I John 2 – Part 14

“If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.” I John 2:29

During the first quarter of the Monday night NFL game on January 2, 2023, between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills, twenty-four-year-old Damar Hamlin of the Bills made a tackle and hopped up to his feet only to collapse to the ground a second later. Immediately, Bills’ assistant athletic trainer, Denny Kellington, jumped to action after Hamlin’s heart stopped beating and began administering CPR on the football field while players from both teams formed a wall around Damar. Eventually Hamlin’s heartbeat was restored after a defibrillator was used on him on the field.

Physicians at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center where Damar was taken after his collapse Monday night, stated on January 6th that his “breathing tube was removed overnight” and that “he continues to progress remarkably in his recovery. His neurologic function remains intact, and he has been able to talk to his family and care team.” 1

At a recent press conference Bills head coach, Sean McDermott, said, “For an assistant to find himself at that position and needing to take the action that he did and step up and take charge like he did … is nothing short of amazing… The courage that that took … talk about a real leader, a real hero, in saving Damar’s life, and I just admire his strength.” 2

McDermott also praised the Bills entire medical team for their quick response. “Our medical team, they go through mock exercises for things like this, but we are never around to see that when they do that,” he said. “As they say, practice pays off, and it did in this case.” 3

Wellington’s quick response is truly amazing. One of the doctors treating Hamlin at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Dr. William Knight IV, states, “There are injuries occasionally that happen on sports fields, be it in football or others, but it is incredibly rare to have something be this serious (and) that quickly recognized. Meeting the standard of what we would expect in that scenario is what has allowed us to be able to discuss these good outcomes today.” 4

Another of Hamlin’s doctors, Dr. Timothy Pritt, also said, “had Hamlin’s care on the field been delayed by minutes or even seconds, his prognosis could’ve been quite different.” 5

Praise for Kellington’s life-saving actions has been overflowing on social media. Several fans are calling for him to be formally honored by the NFL. 6

Denny Kellington manifested that he was a hero through his actions. He, along with the Bills’ entire medical team, had practiced mock exercises for scenarios like Hamlin’s but it was Kellington who experienced this training at a much deeper level when he stepped up in the time of crisis. No doubt, the Bills have many athletic trainers on their team with impressive credentials, abilities, and knowledge regarding medical emergencies like Hamlin’s, but it was this specific trainer who manifested heroic character through his quick decisions and actions.

Why do I draw attention to this? Because I believe the author of I John would appreciate such a perspective. In our study of the book of I John, the apostle John introduced a new theme of having “confidence” or boldness before the Lord Jesus “at His coming” to motivate his Christian readers (2:12-14; 5:13) to continue to cultivate fellowship or intimacy with Christ (2:28). He uses one of his favorite terms for fellowship with God (“abide”) in verse 28 to emphasize the importance of cultivating intimacy with Christ in preparation for His return. Starting with verse 29, John begins to tell us how to prepare to have boldness at the prospect of Christ’s coming at any time (2:29-4:19). More specifically, in I John 2:29-3:10, John wants to talk about how to manifest with our actions that we are children of God. 7

John writes, “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.” (I John 2:29). Some students of the Bible conclude that John is saying a true Christian will always practice righteousness. But let’s be clear. John does not say this.

“We must not make this verse say more than it does. John certainly does not say, ‘Whoever does not do righteousness is not born of Him.’ That would be an inference in no way justified by John’s statement. He is not talking here about how we can decide if a person is saved. If we know that a person believes (cf. 1 John 5:1 …), we can know he is saved. But here, John is clearly concerned with the deduction which we can make if we know that God is righteous. If that is known, it follows that one who to any extent reproduces His righteous nature is actually manifesting that nature and can rightly be perceived as born of Him.” 8

“This verse does not say that everyone who is born of God practices righteousness. Believers can walk in darkness and sin (1:6, 8; 2:1). The point here is that when a child exhibits the nature of his or her father, he or she is perceived as the child of the father.” 9

John first says, “If you know that He is righteous” (Ean eidēte hoti dikaios estin). This is a third-class condition in the Greek language which conveys probability. 10 The first Greek word translated “know” (eidēte) in this verse refers to intuitive or absolute knowledge. 11 The second word translated “know” (ginōskete) refers to experiential knowledge. 12 Hence, John is saying, “If you know intuitively or absolutely from the Scripture that Christ is righteous, and you probably do, then you know from experience that everyone who practices or does righteousness is born of Him.”

The only way children of God can be manifested is through Christ’s “righteous” behavior. When we see someone exhibit Christ’s righteous behavior, we can be sure they are born of God. This righteous behavior is not referring to humanistic kindness or morality which even non-Christians can manifest. This “righteousness” (“what is right” translates tēn dikaiosynēn) 13 is not possible apart from believing in Christ for new birth and loving one’s fellow Christians. 14 John writes, “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” (I John 3:23).

“John is not talking about how one can decide if a person is regenerate. John is clearly concerned with the deduction one can make if a person knows that God is righteous. If that is known, it follows that one who reproduces His righteous nature is actually manifesting that nature and can rightly be perceived as born of Him.” 15

Does I John 2:29 mean that all children of God will manifest Christ’s righteous behavior or that all people manifesting Christ’s righteous behavior are children of God? Perhaps it would be helpful to illustrate using the NFL motif. Since our opening illustration involved a Buffalo Bills football player, let’s talk about Buffalo Bills football fans. Are all football fans Buffalo Bills fans? No. But are all Buffalo Bills fans football fans? Yes. Hence, are all Christians practicing Christ’s righteousness? No. But are all those practicing Christ’s righteousness Christians? Yes.

First John 2:29 does not say, “Everyone who does not practice righteousness is not born of Him.” John has already stated that Christians can walk in darkness and sin (1:6, 8, 10-2:1). John’s emphasis here is that when a child manifests the righteous nature of his or her father, he or she is perceived as a child of the father.

Getting back to the Damar Hamlin story involving the athletic trainer. I think we can safely assume that all the athletic trainers for the Buffalo Bills had a thorough knowledge of how to treat a player in Hamlin’s situation. But Denny Kellington manifested or experienced that knowledge when he sprang into action and helped save Damar’s life. The other trainers were still trainers even though they did not share Kellington’s experience. But Kellington manifested his trainer’s knowledge through his actions. And he has become a hero in the eyes of many people.

Not all Christians manifest Christ’s righteous behavior to the same degree. Practicing Christ’s righteousness is not automatic for Christians. We must choose to abide in Christ, to walk in the light as He is in the light to manifest His righteous behavior (1:5-2:6, 28). Those believers in Jesus who do will have more confidence and less shame when they stand before the Lord Jesus at His Judgment Seat (I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; I John 2:28; 4:17-19). It is there they will hear Jesus say to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matt. 25:21).

But those believers who do not manifest Jesus’ righteous behavior in their Christian lives “will be saved, yet so as through fire” at the Judgment Seat of Christ where they “will suffer [the] loss” of eternal rewards (I Cor. 3:15). They will hear Jesus say, “’26 You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed… 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. 29 ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 25:26, 28-30).

Notice the contrast of rewards between the faithful believer and the unfaithful believer in Matthew 25:14-30:

Faithful Believer’s Rewards Unfaithful Believer’s Loss of Rewards
Commendation – “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Matt. 25:21aReprimanded – You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed.” Matt. 25:26
Promotion – “you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.” Matt. 25:21bDemotion – So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents… but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” Matt. 25:28-29
Included in the joy of co-ruling with Christ – “Enter into the joy of your lord.” Matt. 25:21cExcluded from the joy of co-ruling with Christ – “And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matt. 25:30

In a manner of speaking, faithful Christians will be perceived as heroes because they manifested the righteous character of God their Father and God the Son through their actions on earth. These overcoming believers will receive special recognition throughout eternity when they enter the main gates of the New Jerusalem on the new earth (Rev. 22:14b). Each time they enter one of the main gates of the New Jerusalem, they will be given special honor perhaps before the angel at that gate (Rev. 21:12).

Jesus promised, “Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God.” (Luke 12:8). It may be when an overcoming believer who faithfully “confessed” Christ “before men” especially in hostile contexts (Luke 12:1-12; cf. Matt. 10:16-42) during his Christian life on earth, enters one of the main gates into the New Jerusalem in the life to come, the Lord Jesus will give a good confession (special recognition) about that believer to the angel of God at that gate. Jesus wants us to know that if we testify of Him in the face of hostile persecution during our Christian lives on earth, He will testify about us before the angels of God and God the Father in the life to come on the new earth (Luke 12:8; Matt. 10:32).

This confession by Christ may include the declaration that this faithful believer is fit to rule with Him because he or she endured opposition when speaking up for Christ throughout their entire Christian lives (cf. 2 Tim. 2:12; Matt. 10:16-32). 16 Believers on the inside of the city at that gate will stop what they are doing to welcome this overcomer into the city. Since overcomers will rule with Christ in His eternal kingdom (Rev. 2:25-27; 3:21), they will be honored as royalty each time they enter the New Jerusalem.

Those believers who do not faithfully confess Christ before hostile people in this life will still be on the new earth because the only condition for that is to believe in Christ for His gift of eternal life apart from any works, including confessing Him before men (cf. John 3:5-16; Ephes. 2:8-9; Rev. 21:27b). However, Jesus will “deny” giving them a good confession before God the Father and the angels of God because they refused to testify of Him in the face of opposition during their Christian lives on earth (Luke 12:9; Matt. 10:33). Hence, they will still be on the new earth, but they will not have the honor and privilege of entering through one of the main gates into the New Jerusalem. Christ has informed us now of this reward to motivate us to speak up for Him even though the cost may include losing our lives for Him.

Prayer: Gracious Father in heaven, we thank You for the gift of eternal life that we received the moment we believed in Your only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. It was our faith in Christ that resulted in being born into Your forever family. We praise You today for explaining how we can prepare to have more confidence and less shame before the Lord Jesus when He returns for His church. Please help us manifest Your righteous nature through our actions – especially loving one another – so others can perceive we are Your children, and You are our Father. In the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Lindsay Lowe’s January 6, 2023, article originally published on Today.com entitled, “Fans want the trainer who saved Damar Hamlin’s life with CPR in the Football Hall of Fame” at www.news.yahoo.com.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. 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 3767 to 3775.

8. Tom Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on I John, 2022 edition, pp. 67-68 cites Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles of John: Walking in the Light of God’s Love (Irving, Tex.: Grace Evangelical Society, 1999), pg. 127.

9. Constable, pg. 68 cites The Nelson Study Bible, Edited by Earl D. Radmacher (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997), pg. 2144.

10. 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 205650.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid., Kindle Location 205650 to 205667.

13. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3771.

14. 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. 594.

15. Ibid.

16. Hal Haller, Jr., Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 58.

I John 2 – Part 13

“And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” I John 2:28

In I John 2:28, the apostle John introduces a new theme of having “confidence” before the Lord Jesus “at His coming” to motivate his readers to continue to cultivate fellowship or intimacy with Christ despite the increase in false teachers or “antichrists” (2:18-27). 1 The Greek word translated “confidence” (parrēsia) refers to a state of boldness and confidence, courage, confidence, boldness, fearlessness, especially in the presence of persons of high rank.” 2 John will focus on how to have boldness at the prospect of Christ’s coming throughout the body of this epistle (2:29-4:19). 3

Verse 28 is known as “a Janus that looks in two directions: backward to summarize the preceding section” 4 “and forward to introduce the following section. Janus was the Roman god of beginnings and endings who supposedly guarded portals. He had two faces, one on the front and the other on the back of his head. The month of January gets its name from him. It is the month in which we look backward on the past year and forward to the new year.” 5

John has looked back at his readers’ spiritual advancement (2:12-14), and he has warned them of enemies to their fellowship with God: personal sin (1:5-2:11), the enticements of the world (2:15-17), and the Devil and his false teachers (2:18-27). Now John looks forward at how to prepare to have boldness before Jesus at His imminent coming (2:28-4:19). The Greek phrase translated “that when He appears” (hina nean phanerōthē), is a third-class condition about the coming of Christ which could take place at any time. 6Itemphasizes the fact of Christ’s coming, even though the time of it is indefinite. 7  

The apostle John expected the return of Christ in his lifetime when he writes, “that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (2:28). This expectation of Jesus returning at any moment in one’s life is called imminency and is common throughout the writings of the New Testament authors (Matt. 24:42-44; Luke 12:37-39; John 14:1-3; Acts 20:31; 1 Cor. 1:8; 4:5; 15:51-52; 16:22; Phil. 3:20; 4:5; 1 Thess. 1:10-12; 4:15-17; 5:2-10; James 5:7-9; I Pet. 1:13; Jude 1:21; Rev. 2:25-27; 3:2-3, 11; 16:15; 22:7, 12, 17, 20).

