on Jan 11, 2023.

[3] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2022). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. PEP22-07-01-005, NSDUH Series H-57). Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/2021-nsduh-annual-national-report.

[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. National Vital Statistics System, Mortality 2018-2021 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released in 2023. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 2018-2021, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed at http://wonder.cdc.gov/mcd-icd10-expanded.html on Jan 11, 2023.

[5] See Corey Widmer’s September 27, 2023, Christianity Today article entitled, “Our Church Lost Three Men to Suicide in Two Years,” at https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2023/september-web-only/suicide-stats-christian-church-community-pastor-resources.html

[6] Logan, Reclaiming Surrendered Ground, pg. 27.

[7] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pp. 1011-1012.

[8] Ibid., pg. 1012.

[9] Logan, Reclaiming Surrendered Ground, pg. 32 cites Timothy Warner, Spiritual Warfare (Wheaton, ILL: Crossway, 1991), pg. 79.

[10] Ibid., cites Warner, Spiritual Warfare, pg. 80.

[11] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg. 980.

[12] Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 756.

[13] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg. 134.

[14] Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, 2019 Kindle Edition, pg. 2635.

[15] Logan, Reclaiming Surrendered Ground, pg. 33 cites Scott Moreau, The World of Spirits (Nairobi, Kenya: Evangel Publishers, 1990), pg. 90.

[16] Ibid., pg. 35.

[17] Ibid., pg. 34 cites Ed Silvoso, “How to Reach Our Cities for Christ” videocassette (Oak Brook, ILL: Institute in Basic Life Principles, 1992).

[18] Adapted from Ibid., pg. 36.

Must I Give My Life to Christ to Get to Heaven?

For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.” John 5:21

After Jesus healed the lame man on the Sabbath (John 5:1-15) and referred to God as His Father (John 5:17), claiming to be equal with God, the critical Jewish religious leaders sought all the more to kill Christ (John 5:18). Christ then makes three major claims to establish His equality with God the Father (John 5:19-30). For our purpose in this article, we will only look at Jesus’ second claim which is that HE IS THE SAVIOR (5:21-24). 5:21: One of the “greater works” of Jesus (John 5:20b) is raising “the dead” and giving “life to whom He will.” The Jews understood that only God has the power to give life. But now Jesus is claiming to have the same power as God the Father. Christ “gives” both physical life (John 1:3) and everlasting life (John 1:12; 3:15-16).

“…In a way, Jesus was telling them, ‘You think you’re upset now because I healed a paralytic? You haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until you see what I do with Lazarus!’ (see 11:1-44).” [1]

Too often I hear Christians telling non-Christians to give their lives to Jesus to get them to heaven. But this is backwards. Jesus “gives life” to the non-Christian when he or she believes in Him (cf. John 1:12; 3:15-16, 36; 4:10, 14; 5:24; et al.). We don’t give our lives to the Lord for salvation. The issue in salvation is not what we give to God, but what He gives to us. The same author of the gospel of John writes in his first epistle, “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” (I John 5:11). Who gives eternal life? God does because it is a free gift (John 4:10-14; Rom. 6:23b; Ephes. 2:8-9). Who receives eternal life? We do the moment we believe in Jesus for it.

If we give our life to Jesus to get us to His heaven, we will be eternally disappointed because our lives end at the grave. We need life that lasts beyond the grave. We need Jesus’ everlasting life which we receive by believing in Him alone (John 3:15-16; 11:25-26; cf. I John 5:13). Only those who have Christ’s everlasting life by believing in Him will be able to enter Jesus’ heaven. The Bible clearly tells us that Jesus “gives life” for salvation, we don’t give our life to Him.

I am deeply burdened about this because non-Christians are being misled to think that if they give their lives to Christ, they have everlasting life as a result. This is contrary to Jesus’ teaching! Satan has deceived well-intentioned Christian workers into thinking they are serving God by telling the unsaved to give their lives to Christ to begin a relationship with Him. May God bring these Christian workers to repentance so they can replace this unclear and confusing evangelistic invitation with a clear invitation that uses the words God uses most in evangelism – “believe” (pisteuō) [2] and “faith” (pistis). [3] This will increase the population of heaven because non-Christians are being clearly told what God says they must do to receive His gift of everlasting life.

The Bible says, 9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. 10 He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:9-13). According to these verses, what is God’s witness? Does God say you must give Christ your life to have eternal life? No. He says, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (5:11). If you carefully read these verses, you will discover that they say nothing about giving your life to Christ to have eternal life. If I were to summarize these verses, I would say this: “The witness of God” says, “Christ gives His eternal life to those who believe in Him,” and “is greater” than “the witness of men” who say, “Give your life to Christ to have eternal life.”  

But someone may respond by saying, Jesus said, “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25). Isn’t that the same thing as giving your life to Christ to have eternal life? Great question, but wrong conclusion.

Who is Jesus speaking to when He speaks the words of John 12:25? Jesus is speaking to two of His believing disciples, Andrew and Philip (cf. John 1:35-2:11), who came to Christ to inform Him about certain Greeks at the Passover Feast who wanted to see Him (John 12:20-22). When Jesus hears of the Greeks wanting to see Him, it confirmed that “the hour had come” for Him to “be glorified” through His death on the cross (John 12:23) which Jesus illustrates with a grain of wheat analogy whereby death leads to life (John 12:24). Jesus is the grain of wheat. The word “alone” refers to Christ dealing with Jews alone. It was necessary for Jesus to die to produce life in many others – both Jews and Gentiles (including the Greeks), in one body. Death was necessary for life and fruitfulness.

Since Jesus is talking to two of His believing disciples, He does not reference “eternal life” as a gift to be received by faith alone in Him alone (John 12:25). Instead, He speaks of eternal life as a reward to be earned in the future. [4] The issue here is rewards, not salvation from hell. The believer who “loves his life” by selfishly living for his or herself, “will lose” the fullness of that life both now and in eternity in terms of the loss of rewards. Christ goes on to say that “he who hates his life in the world” by making his or her love and loyalty to Christ a priority “will keep it for eternal life,” that is, they will enjoy a deeper and fuller experience of eternal life both now and in eternity. [5]    

Jesus said, I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10b). Eternal life must first be received as a gift through faith alone in Jesus alone – “I have come that they may have life” (John 3:15-16; 4:10-14; Rom. 6:23; Ephes. 2:8-9) – before we can experience that life “more abundantly”through obedience to Christ (John 8:31-32; John 12:24-26). The word “abundantly” means over and above or overflowing life. All those who believe in Jesus have “life” in His name (John 3:16; 20:31). But only those believers who obey Christ’s word will experience it “more abundantly” both now and eternity.

Therefore, when eternal life is referred to as a present possession in the New Testament, it is always a free gift that is received by believing in Christ alone (John 3:15-16, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 10:28-29; 11:25-26; Rom. 6:23b; 4:5; Ephes. 2:8-9; I John 5:11, 13; Rev. 22:17). But when eternal life is referred to as a future acquisition, it is a reward that obedient believers will receive in the future (cf. Matt. 19:29; 25:35-40, 46; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 18:29-30; John 4:36; 12:25; Rom. 2:7; 6:22; Gal. 6:7-9; I Tim. 6:12, 19; Jude 1:21). [6] Eternal life is not static. Believers can experience varying degrees of God’s life as they learn to trust and obey Him.

Those who are dedicated to Christ will “keep” or preserve that lifestyle for eternal rewards (12:25). Our earthly experience becomes a part of “eternal life”in that it contributes to the quality of our future life in eternity. If we put our material things and selfish ambitions ahead of Christ, we will decrease the quality of our life in the world to come. So, the issue is not salvation, but the quality of a believer’s life both now and in the world to come.

This is substantiated further in the next verse when Jesus says, If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” (John 12:26). Jesus is referring to self-denying service to Christ. If you want to serve Christ, you must follow Him. He is to be the number one priority in your life. Just as Jesus denied Himself and died for the world (12:27-28a), His disciples are to deny themselves and serve Him. When Christ says, “and where I am, there My servant will be also”in glory and honor is the main idea here as confirmed in the next part of the verse. “If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” The verb “will honor” [7] refers to honoring faithful Christians with rewards. [8] If you serve Jesus, you will receive “honor” or reward from His Father. If you want to be rewarded in the future, you must earn it by serving Christ now. Rewards are not a free gift. We must work for them to receive them in the future.

We can see then, that giving Christ our lives is a condition for discipleship and is necessary to receive eternal rewards (cf. Matt. 10:32-42; 16:24-27; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-26; John 12:23-26), not eternal life or salvation as a free gift.

The claim of Jesus is that “life” belongs to Him and He gives it to whom He will (5:21). This cuts right across the philosophy and the propaganda of our day! Much of our culture tells you that your life belongs to you, and you can do with it whatever you want; it is up to you to make of yourself whatever you desire. That is what is fed to us all the time. But that’s a lie! Your physical life is not yours. You did not invent it; you were given it by Jesus.

If this claim of Jesus is real, and it is, it clearly makes Him the most important Person in anybody’s life. If your very physical existence has come from Him, and your spiritual destiny is in His hands, then He is the most important Person you will ever have to deal with. More than that, He is the most important Person in all the universe!

Because of this, it would be wise for us to keep His gospel message clear. Since the Lord Jesus used the words “believe” and “faith” more than any other words to express what a sinner must do to receive everlasting life (John 3:15-16; 5:24; 6:35, 40, 47; 11:25-26, et al.), we submit to His Lordship when we use those words when sharing His gospel with the unsaved. It is not submitting to His Lordship when we refuse to use the words He used the most in evangelism and substitute it with words that are more popular with others such as giving your life to Christ to be saved from hell. Our sinful nature does not like someone else to tell us what to do and how to do it. So, when Jesus tells us to use the words “believe” or “faith” when inviting a non-Christian to respond to the gospel, and we use other words or phrases that confuse instead of clarify the only condition for obtaining eternal life, we are saying to Him, “I know better than You, Lord. I will use some other phrase or condition that everyone else is using.” We are refusing to submit to His Lordship when we neglect to use the words He uses most in evangelism. And because of this, we will forfeit eternal rewards, not salvation, at the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Col. 3:23-24; Rev. 22:12).

How would you feel when You stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and tell the Lord Jesus that you told non-Christians to give their lives to Christ to get saved, and Jesus rebukes you saying, “Why did you tell them that when I told you to invite them to believe in Me to get saved? I had to send someone else to them to tell them to believe in Me for eternal life because you refused to submit to My instructions.” I believe we would feel shame and regret for disobeying our Lord (cf. Matt. 25:24-30; I John 2:28). It is not too late to change and start using the words Jesus used the most in evangelism – “believe” and “faith” instead of the unclear terminology that the majority of Christians use today.

Prayer: Gracious Father in heaven, thank You for establishing that the Lord Jesus is equal with You in His deity when He claimed to be the Savior Who gives life to whom He wills. He is as much God as You and the Holy Spirit are. Because Jesus is the One Who gives physical life and eternal life, He is by far the most important Person in our lives. Please forgive us for substituting the words Jesus used most in evangelism – “believe” and “faith,” with unclear words like giving your life to Christ, follow Christ, or turn from your sins as conditions for eternal life. Please enable us to submit to Your Lordship in our lives by using the words Jesus used the most in evangelism because Your approval is far more important than the approval of people. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, 2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 2219.

[2] Matt. 18:6; 21: 32(3); 24:23, 26; 27:42; Mark 1:15, 9:42; 15:32;16:16(2), 17; Luke 8:12, 13; 22:67; John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36(2); 4:39, 41, 42, 48, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 45, 46, 47(2); 6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47, 64, 69; 7:5, 31, 38(2), 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46; 9:35, 36, 38; 10:25, 26, 37, 38(3), 42; 11:25, 26, 27(2), 42, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44(2), 46, 47; 13:19; 14:12; 16:9, 27; 17:8, 20, 21; 19:35; 20:29, 31(2); Acts 2:44; 4:4, 32; 5:14; 8:12, 13, 37(2); 9:42; 10:43, 45; 11:17, 21; 13:12, 39, 41, 48; 14:1, 23, 27; 15:5, 7; 16:1, 31, 34; 17:4, 5, 12, 34; 18:8, 27; 19:2, 4, 9, 18; 21:20, 25; 22:19; 26:27(2); 28:24(2); Rom. 1:16; 3:3, 22, 4:3, 5, 11, 17, 24; 9:33; 10:4, 9, 10, 11, 14(2), 16; 13:11; 15:31; I Cor. 1:21; 3:5; 7:12, 13; 9:5; 10:27; 14:22(2); 15:2, 11; 2 Cor. 4:4; Gal. 2:16; 3:6, 9, 22; Ephes. 1:13, 19; Phil. 1:29; I Thess. 1:7; 2:10; 4:14; 2 Thess. 1:10; 2:12,13; I Tim. 1:16; 3:16; 4:3, 10; 6:2(2); 2 Tim. 1:12; Tit. 3:8; Heb. 11:31; I Pet. 1:21;2:6, 7; I John 3:23; 5:1, 5, 10(3), 13.

[3] Matt. 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 7:50; 17:19; 18:42; Acts 6:7; 14:22, 27; 15:9; 16:5; 20:21; 24:24; 26:18; Rom. 1:17; 3:3, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30(2), 31; 4:5, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16 (2); 5:1, 2; 9:30, 32; 10:6, 8, 17; 11:20; 16:26; I Cor. 15:14, 17; Gal. 2:16 (2); 3:2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 14, 22, 24, 26; 5:5; Ephes. 2:8; Phil. 3:9(2); Col. 1:4; 2 Thess. 3:2; 2 Tim. 3:15; Tit. 1:4; Heb. 6:1;11:31; Jas. 2:1, 23, 24; I Pet. 1:21; 2 Pet. 1:5; I John 5:4.

[4] The word translated “will keep” (phylaxei) is in the future tense.

[5] The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, copyright 2014 EvanTell, Inc.), pg. 1180; Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 2257; Robert Wilkin, “John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 213.

[6] Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 221-232; Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse: A Study on Eternal Rewards (Corinth, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2016 Kindle Edition), pp. 53-68.  

[7] timēsei

[8] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pp. 1004-1005.

TWO FEASTS, TWO FATES

1 Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn out her seven pillars; She has slaughtered her meat, she has mixed her wine, she has also furnished her table… 13 A foolish woman is clamorous; she is simple, and knows nothing…  16 she says, …‘17 Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.’” Proverbs 9:1-2, 13, 16-17

Proverbs 9 contrasts two feasts and their fates or destinies. The first feast is offered by God’s wisdom which is personified as a dignified and responsible woman of character and wealth who has prepared an incredible banquet in “her house” with “seven pillars” (9:1). The “seven pillars” suggests wisdom’s industriousness and her house’s spaciousness and stability. Some suggest that the “seven pillars” refer to the seven days of creation alluded to in the previous chapter (8:22-31) [1] or to the fullness of the Holy Spirit (Isa. 11:2; Rev. 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). [2] The number “seven” indicates perfection and fullness in the Bible, so its use here could indicate wisdom’s sufficiency.

Lady Wisdom has butchered (“slaughtered”) animals and cooked their “meat” and diluted (“mixed”) “her wine,” having “furnished her table” with the finest utensils and decorations (9:2). Lady Wisdom then “sent out her maidens” to invite people to her banquet and she herself “cries out from the highest places of the city” where the invitation could be heard by many (9:3). Anyone (“whoever”) who is naïve or gullible (“simple”) and “lacks understanding” is invited to “turn in” to her house and “eat… and drink” what she has prepared for them (9:4-5). She beckons her listeners to “forsake foolishness and live, and go in the way of understanding” (9:6).

Lady Wisdom’s rival, Folly, is personified as a harlot (prostitute) inviting the naïve or gullible (“simple”) and “him who lacks understanding” to a sensual feast of “stolen water” (illicit sex – cf. 5:15-16) and “bread eaten in secret,” which only offer immediate pleasure (9:13-17) in contrast to wisdom’s long-term satisfaction (9:6-9). Though Folly’s invitation seems appealing and attractive, the end result is death – “hell” (Sheol) refers to the grave (9:18). This suggests that sexual immorality is the height of folly.

All of us desperately need God’s wisdom so we need to RSVP immediately to Lady Wisdom’s invitation and partake of her mind-blowing banquet She has prepared for us. Accepting Lady Wisdom’s invitation will keep us from dying an untimely death that Folly’s invitation would lead to. [3]

Satan has prepared his banquet to distract or draw us away from God’s. Satan’s party is hosted by Folly who is rowdy (“clamorous”), naïve or gullible (“simple”), and “knows nothing” (9:13). She is easily accessible (“she sits at the door of her house, on a seat by the heights of the city”) and heard (“to call to those who pass by”) (9:14-15). Although Folly’s feast appears “sweet” and “pleasant,” it will kill us if we respond positively to its invitation (9:7-18). Her guests are in the grave and will not come home from this party. [4]

In this Proverb, Solomon pictures a young man (“who is simple… and… lacks understanding”) being invited to two different parties. This young man is strutting his stuff down the street with testosterone spewing out both ears. He is an easy sexual target. Lady Folly could represent anything that is sexually enticing such as a porn site, hookup/dating site, strip club, massage parlor or even a neighbor’s wife that is irresistible to him. And Lady Folly knows it. This guy is an easy victim. As Solomon watches he knows what is about to happen. [5]

The young man fails to connect the choice to eat at folly’s appealing banquet table with the deadly consequences (9:17-18). Such is the case with many men today who are addicted to porn and sex. Satan is destroying their lives and relationships with those closest to them. But there is hope.

God has given us this Proverb to alert us to the many life-giving blessings of His wisdom and the death-dealing blight of folly. Accepting Lady Wisdom’s invitation to sit at Her banquet table will overwhelm us with God’s goodness and grace (9:1-11). It is there that we will enjoy “the fruit of the Spirit” which is “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23) and experience the abundant life the Spirit gives (cf. Rom. 8:5, 6b). Accepting Lady Folly’s invitation instead of Wisdom’s may feel good at first (as porn and illicit sex usually do), but the consequences are deadly (9:13-18).

May each of us guard our hearts from Satan’s deceptions and embrace God’s invitation to sit at His life-giving banquet table where we can enjoy close fellowship with Him and the life and peace He gives. Like a godly woman who has gone to great lengths to provide a delicious meal for those she dearly loves, so God has gone to great lengths to provide a smorgasbord of life-giving blessings for His dearly beloved children (cf. Ephes. 1:3-14).

If you are struggling with shame because of recent failures, please know that to eat at God’s banquet table, you do not have to have a perfect track record. None of us do (Rom. 3:23). That is why God has given His only perfect Son to be our Substitute Who died on a cross in our place for all our sins and rose from the dead so “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16; I Cor. 15:1-6). If you have trusted Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life, your seat at God’s banquet table is ready for you to take your place so you can feast upon the life-giving blessings God has prepared for you.

Bob George shares a great story to illustrate how unnatural it would be to attend Lady Folly’s banquet when we can enjoy a grace-filled banquet with the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ:

Imagine that you owned a fine cafeteria. One day, you hear this tremendous commotion out in the alley where the garbage dumpsters are. You open the back door to see what’s going on, and you see the most pitiful-looking human being you have ever seen in your life – me – fighting with several stray cats over food scraps in the dumpster. I am a virtual living skeleton. It’s obvious that I am living on the edge of starvation, and probably have been for a long time. There is nothing about me to provoke liking or affection in you, but you are moved to pity.

“Hey, hey!” you yell. “Get out of the garbage. Don’t eat that stuff! Come over here.” I trudge over to you, half-seeing you through hopeless eyes.

“Listen,” you say, “I can’t stand to see you eating garbage like that. Come into my cafeteria and eat.”

“But I don’t have any money,” I reply.

“It doesn’t matter,” you say. “My chain of restaurants has done very well, and I can afford it. I want you to eat here every day from now on, absolutely free of charge!”

You take my arm and lead me inside the restaurant. I cannot believe my eyes. I have never seen a cafeteria line before. With huge, unbelieving eyes I stare at the spread: vegetables… salads… fruits… beef… fish… chicken… cakes… pies…In my wildest dreams, I have never imagined that such things could be.

 I look at you intently. “Are you saying I can eat anything I want?”

“Yes, anything.”

“Really, anything I want?” I ask again.

“Yes, I said anything you want,” you answer.

Then slowly, with a gleam in my eye, I ask, “Can I eat some garbage?”

What would you think of me? You would think I was insane, wouldn’t you? In the face of all that delicious food, all I can think of to ask is whether I can eat garbage. But that is exactly how I feel when people ask if they can sin because they are under grace!     

…The Christian world is obsessed with sin. It’s all we talk about. Most of our preaching and teaching is directed toward getting people to quit sinning. Are you ready for a really shocking statement? The goal of the Christian life is not to stop sinning! To use the analogy of the starving man, most Christian teaching is like a person following a starving man around saying, “You stay out of the garbage! Do you hear me? Don’t eat the garbage! You stay out of there!”

Look, when you’re truly hungry, you’ll eat anything – even garbage. What should you do? I promise you: If you will get that man into the cafeteria line, and he begins experiencing what real, good food is like, he won’t be nostalgically dreaming about the garbage out back.

…Why should I ever wallow in the garbage when the Lord has laid a banquet table for me? [6]

Lady Folly constantly invites us to feast upon her garbage every day in our sexualized society. Her garbage is disguised to look very appealing and attractive. But in the end, it leads to death. Lady Wisdom’s banquet is filled with life-giving blessings that God has prepared for His children to enjoy daily. Will you join me as I renew my commitment to sit at the Lord’s banquet table daily to feast upon His manifold grace?

The choice seems obvious, doesn’t it? But our enemies – our sinful flesh, Satan, and this fallen world – constantly seek to draw us away from God’s best to a feast that offers temporary pleasure that always leads to miserable consequences. Will we choose garbage or grace? Together, let’s choose God’s grace and sit at Lady Wisdom’s banquet table.

Prayer: All-wise Father in heaven, thank You for preparing a mind-blowing feast for us to enjoy at Your banquet table in contrast to Satan’s counterfeit feast that leads to death. Thank You for making us aware of the life-giving benefits of Your feast and the deadly consequences of Satan’s sensual feast. Unfortunately, we do not always apply Your wisdom to our lives. We have let our hormones influence our decisions instead of You and Your Word. Please forgive us for ignoring Your wisdom and yielding to our fleshly desires. Thank You for Your amazing grace that forgives and cleanses us for our past foolish choices so we may take our place at Your grace-filled banquet table. We need Your grace to enable us to feed our hearts and minds with the Holy Spirit’s teaching from Your Word so we can enjoy the many blessings You have already given to us in Christ. In the matchless name of our Savior and Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Tom Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on Proverbs, 2023 Edition, pg. 65.

[2] Ibid., pg. 66 cites Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Proverbs of Solomon Vol. 1 Translated by M. G. Eason. Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament Reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., n.d.), pp. 197-198.

[3] Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1295.

[4] Ibid., pg. 1296.

[5] Dr. Ted Roberts, Seven Pillars of Freedom Workbook (Gresham, OR: Pure Desire Ministries International, 2014), pg. 32.

[6] Adapted from Bob George, Classic Christianity (Eugene Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1989), pp. 135-138.

Appendix 5 – Hindrances to Forgiveness Exercise

This exercise is adapted from Michael Dye’s The Genesis Process. [1]

All of us have been hurt and wounded by others, especially those we trusted. From beginning to end, the Bible emphasizes the importance of forgiveness. God even commands us to forgive (Ephes. 4:32). Therefore, Jesus taught us to pray, 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors… 14 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:12, 14-15). Forgiveness is so important because it is connected to God’s forgiveness of us. I cannot enjoy fellowship or closeness with God the Father if I am not willing to forgive those who have hurt me. Being unforgiving connects us to our past hurts and makes it difficult to fully enjoy the blessings of our relationship with God and with other people.

One of the ways we can know we have not forgiven someone is we keep rehearsing bitter and defensive thoughts toward those who have hurt us. We keep going “back to court” in our minds with all the things we wish we had said or want to say to them. [2] God invites us to release the hurt others have caused to us. Forgiveness requires the cancelling of a debt (cf. Matt. 18:21-35). Perhaps the person who has hurt us owes us an apology, justice, money, repentance, restoration, suffering, understanding, etc. God wants us to cancel the debt they owe us.

There are three things that can hinder us from forgiving others: judgments, vows, and false beliefs. [3] When someone hurts us, we can hold on to judgments about them out of fear. We don’t realize it, but our judgments are an attempt to protect ourselves from painful memories associated with our abusers. We may judge their motives and try to read their minds. We tell ourselves, “He or she is evil, selfish, and does not care about me or love me.” Christ warns us about making such judgments (Matt. 7:1-2). These judgments can cause heart wounds that keep us from healing and growing. When we refuse to forgive that person, we can bind ourselves to the person we are judging and become more like that person.It is important to repent or change our minds about our judgments and ask God to release the person and ourselves from the consequences. [4]

Not only do judgments about our offenders hinder us from forgiving them, but so do the vows we make. Jesus opposed the practice of distorting vows so they could convey or conceal a lie (Matt. 5:33-35). We can make inner vows to survive the hurts we have suffered. For example, when a person I trusted hurts me, I may make an inner vow that says, “I will never trust anyone again!” Or “If I need others, they will take advantage of me!” These types of vows can become self-curses that result in isolation and loneliness, which cause us even more pain. These inner vows can often become subconscious and do not disappear with time. They are like a contract that must be renounced or broken. It is important to ask God to forgive us and break these vows we have made. [5]

False beliefs or lies can also prevent us from forgiving others. We may tell ourselves, “If I forgive them, they will get off the hook and there will never be any justice.” But the truth is, only God knows what is just (Rom. 12:19). Or “If I forgive, I will become vulnerable to them again.” The truth is that just because you forgive them does not mean that they are safe, and you must trust them again. They must earn your trust. For reconciliation on a horizontal level to take place, the perpetrator must apologize, repent or change his mind and behavior, and ask for forgiveness (Matt. 18:15-18; Luke 17:3-4). [6]

Forgiveness is so important because it gives us the ability to move on in life. Being unforgiving connects us to our past hurts and makes it difficult to receive the blessings of new relationships. Forgiveness occurs when the one who was wounded cancels the debt owed to him or her. When we forgive, we are free from those who hurt us. [7]

If you are struggling to forgive your perpetrator(s), take some time today to do this exercise: [8]

1. Ask God to reveal to you the people who have hurt you. Make a list. Start with those closest to you (e.g., your parents, siblings, spouse, children, or a close friend; etc.). Do the exercise with them one at a time. Think about the people whom you still “go back to court with” in your mind: 

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

2. Wounds: What he or she did to you that hurt you:  abandoned, abused, betrayed, criticized, lied, misrepresented, neglected, rejected, etc. What was the wound(s)?

 ______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

3. Judgments (Matt. 7:1-2): The things you believe about them: e.g., they are evil, lazy, selfish, stupid, weak, didn’t love me, didn’t care for me, etc.). What are your judgments?

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

Repent of these judgments and ask God to release the person and yourself from the consequences (Matt. 7:1-2).

4. Vows (Matt. 5:33-35): Vows can be like self-cures, promises you told yourself to survive the wound(s), e.g.,“I don’t need or trust anyone,” or “whatever I do, it won’t be enough,” or “all men/women are ______,” etc.

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

Renounce and repent of these vows, asking God to forgive you and to break them.

5. Effect on You: What effect did the wound have on you (How did you cope)? Addiction, anger, anxiety, codependency, depression, food, isolation, stress, workaholism, etc.?

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

6. Their Debt: What debt do they owe you? What would they have to do for you to trust them again? Apologize, change their behavior, experience humiliation, justice, make restitution, money, repent, seek your forgiveness, suffer, etc.

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

Talk to the Lord, asking Him to make you both willing and able to cancel their debt as He has already cancelled yours to Him through Christ (Matt. 18:23-33; Ephes. 4:32).

7. False Beliefs. What false belief or lie is keeping you from forgiving them? Say the following false beliefs below to yourself to see if they feel true. If they do, then meditate on the true beliefs until the false beliefs no longer feel true. There are blank spaces at the end where you can write in the false belief(s) and true belief(s) that are not on the list.