As we look back at the Year 2022 and prepare for the New Year tonight, those of us who believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life can also expect Him to return at any moment in our lifetime. Even though eternal life is a free gift which can never be lost (John 4:40-14; 6:35-40; 10:28-29; Rom. 6:23b; Ephes. 1:13-14; 2:8-9), the New Testament makes it clear that every believer must give an account of his or her Christian life at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10-12; I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10) which takes place after the Rapture or sudden removal of the church from the earth.

It is important to understand that the New Testament speaks of two different judgments separated by the Millennium or one-thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ on earth. The first judgment is for believers in Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ which takes place in heaven after the Rapture of the Church (Rev. 4:1-4; cf. Rev. 22:12; John 14:1-3; I Cor. 15:51-52; 2 Cor. 5:10; I Thess.1:10; 4:13-5:11). The second judgment is for nonbelievers after the Millennium (Rev. 20:1-10), and it is called the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15).

Those who appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:12) and the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15) are judged “according to their works,” not according to their faith or the lack thereof. Since every person is judged “according to their works” at both these judgments, there will be differing degrees of punishment for nonbelievers in the lake of fire as determined by the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15; cf. Matt. 11:20-24; 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47), just as there will be varying degrees of rewards for believers as determined at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 2:25-27; 4:1-4; 22:12).

In I John 2:28, the apostle John has the Judgment Seat of Christ in mind when he writes, “that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” It will be possible for transformed Christians (3:2-3) to experience shame before the Lord Jesus when He evaluates both the “good or bad” things we have done in our Christian lives (2 Cor. 5:10). Keep in mind that Revelation 21:3-6 which speaks of their being no more more death, nor sorrow, nor pain, takes place after the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rev. 4:1-4) and the Millennium (Rev. 20:1-10). In our transformed bodies (Phil. 3:20-21; I John 3:2), we will probably be more sensitive to sin because our sin nature will be gone along with its excuses and rationalizations for sin (I John 3:2-3). We will have a greater capacity to feel holy shame over sins that we committed on earth.

How can we reduce our shame and increase our boldness (“confidence”) before the Lord Jesus at His Judgment Seat? John instructs us to “abide in Him” (2:28a). Again, John refers to fellowship with God using the Greek verb menō (“abide”) which has already occurred 10 times in 2:6-27. “(John used menō 66 of the 112 times it occurs in the New Testament: 40 in John, 23 in 1 John, and 3 in 2 John.) In accord with his basic theme about fellowship (1 John 1:3), John once more enjoined the ‘abiding’ life.” 8

The believer who abides in fellowship with God, who seeks to walk in the light as God is in the light and obey His commands (1:5-9; 2:3-11; 3:24) during his or her Christian life, will “have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” But for the Christian who has not been abiding in Christ during his or her Christian life, there will be less confidence and more shame before the Judgment Seat of Christ.

“Yes, there will be shame at this time for His children who have lived their lives for the flesh and in the flesh. Does this threaten their eternal destiny? No. No more than you may be more proud of some of your children than others. Maybe one of your children has taken the gifts he has been given, worked hard to develop them, and is doing something productive with his/her life. You are proud of that child, and rightly so. Perhaps another child even more gifted has buried his gifts in the sand, has not worked hard to develop his God-given abilities, and is not doing anything productive with his life. Of that child you may be ashamed. Is he still your child? Yes, but you probably would not wish to reward him for his slothful life.” 9

The Christian who lacks the “abiding” life will still be in heaven because that was already determined the moment he or she believed in Jesus for eternal life (John 5:24). But they will have less rewards because they did not abide in Christ. That is why John says to confess your sins now. Abide now. 10

Prayer: Father God, as we close out this year (2022) and begin a new year tonight (2023), we pause to confess our many sins to You because You are faithful and just to forgive the sins we confess to You. We want to begin the new year with a clean slate and a clear conscience. We look forward to the day when You come to meet us in the clouds at any moment to be with You forever. May You find us abiding in You at that time so we may have confidence and not be ashamed before You at Your judgment Seat.  Please use us to share Your gospel of grace with those who are currently alive and destined for the lake of fire due to their unbelief.  May Your Holy Spirit prepare them to hear and believe the gospel so they may also enjoy an eternal life of fellowship with You and receive eternal rewards with which to honor You. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pg. 65.

2. 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. 781-782.

3. 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. 593; 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 3752 to 3762.

4. Constable, pg. 65 cites Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, Vol. 4, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Deighton, Bell, and Co., 1883, 1881, 1880, 1884), pg. 457.

5. Constable, pg. 65.

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 205608 to 205629.  

7. Constable, pg. 66 cites Gerald B. Stanton, Kept from the Hour, ch. 6: “The Imminency of the Coming of Christ for the Church,” Fourth ed., (Miami Springs, Fla.: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1991), pp. 108-37.

8. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3757.

9. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pp. 135-136.

10. Ibid., pg. 136.

I John 2 – Part 12

“But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.” I John 2:27

One of the primary reasons the apostle John is writing his first epistle is because he is concerned that the enemies of God may jeopardize his readers’ fellowship with the Lord. We have learned there are three enemies to our fellowship with God: personal sin (1:5—2:11), the world (2:15-17), and the Devil and his false teachers (2:18-23).

John wants his readers to know that false teachers or antichrists defected from the apostolic churches of Jerusalem and Judea and sought to spread deception among John’s Gentile readers (2:18-19). John reassures his readers that they are not defenseless against these antichrists because they had the anointing of the Holy Spirit which enables them to understand and apply the truth of God’s Word and detect deception (2:20-21).

The primary deception of these false teachers denied that Jesus was the Christ Who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in Him (2:22a; cf. John 11:25-27). Denying that Jesus is the Christ is also a denial of “the Father and the Son” (2:22b) because to deny One is to deny the other and to acknowledge One is to acknowledge the other since Jesus is God and perfectly reflects God the Father (2:23; cf. John 5:24; 10:30, 38; 12:44-45; 14:9-11; et al.).

John then explains how his readers could continue to enjoy fellowship with God and experience victory over these false teachers: “Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.” (I John 2:24). John once again utilizes his favorite word for fellowship or intimacy with God – “abide” (menō). This Greek word means to “to remain, stay, dwell, continue” 1  in fellowship. John uses this word twenty-four times in I John (2:6, 10, 14, 17, 19, 24 [3], 27 [2], 28; 3:6, 9, 14, 15, 17 24 [2]; 4:12, 13, 15, 16 [3].

If John’s readers were going to continue to enjoy fellowship or closeness with God “the Son” and God “the Father,” they must “abide” or remain in the truth they “heard from the beginning” of their Christian experience about God’s Son (2:24). False teaching leads believers away from fellowship with God and other Christians. This is why John tells them to abide in the truth about Jesus. Truth is what gives us new life in Christ. And truth is what enables us to enjoy this new life of fellowship with God. 2

What had John’s readers heard about God’s Son from the beginning of their Christian experience? 1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.” (I John 1:1-2). While John makes it clear that Jesus Christ is “the true God and eternal life” (5:20), he wants to emphasize the realities of eternal life itself 3 as it relates to “the beginning” of the gospel proclamation by Christ which John and the other disciples (“we”) witnessed (1:1-2; cf. 5:11-13; John 1:14). The phrase “Word of life” refers to the message about the life Jesus offers. This “life” is what John and the other apostles witnessed in Jesus. 4

When John writes, “If what you heard from the beginning abides in you…” (2:24b), the “if” in the Greek language means they might do what he asks of them, and they might not. 5 They might abide in the truth they heard about Jesus from the beginning of their Christian lives, and they might not. John says if they do abide in the truth about Jesus that gave them new life, namely, they believed in Jesus as the Christ to be born of God and possess eternal life (5:1, 13) – they will continue to enjoy fellowship with Him and the Father.

“John’s point here is that the Holy Spirit’s ministry always remains available to teach Christians, but the truth (‘what you have heard from the beginning’) must remain in us. Think of it like satellite TV. The satellite communicates, but your satellite dish must receive the signal. The power of the Holy Spirit is available to every believer, but many believers do not operate in a position of dependence on the Spirit because their satellite dishes only function on Sunday mornings.” 6

John’s readers were being told by the antichrists that Jesus was not the Christ Who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in Him. But John refutes this by saying, “And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life.” (I John 2:25). Instead of listening to the falsehoods of the antichrists, John redirects his readers to the unchanging “promise” of God which guarantees “eternal life” to all who believe in Jesus (cf. 5:1, 13; John 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 11:25-27; 20:31). This is the message they heard from the beginning of their Christian experience. This is how they began a personal relationship with God. Assurance of eternal life is found in God’s promises, not in the lies of false teachers which denied that eternal life is through simple faith in Jesus.

There is much confusion today about assurance of salvation. Some insist that assurance of going to heaven is based on our performance and whether we measure up to certain tests concerning the quality of our Christian experience. 7 But if we look to our performance or experience, we will never be certain we have eternal life because we always fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23; I John 1:8, 10). Whenever we take our focus off Christ and His finished work on the cross (John 19:30), we are more likely to doubt our salvation. Even on our best day, we still fall short of God’s glory.

John wants his readers to look to the unchanging promises of God for the assurance of their salvation. “God’s promises don’t change. That’s why the promises of God are the foundation for our assurance of salvation. People who want to teach that 1 John is a book of tests to determine whether you are a Christian or not have gone completely against what John himself uses as his source of assurance: the promises of God.” 8

Why does John remind his readers of their secure relationship with Jesus? “These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you.” (I John 2:26). John did not want his readers to be deceived by the false teachers who tried to undermine their assurance of salvation. Knowing they have eternal life simply be believing in Jesus for it would enable them to effectively resist these antichrists who taught John’s readers they were not genuinely saved because they lacked a secret knowledge which only the false teachers could give them to have eternal life. John understood if a Christian doubts his or her salvation they are more vulnerable to losing their fellowship with God and the apostles.

John reminds his readers they were not dependent upon the antichrists or any human teachers. “But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.” (I John 2:27). Since John’s readers had “the anointing” of the Holy Spirit to teach them to correctly understand and apply God’s truth as long as they “will abide in Him,” they did not need the teaching of the antichrists or any human teacher. The anointing of the Holy Spirit or “Spirit of truth” (John 16:13) teaches them what “is true and is not a lie.” The Spirit’s teaching is always consistent with what “it has taught” previously. God’s Word will not contradict itself.

This suggests that John’s readers were spiritually mature since only the immature need human teachers. The writer of Hebrews states, 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Heb. 5:12-14). John’s readers not only had a knowledge of God’s Word, but they also had the skill to put it into practice. This enabled them “to discern both good” or truthfulteaching from “evil” or false teaching.

Am I suggesting it is possible for Christians not to have a need to be taught by other Christians? Yes and no. Keep in mind that we can always benefit from the teaching of others, but must we be dependent upon their teaching for our own spiritual maturity? First John 2:27 is just as true today as it was when John wrote it. All Christians at the beginning of their Christian life need human teachers to teach them the truths of God’s Word to help them become more like Christ. This is known as discipleship (Matt 10:24-25; 28:19-20; John 8:31-32). But as new believers learn to depend upon the Holy Spirit to teach them the Word and obey it, they can eventually learn to discern truth from deception without the assistance of human teachers.

God has given spiritual gifts to equip believers for the work of the ministry (Ephes. 4:11-12). Hence, someone with a gift of teaching will equip believers without this gift how to teach themselves. Spiritual gifts are meant to help others in areas where they are weak until they can to it independently of the gifted person.