False belief: If I forgive them, they will get off the hook and there will never be any justice.

True belief: Only God knows what is just (Rom. 12:19).

False belief: Forgiveness means I must pretend that nothing ever happened.

True belief: Forgiveness is not denial. You must tell yourself the truth about what they did and how it affected you to really be able to forgive them from the heart (Matt. 18:35; John 8:32).

False belief: If I forgive, I will become vulnerable to them again.

True belief: Just because you forgive them doesn’t mean that they are safe, and you must trust them again (Matt. 18:15-18; Luke 17:3-4).

False belief: My unforgiveness punishes them and is justified because I am right; they will never see their wrong and repent if I let go.

True belief: The truth is, it is God’s mercy and kindness that leads us to repentance. Only He knows what will change them (Rom. 2:4; Ephes. 4:24-32).

False belief: _____________________________________________

_____________________________________________

True belief: _____________________________________________

_____________________________________________

False belief: _____________________________________________

_____________________________________________

True belief: _____________________________________________

_____________________________________________

8. Forgiveness Prayer (Matt. 6:12, 14-15). If you are ready, insert the name of the person you have chosen to forgive into the following prayer of forgiveness. You may want to say it in your own words but be sure to include all the elements.

Forgiveness Prayer:

Father God, Your Word says that to be forgiven, I must forgive. And so, I come to You in the name of Jesus, in obedience and love, and I bring (name) _____ before You. I cancel _____ debt to me (e.g., apology, change of behavior, humiliation, justice, restitution, money, repent, seek forgiveness, suffer, etc.). I choose to forgive this hurt against me, and I ask that You not hold these sins against _____ on my account. I release _____ from any desire on my part to see _____ punished. In fact, as You have told me to do, I bless _____ in Your Son’s name, Jesus. You know _____ desires, needs, and hurts. You know what would bless _____. And so, I ask that You pour out Your love and healing to _____ and bring _____ Your highest good, because Your name is Good and Love, and You are not willing that any should perish. Now also, Father, please heal my heart and set me free to love _____ as You do. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

9. The Truth sets you free (John 8:36): Pray and ask God to show you this person as He sees them. Ask Him to show you what is true. One of the great mysteries of God is that He loves the perpetrator as much as the victim. Write down any insights God gives to you as you pray.

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

10. Is there anything God wants you to do to heal this relationship? Check with your counselor or discipleship group before you take any action.

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Adapted from Michael Dye’s The Genesis Process: For Change Groups Books 1 and 2 Individual Workbook (Michael Dye/Double Eagle Industries, 2012), pp. 123-133.

[2] Ibid., pp. 123-124.

[3] Ibid., pp. 126-128.

[4] Ibid., pg. 129.

[5] Ibid., pp. 127-128, 130.

[6] Ibid., pg. 128.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Adapted from Ibid., pp. 129 -133.

Overcoming the Weight of Shame (Revised)

27 Make me understand the way of Your precepts; so shall I meditate on Your wonderful works. 28 My soul melts from heaviness; strengthen me according to Your word. 29 Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously.” Psalm 119:27-29

The Lord has been teaching me a lot about shame the past few years. Having grown up with shame-based lies in America and having served as a missionary in a shame-based country for several years, this issue of shame has weighed heavily on my soul. In this devotion I will address shame in a Christian’s life.

It is important to understand that shame is not from God. When God made the first man and woman, they were naked and unashamed before the Lord and one another (Gen. 2:25). Even after Adam and Eve sinned, God did not come to condemn them with shame, He came to cover their sin and shame (Gen. 3:9-21). For example, when Adam told God, “I was afraid because I was naked” (3:10). God replied, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat” (3:11)? God never told Adam and Eve they were naked. This was the natural consequence of their sin. Satan also reveals our shame to us when we sin (true shame) or don’t sin (false shame). His accusations against believers produce shame in their lives. The Devil uses shame to isolate Christians from God and one another. Like a roaring lion who focuses on those who are isolated and weak, Satan focuses on believers who are alone and weak (cf. I Peter 5:8).

Guilt says, “You did something wrong.” Shame says, “You are wrong.” Satan uses shame to condemn us and keep us from drawing near to God and one another. 

In my devotions this morning, the Lord led me to revisit some verses I wrote about 3.5 years ago to help me overcome my battle with shame. The Psalmist writes, “Make me understand the way of Your precepts; so shall I meditate on Your wonderful works” (119:27). We need God to help us “understand” or discern the pattern (“way”) of His commands (“precepts”). Take time to invite God to help you understand how to apply His Word to your deep struggle with shame. The Lord wants us to focus (“meditate”) on the “wonderful works” He is doing deep inside of us rather than on our sin and shame. Shame tends to focus on behavior and external reformation. God’s grace and truth focus on the heart and inward transformation. Before God can change our behavior, He must change our hearts (cf. Mark 7:14-23). 

As God leads me to deal more deeply with my shame, I discover that my “soul melts from heaviness” (119:28a). The word “melts” (dalaph) means “to drip or leak because cracks are not mended.” The idea is that our soul is broken and unable to retain what God gives us. Shame keeps us from believing the truth about God’s love and acceptance of us. As a result, our soul is broken and weighed down with the “heaviness” of sadness and shame. And a cycle of shame develops whereby we mess up, confess our sins, and then try harder, only to repeat the same sin because we continue to believe the shame-based lies that fuel our shame. And we stay bound to this cycle of shame. We cannot break this shame cycle until we deal with the wounds that the shame-based lies are attached to. It takes God’s Spirit to heal these wounds to our souls.  

Few things are more unbearable than the heaviness of shame. It is a burden that God never intended for people to bear. Yet Satan will use shame to keep us from becoming the people God  intended us to be. What is God’s remedy for this weight of shame in a Christian’s life?

“Strengthen me according to Your word” (119:28b). We do not have the strength to overcome this weight of shame on our own. Only God has the power necessary to win this battle. The word “strengthen” (qum) means “to arise or stand up.” In the context, this refers to God giving us the ability to arise from the depths of our sadness and shame by means of His “word.” The strength we need to overcome shame comes from the truth of God’s Word. If we do not make our home in God’s Word (cf. John 8:31-32), we will not win this battle with shame. No amount of determination, willpower, or “trying harder” will overcome the weight of shame. We must invite God’s Word to do that for us. How?

“Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously” (119:29). Shame is based on lies the enemy has attached to past wounds in our lives. Lies that say:

• “I am bad or unworthy.”

• “No one could love me as I am.”

• “I cannot depend on others to help me.”

• “I am defined by my sin and shame.”

We must ask the Lord to expose and remove the pattern (“way”) of lies that keep us enslaved to the weight of shame. And then ask Him to “grant me Your law graciously,” not harshly. The only verse of the Bible where Jesus specifically describes His heart reads, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29). Jesus says His heart is “gentle and lowly” (humble), not harsh and proud. Our pride can lead us to deal harshly with ourselves and others. But Christ invites us to “learn from”Him how to deal gently and humbly with ourselves and others so we “will find rest for” our “souls” in our discipleship relationship with Him. So, ask the Lord Jesus to gently replace the shame-based lies in your soul with His liberating truth. Truths that say:

• “I am loved and cherished by God.” Psalm 27:10

• “I am totally loved by Jesus just as I am.” Romans 5:6, 8

• “I can depend on others to help me through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

• “I am defined by the Light and Love of Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:2, 8

I want to share a “Lies versus Truth” exercise that is adapted from Michael’s Dye, The Genesis Process: For Change Groups Books 1 and 2 Individual Workbook (Michael Dye/Double Eagle Industries, 2012), pp. 222 -228. 

With your mentor or with a group of accountability partners, review some of the most common false beliefs or lies listed below and their corresponding truths. There are blank spaces at the end where you can write in the lies you believe and their corresponding truths that are not on the list. Say each lie to yourself and only focus on the ones that FEEL true. You will know if your heart believes it is true because it will feel true. Even if it doesn’t make sense, go with the feeling. Replacing the lies with the truth is how real healing takes place. The truth is a Person, Jesus Christ (John 1:14; 14:6), not a concept or a Book. Jesus can supernaturally speak truth into our limbic system (right brain where lies are inserted) in a way that no one else can because He is full of truth and is the truth (John 1:14; 14:6; Heb. 4:12-13). Faith in Jesus’ truth produces healing, and faith comes from hearing a personal word from God (Rom. 10:17).  

For each lie your heart believes, say the lie to Jesus. Ask Jesus to tell you what is true. He may bring to your mind a Scripture with which to replace the lie. Meditate on that truth until the lie does not feel true anymore. Ask Jesus if there is anything else He wants to share with you. Say the lie again and see how true it feels. If it still feels true, you may need to meditate on the truth some more or even ask for help. Pray and ask the Lord to heal and seal off any wounds, demonic influences, and behaviors that the lie created. God may show you that you need to forgive the person who caused this lie to be attached to the wound he or she gave you.

LieTruth
1. God cannot be trustedGod cannot lie and is always faithful (2 Tim. 2:13; Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:18) 
2. God is out of control with His angerGod is slow to anger and gracious (Ps. 145:8)
3. I am alone and unlovedI am cherished and loved by God the Father (Ps. 27:10)
4. God could never love meGod has always loved me (Jer. 31:3)
5. Nobody would love me as I amGod loves me just as I am (Rom. 5:6, 8)
6. I am bad because of what was done to meI am precious to Jesus because of what was done to Him (Matt. 13:44-45; I Cor. 6:19-20) 
7. I am unwantedI am chosen by God (Ephes. 1:4)
8. God is against meGod is for me, not against me (Rom. 8:31-32)
9. Someone has or will condemn meIn Christ I am free from condemnation (Rom. 8:1, 34)
10. I am going to be separated from the love of Christ because I’m so unworthyNo one and nothing can separate me from God’s love in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:35, 37-39)
11. I do not have what it takesI can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13)
12. I am defined by my sin and brokenness I am defined by the light of Jesus Christ (Ephes. 5:8)
13. My past is a hitching postMy past is a guidepost (Ezek. 18:14, 17)
14. I am what I do or what others say about meI am what God says about me (I John 3:1-2; 5:1)
15. I am a sinner because I sinI am a saint (one declared righteous by God) who sins (Ephes. 1:1; I John 1:8, 10)
16. My behavior tells me what to believe about myselfMy belief about myself determines my behavior (Prov. 23:7)
17. Whatever I do, it will never be good enoughIn Christ, I am good enough (2 Cor. 5:21; Ephes. 1:6)
18. I must be perfect to be safe I am hidden with Christ in God, forever safe and secure (Col. 3:3)
19. I am a disappointmentI am a delight to God (Ps. 17:8; Zeph. 3:17)
20. God won’t be there when I need HimGod is always available to help me (Ps. 121:1-4; Isa. 41:10, 13)
21. I should never be angry, anxious, depressed, or lonely Anger, anxiety, depression, and loneliness are signals to draw close to God. (Ps. 4:4-5; 42:5; 72:21- 26; 2 Tim. 4:16-17)
22. Failure is the end of the world Failure is an opportunity to learn (Ps. 37:23-24; Luke 22:31-34; Heb. 12:11)
23. No one understands meJesus understands me because He made me (Ps. 139) and walked in my shoes (Heb. 4:15)
24. I could never be forgivenI am totally forgiven in Christ (Ephes. 1:7; Col. 2:13-14)
25. I am a loserI am a winner seated next to Christ (Ephes. 1:20-21; 2:5-6)
26. I am a mistakeI am God’s masterpiece (Ephes. 2:10)
26. I cannot changeAll things are possible with God (Matt. 19:26)
27. If I am not in control, something bad will happenWhen I yield to Christ’s control, I can have peace (John 16:33; Phil. 4:6-7; cf. Isa. 26:3)
28. I cannot cope without alcohol/anxiety/chemicals/food/sex/ shoppingI can cope through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13)
29. I need people’s affection and approval to be completeI am complete in Christ, lacking nothing (Col. 2:10)
30. Christians cannot be trustedI can learn to trust Christians who are safe (John 13:34-35; Gal 6:1-2)
31. I must be liked and loved by everyoneI am likeable and loveable, but not to everyone (Isa. 53:3; John 15:18-19)
32. Sex with a beautiful woman is the greatest sign I am loved Christ’s dying in my place for all my sin is the greatest sign I am loved (Rom. 5:8; I John 4:9-10)
33. I am worthless I am worth fighting for (Exod. 14:13-14; 2 Chron. 20:15, 17)
    
      
    
    

Prayer: Precious Father God, please give me the understanding and discernment to permit Your Word to speak to my deep struggle with shame. Help me focus on the wonderful work You are doing inside of me rather than on my failings and shortcomings. I confess that my soul melts from the heaviness of my sadness and shame. Please strengthen me as only You can with Your Word so I may arise out of this pit of shame. I pray Your Holy Spirit will expose and remove the shame-based lies that keep me bound to this cycle of shame and replace them graciously with Your liberating truths from Your Word so I may become the person You created me to be. Replace my false identity that is based upon shame-based lies with my new identity in Christ that is based upon Your Word. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

I John 5 – Part 7

“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” I John 5:20.

This will be our last lesson on the book of I John. As we have stated several times before, this book is about fellowship with God (1:3-4). Being in fellowship with God depends on walking in the light as He is in the light (1:7), confessing our sins (1:9), keeping God’s commandments (2:3-5; 3:24), loving one another (2:9-11; 3:11-23; 4:7-5:3), hating the world (2:15-17), acknowledging Jesus is God’s Son (2:23; 4:2-3, 4:15), practicing righteousness (2:29-3:10), listening to and obeying apostolic teaching (4:6), and avoiding idolatry (5:21).

As the apostle John concludes his letter, he is seeking to encourage his Christian readers (2:12-14; 5:13) who may be moving deeper into darkness along the path of sin or they may know of other Christians who are, and therefore, may be in danger of a premature physical death (5:16-17; cf. Acts 5:5-10; I Cor. 3:16-17; 5:5; 11:30). John already presented two unchanging certainties in 5:18-19 beginning with the phrase “we know that…” (oidamen hoti). He wants his readers to know that no matter how far down into darkness a Christian brother or sister has traveled, they are still God’s child at the core of their being because His sinless seed remains in them (5:18; cf. 3:9) and he or she is on God’s side whether they consciously sense that or not, and will therefore feel like a foreigner in this Satanically controlled world (5:19; 2:16-17). 1

We are now ready to look at the third encouragement from the apostle in 5:20. This is one of the clearest verses in the Bible concerning the deity of Jesus Christ. “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” (I John 5:20). Again, we see the phrase, “we know that…” which reminds us that what John is about to say is absolute truth from God the Holy Spirit.

What is it we can know with certainty? “That the Son of God has come…” (5:20a). John and the other apostles were eyewitnesses to the coming of God’s Son in the first century (cf. 1:1-5; 2:7; 4:14). Jesus is not some mythical person. History attests to the fact that Jesus Christ was a real Person Who was born before King Herod’s death.

Luke 2:1 states that Jesus was born in the reign of Caesar Augustus (who reigned from March 15, 44 B.C. to August 19, A.D 14). Matthew 2:1 and Luke 1:5 inform us that Christ’s birth came before King Herod’s death. Herod’s death can be determined with certainty. According to the Jewish historian, Josephus (Antiquities 17.6.4), an eclipse of the moon occurred on March 12/13, 4 B.C. before Herod’s death. 2 Josephus also records (Antiquities 17.9.3; The Jewish War 2.1.30) that the Passover celebration that took place after King Herod’s death occurred on April 11, 4 B.C. 3 Hence, Herod must have died between March 12 and April 11, 4 B.C. Therefore, for these reasons Christ could not have been born later than March/April of 4 B.C.

Every time we write down today’s date, it goes back to Jesus. Today is May 11, 2023. Two thousand twenty-three years from what? From A.D. which stands for Anno Domini, which is Latin for “year of our Lord,” and it means the number of years since the birth of Jesus Christ.

“It might sound strange to suggest that Jesus Christ was born no later than 4 B.C. since B.C. means ‘before Christ.’ But our modern calendar which splits time between B.C. and A.D. was not invented until A.D. 525. At that time, Pope John the First asked a monk named Dionysius to prepare a standardized calendar for the western Church. Unfortunately, poor Dionysius missed the real B.C./A.D. division by at least four years!” 4

In addition to the historicity of Christ’s birth, there is also ample historical evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Josephus also wrote of Jesus’ death, “Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross.” 5 Roman historian, Cornelius Tacitus, wrote, “a wise man who was called Jesus…. Pilate condemned Him to be condemned and to die.” In addition, he said that Jesus’ disciples “reported that He had appeared to them three days after His crucifixion and that He was alive.” 6  

A Roman writer, Phlegon, referred to Christ’s death and resurrection in his Chronicles, saying, “Jesus, while alive, was of no assistance to himself, but that he arose after death, and exhibited the marks of his punishment, and showed how his hands had been pierced by nails.” 7

In addition, Phlegon spoke of “the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place.” 8

The historical evidence for Jesus’ death is so overwhelming that even a Muslim scholar, Reza Aslan, who wrote the book, Zealot, was persuaded to conclude Jesus “was most definitely crucified.” 9 Despite the fact that the Quran denies Christ’s death (Sura 4:157),the historical evidence persuaded Aslan to conclude that Christ truly did die on the cross. “He believes so strongly in Jesus’ death by crucifixion that he uses it as the foundation for his entire theory of Jesus’ life.” 10

Just as history proclaims that George Washington was the first President of the USA, so history proclaims that Jesus Christ was born in 4 B.C., and thirty-three years later died and rose from the dead. The resurrection of Christ is the most attested fact of ancient history. Thomas Arnold authored a three-volume history of Rome and was appointed to Oxford’s Chair of Modern History. Concerning the evidence behind the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he said, “I have been used for years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than that Christ died and rose from the dead.” 11

Frank Morison, a British trial lawyer, vowed to write a book disproving Christianity and committed to base his book on a collection of facts. Using a critical method of evaluation and despite his initial beliefs, he concluded that Christianity is true. The resurrection convinced him, and he wrote a book entitled, Who Moved the Stone? which begins with the chapter, “The Book that Refused to Be Written.”

Former atheists Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel set out to disprove the resurrection of Christ only to be persuaded by the historical evidence that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. You can read about the evidence that persuaded them to believe in Jesus in their books: McDowell ‘s The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (1999) and The Resurrection Factor (1981); Strobel’s The Case for Christ Revised (2013) and The Case for Easter (2004).

John states that Christ came “and has given us an understanding” (5:20b). The Greek word for “understanding” (dianoian) refers to “comprehending,” or “insight, intelligence.” 12 This is the only time John uses this word in his epistle. Christ’s coming provided the giving of the Holy Spirit or “the anointing” (2:21-20, 27) to all who believe in Jesus (John 7:37-39; Acts 10:43-48; 11:15-17; 15:7-11; Rom. 5:5; 8:9; I Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:2-3; Ephes. 1:13-14; et al.).

In his gospel, John records that the night before His crucifixion, Jesus promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would “dwell… in” them (John 14:16-17; cf. I Cor. 3:16; 6:19), “teach” them and bring to “remembrance all” that He taught (John 14:26), and “guide” them into “all truth” to “glorify” Jesus (John 16:13-14).

John informs us that this “understanding” the Holy Spirit gives believers (cf. I Cor. 2:9-16) enables them to “know Him who is true” (5:20c). The word “know” (ginōskōmen) refers to experiential knowledge (see comments on 2:3-4, 12-14). The coming of the Son of God has given believers the comprehension or intelligence necessary to “know Him” experientially “who is true.” This experiential knowledge is the result of obedience to God’s commands (2:3-4; c. John 14:21, 23). 13

“Christian love (obedience) is never absent where God is truly known (cf. comments on 4:7-8). There could be no true understanding of love or of God had not the Son of God come and died to reveal God’s love. Through His death the Son has given us an understanding (an intelligence) by means of which we may know God. The obedient Christian possesses the necessary spiritual capacity to know God.” 14

When John states “and we are in Him who is true” (5:20d), we are reminded that he equated being “in Him” (God) to “abiding” in Him (cf. 2:5-6), just as Jesus taught the branch is to abide in the vine (cf. John 15:1-8).Christ said that “abiding” is necessary to be a “disciple” who “bears fruit,” experiences answered prayer and “joy,” and glorifies “the Father” (John 15:1-11). To be “in Him” is equated to having fellowship with God. 15 Hence, John is not talking about our position or salvation in I John 5:20 when he speaks of being “in Him,” he is talking about our condition or fellowship with God. Being “in Him” refers to “abiding” in Him. 16

John then identifies the One “who is true” when he writes, “in His Son Jesus Christ” (5:20e). John heard Christ say the night before His crucifixion, “I am… the truth” (John 14:6). There is nothing false or misleading about Jesus Christ. He is the truth.Some suggest that the first “Him” in 5:20 refers to God the Father (“that we know Him who is true”) and the second “Him” refers to Christ(“and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ”).

“But to be in Him, that is, to abide in Him, is not only to abide in Him who is true (as John has just described God), but it is also to be in His Son Jesus Christ. There is no and between the phrases in Him and in His Son. To abide in God and to abide in Christ are the same thing.” 17

John then makes one of the clearest proclamations of the deity of Christ in all the Bible in the last part of the verse. “This is the true God and eternal life.” (5:20f). Clearly the nearest antecedent in 5:20 for the pronoun “this” (houtos) is Jesus Christ (Iēsou Christō) which agrees in gender (masculine) and number (singular). Christ is the main focus of this verse. John clearly states that Jesus Christ is “the true God and eternal life.” There is no other possible antecedent in this verse.

Someone might ask, “Didn’t Jesus deny that He was the true God when He prayed to His Father in heaven and addressed Him as the only true God in John 17:3?” Christ prayed to His Father in heaven, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3). Jesus was not denying He was the “true God,” but was praising His Father as such.

The very next words after this verse are: “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:4-5). Jesus said He shared the glory of God the Father before the world was. But the Yahweh of the Old Testament says, “I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 42:8). How can Jesus claim to have the glory of His Father before the world was if Yahweh says He will not give His glory to another?

Because Jesus is the Yahweh of the Old Testament. He has the same divine nature as His Father. Jesus identifies Himself with the Father. Jesus “is in” the Father, and the Father “is in” Jesus (John 10:38). Jesus is “one” with the Father (John 10:30). They are not divided in essence. So, in one sense Jesus is in the Father; and if the Father is the only true God, then Jesus is also the true God.

The Greek word translated “only” (monos) in John 17:3 does not always refer to absolute exclusivity. For example, monos is used in Jude 1:4 of “the only” Lordship of Jesus Christ, “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only [monos] Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jude is not excluding God the Father when he refers to “the only” Lordship of Jesus Christ. Other verses in the Bible confirm the Lordship of God the Father (Psalm 2:7; 110:1; Isaiah 63:16; Mark 13:20; Luke 10:21-22) and God the Son, Jesus Christ (Psalm 110:2; Luke 6:5; 19:31; John 13:13; 20:28; Acts 2:36; 10:36; 16:31; Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:11; Revelation 17:14).

To say that Jesus denies He is God in John 17:3 would contradict the entire message of the gospel of John which begins (John 1:1-18) and ends (John 20:28-31) with the fact that Jesus is God.

In John 17:3, Jesus was not creating a point of distinction between Himself and the Father in the expression, “only true God”, but between the Father and any other “so called god” such as idols. Christ had lived among the Romans with their many competing gods and Jesus was addressing the Father with these idols in mind.

This understanding is substantiated further by John in his epistle when he identifies Christ as “the true God” (5:20f). John clearly states that Jesus Christ is the true God. He then writes, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” (I John 5:21). John affirms that Jesus “is the true God” and then immediately warns his readers to guard themselves “from idols” or false gods.

In I John 5:20 the apostle also declares that Jesus Christ is “eternal life,” which connects back to the prologue (1:1-4) where the subject matter of John’s epistle was identified as “that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.” (1:2b). This supports the final statement in verse 20 as a reference to Jesus Christ. Taken together, 1:2 and 5:20 provide bookends for what John wrote. By saying Jesus is the “eternal life,” John has fulfilled his intention to “declare” to his readers this “eternal life” (1:2). 18

He has shown them that by ‘abiding’ in Him who is true (which is also to abide in His Son Jesus Christ), they can experience eternal life. That life, expressed in love toward their Christian brothers and sisters, springs out of the sinless inner self (5:18). It marks their life and experience as being of God rather than of the world (5:19), and expresses the spiritual understanding that the Son of God came to give them (5:20a).” 19

As we mentioned in our previous lesson, some of you may have a Christian spouse or child who has pursued the lusts of this passing world (2:16-17). They have been so twisted by the godless values of this world system that they are doing things that are contrary to their Christian beliefs and values. Because of their prolonged plunge into the deep darkness of sin, you have lost hope that they will ever return to fellowship with God and His people.

John wants to encourage us in 5:20 with this “spiritual radar system or search light the Holy Spirit uses to direct us to the true God. There are many false gods in the world (as the next verse warns), which can lead us far from the path of God. This internal guidance system can help bring us home. It’s what Paul would call the ‘mind of Christ’ (1 Cor 2:15-16).” 20

In stark contrast to the Lord Jesus Christ who is “the true God and eternal life” (5:20), John concludes his epistle with a final admonition to avoid false gods: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” (I John 5:21). John begins this verse with “Little children” (teknia, “born-ones”; cf. 2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4) 21 which expresses his fatherly love and concern for these believers.

This concluding verse may seem out of place to us at first, but in view of John’s previous discussion on prayer for a sinning believer (5:16-17) and his three encouragements (5:18-20), the last of which uses the word “true” three times to describe our “God” (5:20), this is a very pertinent conclusion to the apostle’s epistle on fellowship with God and other believers.

The opposite of true is false. Our God is true (5:20), but “idols” are false gods (5:21). “There is no need to take ‘idols’ in a figurative sense. In the Greco-Roman world of John’s day, any moral compromise with worldly perspectives was likely to lead to some involvement with idolatry, since idolatry permeated pagan life at every level.” 22

Our spiritual radar system (intelligence given to us by the Holy Spirit – 5:20), can help us recognize the true God (Jesus Christ) in contrast to the false gods of this world. False gods can destroy our fellowship or closeness with God and other Christians. 23

Anderson observes that “we don’t have to study the Old Testament long to see that while kings ruled in Israel, idolatry reigned in the temple more years than Yahweh. God used the Assyrians and the Babylonians to purify His people from their idols. And since it was King Solomon who introduced idolatry into Israel through his intermarriage with foreign wives, we see how easily idolatry can creep into the life of a wise man who was even used by God to write inspired revelation.

“Idols are usually good things. The bronze serpent (Num. 21:4-9) was initially used by God to heal the Israelites from snake bites. But eight centuries later (2 Kgs. 18:4) Hezekiah had to destroy the bronze serpent, for it had become an idol called Nehushtan (piece of bronze) to which they burned incense. Our idols are usually not evil things, but rather good things: our possessions (cars, houses, even yards), our retirement accounts, our bodies, our success—you name it.” 24

How do we identify an idol? It has been said that “an idol is like an eclipse of the sun— the moon gets in the way. When something gets between us and God’s light, then darkness creeps in and whatever is blocking that light is an idol. Beware! Solomon was no dummy. He thought he was doing something good by expanding the land of Israel out to the borders promised by God to Abraham. But he had to compromise the guidelines laid down by God for a king (Deut. 17:17) in order to do it.” 25

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it taking the place of God in my life? Is it becoming more important to me than spending time with the Lord Jesus?
  • Is it more important to me than my family, my Christian friends, and my ministry?
  • What do I turn to other than God to medicate my feelings of anxiety, boredom, depression, exhaustion, loneliness, self-doubts, or stress?
  • What do I turn to other than God to celebrate or reward myself for an accomplishment or achievement?

If you answered these questions honestly, you probably have a good idea of some idols in your life. An idol could be alcohol, your cell phone, drugs, entertainment, fame, feelings, intellectualism, novels, pleasure, possessions, power, sex, social media, sports, success, work, etc.

I believe one of the most dangerous and destructive idols for believers of all ages in the church today is pornography. 26 Yet most churches do not know how to address it in a way that offers hope and healing for those enslaved to it. 27 Churches often preach against the problem of pornography without providing a safe environment to address the real problem which is a deeper hurt in the hearts of those hooked on porn. Pornography is simply a surface coping mechanism for a deeper wound. Unresolved pain or trauma from our past is often what drives addictions of any kind.