According to I John 2:27, the ongoing teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit is always consistent with what the Holy Spirit has already taught. For example…

  • If the Spirit has taught that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully Man (and He has – Isaiah 9:6-7; 44:6; Matt. 8:24; 9:11; Mark 6:3; John 1:1, 14-18, 34, 49; 2:12; 4:6; 5:16-47; 6:69; 7:3, 5; 8:57-59; 10:30-33; 11:27, 35; 12:27; 14:7-9; 19:28; 20:28, 31; 21:12; Acts 16:31, 34; 20:28; Romans 1:3-4; 9:5; Phil. 2:6-8; I Tim. 2:5; 3:16; 4:10; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; I John 5:20; Rev. 1:17; 22:13), then He would not say centuries later that Jesus was not God nor human.
  • If the Spirit has taught that believing in Christ for eternal life apart from any works is all that is necessary to go to heaven (and He has – John 3:15-16; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; 14:1-3; 20:31; Acts 16:31; Rom. 4:5; Gal. 2:16; Ephes. 1:13-14; 2:8-9; I Tim. 1:16; I John 5:1, 13), then He would not teach that one must do more than believe in Him such as turn from sins, be baptized with water, live a good life, keep the Ten Commandments, and confess Jesus is Lord.
  • If the Spirit has taught that the only way to God is through faith in Jesus Christ (and He has – John 3:15-16, 36; 6:40, 47; 14:1-6; Acts 4:10-12; 16:31; I Tim. 2:3-5), then He would not say centuries later that all religions lead to God.
  • If the Spirit has taught that the Bible is the inspired Word of God without any errors in its original manuscripts (and He has – 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21), then He would not teach centuries later that the Bible is full of errors.

The gospel promises of God never change. Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah-God, the Son of God, Who came from God the Father (John 1:18; 3:16). Jesus guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in Him (John 11:25-27; I John 5:1, 13). The Antichrist and his false teachers deny that Jesus is God or the Son of God. They also deny that eternal life is through simple faith in Christ alone.

Islam denies that Jesus is the Son of God Who came from the Father. They also deny that eternal life is through simple belief in Jesus Christ. For the average Muslim, if he does more good than bad, he can hope for Allah’s merciful judgment to permit him to enter Paradise. For the outstanding Muslim, if he dies in battle against the infidels, he gains an instant entrance into Paradise. 9

The apostle Paul wrote, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Gal 1:8). Paul warned his readers that if he and the other apostles (“we”) or “an angel from heaven” preached a different gospel than what Paul preached to them, he is to be “accursed” or under God’s displeasure. Paul used the words “believe” and “faith” fifteen times when referring to justification before God (2:16; 3:2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 22, 24, 26) in the book of Galatians. He used no other words as a condition for justification. He warned the Galatians not to support or join those who do not preach a “believe / faith alone” gospel (1:6- 9; 4:12, 21-30; 5:1-12; 6:17). It does not matter how kind or helpful a person is who teaches a different gospel. They are “accursed” by God if they preach a different way to heaven other than faith alone in Christ alone. This is very strong language!

With this said, the New Testament advises Christians to “correct” or “avoid” those who teach doctrine contrary to Jesus and the apostles (Matt. 15:10-14; 16:5-12; Rom. 16:17; Gal. 1:8-9; I Tim. 6:3-5, 20-21; 2 Tim. 2:23-26; Titus 1:9; 3:9-11), but we are in no way commanded to resort to violence against those who embrace other faiths. Unfortunately, Christians have not always followed God’s instructions for dealing with false teachers.

Anderson writes, “During the days of the Reformation, all the parties in western Christianity were guilty of the destruction of people for false teaching. The Pope, Martin Luther, Melancthon, and Calvin—all of them sanctioned torture and killing of false teachers. The Anabaptists were killed by other Protestants because they did not believe in infant baptism. Zwingli was viewed by Luther as a heathen because he believed the elements in the Lord’s Supper were symbolic. Thousands and thousands were burned at the stake or beheaded. Though Luther and Calvin believed Christ fulfilled the Law and the New Covenant superseded the Old Covenant, they retreated to Old Covenant laws to rid themselves of anyone who did not believe as they did.” 10

Nowhere in the New Testament are we instructed to murder or kill false teachers inside or outside the church. We are to correct them or shun them if they do not repent and embrace the truths of the Bible.

According to the apostle John, false teaching about God the Father and God the Son is one of the greatest enemies to fellowship with God (2:18-27). Thankfully, the anointing of the Holy Spirit gives Christians the ability to correctly understand and apply biblical truth and detect deception. The primary lies of false teachers deny the equality of God the Father and God the Son, and the free gift of eternal life through belief in Christ alone. All Christians throughout church history need to abide in the anointing of the Holy Spirit to protect them from those who seek to distract and derail them from pursuing Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You so much for the anointing of the Holy Spirit which enables every Christian to correctly understand Your truth and apply it to our lives. This same anointing also empowers us to detect deception, especially as it relates to God the Father and God the Son, and the free offer of eternal life to all who believe in Jesus. Help us continue to abide in the internal ministry of the Holy Spirit so we may remain faithful to Your Word which You have entrusted to us. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. 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. 630-631.

2. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 126.

3. 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. 588.

4. Ibid. pg. 589.

5. The Greek phrase Ean en hymin meinē is a third-class condition and conveys probability, not certainty, about the future. See Anderson, pg. 126.

6. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2941.

7. Anderson, pg. 15 cites cites John MacArthur, Jr., Saved without a Doubt (Colorado Springs: Cook Communications, 1992), pp. 67-91; Constable, pg. 46 cites James Montgomery Boice, The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979); Raymond Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible series(Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1982); F.F. Bruce, The Epistles of John (London: Pickering & Inglis Ltd., 1970; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986); John Calvin, The First Epistle of John, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries series, Translated by T. H. L. Parker. Reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959-61); John F. MacArthur Jr., The Gospel according to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988); John R. W. Stott, Basic Introduction to the New Testament, 1st American ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964); Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistles of St. John (1883. Reprint ed. England: Marcham Manor Press, 1966); and Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 2 vols. (Wheaton: Scripture Press Publications, Victor Books, 1989).

8. Anderson, pg. 128.

9. Ibid., pp. 126-127; cf. Nabeel Qureshi, No God but One: Allah or Jesus? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016 Kindle Edition), pp. 30-34; Daniel Janosik, THE GUIDE TO ANSWERING ISLAM: What Every Christian Needs to Know About Islam and the Rise of Radical Islam (Christian Publishing House, 2019 Kindle Edition), pp. 142, 148, 153-154, pp. 163-164. 10. Anderson, pg. 127.

IMMANUEL IS GOD WITH US

“’Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’” Matthew 1:23

I never grow tired of hearing the Bible’s perspective about the birth of Jesus Christ. It truly is good news! In the gospel of Matthew, we learn of the humanity of Jesus as proven by the fact that He is a legal Descendant of King David (Matt. 1:1-17; 2 Sam. 7:16). But Jesus is also God as proven by His names and manner of conception (Matt. 1:16, 18, 20-21, 23, 25). 1

When Joseph discovered Mary became pregnant while engaged to him, he assumed the worst and sought to put her away to avoid public disgrace for them both (Matt. 1:18-19). Before Joseph could act, God showed up to him and addressed him as a descendant of David (“son of David”) through whom the Messianic King would come, telling him not to be afraid because Mary’s pregnancy was supernaturally produced by God the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20). This Son Whom Mary would bear was to be named “Jesus” (Yahweh is Savior) “for He will save His people,” Israel, “from” the physical (Zech. 9:9-10) and spiritual (Acts 10:43; 16:31) consequences of “their sins” (Matt. 1:21). 2

Jesus’ virgin birth fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 7:14) that a virgin shall be with child – a supernatural sign that would indicate an unusual “Child” was to be born because of His divine nature and presence (Matt. 1:22-23a). A virgin birth through the Holy Spirit explains Jesus’ sinless nature (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15). The sin nature is passed on through the human father. Romans 5:12 states, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (cf. Rom. 5:18).Although Eve sinned first in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-6), Adam is held accountable for sin’s entrance into the world.

The Bible also teaches that God visits “the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations” (Exod. 20:5; cf. Deut. 5:9). Generational sins are passed on through the fathers, not the mothers.This implies that the sin nature is transmitted through the fathers, not the mothers or both parents.

“Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes: one member of each pair inherited from the mother and the other from the father. This suggests that when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary (Luke 1:35), and Jesus was conceived in His mother, God miraculously supplied the other 23 chromosomes to make the matched pair with Mary’s. These would normally have come from a human father.” 3

“And the angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.’” (Luke 1:35). Since God the Holy Spirit took the place of the human father and brought about the conception of Jesus, His 23 chromosomes “overshadowed”Mary’s, causing Christ to be the only human being ever to be conceived since the fall of Adam and Eve without a sin nature. The Greek word translated “overshadowed” (episkiazo) occurs in all three accounts of the Transfiguration where the cloud overshadowed those present (Matt. 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:34). 4 The Holy Spirit “overshadowed” Mary with His presence to bring about this supernatural conception.

“This delicate expression rules out crude ideas of a ‘mating’ of the Holy Spirit with Mary.” 5

“The deity and preexistence of the Son of God required a miraculous conception. His virgin birth resulted in His assuming a human nature, without giving up His divine nature.” 6

The virgin birth qualifies this infinite Person (Jesus) to bear an infinite number of sins for all humanity on the cross 7 (cf. John 1:29; I John 2:1-2). Only a perfect sacrifice could remove the sins of all humanity forever. In the Old Testament, emphasis is given to “perfect” animal sacrifices “without blemish” (Exod. 12:5; 29:1; Lev. 1:3, 10; 3:1, 6; 4:3, 23, 28, 32; 5:15, 18; 6:6; 9:2-3; 14:10; 22:19, 21; et al.) as foreshadows of the perfect Lamb of God Whose shed blood on the cross would perfect forever those who believe in Him (John 1:29; 3:14-18; Rom. 4:5; 8:31-39; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 9:1-10:18; I Pet. 3:18)!   

Since Jesus is fully human (John 1:14; I Tim. 2:5), He can empathize with our human struggles (Heb. 4:15). And since He is fully God (John 1:1, 18; Titus 2:13; I John 5:20), He can heal our brokenness (Exod. 15:26b; Psalm 147:3). Jesus is “Immanuel” which means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23b). We often focus on this verse to emphasize that Jesus is “God,” but in so doing we can easily skip over the word “with.” The Greek word translated “with” (meta) refers to God being “among” or “in the company of” someone in a supportive way. 8 

Jesus Christ is not “God against us,” “God condemning us,” “God judging us,” “God punishing us,” “God pushing us,” “God shaming us,” or “God shoulding us.” The God of the universe is saying, “I am God WITH you.” The Lord is with us in our pain and struggles. He moves toward us with compassion and love so we can feel safe from being criticized, judged, or shamed. This can help us relax and let Jesus heal the deep wounds that we have buried deep within our souls to protect us from rejection and ridicule.

Jesus is “God WITH us.” He is“God HELPS us.”He moves toward broken humanity with compassion, not against them with condemnation (Matt. 11:28-30; 12:20; John 3:17).

Unfortunately, Christians may not experience Christ in this way when it comes to their “church” experience. When they struggle with anxiety, depression, loneliness, rejection, sadness, or suicidal thoughts, well-meaning Christians may move against them by saying, “You shouldn’t feel that way. Just trust God.” Then they quote a Bible verse to support their should’s. What this communicates to the struggling believer is that it is not okay to feel that way. It also reinforces the lie that says, “Good Christians don’t have negative emotions.”

I believe when a hurting believer gets exhorted by other Christians with should’s, it is often because the exhorting believer is uncomfortable with their own feelings that are activated when they hear someone else talk about negative emotions. But instead of facing their own feelings, the exhorting believer focuses on the feelings of the hurting person in a critical or judgmental way to get them to stop talking.

The result is the struggling Christian learns that it is not safe to talk about their negative emotions in a church setting. So, they work extra hard to know the Bible and have all the right answers. They faithfully attend prayer meetings, volunteer to teach Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, and go on mission trips so they don’t upset God and other believers. It is not wrong to do these things per se. But when we do these things out of fear instead of love, it causes more isolation and pain. We can do all these right things without any close connection with God and others.  

You probably realize that I am speaking from my own experience. I have been on both sides of this equation. I have been the exhorting Christian who moves against the hurting believer with should’s and lots of Bible verses. And I have also been the hurting believer who has been the recipient of many Bible verses and should’s from well meaning believers who unknowingly moved against me.

This serves as a reminder that all people, including Christians, need Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can move toward us with perfect love and compassion regardless of our condition. Perhaps you are struggling with anxiety, depression, loneliness, rejection, sadness, self-doubts, stress, or suicidal thoughts. You can draw near to Jesus this Christmas season with confidence that He will help you and heal you. He wants all people to experience “God with us” both now (Matt. 28:20) and forever (Rev. 21:3)!!!