The solution to overcoming pornography or any addiction for that matter, is to look to Jesus Christ, the true God and eternal life, to heal the pain that drives the addiction (I John 5:20). This is done through the discipleship process whereby a believer in Jesus learns to abide in Jesus’ word along with other believers so they can know the truth that sets them free from the lies that drive their bondage to sin and shame (John 8:31-36). As a believer identifies the lies that drive their addiction, they can learn to replace those lies in the power of the Holy Spirit with the truth of God’s Word that brings freedom from bondage to sin (cf. Psalm 119:28-29). This is to be done in the context of a loving community of like-minded believers who can encourage and empower each other on their journey to freedom (2 Tim. 2:22).

If you do not know for sure you have eternal life and a future home in Jesus’ heaven, you need to start with understanding that Jesus Christ is the only source of eternal life. The bookends of I John (1:1-3; 5:20) have informed us of this. To have eternal life in one’s life, you must have Jesus Christ, Who is eternal life (5:20), in your life (5:11-12). How do you get Christ in your life? John wrote, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:13). To “know” with absolute certainty, not guess, or hope that you “have eternal life,” you must “believe in the name of the Son of God.” There is no mention of having fruit, obedience, or a changed life to know you have eternal life. The only condition is to “believe in the name of the Son of God.” This is so simple that many adults miss it.

In this context, to “believe in” (pisteúō eis) the name of the Son of God means to be convinced or persuaded that Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal life (5:20) Who will give you eternal life as a free gift the moment you believe in His name. 28 Are you convinced or persuaded that this promise of God is true?  If so, then you can “know” with absolutely certainty that you now have eternal life. And you can be just as certain of heaven as the people who are already there. Knowing we are going to heaven is not a guess; it is a guarantee from Jesus Christ Who is the true God and eternal life (I John 5:1, 13, 20; cf. John 14:1-6). Christ cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). His promise is as true as He is true.

If you or a fellow believer close to you find yourselves moving deeper into darkness on the pathway of sin and there seems to be no hope of returning to fellowship with God and His people, I pray that God’s encouraging promises in John’s final words in his letter (5:18-21) will give you the assurance and guidance you need. These promises include… 29

1. God’s sinless seed (divine nature) remains in you or your loved one so that you (or he/she) are still the same holy child of God who remains untouched or harmed by evil or the evil one no matter how badly or long you (or he/she) have sinned (5:18; 3:9). This unchanged seed remains a base from which the Holy Spirit can work within you (or him/her) to bring healing to you (or him/her) so you can return to fellowship with God and His people.

2. You (or he/she) are on God’s side and will never be completely comfortable living for this world (5:19). As a child of God, you (or he/she) are totally separate from the whole world that lies under the influence of Satan, and to some degree you will never feel completely comfortable in this sin sick world. God can turn your (or his/her) discomfort into disgust so you (or he/she) will turn towards home (God).

3. God’s search light (inner, spiritual intelligence) within you (or him/her) can be used by the Holy Spirit to guide you (or him/her) back to the true God and eternal life, Jesus Christ (5:20-21). God’s Spirit can whisper what is right in the ear of a wayward believer whose fellowship with God and other Christians has been cut off by their focus on the idols of this world, so he or she will return to the only true God Who alone can give them fullness of joy as they resume fellowship with Him and His people.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the book of I John which was written to help believers experience the joy of close fellowship with You and Your eternal Son, Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, there are many false gods or idols in the world that seek to draw us away from You and Your Word. Some of us or those we love, have become enslaved to these idols and we are in desperate need of Your Spirit to turn our discomfort in this sin sick world into disgust so we may return to the true God and eternal life, Jesus Christ. Forgive us Father for turning to the things of this world to medicate our pain instead of looking to Jesus, Who can heal us and satisfy our deepest needs. Thank You for the encouraging promises You have given us at the end of John’s epistle which offer us assurance and guidance. Help us to express our new nature and separateness from this Satanically controlled world system by guarding ourselves from the false gods of this world. Rescue us, restore us, and renew us, we pray. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 265.

2. Retrieved on May 11, 2023, from Daniel B. Wallace’s article entitled “The Birth of Jesus Christ,” at bible.org and from the Biblical Archaeology Society Staff’s December 15, 2022, article entitled “Herod’s Death, Jesus’ Birth, and a Lunar Eclipse at biblicalarchaeology.org.

3. Ibid.

4. Wallace, “The Birth of Jesus Christ,” at bible.org.

5. Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross, Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), pg. 236 cites Flavius Josephus, “Antiquities of the Jews,” 18:3; trans. William Whiston, Josephus: Complete Works (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1963), pg. 379.

6. Ibid. cites Cornelius Tacitus (A.D. 55? – after 117), Annals, 15.44.

7. Ibid., cites Phlegon, “Chronicles,” as cited by Origen, “Against Celsus” from The Ante-Nicene Fathers, trans. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), vol. 4, pg. 455.

8. Ibid.

9. Nabeel Qureshi, No God but One: Allah or Jesus? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016 Kindle Edition), pg. 179 cites interview with Lauren Green.

10. Ibid.

11. Thomas Arnold, Christian Life, Its Hopes, Its Fears, and Its Close, 6th ed. (London: T. Fellowes, 1859), pp. 14-16.

12. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 234.

13. Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 604.

14. Ibid., pg. 606.

15. See Dillow’s thorough discussion of John 15 in Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 611-626.

16. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 265.

17. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 606.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 265.

21. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 4130.

22. Ibid., Kindle Location 4130 to 4135.

23. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 266.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid., pp. 266-267.

26. Statistics indicate that 60-70 percent of men, 50-58 percent of pastors, and 20-30 percent of women in evangelical churches are sexually addicted – see Jeremy & Tiana Wiles, Conquer Series: The Battle Plan For Purity Study Guide, Vol. 1 (Stuart FL: KingdomWorks Studio, 2017), pg. 21; young people are also struggling with watching pornography online as young as four years of age and older because it is so accessible, addictive, aggressive, anonymous, and appealing (see Christian apologist and author Josh McDowell’s very informative and staggering videos on October 7, 2018 at Denton Bible Church entitled, “Breaking Free from the Porn Epidemic w/ Josh McDowell” at https://vimeo.com/294241982 and on August 3, 2021 with Pure Desire Ministries entitled, “The Effects of Pornography with Josh McDowell” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3sRmLFarZc .” Christians who are hooked on pornography have less spiritual interest in attending church, reading their Bibles, prayer, and hanging out with other Christians.

27. Less than 7% of pastors in America provide solutions to help their people break free from porn (see Ted Shimer, The Freedom Fight: The New Drug and the Truths that Set Us Free (Houston: High Bridge Books, 2020), pg. 89 cites Barna Survey at  https://www.charismnews.com/us/73208-15-statistics-about-the-church-and-pornography-that-will-blow-your-mind. However, Shimer also provides practical suggestions in his book on how churches can overcome the obstacles that keep them from addressing pornography in helpful and healthy ways (pp. 91-99).

28. The phrase to “believe in” (pisteúō eis) basically means to be convinced or persuaded that something is true and therefore is worthy of your trust – see Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pp. 816-817.

29. Adapted from Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 267.

I John 5 – Part 6

“We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.” I John 5:18

As the apostle John concludes his letter, he reviews and reinforces truths he has shared throughout his epistle. John just focused on praying for Christian brothers and sisters who had wandered far away from God and His people on the path of sin (5:16-17). Some of these sinning believers may be close to departing from this world through a premature death (cf. Acts 5:5-10; I Cor. 3:16-17; 5:5; 11:30). 1

John’s readers (including you and me) may have wondered, “Is there any hope that these sinning believers can be restored to fellowship with God and us? Is it still possible for them to resume walking in the light of fellowship with the Lord and His people after wandering so far into darkness?”

Or maybe some of his readers were asking, “Is there any hope that I can be restored to fellowship with God after wandering aimlessly for so long in the depths of darkness? Does God still love me and want to be close to me?”

I believe the apostle John would say, “Yes, a thousand times, Yes!!!” In the next three verses John will focus on three certainties. Each of the verses in 5:18-20 begins with “We know that …” (oidamen hoti). In the New Testament the Greek word oida almost always refers to “direct insight into spiritual or divine truth” although it may not be truth that has been experienced yet. 2 This truth is the result of the teaching and convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit.” 3 It is also important to observe that this Greek verb is in the perfect tense (oidamen) which means John and his readers knew these truths in the past and they continue to know them to the present. These are not guesses or mere human opinions, they are absolute unchanging truths from God that the apostle and his readers can be sure of no matter what they or other believers are facing or feeling.

“We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.” (I John 5:18). We have already learned that the phrase “whoever is born of God” refers to the divine or born-again nature we receive from God when we believe in Jesus as the Christ for everlasting life (cf. 3:9; 5:1, 13). The Greek participle translated “is born” (ho gegennēmenos) is in the perfect tense which means the new birth took place in the past and continues to the present. Since God cannot sin, the divine nature He places inside His child “does not sin” either (5:18b). A sinless Parent cannot beget a sinful child. So, sin is never an act of the born-again nature inside the believer because it is incapable of sinning (cf. 3:9).

“This divine nature is portrayed as a person (a figure of speech known as personification, that is, to treat something which is not a person as though it were, like calling a ship ‘she’). That’s why this nature is called ‘whoever,’ ‘he,’ ‘himself,’ and ‘him.’” 4

The apostle Paul spoke of this new nature as the “new man” when he writes, “And that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephes. 4:24; cf. Col. 3:10). This new nature or “inner man” is strengthened by the Spirit of God (Ephes. 3:16) and has the capacity to resist the corruption and sinful lusts of this passing world which is under the control of Satan (I John 2:16-17; 5:18-19; cf. John 12:31; 16:11; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2; Col. 1:13a). 5

Hence, John says, “he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.” The word “keeps” (tēreō) means to “watch over, guard, protect, or keep unharmed.” 6 The recipient of this protection is the born-again person (“himself”).

“In saying that the regenerate inward person (cf. Rom 7:22) ‘keeps himself,’ John is not saying that one’s inner self can somehow prevent all sin in the Christian life (cf. 1:5-10). What John means is that God’s ‘seed remains in’ the regenerate inner self (cf. 3:9) as the controlling element of his born-again nature and is impervious to even the slightest contamination from the wicked one. Believers’ failures are due to the sinful ‘programming’ of their earthly bodies, as Paul himself taught in Rom 7:7-25.” 7

Even though Satan uses the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life to sway believers away from God (2:16; 5:19), John assures us “the wicked one does not touch him,” that is, the born-again self (5:18c). The word “touch” (haptetai) means “to touch with the purpose of harming, to injure.” 8 Satan and the world he controls, cannot harm the born-again self.

This is important for all of us to remember about ourselves or other believers when humbled by sinful failures. The evil one would like to trick us into thinking that a Christian who continually walks in the darkness or repeatedly struggles with the same sin is not really God’s child which can lead them to more sinful failures. The Bible tells us we act in the way we perceive ourselves to be. “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Prov. 23:7). If I am convinced I am not really saved because of my repeated failures, then I will be more inclined to live like a nonbeliever.

But if we know and embrace the truth found in I John 5:18, we can avoid the devil’s deception, and rise from our confession of sin to the Lord (I John 1:9), knowing we are the same inwardly holy children of God we were before we sinned. So, whatever we or another Christian have succumbed to in the world, John wants us to know that who we are at the core of our being has not changed. We are still a holy child of God because God’s sinless seed remains in us (3:9).

Zane Hodges says it like this: “At the very moment we are most humbled by our sinful failures, and when we confess them, it is helpful to be confident that those failures have not really changed what we are as children of God. The enemy, try as he might, cannot really touch us. He can only attempt to persuade us that he can or has. But if we know the truth stated in this verse, he will not be able to deceive us. For if we let him, Satan will use our failures to lead us to further failure. So, after every sin, deeply though we may and should regret it, we ought to rise from our confession to God knowing that we are the same inwardly holy persons we were before we failed!” 9

Some of you reading this may have a Christian spouse or child who has pursued the lusts of this passing world (2:16-17). They have been so twisted by the godless values of this world system that they are doing things that violate their Christian beliefs and values. Perhaps they have succumbed to the allurement of alcohol, drugs, gambling, materialism, pornography, or sex. Or maybe they have developed an acute mental condition such as severe depression or a phobia. They are in bondage to such things. Please do not give up or lose hope.

If your spouse or child is a believer in Jesus Christ, he or she is still a child of God at the core of his or her being and cannot be touched or harmed by evil or the evil one (I John 5:18; cf. 3:6-9). The “seed” or divine nature of God within him or her remains unchanged. It cannot be altered or even tempted. It remains a base from which the Holy Spirit can work within this loved one to bring healing to him or her, and to bring them back to fellowship with God and His people. 10 As long as that seed remains (and it will), “it can be watered by your prayers. As long as that seed remains, it can still grow. As long as that seed remains, it can blossom, and eternal fruit can be born. Do not give up.” 11

The restoration of fellowship for wayward Christians is based on walking in the Spirit, relying on Him to express God’s sinless born-again nature in them (I John 3:6-9; 5:18; cf. Gal. 5:16-25). It is not based on willful determination, on keeping New Year’s resolutions, or the power of positive thinking. 12

But it doesn’t stop there. Not only does a child of God have God’s sinless seed that remains in him or her, but he or she is also on God’s side and God is on their side. 13 He has not given up on them. “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” (I John 5:19). Again, John begins with “we know that…” (oidamen hoti) to convey the absolute certainty of what he is about to say. This is not mere speculation; it is absolute truth.