How can you experience God’s loving presence in your life if you are not a Christian? Jesus wants you to understand your need for Him. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). All people (except Jesus) are born with a sin nature that desires to live our own way instead of God’s way. All of us are like sheep who “have gone astray; we have turned, everyone, to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6a). All people have rebelled against God and disobeyed His laws.

Since God is absolutely holy and righteous, He cannot be around our sin. Therefore, the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23b). The word “death” means separation. Our sins separate us from God. Jesus tells us that the final punishment for our sins is death in hell or the lake of fire forever (Mark 9:43-48; cf. Rev. 20:15). I think you will agree this is bad news.

But Isaiah’s prophecy also has good news!  “And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6b). Hundreds of years before Jesus came to earth, the prophet Isaiah tells us that Christ would be punished for all the sins of the world through crucifixion (“pierced through for our transgressions” – Isaiah 53:5).  

God loved you and me so much He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place on the cross and rise from the dead over two thousand years ago (John 3:16a; I Cor. 15:1-6). Jesus is alive today and He invites you to come to Him on His terms when He says, “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16b). What are Jesus’ terms? He says, “whoever believes in Him.” He does not say, “whoever lives a good life… prays… has religion… turns from sin… meditates… loves God… surrenders… gives his or her life to God… is baptized with water, etc.” Christ says simply to “believe in Him.”

To “believe in” (pisteuōn eis) Jesus means to be persuaded that He is speaking the truth and is therefore worthy of your trust. 10 Are you convinced Jesus was speaking the truth when He said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”? If you are, then believe or trust in Him alone to give you His gift of everlasting life so you will not perish in hell.

If you believed Christ’s promise, He wants you to know with absolute certainty that you now have eternal life (I John 5:13)! Jesus now lives inside you forever through His Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39; Gal. 2:20) and He promises never to leave you nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5). You can now experience “God with us” every day of your life as you learn to talk to Him in prayer (John 15:7) and obey His Word (John 15:4-5; I John 3:24).  

The best part is we will experience God dwelling with us in perfect harmony on the new earth in the eternal state where there will be no more barriers to fellowship with Him (Rev. 21:3-4). Anything associated with the fallen world will “have passed away,” never to return (Rev. 21:4). The sin that caused tears, pain, and death will be forever removed! We can enjoy uninterrupted fellowship with God and with His people for all eternity.

Prayer: Hallelujah Lord God Almighty! Thank You for giving us Immanuel that first Christmas season so we can experience God with us both now and forever the moment we believe in Jesus for everlasting life. Thank You Jesus for moving toward us with compassion and love so we can feel safe from criticism, judgment, rejection, and shame. Use us to move toward other broken sinners with the same love and compassion You have moved toward us so they can discover You alone are the Giver of eternal life. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

 ENDNOTES:
 
1. Hal Haller, Jr., Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 14-15.

2. Ibid., pg. 15. 

3. Randy Alcorn’s and Julia (Stager) Mayo’s August 26, 2013, article entitled, “Did Jesus Have a Sin Nature?” at eternal perspective ministries (https://www.epm.org).

4. Tom Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on Luke, 2022 Edition, pg. 46.

5. Ibid., cites Leon Morris, The Gospel According to St. Luke, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), pg. 73.

6. Ibid., pp. 46-47 cites Erwin W. Lutzer, Christ among Other gods (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), pp. 64-74.

7. Haller, pg. 15. 

8. When meta (“with”) occurs with the genitive (hēmōn – “us”), it expresses supportiveness as in “God with us,” “God stands by us,” or “God helps us.” See 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. 636. 

9. Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament (with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!), 6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2017 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 567. 

10. Bauer, pg. 816.

I John 2 – Part 10

“And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” I John 2:17

We began this section of I John (2:15-17) talking about investing our lives in something that is safe and secure. John has instructed us not to invest our lives in the world because it is not possible to love God the Father and the world at the same time (2:15) since the world promotes standards and values that are hostile toward God (2:16). John then gives a final reason not to invest our lives in the world: “And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (I John 2:17). John reminds us that “the world is passing away,” and therefore, it is a totally unworthy object of our sinful lusts and longings. Often when a Christian indulges in some worldly lust, he or she discovers that its gratification is short-lived and must be renewed again and again in more intensive forms to get the same amount of pleasure as before. The “addicted” believer is reminded of the highly transient nature of the world and all its lusts. 

“Worldliness makes the ‘now’ more important than eternity. But you are passing through, and the world is passing by. It’s transient.” 1

The world often bases one’s identity on the type of vocation or skills they possess. But did you ever stop to think that your skills will pass away with the world? If you are an architect, a biologist, an electrician, a farmer, a musician, a physician, a scientist, a secretary, a teacher, etc. – however skilled you may be at any of these activities – none of these designations will survive the present. The Bible tells us, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” (2 Pet. 3:10).

How can a believer in Jesus establish an identity that outlasts this present world system? John tells us: but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (2:17b). The believer who is doing God’s will possesses a lifestyle that is in stark contrast with the world and all its lusts. His or her obedient lifestyle will not be interrupted by the passing away of this world. He or she experiences uninterrupted fellowship (“abides”)with God. 2

Hodges writes, “It [‘abides’] suggests, as almost always in this epistle, the ‘abiding life’ of fellowship with God. But here is obviously the additional thought that the life lived in God’s fellowship, rejecting the sinful things of this passing world, is a life that has no real ending. A person whose character and personality are shaped by obedience to God will not be affected by the passing away of the world and its vain desires. It is a Johannine way of saying, ‘Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.’” 3

“The one who does the will of God is inseparable from the Christ likeness which such a person has achieved. Likeness to Christ can give boldness at the Judgment Seat of Christ” 4 (cf. I John 2:28; 4:17; cf. 1 Cor 3:11-15; 2 Cor 5:10) where the eternal worth of his or her earthly Christian life will be assessed.

You may ask, “What is God’s will?” We know from the book of I John that God’s will is keeping His commandments (2:3-6; 3:24). Here are some examples of commands God wants us to keep: love one another (John 13:34-35; I John 3:23b; 4:21), go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15), make disciples of all the nations (Matt. 28:19-20), abstain from sexual immorality (I Thess. 4:3) and fleshly lusts (I Pet. 2:11), obey governing authorities (Rom. 13:1-7), warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all (I Thess. 5:14), rejoice always (I Thess. 5:16), pray without ceasing (I Thess. 5:17), in everything give thanks (I Thess. 5:18), forgive others as God in Christ has forgiven you (Ephes. 4:32), do not be drunk with wine, be filled with the Spirit (Ephes. 5:18), honor your parents (Ephes. 6:2-3), put on the whole armor of God (Ephes. 6:11) to name a few.

But the believer who lives out of fellowship with God does not “abide” forever in that his or her worldly lifestyle will be radically interrupted when he or she goes to heaven. Their worldly lifestyle will not abide forever. It stops at heaven’s gates. They are likely to experience “shame” instead of boldness before Christ at the Judgment Seat (2:28; cf. 4:17-19) because they did not live the way Christ lived (2:6).

Not everyone agrees with this understanding. There are some who believe I John 2:17 is saying that you cannot go to heaven if you give your life to the world. 5 Those who take this view fail to understand that the book of I John was written to encourage Christians (2:12-14; 5:13) to develop greater intimacy with God (1:3-4). The greater our intimacy with Him, the greater our fellowship with Him and the better we will know God experientially and experience His life abundantly both now and in eternity. In the context of I John 2:17, John is not talking about going to heaven. He is talking to believers (2:12-14) about how to maintain their fellowship with God in a world that is hostile towards Him (cf. I John 2:15-17). 

Believers who fail to do God’s will and do not possess an abiding life will still be in heaven. They will be with Christ not because they lived the way Jesus lived or did not love the world, but because they did the Father’s will as it relates to entering His heaven. What is the Father’s will when it comes to getting to heaven? Jesus said, “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40). The only thing we can do to enter the kingdom of heaven according to the will of the Father, is to believe in Jesus Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life.

Getting to heaven is not a matter of what or who you love or don’t love because Jesus never said, “Everyone who does not love the world may have everlasting life.”Nor did He say,“Everyone who loves the Father may have everlasting life.”Going to heaven isa matter of whom you are believing or trusting to get you there (John 6:40). It doesn’t matter if you have loved the world or not, because you are still a sinner who needs a Savior to take away your sins. Your lifestyle cannot get you to heaven because it is all stained with sin (Isaiah 64:6). Only Jesus Christ can take away our sins because He was the only perfect sacrifice. Christ was without any sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15) since He was fully God (John 1:1) and fully Man (John 1:14). When He died on the cross for all our sins, He satisfied God’s holy demand to punish sin forever as demonstrated when He raised Jesus from the dead (John 19:30; I Cor. 15:1-6; I John 2:1-2).

When it comes to getting to heaven, it is not the will of God that you abide in Christ or do not love the world. It is the will of God that you believe in Christ alone Who died for your sins and rose from the dead so He may give you His gift of eternal life (John 6:40). If you have never understood and believed this before, and now you do, you can tell God this through prayer.

Prayer: Dear God, for much of my life I thought going to heaven was based on how I lived my life on earth. Thank You for revealing to me that going to heaven is not based on how I live, but on how Jesus lived, died, and rose again. God, I come to You now as a sinner who cannot save himself. I believe You died in my place on the cross for all my sins and rose from the dead. I am now believing in You alone, Jesus (not my good life, my love, or my prayers), to give me everlasting life and a future home in Your heaven. Thank You for the eternal life I now have and for the future home I will have in heaven. Please help me to know and do Your will now so my lifestyle will continue after I leave this world which is passing away. In mighty name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

The moment you believed in Jesus for His gift of eternal life, you became God’s child forever (John 1:12). God is now your Father (Matt. 6:9) and you now have many brothers and sisters in Christ all around the world. God wants you to know Him more intimately now as you learn how to spend time with Him studying His Word (John 8:30-31) and talking to Him through prayer (John 15:7). He wants you to love Him and other Christians who last forever, not this world which is passing away (I John 2:15-16) so you can have a godly lifestyle that is permanent and greatly rewarded (I John 2:17, 28; 4:17-19). Knowing and doing God’s will is the safest and securest way to invest your life during your time on earth.

I wonder how much you and I will miss the world and its vain desires when we go to heaven to be with Jesus? Will our love for the world be greater than our love for the Lord? Like Lot’s wife (Gen. 19:16), will it be difficult to leave the things of this world behind us? The Lord Jesus told us to “remember Lot’s wife” in Luke 17:32a. Then He said, “Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33b). Lot’s wife sought to save her worldly lifestyle. She loved her earthly things so much that she could not leave them all behind. They were more valuable to her than her own life. The bottom line was she did not take God seriously! She was bent on doing her own thing rather than what the Lord wanted her to do.

The same thing can happen to us as Christians. The Lord saves us, and we begin walking with Him. But as we encounter difficulties, we begin to wonder if our old life would be better. Eventually we can turn to a pillar of salt spiritually. When you have a chance, lick some salt today and ask yourself, “What are some things in my life that God has asked me to leave behind? Things that keep me from following Christ?” Purpose in your heart not to be like Mrs. Lot. Seek the Lord Jesus first (Matt. 6:33) and rely on Him to live a life of love toward Him, not toward this world (I John 2:15-17).

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2939.

2. The Greek word for “abides” (menō)is one of John’s favorite terms for fellowship with God (I John 2:6, 10, 14, 17, 19, 24 [3], 27 [2], 28; 3:6, 9, 14, 15, 17 24 [2]; 4:12, 13, 15, 16 [3]; cf. John 8:31; 15:4-7, 9-10) and it means “to remain, stay, dwell, continue.” See 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. 630-631 and Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 616-619.

3. 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 3710.

4. 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. 592.

5. When referring to I John 2:17, the authors of the discipleship course entitled Rooted go so far to say that “if we give our lives to the world, we will pass away and be separated from God for all eternity” (pg. 98). See Kenton Beshore, Muriithi Wanjau, Peter Kasirivu, Samuel Metelus, Camille and Esther Ntoto, Daniel Nunez, Adrian De Visser, Rooted: Connect with God, the Church, Your Purpose (China: Rooted Network, 2020).