The phrase “of God” (ek tou Theou) refers to being on God’s side in I John. 14

“To be ‘of’ something in 1 John is to be on the side of the something. We saw this in 1 John 3:10b, 19 and 4:4. In reference to believers it means to have a dynamic, spiritual link to God, Who is obviously capable of giving us victory over the world. To be ‘of God’ means we are on His side, and He is on our side. The world lies like a limp puppet in the lap of the evil one, ready to be filled with his power. On the other side, we lie in the lap of the Lord, ready to be filled with His power.” 15

The phrase “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (ho kosmos holos en tō ponerō keitai) “suggests that the world passively rests within Satan’s operative sphere. By contrast, the phrase ek Theou (‘of God’) means being ‘from’ God. The Christian should be aware of his own sinless inward man (5:18), and he should also be aware of his utter separateness from the whole world that lives under Satan’s sway. Believers, whom the enemy cannot ‘touch’ (5:18), are not a part of the world, which lies passively in the wicked one. Thus, believers must not ‘love the world or the things in the world’ (2:15-17) and they must resist the ideas that the world promotes (cf. 2:18-19).” 16

John wants to “reinforce the readers’ consciousness that they are distinct from the satanically controlled world system and basically free from its power. They need not listen to the worldly ideas advanced by the antichrists (3:7-8). Nor need they succumb to worldly desires (cf. 2:15-17).” 17

Since a believer’s regenerate self (3:9; 5:18) and conduct is sourced in God and is free from the power of Satan and his world system (5:19), there is still hope for a Christian who has been in bondage to sin for a prolonged time. Hence, if your Christian spouse or child has been living like the devil, please know that they do not belong to the evil one nor his world system.

What this means is your sinning Christian spouse or child does not belong to Satan’s world, and he or she will always to some degree feel like a foreigner in this world system. Your loved one will never feel completely comfortable in this sin-sick world. This world is not a Christian’s home, we are just passing through; our home is way out there, somewhere beyond the blue. The child of God who wanders about aimlessly in darkness will always have a degree of discomfort. They will always know something is wrong, something just isn’t right. This is not who I am in Christ.

The good news is God can turn discomfort into disgust. When your loved one’s discomfort turns to disgust, he or she will turn towards home (God). Regardless of what this person tells you, if he or she gets sucked into the sewer of this world system, they are acting out of character, and they will never be completely comfortable. Don’t listen to their lies. Keep praying that their discomfort will turn to disgust, and God will restore them back to fellowship with Him. When they finally realize that they are wasting their life eating slop with the pigs in the pig sty, they will turn their eyes toward home (cf. Luke 15:13-17).

Because of God’s seed within your believing spouse or child, he or she is on God’s side whether they consciously sense that or not, and they will feel like a foreigner in this world. God can turn this discomfort into disgust so that they will want to come home to fellowship with Him and His family. Next time, Lord willing, we will discover how to get there. 18

Prayer: Gracious Father in heaven, oh how we needed to hear these encouraging words about Christians who are living in the depths of darkness and appear to have no hope of returning to fellowship with You and Your people. Thank You for reminding us that no matter how much we or our loved ones have embraced the lusts of this passing world, if we or they are a believer in Jesus, Your sinless nature remains inside us and is not touched by evil or the evil one. We are still children of God at the core of our being, and to some degree there will be discomfort with our sinful lifestyle and choices. Please oh Lord, turn this discomfort to disgust so all of us living in the darkness will return home to fellowship with You and Your people. Help us to rely on Your Holy Spirit for the power to live out these unchanging truths in our daily Christian lives. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pp. 261-262.

2. Ibid., pg. 124.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid., pg. 263.

5. Ibid.

6. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 1002.

7. Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 604.

8. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 126.

9. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pp. 263-264 cites Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles of John: Walking in the Light of God’s Love (Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 1999), pp. 242-243.

10. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 264.

11. Ibid.

12. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2953.

13. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 264.

14. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 604.

15. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pp. 264-265.

16. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 604.

17. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 4126.

18. The last three paragraphs are adapted from Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 265.

I John 5 – Part 2

“This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness because the Spirit is truth.” I John 5:6

Like lung cancer which attacks the body’s air supply, the two primary lungs that the enemies of Christ or antichrists have attacked in the body of Christ are God’s Work (I John 5:6-9) and God’s Word (I John 5:10-13). 1 Today in our study of I John we will look at the attack on God’s Work.

Last time in our study we looked at the single act of faith in Christ at the moment of our salvation which is the victory that has overcome the world that is blinded to the gospel and opposed to people getting saved (I John 5:1-5; cf. 2 Cor. 4:3-6; 11:2-3). Just as faith provided our first victory over the world at our conversion, it can also continue to provide victory in our daily Christian lives as we rely on Christ Who lives in us through His Spirit (Gal. 2:20).

John then expounds upon the object of saving faith, namely “Jesus… the Son of God” (5:5b). The Person and Work of Jesus was vehemently attacked by false teachers during the time of John’s writings. One of those false teachings that the apostle John had to deal with was spread by Cerinthus who taught that Jesus was merely a man and the divine Christ descended on the human Jesus at His baptism but left Him when He hung on the cross to die. Thus, according to Cerinthus, only the human Jesus died and rose from the dead, not the divine Christ. 2

The apostle John refers to “Jesus… the Son of God“ (5:5b) in verse 6: This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness because the Spirit is truth.” (I John 5:6). The “water” refers to the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist in the Jordan River which inaugurated the public ministry of the Messiah-God (cf. Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). 3 The “blood” represents the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross when darkness covered the land, the earth quaked, and the temple veil split in two (Matt. 27:45, 51). 4

When John says, “it is the Spirit who bears witness” he is referring to the role that God the Holy Spirit had at Christ’s baptism. Matthew informs us that when Jesus came up out of the water, John the Baptist saw “the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon” Jesus (Matt. 3:16). John wants his readers to understand that the Spirit of God is not the same as the divine Christ. The Holy Spirit was a “witness” to Jesus at His baptism (I John 5:6b), but He remains a distinct Person not to be identified as the Christ. 5

In addition, the Holy Spirit’s “witness” is reliable “because the Spirit is truth”(5:6c), much like the statement, “God is love.” The very nature and character of the Spirit is to be truthful so His testimony can be trusted. 6 John affirms that the Spirit is reliable—He “is truth” – and this is because His testimony follows the Biblical law of verification which required two or three witnesses (cf. Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:16; John 8:17-18). 7

We also know from Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism that God the Father spoke from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (3:16-17). Not only did the God the Holy Spirit testify at Christ’s baptism, but so did God the Father.

“The Holy Spirit was not the divine Christ coming upon Jesus, the man. The Spirit was distinct from Christ and came upon the God-Man, Jesus Christ.” 8

Considering I John 5:6 and other verses in I John, we can ascertain what the antichrists believed about Jesus. They claimed that Jesus was not the “Christ,” the Messiah-God (cf. I John 2:22). They may have taught that He was a spirit being, rather than fully God and fully human, who descended upon Jesus at His baptism but abandoned Him to die alone on the cross (I John 5:6). Hence, according to these false teachers, the work of the Cross was not a sufficient sacrifice offered up by God’s Son, but the death of a mere man which had no saving value. 9

According to this false teaching, those who believed that Jesus is the Christ would then be believing a falsehood. Hence, they were not born of God, as the apostles taught that they were (I John 5:1). This was a serious challenge to Christianity. If the false teachers believed Jesus is not the Son of God (cf. 5:5), then there was no victory over the world through faith at conversion (cf. 5:4-5). Nor was there any hope of continued victory over the world in their Christian lives. 10

John refutes such false notions and establishes that saving faith is found in one Person, “Jesus Christ,” Whose public ministry began at His “water” baptism and ended when His “blood” was shed on a cross for all the sins of the world. The apostle then writes, “For there are three that bear witness: 8 the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.” (I John 5:7-8). 11 Through Christ’s baptism (“the water”) and His death on the cross (“the blood”),God gave testimony to the truthfulness of His Son and His mission. The third witness is “the Spirit,” Who confirms on the inside what God does on the outside. 12

The Spirit’s witness may be thought of as coming through the prophets (including John the Baptist). The Spirit’s witness, then, was augmented by the historical realities involved in ‘the water’ and ‘the blood.’ Both the baptism and the crucifixion of Jesus are strongly attested historical facts (cf. John 1:32-34; 19:33-37). All three witnesses (‘water’ and ‘blood’ are personified) ‘are in agreement’ that a single divine Person, Jesus Christ, was involved in these events.” 13

“Behind John’s words stands the fact that at the baptism God declared, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ (Matt. 3:17). John the Baptist personally ‘bore witness’ to this event (cf. John 1:32-34). In addition, the crucifixion was foreseen by the Scriptures (cf. John 13:18; 19:24, 28, 36, 37) and was attested by apostolic witnesses (John 19:35; 21:24, note the words ‘we know). Thus, the water and the blood are fully attested in their own right, both by divine testimony and by witnesses.” 14

“In a court of law, the Holy Spirit would be put on the stand as a character witness; the water and the blood would be entered as Exhibit A and Exhibit B. All three gave credibility to the Person and Work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If a case among men is established by the word of two or three witnesses (Matt. 18:16), then two or three divine witnesses should be even more reliable: the Spirit, the water, and the blood.” 15

In the next verse John will look back at the testimony mentioned in 5:7-8 and forward to the witness of God in 5:11-12: “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son.” (I John 5:9). The phrase, “If we receive the witness of men,” refers back to the requirement of two or three witnesses for the statement to be considered valid (5:7-8). The idea is since we do receive human testimony as valid under certain conditions, how much more are we to receive “the witness of God” which is far “greater.” 16

“A basic principle of God’s Word is that a ‘matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses’ (2 Cor. 13:1; see Deut. 19:15). The tragic truth is that in spite of the threefold testimony God has provided (5:6-8), too many believe man rather than God.” 17

In John’s day (and ours) many people believe the false teachers’ witness (man’s) instead of God’s witness (the Spirit, water, and blood) concerning the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Through Christ’s baptism (“the water”) and His death on the cross (“the blood”),God’s “Spirit” bore witness to the identity of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, so that whoever believes in Him may have everlasting life and complete forgiveness of their sins (I John 5:10-13; cf. John 3:14-16; 20:31; Acts 10:43; Ephes. 1:7; Col. 2:13-14).

Unfortunately, today we have many teachers who deny that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (I John 2:22; 5:5-8) or they deny He paid the full penalty for all our sins (John 19:30). Regarding the latter, there are people who trust their good works alone to get them to heaven and basically are saying that Christ failed to pay any of their sin debt when He died on the cross, so they must pay it all with their good works. There are others who trust Christ plus their good works who are saying that Jesus only paid part of their sin debt, but they must pay the remainder. Those who fall in these two categories are listening to the testimonies of humans instead of the testimony of God.

God testifies that Christ paid our sin debt in full so all we must do is believe or trust in Jesus alone (not our good works, good life, or religion) for His gift of eternal life (I John 5:1, 9-13; cf. John 3:14-16; 19:30; 20:31). John writes, “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” (I John 2:2). The word “propitiation” refers to the satisfaction God the Father felt when Jesus paid the penalty for all our sins (John 19:30). God’s holy demands were satisfied when He looked at the “Righteous” One’s nail-pierced hands on the cross. Jesus paid the penalty we deserved (“death” – Rom. 6:23b) in full when He took our place on the cross.

Those who are trusting in their good works or in Christ plus their good works to get them to heaven, are telling God the Father that Jesus’ death on the cross failed to pay their sin debt in full. However, since God was forever satisfied with His perfect Son’s payment for the sin of the world (Isaiah 53:11; John 19:30; I John 2:2), we must also be satisfied with what satisfies God. God cannot accept anything we do as payment for our sins because He has already accepted His Son’s payment for all our sins when He died in our place on the cross.

Please understand that although Jesus Christ died for all people (I John 2:2; I Tim. 2:5-6), not all people will be saved and go to heaven. We must believe the gospel of Jesus Christ which says Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose from the dead so that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16b; I Cor. 15:3-6). If you are not sure you have eternal life and a future home in Jesus’ heaven, Christ invites you right now to believe in Him alone for His free gift of eternal life.

To “believe in” (pisteuōn eis) Jesus means to be persuaded that He is speaking the truth and is therefore worthy of your trust. 18 If you are convinced Jesus is telling truth in John 3:16 and is therefore worthy of your trust, then believe or trust Christ alone (not your good life, prayers, or religion) to give you His gift of everlasting life. When you believe in Christ for His free gift of eternal life, you can be just as certain of heaven as the people who are already there. Knowing we are going to heaven is not a guess; it is a guarantee from Jesus Christ (John 14:1-3).

Another way the enemies of Christ attack God’s work is seen in its assault on God’s work in creation. The world teaches that we arrived by chance into this world and only the evolutionary forces of the natural world created human beings.

Anderson writes, “It’s interesting, but the Ph.D.’s in biology on our university campuses won’t even come to the debates on evolution anymore because they realize their theory is more religion than science.” 19

“It always amused me that they call evolution a theory and treat it like a fact. According to the scientific method, it doesn’t even qualify as a good hypothesis. Why? Because in the scientific method we must begin with an observation. And the most important observation for evolutionary theory has never been made—a positive mutation from a lower species to a higher. Of course, for evolution from the primordial mess to human mass we need tentontrillion positive mutations going from lower to higher. We have never observed even one. For Newton to come up with his law of gravity, he first observed the apple falling from the tree. Positive mutations, which are very rare, within a species do not count.” 20

But the Bible is clear that God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1), including human beings (Gen. 1:26-27). We know that Jesus believed in the Genesis creation account (Matt. 19:4-5) and so did the prophet Malachi (Mal. 2:15) and the apostle Peter (2 Pet. 3:4-5).

The day is coming when there will be an unprecedented judgment by God upon the world known as the Tribulation period (Rev. 6-19). Prior to John’s description of this severe judgment, there is a parenthetical break in heaven where we discover why the Lord will judge the earth. “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.” (Rev. 4:11). God’s severe judgment of the earth will be just because everything belongs to the Lord Who created the earth and all its inhabitants. The Creator has every right to do with His creation as He desires, especially if it has rejected Him. 21

You do not have to face this severe judgment on the earth. God promises to remove His church consisting of all who believed in Christ for eternal life prior to the Tribulation period (Rev. 4:1-4; cf. I Thess. 1:10; 4:13-5:11; John 14:1-3; et al.).

If you do not know for sure you have eternal life, take God at His Word when He says, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:13). This one verse is written to “you who believe in the name of the Son of God.” Do you believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, Who died for all your sins and rose from the dead, proving His claims to be God are true (cf. John 20:31; Romans 1:3-4; I Corinthians 15:3-6)? If you do, the Bible guarantees “you may know that you have eternal life.” It does not say you may “think” or “hope” or “guess” you have eternal life. It says you may “know” with absolute certainty that eternal life is yours. Because Jesus Christ is “the truth” (John 14:6) and cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18), you can be confident He will keep His promise of eternal life to all who believe in Him (cf. John 3:15-16).

Do you now know for sure you have eternal life and a future home in Jesus’ heaven? If you do, you can tell God this through prayer.

Prayer: Dear Lord God, thank You so much for providing a threefold witness to Your Son, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, Christ’s water baptism, and His shed blood on the cross for all my sins. I acknowledge that I have been deceived by false teachers in the past regarding Jesus’ true identity and the way to heaven. Thank You for revealing the truth to me about Your Son. I now come to You as a sinner who cannot save himself. I believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, Who died in my place on the cross and rose from the dead. As best I know how, I am now believing or trusting in the Son of God, Jesus Christ alone (not my good life, my religion, or my prayers), to give me everlasting life and a future home in His heaven. Thank You for the everlasting life I now have and that I will not have to face the terrible judgment that is coming upon the world during the Tribulation period. Please use me now to tell others about Jesus and His free offer of everlasting life so they may also escape the coming Tribulation judgment and the horrific eternal judgment that will follow. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 238.

2. See Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 602; Tom Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on 1 John, 2022 Edition, pg. 109 cites Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles of John: Walking in the Light of God’s Love (Irving, Tex.: Grace Evangelical Society, 1999), pg. 219, footnote 10.

3. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 602; Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 4045 to 4050.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019, pg. 2951.

5. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 602.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 238.

9. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 602.

10. Ibid.

11. The NKJV of I John 5:7-8 reads, For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.It is important to acknowledge that the words from “in heaven” (5:7) to “on earth” (5:8) are “well known because they were first introduced into an early printed edition of the Greek New Testament by Erasmus. They then became part of the KJV, but they are not found in the vast majority of the surviving Greek manuscripts of 1 John,” (Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 602). Hence, these words are omitted in the text.

12. Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 2951.

13. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 4054 to 4059.

14. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 603.

15. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 239.

16. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 603.

17. Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 2951.

18. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 816.

19. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 239 cites personal interview with Kirby Anderson, Trinity Pines, TX, November 17, 2001.

20. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 239. 21. Ibid., pp. 239-240.

I John 5 – Part 1

4For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — your faith. 5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” I John 5:4-5

In the book of I John, the apostle John has made it clear that love is more than mere sentiment or words; it is an act of obedience (I John 2:3-11; 3:10b-23; 4:7-16). Love (agapē) is doing what is best for another person. Christ did what was best for us when He came to earth and died in our place on a cross to pay the full penalty for our sins so whoever believes in Him may have everlasting life (3:16; 4:9-10; 5:13).Hence, if a believer claims to love God Whom he has not seen and hates his Christian brother whom he has seen, he is a liar and is deceiving himself (4:20). God’s commandment to love has interwoven loving Him and loving His children (4:21). We cannot disconnect them.

John anticipated his readers asking, “Who then is my Christian brother or sister?” John identified one’s Christian brother or sister as, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…” (5:1a). There is no mention of one’s good works, lifestyle, or obedience. Only believing that “Jesus is the Christ,” the promised Messiah-God (2:22-23; 4:2-3; 5:20; cf. John 11:25-27; 20:31; Isaiah 9:6-7), results in being “born of God.” John then explains that our love for God’s children is not based on their lifestyle or performance, but on our love for the Father of these children (5:1b). If we love God the Father, then we must love His children.

Someone may then ask, “How do I know when I am loving God’s children?” John replies, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.” (I John 5:2). Christians can know they are loving God’s children when they “love God and keep His commandments.” Keeping God’s “commandments” is the way to show that a believer loves his brother, since loving a fellow believer is one of those commandments. 1

A Christian is not an only child in the family of God. To ignore a brother in Christ is to cut ourselves off from intimacy with God. 2 God created us for relationships. He never intended for His children to live the Christian life all alone. He meant for us to live life in close fellowship with Him and other believers in Jesus.

In 5:2, it is important to observe that John has moved from keeping God’s single “commandment” (3:23; 4:21), a reference to loving our Christian brothers and sisters, to keeping His “commandments” (plural). 3

“Even if we think of the ten commandments, the last six deal with loving other people. You’ve heard it said to fathers, ‘The best way to love a child is to love his/her mother.’ It is loving other believers when we model the Christian life for them. This is even more important than meeting their physical needs; it points them toward the kind of life that can meet their spiritual needs.” 4

A Christian’s love for other believers can be measured by the degree to which he or she keeps the commandments of God. This may sound like John is putting us under performance, legalism, and relativism (our obedience compared to other Christians around me). But this is not the case. 5

John explains what it means to love God when he writes, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” (I John 5:3). The phrase “the love of God” (hē agapē tou Theou) refers to our love for God (objective genitive), not God’s love for us (subjective genitive). 6 Our love for God is measured by the degree to which we “keep His commandments.”

According to the Pharisees, there were at least 613 commandments the Jews were responsible to obey. And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus raised the bar even more when He said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:20). Christ’s audience were taught it was wrong to murder someone (5:21), but Jesus went further when He stated it was sinful to be, angry with his brother without a cause” (Matt. 5:22). Jesus’ listeners had been taught it was wrong to commit adultery (5:27), but Jesus took it further when He said, “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28). Christ’s audience had heard they were to love their neighbor and hate their enemies (5:43), but now Jesus says, “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Christ took the interpretation the Pharisees had given of the Law and took it to a whole other level. 7

All of this may sound overwhelming to us. You may be saying to yourself, “How can I keep God’s commandments? It seems too difficult. It is beyond my reach. It is impossible!”

John responds by saying that God’s “commandments are not burdensome” (I John 5:3b). What does he mean by this? The word translated “burdensome” (barus) means to be “heavy, oppressive, unbearable, or weighty.” 8 If we try to live up to the standards of God’s Law in our own strength, we will experience an overwhelming weight of oppression and defeat. There will be no joy or peace in our lives.

The issue here is the source for keeping God’s commandments, not the standard of God’s commandments themselves. John explains why God’s commandments are not burdensome when he writes, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—your faith.” (I John 5:4). The word translated “For” (hoti) means “because.” 9 Hence, I John 5:3b-5:4a would read, “And His commandments are not burdensome because whatever is born of God overcomes the world.”

Since we are talking about people, we would expect this to say, “Whoever is born of God.” But instead, it says, “whatever [pan] is born of God.” The phrase “is born” (gegennēmenon) translates a perfect tense participle. The Greek perfect tense refers to a completed action in the past with continuing results to the present. Our new birth was completed in the past but has a continuing impact on us to the present. This is very significant.

John is emphasizing our ultimate source of victory over the world which he identifies in the last half of verse 4: “And this is the victory that has overcome the world—your faith.“ (I John 5:4b). The word translated “faith” (pistis) is a singular neuter gender. This connects back to the singular neuter genders in this verse: “whatever” (pan), “born of” (gegennēmenon), and “this” (hautē). Our single act of “faith” in Christ alone for new birth (“born of God”) is the source of our permanent victory over the world system which was satanically opposed to us being born into God’s family (5:4b) and is satanically blinded to the gospel (2 Cor. 4:3-4).

“What the Apostle clearly wishes to affirm in 1 John is that the very act of believing in Christ is a singular—and permanent—victory over the unbelieving world around us. Moreover, this victory is the reason why obedience to God’s commands is not a burden to the believer (1 John 5:3-4; see Matt 11:28-30).” 10

Before we became Christians, Satan used the world system to oppose us from being born into God’s family. This is why John writes, “Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I John 5:5). The moment an unsaved person believes that Jesus is the Son of God, he overcomes the world which did all it could to keep him or her from believing this truth for salvation. Since the antichrists or false teachers deny “that Jesus is the Christ” (I John 2:22), it is a great victory when a person believes this truth and is born into God’s forever family.

Satan is actively engaged in blinding people’s minds to prevent them from believing in the gospel of God’s Son (2 Cor. 4:3-6; 11:3-4; Ephes. 2:2). He uses the world system including educational systems, various religions, economical systems, political systems, entertainment, and recreational systems to name a few, that teach many false views which desensitize people to their urgent need for a Savior including such things as:

  • Humanity is basically good, so people do not need to be saved from sin.
  • Since God is love, all people will go to heaven.
  • Jesus was just a good moral teacher or prophet who provided a good example to follow.
  • God and the Bible cannot be trusted.
  • Sin has no consequences.
  • God does not exist.
  • You can decide tomorrow.  

But when God breaks through these (and other) lies and a lost sinner “believes that Jesus is the Son of God” to be “born of God” (I John 5:4-5), then Satan is directly defeated. And since the effects of new birth can never be reversed by Satan, this defeat is decisive and permanent (Luke 8:12; Col. 2:15).

However, this initial victory does not guarantee victory in living the Christian life. Rather, the victory achieved by the new birth makes obedience to God’s commands an achievable goal. The Greek constructions in I John 5:4 translated “he who overcomes” (ho nikōn) and “he who believes” (ho pisteuōn) are present participles preceded by the Greek article. 11

“This construction in Greek is essentially timeless and characterizes an individual (or individuals) by some act or acts he has (or they have) performed. Such statements have their closest analogy to many English nouns (often ending in–er) that express completed and/or ongoing action. For example, ‘He is a murderer.’ In this case the person may be described this way based on one instance of murder or because of many such acts.

“John is thus saying that ‘the overcomer of the world’ is one and the same as ‘the believer in Jesus Christ, God’s Son.’ As is made clear by the past tense of verse 4 (‘has overcome’) this is already true! But since John is discussing the fact that keeping God’s commandments is not ‘burdensome’ (5:3b), the implication is that such victory can continue and that the key to it is faith! Just as the Christian life begins at the moment of saving faith in Christ, so also that life is lived by faith in Him.” 12

“With these words, the writer affirmed that a believer is a world-conqueror by means of his faith in Christ. This suggests that such faith is the secret of his continuing victory and, for that reason, obedience to God’s commands need not be burdensome.” 13

“If your Christian life is weighing you down, you’re not living the real Christian life. How do I know? Because God’s commands are not a burden. When obedience is driven by love, it loses its burden. Ask any mother of a newborn. A mother doesn’t feed, change, clean, and comfort her baby because of a command—but because of love. Does she become tired and dirty? Of course. But the work isn’t a burden per se because it’s her baby she’s attending. When you love others based on your love for Jesus, He says in effect, ‘Hitch up to me, and I’ll do the pulling’” (Matt 11:30).” 14

Since our first victory (new birth) was by faith in Christ (5:1, 4-5), then it is by faith in Christ that we may continue to experience victory in the Christian life. Since Christ was our Substitute in death; He must also be our Substitute in life. This is what the apostle Paul was trying to say when he wrote, 15 “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20; cf. Rom. 5:10).

“It has been said that the hardest thing in the world for a non-Christian to believe is in the substitutionary death of Christ, but the hardest thing in the world for a Christian to believe is in the substitutionary life of Christ. We got victory over death by His death; we shall have victory in life by His life. This is what it means when it says, ‘Christ lives in me.’ 16

Prayer: Gracious Father in heaven, thank You for saving us from eternal death the moment we believed in Jesus and His substitutionary death for all our sins. This single act of faith in Christ overcame Satan and his world system which had blinded us to the gospel and opposed us from being born into Your forever family. Since this first victory was by faith in Christ, we cannot continue to experience victory in our Christian lives apart from faith in Jesus and His substitutionary life. When our faith is in Christ, keeping His commandments is not burdensome because Jesus is our source of power. Thank You Lord Jesus for living in and through us. Please use us to share this life-changing message with those who are blinded to the gospel so they may experience permanent victory over the Devil and his world system. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. See Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 601.

2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2950.

3. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 602.

4. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pp. 227-228.

5. Ibid., pg. 228.

6. Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament [with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!], 6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 207464; cf. Tom Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on 1 John, 2022 Edition, pg. 107; Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 602.

7. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 228.

8. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pp. 167-168.

9. Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament, Kindle Location 207484; Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 602.

10. Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse: A Study on Eternal Rewards (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2016), pg. 152.

11. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 602.

12. Ibid.

13. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 4043 to 4048.

14. Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 2950.

15. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 229.

16. Ibid., pg. 230.

I John 4 – Part 5

4:21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. 5:1a Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” I John 4:21-5:1a

When I was conducting discipleship training seminars in the Philippines, I would sometimes be asked by participants, “What if a person professes faith in Christ but does not go on to grow spiritually or produce fruit in their Christian life, are they truly saved?” This question assumes that a genuine Christian will grow spiritually or produce good works, and if he or she does not, then they are not saved. This kind of thinking is common among those who believe the book of I John was written to provide tests to see if you are genuinely saved and going to heaven when you die. 1 Those who hold this position would say if a professing Christian does not love his Christian brother, then he or she is not truly saved.

When I was asked this kind of question, I would encourage our seminar participants not to judge the professing Christian who doesn’t go on to grow in the Christian life. Instead, I encouraged them to ask the professing Christian three questions to help that person discern their own spiritual condition. 2

Does the professing believer believe the simplicity of the gospel? That is, do they believe that Christ paid the full penalty for their sins when He died on the cross and rose from the dead, so that God can now forgive them based on what He has done for them, not what they do for Him? A professing believer may not grow because they have not understood the gospel and believed in Christ alone for salvation and therefore do not have the Holy Spirit inside them to empower them to become more like Christ. If they do not understand the gospel, it is essential that we share the clear gospel of Christ with them so they may believe in Christ alone who died for their sin and rose from the dead to receive His gift of eternal life and the Holy Spirit to help them begin growing in the Christian life (cf. John 3:14-16; 7:37-39; I Cor. 15:3-6).

Have they been trained by a disciple of Christ since professing faith in Jesus? Too often the reason a new believer does not grow is because the church has neglected to come alongside of them to teach them how to live the Christian life. It is much easier to say a struggling new believer is not saved and evangelize him or her than it is to get more involved in their lives and disciple them. Also, it is unrealistic to expect new believers to be where we are at in a few weeks when it has taken us several years to grow to where we are at now.