I John 2 – Part 4

“I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.” I John 2:12

Weapons of warfare have changed considerably since the day the apostle John wrote his first epistle. While Romans soldiers in the first century fought with swords and spears, they would be no match for our Special Ops today that use the M4 carbine rifle, a shortened version of the standard U.S. M16 with a detachable 40mm grenade launcher mounted beneath the barrel. The weapon can also mount a night-vision sight, and some troops carry night-vision goggles with them. A soldier on sniper duty might lug a heavy Barrett .50 caliber rifle that can hit targets a mile away with a bullet stout enough to pierce armor. Some soldiers carry the M3 Carl Gustav reusable launcher, a bazooka that fires antipersonnel and antitank rockets. 1

But a Christian’s weapons have not changed. Our enemy remains the same in spiritual warfare and so do our weapons regardless of what century we live in. But the tactics of the enemy can vary from situation to situation, but the weapons that bring us victory remain unchanged.

The book of I John is primarily about having fellowship with God, not about going to heaven; it is about our practice, not our position. But understanding and believing our position in Christ is foundational for victorious Christian living. For example, in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in the city of Ephesus, he first presents the truth about our position in Christ (Ephes. 1-3) before addressing our practice of that truth (Ephes. 4-6). Paul knows that it is essential to know and believe our position in Christ if we are to effectively live it out. 2

The apostle John is preparing his readers for spiritual warfare. Christians face three primary enemies: the devil (Ephes. 2:2b; 6:12; I Pet. 5:8; Rev. 12:9), the world (John 15:18-19; Ephes. 2:2a), and our sin (Ephes. 2:3; James 1:14-15). John addressed our sin in I John 1:5-2:2. He is about to deal with our other two enemies: the world (2:15-17) and the devil (2:18-25). To get us ready to deal with these two enemies, he is going to review some basic truth about our position in Christ (2:12-14). 3

In 2:12-14, the terms “children… fathers… young men” refer to all the readers in each case since John addressed all his readers as “little children” (cf. 2:1, 18, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21). If John was referring to different chronological age groups or differences in spiritual maturity, we would expect the sequence: “little children, young men, and fathers.” But instead, we see the sequence: little children, fathers, and young men. 4

“It seems best… to view the terms of address as referring to all the readers in each case. Then each experience ascribed to them is appropriate to the category named.” 5

Anderson writes, “But the words are switched up to look back at ground already covered and look forward to the battle ahead:

Little Children—Forgiveness; ground covered in 1:5−2:2.

Fathers—Intimacy (deep knowledge of God); ground covered in 2:3-11.

Young Men—Victory over the Evil One; ground covered in 2:15-28.” 6

In verses 2:12-14, it is also noteworthy to observe the phrase, “I write to you… because…” “Clearly John does not regard his readers as ‘false professors.’ Viewing this epistle as presenting ‘tests’ by which to determine the genuineness of a person’s salvation misreads the epistle.” 7

John is not writing this epistle to provide tests for eternal life. He is not questioning whether his readers are saved or not. He is writing because he is assured of their salvation and their deepening fellowship with God. His concern is that their enemies may jeopardize their fellowship with God by questioning the genuineness of their salvation experience (2:25-27; 5:9-13) and their subsequent fellowship with the Lord.

John begins with his readers’ experience as “little children.” “I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.” (I John 2:12). Like “little children” (teknia = “little born ones”) 8 John’s readers had experienced the forgiveness of their heavenly Father. That John is referring to his readers’ position in Christ is underscored by using the Greek perfect tense of the word “forgiven” (apheōntai) which refers to a completed action in the past with continuing results to the present. 9 When John’s readers believed in Christ for His gift of eternal life in the past (5:13a), they were forgiven of all their sins – past, present, and future (Col. 2:13-14) – and they remain forgiven in the present when John writes to them.

The word for “forgiven” means “to release or cancel” a debt owed. 10 This is judicial or positional forgiveness whereby God cancels our sin debt to Him the moment we believe in Jesus for His complete forgiveness of all our sins so we can become His forever children (cf. Acts 10:43; Col. 2:13-14; John 1:12; 6:37). We are declared totally righteous before God in His courtroom at the moment of faith in Christ (Romans 3:21-4:5; 8:33). This not only includes our past sin debt, but our present and future sin debt to God as well (Col. 2:13-14). Nothing is more important for a believer in spiritual battle than his secure standing before God. Satan will accuse the believer of wrongdoing, but he cannot do so successfully because Christ has canceled that believer’s sin debt in full and declared him to be totally righteous in God’s courtroom the moment he believed in Jesus (Rom. 8:33-34). This is positional forgiveness.

Another feature in this verse that points to a believer’s position in Christ is the phrase “for His name’s sake.” Why did God grant complete forgiveness to John’s readers? It was “for His name’s sake.” This phrase looks back to the first time John’s readers believed in Jesus’ name. 11 John writes, “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). God wants people to know that complete forgiveness is connected to believing in “the name of the Son of God,” Jesus Christ. Christ forgives us not because we deserve it but because He wants His name as a forgiving God to become more well known among people all around the world. If Christians lost their positional forgiveness in Christ, it would tarnish Jesus’ name as a forgiving Savior.

First John speaks of two types of forgiveness. One is the forgiveness we receive because of our position in Christ. This is the forgiveness spoken of in I John 2:12 (cf. Ephes. 1:7). The only condition for positional forgiveness is belief in Christ (Acts 10:43). The extent of this forgiveness is past, present, and future sins (Col. 2:13-14). It is permanent as the prefect tense suggests in 2:12 and is therefore unrepeatable. The second type of forgiveness is practical or fellowship forgiveness which was addressed in I John 1:6-2:2. The condition for this forgiveness is confession of sin (I John 1:9). The extent of this forgiveness is the confessed sin. It is temporary and needs to be repeated whenever the believer becomes aware of his unconfessed sin (Matt. 6:12, 14-15). It is important to understand that this practical forgiveness is based on our positional forgiveness.

Anderson illustrates: “When my oldest daughter started to drive, she took Driver’s Ed. She was a good student and did well, but on the day she got her license, she was quite nervous. That night she wanted to go to Young Life, and she borrowed our brand-new family car to do so. I was out that evening myself, so when I got home, I happened to notice that the left side of the car was smashed in, and the left rear-view mirror was missing. I walked into the house and didn’t say a thing. Because I have an eternal relationship with my daughter, she has advanced forgiveness for anything she might do to injure herself, me, or our family. We had insurance on the car, so it was no big deal, but I knew she was going to be feeling very badly.

“I just sat downstairs and turned on the TV, waiting for her to come to me. Well, an hour went by. She didn’t come. She knew I was home because she could hear the TV. But it wasn’t until her older brother called out, ‘Christie, Dad’s home. Don’t you have something to tell him?’ that she came down the stairs. It was hard for her to get up the courage to tell me. But she finally did so and started crying.

“I said, ‘Christie, don’t worry. You are not hurt, you didn’t hurt anyone, and the car can be fixed. But even if we didn’t have insurance on the car and you were hurt, I would forgive you. You’re my daughter. My love for you will last forever. Come here.’

“She came over and I gave her a big hug. Then I said, ‘Hey, why don’t we go out and practice some more.’ So, with me at her side, we went out driving.

“Christie was still somewhat shaken by her first mistake, so she made a second. She drove at thirty miles per hour right through a four-way stop. A policeman saw and stopped us. As he walked up to the car, he had his head cocked with a curious expression on his face. He said, ‘You just didn’t see it, did you, honey?’

“You see, most stop signs are run out of defiance (in which case the car is often accelerating) or with a ‘roll stop.’ But Christie just cruised right through at the accepted speed limit for the area. From this the policeman deduced that she had not seen the stop sign at all. He was merciful and only gave her a warning. Now her second mistake wasn’t as bad as the first, and she learned even another lesson. Slowly she developed her confidence as a driver and hasn’t had any more wrecks (to my knowledge) since then. She is now thirty-one years old.

“But in order for Christie to relax and become a better driver, she had to know that she was forgiven for her mistake. And not only the first big mistake, but she had to know that I wasn’t going to revoke my forgiveness for the first mistake when she made the second mistake. Because of our father/daughter relationship, because of her position in our family as my daughter, she already has advanced forgiveness for any mistake she may make in life. That’s what we call positional forgiveness, forgiveness because of our relationship. But in order to feel close to me, she needs forgiveness not only in her position, but also in her condition. That’s why she needed to tell me what she had done, and that’s why I reassured her of my love and forgiveness and gave her a big hug. It is very important to see that our fellowship is based on our relationship.

“My daughter and I have an eternal relationship. As such, she has advanced forgiveness for anything she might do to hurt me. This is relationship forgiveness. But when she does do something wrong, she needs to come to me and confess that wrong in order to be reassured of my love and forgiveness. This is fellowship forgiveness. The latter is based on the former. Any child needs the assurance of relationship forgiveness over and over!

“In the passage before us, John is reassuring his little children of God’s forgiveness because of their eternal relationship with Him. A knowledge and assurance of this forgiveness is absolutely essential for them to feel confident as they go into battle against the world and the devil. A good soldier cannot operate at his best with the fear that a mistake or two will take him off the front lines.” 12

The challenge for many Christians is they don’t believe they have positional forgiveness. Charles Stanley illustrates this with an experience from his seminary days:

“One of my most memorable seminary professors had a practical way of illustrating the concept of grace for his students. At the end of his evangelism course, he would hand out the exam with the caution to read it all the way through before beginning to answer it. This caution was written on the exam as well.

“As we read through the exam, it became unquestionably clear to each of us that we had not studied nearly enough. The further we read, the worse it became. About halfway through, audible groans could be heard throughout the lecture hall. By the time we were turning to the last page, we were all ready to turn the exam in blank. It was impossible to pass.

“On the last page, however, there was a note that read, ‘You have a choice. You can either complete the exam as given or sign your name at the bottom and in so doing receive an A for this assignment.’

“Wow! We sat there stunned. ‘Was he serious? Just sign it and get an A?’ Slowly, the point dawned on us, and one by one we turned in our tests and silently filed out of the room. It took the rest of the afternoon for me to get over it. I had the urge to go back and check with him one more time to make sure he was serious.

“When I talked with him about it afterward, he shared some of the reactions he had received through the years as he had given the same exam. There were always students who did not follow instructions and began to take the exam without reading it all the way through. Some of them would sweat it out for the entire two hours of class time before reaching the last page. Their ignorance caused them unnecessary anxiety.

“Then there were the ones who would read the first two pages, become angry, turn in their paper blank, and storm out of the room. They never realized what was available. As a result, they lost out totally.

“One fellow, however, topped them all. He read the entire test, including the note at the end, but he decided to take the exam anyway. He did not want any gifts; he wanted to earn his grade. And he did. He made a C+, which was amazing considering the difficulty of the test. But he could have easily had an A.

“This story vividly illustrates many people’s reaction to God’s solution to sin. Many are like the first group. They spend their lives trying to earn what they discover years later was freely offered to them the whole time. They spend years sweating it out, always wondering if God is listening to their pleas for forgiveness, always wondering if they have finally pushed Him too far. They hope God has forgiven them; they suppose He has. They do all they know to do to get forgiven. But insofar as God is concerned, they do not want to be presumptuous. So, they live their lives with doubts.

“Many people respond like the second group. They look at God’s standard—moral and ethical perfection—and throw their hands up in surrender. Why even try? they tell themselves. I could never live up to all that stuff. They live the way they please, not expecting anything from God when they die. Often, they decide there is no God. Their acknowledged inability to live up to His standard drives them to this conclusion. Instead of living under constant pressure and guilt, they choose to completely abandon the standard. What a shock it will be for them when they stand before God and understand for the first time what was available had they only asked!

“Then there is the guy who took the test anyway. I meet people like him all the time who are unwilling to simply receive God’s gift of forgiveness. Striking out to do it on their own, they strive to earn enough points with God to give them the right to look to their own goodness as a means of pardon and forgiveness. They constantly work at ‘evening the score’ with God through their good works. ‘Sure, I have my faults,’ they say. ‘But God does not expect anyone to be perfect.’

“When it comes to forgiveness, there is no room for boasting in one’s own ability. As we will see, forgiveness is not a team effort. It is not a matter of God’s doing His part and us doing ours. Unlike my professor’s test, in God’s economy anything less than 100 percent is failing.” 13

When Christians go into spiritual battle, our enemy, the devil, will accuse us of wrongdoing to get us to focus on our past. He wants to persuade us that our past sins cannot be forgiven. Satan knows that focusing on our past will make it difficult for us to face the enemy in front of us. This will also weaken us when we face the world with its various temptations.