Has the professing believer believed in Christ and then fallen away from the Lord? The Bible makes it clear that believers can fall away from the Lord and live contrary to His will. Examples include King Saul (I Samuel 28:4-19), King David (2 Samuel 11), King Solomon (I Kings 11:1-13), Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), the Corinthian believers who were factious, immoral, and prone to drunkenness (I Corinthians 3:1-6:20; 11:29-32), the Galatians who lapsed into the worst form of legalism (Galatians 1:6-9; 2:11-3:4; 4:16-5:4; 6:12-13), the Ephesians who engaged in Satanic arts for up to two years after their conversion (Acts 19:1-20), the readers of James who were arrogant, argumentative, slanderous and temperamental (James 2:1-13; 3:1-18; 5:1-6), and Demas (2 Timothy 4:10; cf. John 15:6; I Corinthians 3:15; Hebrews 6:4-8).

It is important to warn the Christian who has fallen away from God of the painful discipline of God now (cf. John 15:6; Heb. 6:7-8; 10:26-31; 12:5-11, 28-29) and the painful loss of eternal rewards in the future at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Matt. 8:12; 22:11-13; 24:48-51; 25:24-30; Luke 19:20-26; Rom. 14:10-12; I Cor. 3:8-15; 4:5; 9:24-27; 2 Cor. 5:9-11; I John 2:28; 2 John 1:8; et al. ).

Asking these three questions will help you discern what the professing believer needs. Don’t just assume they are unsaved because they are not manifesting enough fruit. Meet them where they are at so you can more effectively impact their lives.

The book of I John informs us that the reason a believer is not growing is because he or she is out of fellowship with God (1:1-4ff). This may include having unconfessed sin (I John 1:7-10), disobedience to God’s commands (I John 2:3-6; 3:24), hatred toward other believers (I John 2:7-11; 3:10-15; 4:7-21), love for the world and the things of the world (I John 2:15-16), deception by false teachers concerning assurance of salvation and the identity of Christ (I John 2:18-27; 4:1-6; 5:6-13), misunderstanding one’s true identity in Christ (I John 3:1-9), not practicing righteousness which includes failure to love other Christians (I John 3:10-18), and not confessing that Jesus is the Son of God (I John 4:14-15).

In our study of I John, we finished the body of the epistle (2:28-4:19) which ended with the words, We love Him because He first loved us.” (4:19). 3 The way we make our love for God visible is by loving other Christians (I John 4:12-16). Some Christians may read 4:19 and say, “It is easy for me to love God because He does not have any faults or imperfections. But loving my Christian brother or sister is another story because I have seen them up close and they are full of faults.” 4

John responds to this type of thinking when he writes, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (I John 4:20). John reminds his readers (including us) that a Christian cannot claim to “love God” and at the same time he “hates his brother.” Such a claim is false (“he is a liar”). However, it is understandable for a believer to think it is easier to “love God whom he has not seen” than to “love his” Christian “brother whom he has seen,” especially when he does not like what he sees in a fellow Christian. 

“If I can see a physical being and am not willing to meet his physical needs, how can I possibly love a spiritual being whose needs I cannot see? That’s his reasoning. God’s commands draw our love for God and our brothers together. If we don’t keep His commands, we don’t love Him. And He commands us to love other believers. So, if we don’t love other believers, we don’t love God. Thus, to claim to love God when I don’t love my brother/sister makes me a liar.” 5

It is important to know that our love for God is not measured by what we say (“I love God”), but by what we do 6 (“let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” – 3:18). Nor is Christian love an emotion.

“The word for love throughout John is agapē, a word found only once in all of secular Greek, that is, Greek outside the Bible. And the amount of non-biblical Greek literature we have must be a thousand times more than the amount of Greek we have in the Bible, but this word agapē occurs in that literature only once. That should be a clue to us that this kind of love is only from God. And the issue here is not whether we feel warm and fuzzy toward God, but cold and callous toward our Christian brother/sister. The issue is action.” 7

John has made it clear that loving God involves obeying His commandments, especially the command to love one another (I John 2:3-11; 3:16-24; 4:7-21; cf. John 14:15, 21, 23-24; 15:10-14). If a believer does not obey God’s commands, He does not love God no matter what he says or feels. Hence, a Christian who says, “I love God,” but does not obey God’s command to love his Christian brother, “is a liar” (4:20).8

In addition, God commands us to love both Himself and our fellow Christian brothers and sisters: “And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” (I John 4:21). Notice the word “commandment” is singular and includes loving God and one’s Christian “brother” or sister. We cannot claim to love our invisible God if we do not love our fellow believer standing in front of us (4:20). We must not deceive ourselves. God’s commandment has interwoven loving Him and loving His children (4:21). We cannot disconnect them. 9

Imagine someone telling you that he or she loved your head, but they hated your body. How would you feel? It would be hurtful, would it not!?! The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is the head of the body, the church…” (Col. 1:18; cf. Col. 1:24; Ephes. 1:22-23; 4:15; 5:23, 30). Christ is our head, and His church is His body. How would Jesus feel if we said we love Him, but we detest His body? This would deeply hurt our Lord. When we are unloving toward other Christians, we are unloving toward our head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

John anticipated his readers (including you and me) asking, “Who then is my Christian brother or sister?” John writes, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…” (I John 5:1a). John defines a Christian brother or sister as “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ.” The word “whoever” includes everyone with no exceptions. When the apostle uses the word “whoever,” he is inviting every person to become a Christian regardless of their country, culture, color, good works, lifestyle, or obedience. This includes the worst of people and best of people and everyone in between.

What does John invite every person to do to become a Christian? BELIEVE. In fact, the words God uses most in evangelism in the New Testament are the words “believe” 10and “faith.” 11 Often times, however, Christians substitute other words or clichés to communicate the most important message given to humanity. Instead of using the words God uses most, they tell a non-Christian to accept Christ, be baptized, turn from your sins or be sorry for your sins, confess your sins, pray the sinner’s prayer, give your life or your heart to Jesus, ask Jesus into your heart, confess Jesus is Lord, follow or obey Jesus, commit your life to Christ, submit to Jesus as your Lord and Master, or surrender your life to Christ.

I am not suggesting that no one has been born again when these clichés are included in a gospel presentation. In fact, there have been times in my own life when I have used some of these phrases. I like what evangelist Larry Moyer has said, “God can still use a crooked arrow to hit a target.” God can still use our unclear gospel presentations to help people come to Christ. But why use an unclear phrase or cliché which will do more to confuse a lost person than clarify what he must do to obtain eternal life? Would it not be better to use the clearest presentation possible so that the unsaved person has the best opportunity to respond to the gospel the way God wants him to respond?

The word translated “believes” (pisteuōn) in I John 5:1 means to be persuaded that Jesus is the Christ and is therefore worthy of your trust. 12 To believe “Jesus is the Christ” is to believe that He is the promised Messiah-God (“Christ”) Who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in Him (cf. John 11:25-27). The one who believes Jesus is the Christ “is born of God.” The phrase “born of God” refers to new birth.

Some theologians or Bible students will respond, “Oh, yes, there needs to be a confession of faith in Christ, but the person also needs to manifest fruit or good works or his or her profession of faith is false. A good root produces good fruit.“

There is a problem with this response which I will now illustrate. I live in the Midwest where deciduous trees lose their leaves in the fall. Our state’s tree is the oak tree. During the winter, you could not tell if an oak tree was dead or alive simply by looking at its outward appearance. No one could tell if an oak tree is dead or alive in the middle of winter here … except God. Since God knows everything, He can see the root when all we can see is the fruit. Just because there is no fruit for a period of time does not prove there is no root. 13

Since God can see faith alone with no accompanying outward manifestation, he only requires faith alone in Christ alone to be justified before Him (Rom. 4:5; Gal. 2:16) or have eternal life (John 3:15-16; 6:40, 47; et al.). But for people to see another person’s faith, it must be accompanied by works. This is why the Bible distinguishes justification before God (faith alone – Rom. 4:5; Ephes. 2:8-9) from justification before man (faith plus works – James 2:14-26). Justification before God is necessary to get to heaven. Justification before people is necessary to bring heaven down to earth (i.e., discipleship or spiritual growth).

Since Christians are not all-knowing like God, we are to take a person’s confession of faith in Christ as true. This is what Jesus did in John 11. After Jesus claimed to be the resurrection and the life, and He guaranteed a physical resurrection and never-ending life to those who believe in Him (John 11:25-26a), He asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26b). Christ is seeking a confession from her. He is not asking her to change her life or produce good works. Martha replies, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:27). Neither she nor Jesus analyzes her faith to distinguish head faith from heart faith. Martha confidently affirms that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” What Martha believes about Jesus is exactly what John says in His purpose statement is all that a person must believe to have everlasting life (John 20:31). She knows she has believed in Christ, the Son of God, and therefore she is certain she has eternal life.

Does Jesus correct Martha’s response? Does He caution her to wait and see if her faith is real (as so many do today) through the manifestation of good works or fruit first before making such a confession? Does He ask her if she believes in her “heart” and not merely in her “head”? He does not because as long as any sinner comes to believe that Jesus is “the resurrection and the life,” that is, “the Christ, the Son of God,” he or she knows they have everlasting life.

John then writes, And everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him.” (I John 5:1b). The apostle is telling us that our love for God’s children is not based on their lifestyle or performance. It has nothing to do with their worthiness or deservedness. Our love for God’s children is based on our love for the Father of these children.

“If we love the ‘Begetter,’ we should love the ‘begotten.’ If we love the Father, we should love His children. No love for the children? Then, no love for the Father.” 14

As I read David Anderson’s commentary recently on I John, I was reminded of people who prayed for our family while all of us were living overseas in the Philippines. Even though some of these prayer partners had never met our children, they still cared enough and loved them enough to ask how they were doing and how they could pray for them. The reason they cared enough to pray for our children and ask about them was because for some unknown reason they loved their father. My children were an extension of me. It did not matter how well my kids behaved or how deserving they were. These prayer warriors simply loved my children because they loved their father. To love the father is to love his children. 15

This is what the apostle John is saying in I John 5:1b. We are to love God’s children because we love the Father Who has begotten them. When we love God the Father, we love those who are born of Him. Whoever believes Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Begetter also loves all who are His begotten.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we praise You for Your amazing love for us that sent Your only perfect Son, Jesus Christ, to the cross to pay the full penalty for all our sins so we may be born into Your forever family the moment we believe Jesus is the Christ. Although You are unseen, we can make Your love visible by loving one another. Loving You involves obeying Your commands, especially the command to love one another. If we claim to love You Whom we cannot see and disobey Your command to love Your children whom we can see, we are deceiving ourselves. Loving other Christians is not based on their performance or worthiness, but on our love for You, the Father of those You have begotten. Forgive us for thinking more of ourselves than You and Your begotten children. And please help us show Your love to one another as You have shown to us through the Lord Jesus. In His mighty name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 15 cites John MacArthur, Jr., Saved without a Doubt (Colorado Springs: Cook Communications, 1992), pp. 67-91.

2. Jeff Ropp, The Greatest Need in Evangelism Today is One Word: BELIEVE (Jeff Ropp, 2014), pp. 35-36 cites Larry Moyer, You Can Tell It! Seminar On Personal Evangelism Instructor Manual (EvanTell, Inc., 2003), pp. 46-47; cf. Larry Moyer, Free and Clear: Understanding & Communicating God’s Offer of Eternal Life, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997), pp. 108-113.

3. The majority of Greek manuscripts contain the word “Him” (Auton) in 4:19. See Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 601.

4. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 225.

5. Ibid., pp. 225-226.

6. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2949.

7. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 225.

8. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 601.

9. Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 2949.

10 Matt. 18:6; 21: 32(3); 24:23, 26; 27:42; Mark 1:15, 9:42; 15:32;16:16(2), 17; Luke 8:12, 13; 22:67; John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36(2); 4:39, 41, 42, 48, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 45, 46, 47(2); 6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47, 64, 69; 7:5, 31, 38(2), 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46; 9:35, 36, 38; 10:25, 26, 37, 38(3), 42; 11:25, 26, 27(2), 42, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44(2), 46, 47; 13:19; 14:12; 16:9, 27; 17:8, 20, 21; 19:35; 20:29, 31(2); Acts 2:44; 4:4, 32; 5:14; 8:12, 13, 37(2); 9:42; 10:43, 45; 11:17, 21; 13:12, 39, 41, 48; 14:1, 23, 27; 15:5, 7; 16:1, 31, 34; 17:4, 5, 12, 34; 18:8, 27; 19:2, 4, 9, 18; 21:20, 25; 22:19; 26:27(2); 28:24(2); Rom. 1:16; 3:3, 22, 4:3, 5, 11, 17, 24; 9:33; 10:4, 9, 10, 11, 14(2), 16; 13:11; 15:31; I Cor. 1:21; 3:5; 7:12, 13; 9:5; 10:27; 14:22(2); 15:2, 11; 2 Cor. 4:4; Gal. 2:16; 3:6, 9, 22; Eph. 1:13, 19; Phil. 1:29; I Thess. 1:7; 2:10; 4:14; 2 Thess. 1:10; 2:12,13; I Tim. 1:16; 3:16; 4:3, 10; 6:2(2); 2 Tim. 1:12; Tit. 3:8; Heb. 11:31; I Pet. 1:21;2:6, 7; I John 3:23; 5:1, 5, 10(3), 13.

11. Matt. 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 7:50; 17:19; 18:42; Acts 6:7; 14:22, 27; 15:9; 16:5; 20:21; 24:24; 26:18; Rom. 1:17; 3:3, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30(2), 31; 4:5, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16 (2); 5:1, 2; 9:30, 32; 10:6, 8, 17; 11:20; 16:26; I Cor. 15:14, 17; Gal. 2:16 (2); 3:2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 14, 22, 24, 26; 5:5; Ephes. 2:8; Phil. 3:9(2); Col. 1:4; 2 Thess. 3:2; 2 Tim. 3:15; Tit. 1:4; Heb. 6:1;11:31; James 2:1, 23, 24; I Pet. 1:21; 2 Pet. 1:5; I John 5:4.

12. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pp. 816-817.

13. Adapted from Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 226.

14. Ibid., pg. 227.

15. Ibid.