John reminds us that we have been completely forgiven in Christ the moment we believed in Him (I John 2:12; cf. Acts 10:43; Ephes. 1:7; Col. 2:13-14). In Christ, God sees in us absolute holiness… purity… righteousness… and goodness. Everything He sees in Jesus Christ He now sees in us (Rom. 4:5; 8:33; Ephes. 1:4; Heb. 10:10-14). Our relationship with God is eternal and therefore can never be lost (John 6:35-40; 10:28-29; 17:3). This is the first unchanging weapon that all Christians possess going into battle.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we praise You because we are Your little children whose sins are all completely forgiven forever the moment we believed in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. There is no other name given under heaven by which we could be saved and forgiven forever (Acts 4:10-12). Thank You for this assurance and security that gives us sure footing as we prepare to go into battle against the devil and his world system with its many temptations. Knowing we have an eternal relationship with You strengthens our resolve to stand firm against the schemes of the evil one. No matter what we face, You remain our heavenly Father and we Your children forever. Thank You for this blessed assurance! In the mighty name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 95.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. 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 3669 to 3673.

5. Ibid., Kindle Location 3673.

6. Anderson, pg. 96.

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. 591.

8. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3558.  

9. Anderson, pg. 96.

10. 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. 156.  

11. Anderson, pg. 96.

12. Ibid., pp. 97-98.

13. Ibid., pp. 98-100 cites Charles Stanley, The Gift of Forgiveness: Put the Past Behind You and Give… (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987), pp. 43-45.

Will Jesus Reject His Own?

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”  John 6:37

After miraculously feeding thousands of people (John 6:1-14) and walking on water (John 6:15-21), Jesus begins His discourse on the bread of life for those who hunger spiritually (John 6:22-58). In the middle of this discourse, Christ makes an incredible promise to His listening audience: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” (John 6:37). Let’s look closely at what Jesus says:

  • “All…,” not some or most, who have ever believed in Jesus prior to the Church Age are given to Christ by “the Father.” Before the Church Age (Acts 2:1ff), those who believed in Jesus as the coming Messiah belonged to God the Father. Because of Israel’s rejection of Christ (Matthew 12:22ff), Jesus anticipated the transfer of ownership of Old Testament believers to Him by the Father in anticipation of the coming Church Age (Matthew 16:18; cf. Acts 2:1ff). 1
  • “…the Father…” The safe keeping of Old Testament believers is not solely about a gracious Son trying to calm down an uncontrollably angry Father. The Father lovingly takes the initiative. 2
  • “…gives…,” not “quibbles over.” It is the Father’s great delight to entrust rebellious sinners who believed in the coming Messiah into the safe keeping of His Son.
  • “…will come…” The Father’s safe keeping of a believing sinner is never thwarted. All who have believed in Jesus in the Old Testament are securely kept by Christ after this transfer of ownership from the Father to the Son.
  • “The one who comes…” While the Father loves “all,” coming to Christ is an individual’s choice. God cares about “the one” sinner who is lost without Christ. We are not robots. We are not drawn to Christ against our wills kicking and screaming. Each human being has the freedom to choose to come to Christ by believing in Him (cf. John 6:35). 
  • “…comes to Me…” God is not inviting sinners to come to a set of doctrines, to a church, or even to the gospel. He is inviting us to come to a Person – Jesus Christ. 3
  • “…I will by no means cast out.” This phrase “I will by no means cast out” is emphatic in the Greek language (ou mē ekbalō exō). Literally it means, “I will no not ever cast out” the one who comes to Me. In Jesus’ day and ours, there are lost sinners who are deeply afraid that Jesus will not welcome them into His fold or family much less keep them forever. If there was no fear of being cast out, then there would be no need for Jesus to say this so emphatically both then and now. 

We may have many objections to this incredible promise from Jesus:

  • “But Lord, You don’t realize what I have done in my past!” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I have proudly turned away from You.” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I relied totally on myself.” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I have deeply hurt others with my own brand of selfishness and sin.” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I have served Satan all my life.” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I have sinned against Your grace.” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I have sinned against Your mercy.” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I have sinned against Your light.” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I have sinned against Your love.” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I have no good thing to bring with me.” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I cannot measure up to Your standard of holiness.” “I will by no means cast out.” 4

Jesus’ promise answers all our objections. Even when we run out of specific sins and failures, we may anticipate that Jesus will eventually reject us when He gets to know us better. We say to Him, “Lord, You know me better than anyone else, for sure, but You don’t know the darkness that is hidden from everyone deep in my soul.” Christ says, “I know it all.”

We retort, “But the thing is, it isn’t just my past. It is also my present.” “I understand,” He replies.

“But I don’t know if I can break free from this sin any time soon.” “That’s the only kind of person I am here to help,” Jesus says.

We say, “The burden is getting heavier and heavier all the time.” “Then let Me carry it,” He offers.

“It is too much to carry, Lord.” “Not for Me,” He assures.

“You don’t understand, Jesus. My sins are not against others. They are against You.” “Then I am the most suited to forgive them,” He responds.

“But the more of the wickedness You discover in me, the sooner You will reject me.” 5The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”

When we come to Christ in faith we will be welcomed forever. The only condition for enjoying such everlasting love is to come to Him just as we are in faith. Jesus does not say, “The one who comes to Me feeling bad enough about their sin,” or “The one who comes to Me with a load of good works,” or “The one who comes to Me with extra devotion.” Christ simply says, “The one who comes to Me.” This is God’s amazing grace. It cannot be earned, and it cannot be undone. Once you come to Christ in simple faith, you are God’s child forever.

There may be some of us who still do not accept this assurance from Christ. It may be because we come from backgrounds which are filled with rejection. The main reason some of us have a hard time trusting people today is because we have experienced so much rejection while growing up. Perhaps a parent criticized us for everything we did, a teacher humiliated us, a friend betrayed us, a spouse left us, or an employer terminated us.

Every human being has limits. If we offend enough, if a relationship gets damaged enough, if we betray enough, we are cast out. The walls go up. But with Jesus, our sins and weaknesses are what qualify us to come to Him. Nothing but coming to Him in faith is required. 6

You may think, “My sins may not exhaust Christ’s acceptance of me, but what about my pain? What if my pain keeps piling up, and numbness starts to take over? As the months go by, won’t Jesus eventually cast me out because my burdens are too great for Him? Surely such intense pain is not designed for someone who comes to Christ and is promised never to be cast out?”

But Jesus does not say that “the one who comes with pain-free lives will by no means be cast out.” He simply says, “the one who comes to Me.” It is not what life gives to us but to Whom we come to in faith that determines Christ’s permanent acceptance of us. Jesus says we come to Him to enjoy His everlasting love. 7

I can hear someone says, “But what if I stop believing in Jesus after I come to Him? Won’t He cast me out?” 8 Jesus did not say, “The one who comes to Me and keeps coming to Me.” He simply says, “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” If Christ were to cast out a person who stops believing in Him after his or her conversion, He would have told a lie here. Coming to Christ in faith has permanent results. Jesus cannot lie because He is God (John 1:1; I John 5:20) Who is “full of truth” (John 1:14) and is “the truth” (John 14:6), and He never breaks His promise of eternal life (Titus 1:2). Jesus guarantees you will never be rejected by Him. If we will come to Jesus on His terms – believe in Him (even if it is just once) – He guarantees to accept us forever!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for taking our place on the cross when You received the punishment for sin that should have been ours so that when we come to You in faith we will never be cast out of God’s family. Although many of us have been deeply wounded by the rejection of others, please help us learn to trust You knowing You will never reject us regardless of what we or others do, say, or think. Heal us so we are no longer driven by the fear of rejection. Help us to rest in Your total acceptance of us. No longer do we need to seek the love and approval of others because we are totally loved and accepted by You. Use us Lord Jesus to share this good news with those who need it the most. We love You Lord and seek to live for You now. In Your matchless name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Anthony B. Badger, Confronting Calvinism: A Free Grace Refutation and Biblical Resolution of Radical Reformed Soteriology (Anthony Badger, 2013), pp. 185-186.

2. Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Suffers (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), pg. 60.

3. Adapted from Ibid., pp. 60-61 cites John Bunyan, Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2004) and in Vol. 1 The Works of John Bunyan, 3 Vols., ed. George Offor (repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991, pp. 240-299.

4. Adapted from Ortlund, pg. 62 who cites Bunyan in Come and Welcome to Jesus in The Works of John Bunyan, pp. 279-280.

5. Ortlund, pp. 63-64.

6. Ibid., pg. 64.

7. Ibid., pp. 64-65.

8. While Ortlund (pp. 65-66) and other Puritans believe that a true believer can never fall away from Christ (stop believing in Christ), nothing in Jesus’ promise suggests such an understanding. Our eternal security is not based upon our enduring faith but upon our Savior’s enduring faithfulness to His promises (2 Timothy 2:13). See Charles Stanley, Eternal Security, Can You Be Sure? (Nashville: Oliver Nelson, 1990), pg. 80.

I John 2 – Part 3

“He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” I John 2:10

When we first returned to the USA from the Philippines in February 2020, the Coronavirus was not the only pandemic to deal with. There was also a pandemic of hate emerging.

People expressed extreme dislike toward those who differed with them about COVID-19 and how to manage this public health crisis (i.e., mask wearing, contact tracing, whether to get a vaccine, etc.). Could people trust scientists and policy makers to make decisions based solely on facts? The erosion of trust fueled pandemic frictions.

Racial tensions escalated after the tragic murder of George Floyd during his arrest by Minneapolis police officers in May of 2020. 1 While most of the protests associated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement (and others) following Floyd’s murder were peaceful and nondestructive, several protests involved destruction of property, looting, arson, and the death of innocent lives across the country. 2

With it being an election year, more hatred was expressed toward those with differing political views. This growing hostility toward political opponents focused on their moral repugnance, not their different views on the economy, foreign policy, or the role of social safety nets. 3 Violent political protests in America not only destroyed property, but human lives as well in the name of politics. 4 Other countries also experienced substantial political unrest including Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Malawi, Nigeria, Peru, Serbia, Sudan, Uganda, and Venezuela. 5

Those of us who spend a lot of time in church might say, “Well, that is the world. We can expect such things from the unsaved population. But surely hatred is not experienced in the church, right?” 

As I read the book of I John, I believe the apostle John would say that even Christians can get caught up in hating one another. We may not destroy one another’s property, but we can destroy each other’s peace of mind and reputation. And while the average Christian may not admit to having any hatred toward a fellow believer, I believe the apostle John would say that hatred toward another Christian can be one of the greatest barriers to our fellowship with God and one another.

All sin is a barrier to fellowship with God. But hating another Christian is one of the most difficult sins to deal with for the following reasons:

1. Satan targets the relationships of Christians because he knows that Christians living in unity with one another is one of the powerful expressions of the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27; John 17:20-23; Ephes. 2:14-18; 3:1-7; 4:1-32). The Devil seeks to deceive Christians to deny their hurts and refuse to forgive one another (cf. 2 Cor. 2:10-11; Ephes. 4:25-32). As the father of lies (John 8:44), Satan tells an offended believer, “Good Christians don’t get angry, they just get even,” and other lies to keep them from being reconciled. If we are going to overcome hatred toward other Christians, we must realize our battle is not with flesh and blood, but with Satan and his demonic armies, and therefore we must wear the whole armor of God (Ephes. 6:10-18).

2. Christians have higher expectations of other believers and themselves. As a believer in Christ, you may not expect non-Christians to act like Jesus, but you do expect other followers of Christ to act more like Him since they have God the Holy Spirit living in them and His Word to direct their lives. But when they don’t resemble Christ (or your image of Christ), you can easily get angry with them. Or you can take advantage of them, thinking they will easily forgive you or accept you if you do mess up. Either way, this can create more tension between fellow believers in Christ. The higher our expectations of one another, the more likely we are to be disappointed or offended. This can also make it difficult to admit when we are offended or have offended someone. We don’t want to be vulnerable with other believers because there is more risk involved. What will they think of me if I tell them I was offended by them? Can I trust them to keep this confidential? Will they think I am too sensitive or ungodly if I talk to them about my hurt feelings or my anger? A third reason why resolving hatred toward another Christian is difficult is because…

3. Hatred toward other Christians is easy to justify. After all they hurt me unjustly. There is no defense for what they did. The Christian father abused his child. The believing husband selfishly deserted his wife and kids. The Christian partner cheated his brother out of the company. The Christian sister lied to others about her conflict. Carrying the burden of hatred toward other Christians is not the way God wants us to live on earth. We can choose to live with hatred or with healing. But if we choose to hate another brother or sister in Christ, we cannot claim to be close to God. 6

In I John 2:3-6, the apostle John emphasized obedience to Christ’s commands as a test of intimate fellowship with the Lord. It is natural to ask what commands did John have in mind? In verses 7-11 the apostle will answer this question.

“Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning.” (I John 2:7). John wrote that if a believer claims to “abide in“ Christ, he must live as Jesus did (2:6). When speaking of God’s commandments and a Christlike walk, John was not speaking of anything new. This is not a “new commandment” but an “old commandment” which his readers “heard from the beginning” of their Christian experience.

The “old commandment” was taught by Jesus years before when He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34). 7 To walk as Jesus walked is to walk in love toward other believers. It is “old” in the sense of being no new responsibility and having no new content. Whatever new interpretations the antichrists (I John 2:18-19) were trying to add to Jesus’ original command to love one another, John reminds his readers that their responsibility was to obey the original command they “heard from the beginning” of their Christian experience (I John 2:7). 8 Throughout the centuries, people have tried to add “new” ideas or meanings to God’s Word to avoid responsibility. But Christ’s command has not changed since Jesus first spoke it.

From another point of view, the commandment spoken of in verse 7 as being “old,” can also be called a “new commandment.” John writes, “Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.” (I John 2:8). Loving one another as Christ loved us is “new” because it belongs to a new age that “is already shining.” Christ’s incarnation brought a light into the world which can never be extinguished 9 (John 1:4-5 9; 8:12).The phrase “is passing away” (paragō) is also used by John in I John 2:17 which speaks of the darkness of the world being morally at odds with God the Father. Thus, John is saying the “old” moral darkness of this world is temporary. The “new” reality that will replace it is “the true light” which “is already shining.” This truth was fully revealed through Christ’s love for the world (John 3:16) and is being revealed today through the love of Christians for one another. But the day is coming when this love will shine forth without any hindrance in Christ’s coming Kingdom (cf. 2 Peter 3:13). 10

As Christ’s disciples (including us) obey the command to love one another as Jesus loved us, this command has the character of “truth” both “in” us as we do it and “in” Christ Who gave it. This “truth” was manifested “in” our Teacher (Jesus) as He obeyed His heavenly Father and now “in” those who obey Christ. When we love one another as Jesus loved us, we give others a glimpse of the new age of love to come which is in stark contrast to “the darkness” of hatred all around us. The world does not know this love. It is not a sign of a Christian’s salvation, but of his or her fellowship with Christ, because Jesus said, By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). Loving one another as Christ loved us is a condition for discipleship, not salvation. 11 It is necessary to have fellowship or closeness with Christ.

The world does not understand the love of Jesus Christ. It is a love that offers forgiveness instead of vengeance when you are wounded. Christ gave us this command “in a Middle Eastern world which only understood an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. They had been taught to love their neighbors but hate their enemies. The concept of turning the other cheek and loving their enemies was completely foreign to them.

“The modern problem between the Jews and the Arabs in Israel did not begin with the Jews taking the lands from the Arabs in 1948. At first the Jews tried to purchase land. Sir Moses Montefiore bought land in 1855 for Jewish settlers at Safed, just north of the Sea of Galilee. Then in 1884 Sir Rothschild bought more land for the S. Russian Jews near Ekron. The Jews were trying to escape false accusations brought against them in Russia, Romania, and Bulgaria that they were using the blood of Christian children in their Passover bread. But before 1900 ever rolled around there were attacks against the Jews by the Arabs in settlements around Jaffa and Tiberias.

“Larry Collins’ book O, Jerusalem, tells how the hatred between these groups escalated until wholesale slaughters of Jewish and Arab villages took place, with raping and castrating on both sides in order to increase the humiliation of the victims. The conflict which continues today knows nothing of the love of Christ. It is a land controlled by Satan and his minions of darkness. Their only hope is the love of Christ.” 12

As we see the pandemic of hate increasing around the world today, Christ’s love can shine brightly through Christians who love one another as Jesus loved them. But why is it so seldom we see this kind of love? It is because Christians, like the world, can be vulnerable to the darkness of hate.

John writes, He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now.” (I John 2:9). The Christian who says, “he is in the light” as God is in the light (1:7) “and hates his brother, is” living “in darkness.” One cannot be sharing “the light” with God if he is hating his Christian “brother.”

“The opposite of love is hate. The opposite of light is darkness. Just as loving each other opens the floodgates of fellowship, so hating one another closes them. Thus, the biggest barrier to deep fellowship with God is to hate one’s brother.” 13

Those who think I John provides tests for eternal life would say this person who hates his brother is not even a true Christian because loving your Christian brother is proof that you are saved. This understanding is unacceptable for the following reasons:

1. The book of I John provides tests for a Christian’s fellowship with God (1:3-7). The proof that we are in fellowship with God is our love for one another (2:3-11).

2. The phrase “his brother” (2:9, 11) could refer to an unsaved person hating his physical kin, but since he has no spiritual kin, he cannot hate his spiritual “brother.” It is more consistent with John’s purpose in writing I John (fellowship with God and other Christians) to understand that he is talking about a Christian’s love for another Christian “brother” (cf. that you also may have fellowship with us” – 1:3; “we have fellowship with one another” – 1:7).

“If John thought that no Christian could hate another Christian, there was no need to personalize the relationship with the word ‘his.’ But the opinion, held by some, that a true Christian could never hate another Christian is naive and contrary to the Bible and experience. Even so great a man as King David was guilty of murder, which is the final expression of hate. John was warning his readers against a spiritual danger that is all too real (cf. 1:8, 10). And he was affirming that a Christian who can hate his fellow Christian has not genuinely escaped from the darkness of this present passing Age. To put it another way, he has much to learn about God and cannot legitimately claim an intimate knowledge of Christ. If he really knew Christ as he ought, he would love his brother.” 14

“If the Bible taught that feelings of hatred were a sure sign of an unsaved condition, then virtually no one in the whole church would be saved! But the Bible does not teach this.” 15

3. In the context of I John 2:3-11, John has in mind Christ’s command (2:5-8) to love one another as He has loved them as a proof of discipleship (John 13:34-35). John’s focus is on Christians loving one another (see especially I John 4:20-5:1). The term “his brother” must also be understood in this Christian sense. 16

The phrase “until now” (2:9) implies that this condition can end. 17 A Christian does not have to live in the darkness of hate. He or she can return to the light of God’s love. Look what happens when a Christian loves another Christian: “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” (I John 2:10). First, we see that when a Christian “loves his” Christian “brother” he “abides in the light” of fellowship with God. So, he is not just “in” the light, but he “abides” there. We learned last time that the Greek word for “abides” (menō)is a favorite term of John’s for fellowship with God and other Christians. By loving God and others as Christ loved, he is walking “as He walked” (2:6). The loving Christian is living “in the light” of the new Age which has dawned in Christ (2:8). He is enjoying close fellowship with God and other believers.

Second, the loving believer has “no cause for stumbling in him.” When a believer abides in Christ by obeying His command to love one another, he does not trip himself or other Christians up to fall into spiritual danger. This suggests that hatred is a kind of internal stumbling block that can lead to disastrous spiritual failures. 18 Grudges hurt us more than anyone or anything else. The word “stumbling” (skandalon) refers “to a trap or a snare…  whatever ensnares a person in sin. In the person who loves his brother there is no such trap. This does not mean that this person is sinless (see 1:8), but rather that in walking as Christ walked, he does not create an inner spiritual condition by which he can be ensnared in sin. 19

Hatred sets us up for the entrapment of sin. Sinful words or behaviors can often spring from hatred. Such disastrous results are avoided by the believer who loves his Christian “brother.”

“But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (I John 2:11). Living in the darkness of hate produces terrible consequences for the believer in Jesus Christ which include:

  • “is in darkness.” The unloving Christian is in spiritual darkness. His fellowship with God is broken. He is living in a sphere where God is not (1:5).
  • “walks in darkness.” He is living in darkness and is unable to see the obstacles ahead of him. He may not see the damage and division his hatred will cause in his relationships with others.

      “Like a man wandering aimlessly in the dark, he faces potentially grave dangers.” 20

  • “does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” Living out of fellowship with God results in a loss of direction. Our hatred blinds us to where our lives are going. The farther we move away from the Lord, the less awareness we have about the direction our sin is taking us. For example, in 2 Samuel 11 when King David sought to cover up his sin of adultery by trying to get Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to sleep with her, Uriah would not go down to his house. Then David made him drunk. But still Uriah would not sleep with his wife. So, David finally had him killed in battle. Each step that David took led him farther and farther away from the Lord. Sin blinds us and makes us unaware of where our lifestyle will lead us. This is especially true of our hatred for other Christians.  

Back in the 1990’s when we were living in southern Kansas, my family and I went to northern Oklahoma to the Alabaster Caverns. When we took a guided tour into one of the caves, at about a quarter mile inside they turned off the lights so we could experience total darkness. I think (please don’t quote me on this) the tour guide mentioned that a person who lives in total darkness for three days will be almost totally blind when he first comes into the sunlight. But eventually his eyes will adjust back to living in the light. If you go to an afternoon movie matinee for a couple of hours and then walk back into the sunlight outside, it is painful at first to be in the light.

The longer we live in sin, the harder it is to get back in the light. We may not want to let go of our bitterness and resentment toward another Christian who has deeply hurt us because then we will have to face our responsibilities to heal and grow.

You may wonder what is this hatred of which John talks about? How do I know if I have it? Anderson lists the different looks of hatred: (bold print added). 21

1. Cold Indifference—this is what we do to people who hurt us. We give them the cold shoulder. We have no intention of giving them the time of day until they come to us and seek an apology for what they have done to hurt us…

2. Vengeance—oh, we have lots of ways to do this, don’t we? Often this manifests itself in Christians as passive-aggressive behavior. She hurt me, so I won’t take out the trash, help with the dishes, or give her any verbal or physical affection.

3. Unforgiving Spirit—how easily this barb gets under our skin. Have you been hurt? Has someone in your past rejected you in such a way that you still hurt when you think about it? Do you become critical of people in your past the minute their names are mentioned? Have you worked hard all your life not to become like your parents? Are there people in your past upon whom you would enjoy taking revenge? Have you made a pastime out of scheming about how you could get back at them or embarrass them publicly? If you can say yes to any of these questions, then you wrestle with an unforgiving spirit. 22

4. Bitterness (Heb 12:15)—usually beneath an unforgiving spirit is a root of bitterness which Hebrews warns can defile many of those around us and keep us from enjoying the forgiving grace of God. Robert Lewis in his series called Quest for Authentic Manhood challenges every man to look for what he calls the Father Wound and the Mother Wound. According to him an early wound in our lives often explains much of the dysfunction in our adult lives when it comes to personal relationships. 23

5. Hatred has any number of different looks. These are just a few. John makes this much clear. A believer cannot know God’s will for his life while he walks in hatred. He is blind to God’s path for his life. He must be, for God’s path leads him to the brother/sister he hates. Forgiveness leads him back to the light. Indirectly, that’s what verse ten is telling us.”

How does a Christian return to the light if he has been walking in the darkness of hate? God gives us advice on how to resolve our anger in Psalm 4:4-5. The apostle Paul quotes from Psalm 4:4a when he writes, Be angry, and do not sin.” (Ephes. 4:26) when he is talking to believers about not grieving the Holy Spirit with their communications toward one another (cf. Ephes. 4:25-32). Psalm 4:4-5 teach us some important principles for dealing with our anger that will help us return to the light:

1. Admit and feel your anger (“Be angry and do not sin” – 4:4a). Anger is usually a secondary emotion. The primary emotions anger seeks to protect us from are fear or hurt. For example, when Jesus was “grieved” (hurt)by the religious leaders’ hardness of heart toward a man with a withered hand, He responded with anger toward them (Mark 3:5).

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). What we do with our anger can be sinful. When we admit our anger, we begin to take control of it.

It is important to use “I feel…” statements which take responsibility for our own anger. Example: “I feel angry when you…” But spiritual perfectionism says, “I’m not angry.” Somehow Christians are not comfortable admitting their deep hurt and anger. Perhaps it is due to the perfectionism that is taught in churches today.

Shame-based statements use the word “You.” Example: “You make me feel so angry!” The last two examples do not honor what God is saying here – “Be angry and do not sin,” because they do not acknowledge or take responsibility for one’s own anger. You could insert any emotion for the word “angry” in this verse. When we admit our hate or hurt, we begin to take control of it. If we do not face our pain in full, we cannot be fully healed. A superficial acknowledgment of our pain will only lead to a superficial forgiveness and healing of our wounds.

But if we are to be more like Jesus Christ, we can learn to admit our anger and release it to God, so He can use it the way He intended – to accomplish His righteousness (cf. Mark 3:5; John 2:13-16; James 1:19-20). If we refuse to address our anger God’s way, it will result in more brokenness in the body of Christ because we are giving the devil an opportunity to lead us into greater sin (cf. Ephesians 4:26-27). We are walking in the darkness which will lead to more destruction in our relationships with others. But if we do deal with our anger God’s way, we can experience what David did, “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

2. Talk to the Lord until you can be still (“Meditate within your heart on your bed and be still” – 4:4b; cf. 4:3). After we have identified our anger, we can process it by talking to the Lord. The word “meditate” (’im·rū) means “to utter, say” (4:4b). 24 In the context David is talking to the Lord (Psalm 4:3). As we talk to the Lord, He can help us identify the source of our anger. Is it our own selfishness, hypersensitivity, or perfectionism? Or is it because we have been wronged?

3.  Do what is right which includes forgiving others and yourself (“Offer the sacrifices of righteousness” – 4:5a). Sacrifices were offered in the Old Testament as a means of forgiveness (cf. Hebrews 9:22). As God shows us the source of our anger, we can seek forgiveness if we were being selfish or perfectionistic (I John 1:9) or we can extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us (Ephesians 4:32).

Jesus taught, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15). 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 in the present.

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. 25  God invites us to release “from the heart” the hurt others have caused to us. Forgiveness requires the cancelling of a debt (cf. Matthew 18:21-35). Perhaps the person who has hurt us owes us an apology, justice, money, repentance, restoration, suffering, understanding, etc. 26 God wants us to cancel the debt they owe us.

I am learning that there are three things that can hinder me from forgiving others: judgments, vows, and false beliefs. 27When someone hurts us, we can hold on to judgments about them out of fear. 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 (Matthew 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 of our judgments and ask God to release the person and ourselves from the consequences. 27

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 (Matthew 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.28

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 (Romans 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 (Matthew 18:15-18).

If you are struggling with hatred because of unforgiveness, take some time today to ask God to reveal to you the people who have hurt you. You may want to start with those closest to you (e.g., a parent, spouse, sibling, child, close friend, etc.). What wound did he or she cause to you? (e.g., abandoned, abused, betrayed, criticized, lied, neglected, rejected, etc.).

What are the judgments or things you believe about them? (e.g., they are evil, lazy, selfish, stupid, weak, didn’t love me, didn’t care for me, etc.). Repent of these judgments and ask God to release the person and yourself from the consequences (Matthew 7:1-2).

What vows did you tell yourself to survive the wound? (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.

What effect did the wound have on you (How did you cope)? (e.g., anger, addiction, codependency, depression, food, isolation, stress, workaholism, etc.).

What debt do they owe you? What would they have to do for you to trust them again? (e.g., apologize, change their behavior, justice, make restitution, money, repent or seek your forgiveness, etc.). Talk to the Lord, asking Him to make you both willing and able to cancel their debt.

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 focus on the true beliefs until the false beliefs no longer feel true.

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

True belief: Only God know what is just (Romans 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 from the heart (Matthew 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 (Matthew 18:15-18).

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 (Romans 2:4; Ephesians 4:24-32).

If you are ready, insert the name of the person you have chosen to forgive into the following prayer of forgiveness:

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, repentance, suffering, 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.

4. Trust the Lord with the situation (“And put your trust in the Lord” – 4:5b). Many believers struggle with the first two steps the most and skip right over them to forgive and trust the Lord without acknowledging or processing their feelings. But if we do not admit our anger or hurt and turn it over to the Lord, it is very difficult to forgive “from the heart” (cf. Matthew 18:35).

5. If possible, sit down with the one who hurt you and explain what you have been holding inside, and tell them you would like to forgive them.

6. If you cannot sit down with them, forgive them as Christ has forgiven you (Ephes. 4:32). “In Him” is the key. God forgave you “in Him.” You can forgive your brother because of your common position in Him.

7. Don’t confuse forgiving with trusting. You can forgive in a moment based on your common position in Christ, but trust must be rebuilt over time. This distinction has tripped up many people. A Christian wife is commanded to forgive her wayward husband (or vice-versa), but she is never commanded to trust him. He needs to earn her trust. 29

In summary, when a person first gets saved by believing in Christ alone for His gift of eternal life (John 3:15-16), he can enjoy fellowship with God in the light by being open and responsive to what God reveals to him (I John 1:5-2:2). As he learns God’s commands, he can abide in Christ by keeping those commands (I John 2:3-6), especially the command to love one another as Jesus has loved him (cf. John 13:34-35). Failure to obey God’s known commands breaks his fellowship with God and others, plunging him into darkness where God is not (I John 2:7-11).  

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your love for us which You demonstrated by giving Your only perfect Son to die in our place on the cross for all our sins so we could receive eternal life freely the moment we believed in Him. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for giving us a new commandment which is to love our brothers and sisters in Christ as You have loved us, extending forgiveness to one another as You have forgiven us. Forgive us for the many times we have been less than loving to one another. Please keep us from the darkness of hate so we may enjoy sharing the light with You and grow to know You more intimately. Please align our thoughts with Yours so Your radical love for us can flow through us to the children of God. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Retrieved from Wikipedia article on November 3, 2022, entitled, “2020-2022 United States racial unrest.”

2. Ibid.; cf. May 25, 2021, article retrieved on November 3, 2022, entitled, “A Year of Racial Justice Protests: Key Trends in Demonstrations Supporting the BLM Movement,” from acleddata.com.

3. Retrieved on November 3, 2022, from the October 29, 2020, article entitled, “Why Hatred and ‘Othering’ of Political Foes Has Spiked to Extreme Levels,” at sceintificamerican.com.

4. Retrieved on November 3, 2022, from Lois Becketts’ October 31, 2020, article entitled, “At least 25 Americans were killed during protests and political unrest in 2020,” at theguardian.com; cf. Mike Gonzalez’ November 6, 2020, article entitled, “For Five Months, BLM Protestors Trashed America’s Cities. After the Election, Things May Only Get Worse,” at heritage.org.

5. Retrieved on November 3, 2022, from Benjamin Press and Thomas Carothers’ December 21, 2020, article entitled, “Worldwide Protests in 2020: A Year in Review,” from carnegieendowment.org.

6. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pp. 85-86.

7. Ibid., pp. 86-87; Tom Constable, Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pp. 39-40; 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. 591.  

8. 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 3634.

9. Ibid., Kindle Location 3643.

10. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 591.  

11. Anderson, pg. 87.

12. Ibid., pp. 87-88.

13. Ibid., pg. 89.

14. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3652.

15. Constable, pg. 41 cites Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles of John: Walking in the Light of God’s Love (Irving, Tex.: Grace Evangelical Society, 1999), pg. 87.

16. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 591.

17. Constable, pg. 41.   

18. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3660.

19. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 591.

20. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3664.

21. Anderson, pp. 89-91.

22. Ibid., pg. 90 where Anderson acknowledges some questions were taken from Charles Stanley, The Gift of Forgiveness (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987), pg. 23. Anderson, pg. 90 cites Robert M. Lewis, The Quest for Authentic Manhood (Little Rock, AK: Fellowship Bible Church, n.d.), pp. 10-11.

24. Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon OFTHE OLD TESTAMENT at https://biblehub.com/hebrew/559.htm.

25. Michael Dye, The Genesis Process: For Change Groups Books 1 and 2 Individual Workbook (Michael Dye/Double Eagle Industries, 2012), pp. 123-124.

26. Ibid., pg. 124.

27. Ibid., pp. 126-131.

28. Ibid.

29. Steps 5 – 7 are adapted from Anderson, pg. 91 who acknowledges Charles Stanley, The Gift of Forgiveness: Put the Past Behind You and Give… (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987), pp. 169-170.

I John 1 – Part 2

“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” I John 2:3

Anderson writes, “Author and marriage counselor Gary Chapman has suggested that husbands and wives have five general ways in which they perceive love from their partner:

1. Words of Affection

2. Quality Time

3. Receiving Gifts

4. Acts of Service

5. Physical Touch

“Usually one of these ‘love languages’ is primary for a husband or wife. Unfortunately, mates usually don’t have the same ‘love language.’ Like a Russian who speaks only Russian being married to a Chinese person who speaks only Chinese, a husband might be saying ‘I love you’ in his language, but his wife does not get the message because she has a different love language. According to Chapman, marital intimacy is difficult to achieve unless each partner learns to speak the ‘love language’ of his/her mate.” 2

Christians may assume that God’s primary love language is the same as theirs, so they try to express their love to the Lord in a way that is meaningful to them but not as meaningful to God. While it is true that there are many ways to show God we love Him, what if the Lord has a primary love language and we fail to address it? Is it possible we will not be as close to God because we have not learned His primary love language? 3 I think the apostle John would answer this question in the affirmative. Beginning in I John 2:3, John introduces God’s primary love language.

In verses 1:5-2:2, the apostle John referred to fellowship with God as “walking in the light,” that is, being open and responsive to what the Lord reveals to him or her. A Christian can be honest with God about what is revealed to him or her and enjoy fellowship or closeness with God because of the all-sufficient shed blood of Jesus Christ (1:7, 9; 2:1-2). Or believers can be dishonest with God and experience darkness or broken fellowship with Him (1:6, 8, 10).

Beginning in I John 2:3 John introduces the idea of “knowing God” as another term for fellowship with the Lord. It follows that fellowshipping with God in the light will lead to knowing Him more intimately. The more time a believer spends with God in the light, the more he or she will know Him. John writes, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (I John 2:3).

We have already mentioned in previous articles that some Bible interpreters see I John as tests for eternal life or knowing you are going to heaven 4 while others see it as tests for fellowship or closeness with God on earth. 5 Those who understand I John to provide tests for eternal life understand I John 2:3 to teach that you can tell if you know Christ as your Savior by keeping God’s commandments. According to this view if you want to have assurance that you are a genuine Christian and will go to heaven, then you must keep or obey God’s commandments. Hence, if you are not obeying God’s commandments, you are not a genuine believer in Jesus and you will go to hell when you die. This understanding emphasizes that salvation is by faith, but you cannot know for sure if your faith is real unless you keep God’s commandments. But this understanding is contrary to John’s writings: 6

1. John clearly teaches that a person is saved by believing in Christ alone for eternal life (John 3:15-18, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-39; 11:25-26; 20:31; cf. I John 5:1b, 13; et al.). He never mentions obeying God’s commands as a condition for salvation in his gospel which was written to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life (John 20:31).

2. The notion that a person can believe in Christ for eternal life without knowing for certain he or she has truly believed in Him is foreign to John’s writings. For example, when Jesus asks Martha if she believes He is the Resurrection and the Life Who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in Him (John 11:25-26), she replies, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:27). Martha did not say, “I think I believe…” nor does she say, “Maybe I believe…” She said, “Yes, Lord, I believe…” Martha was convinced that Jesus was the Christ – the One who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in Him. Could Martha believe that Jesus was the Christ without realizing she herself had eternal life? No. To believe that Jesus was the Christ was to believe His guarantee of eternal life. To doubt His guarantee of eternal life was to disbelieve Jesus was the Christ. Christ accepts Martha’s response. He does not tell her to wait and see if her faith is real by keeping His commandments. Since belief in Christ is a conviction that He is speaking the truth and is therefore worthy of one’s trust, 7 we can know we have believed.

Many people today make a distinction between head faith and heart faith. They have told us that we can miss heaven by eighteen inches because we have believed in Jesus with our head but not with our heart. But where does the Bible make this distinction? It does not. Nowhere in the Bible does God distinguish head belief from heart belief. All belief is belief. If we believe in Christ for eternal life, then we know we have eternal life because Jesus guarantees, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47).

To doubt that we “truly believe” is to disbelieve Jesus’ promise. Either I believe Christ’s promise, or I do not. If I do, I have eternal life. If I do not, I stand condemned as one who “has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). The gospel of John does not condition eternal life on whether one has “heart belief” instead of “head belief.” Saving faith is the conviction that Christ died for my sins and rose from the dead, and then believing or trusting in Him alone for His free gift of eternal life. What makes saving faith saving is not the amount or uniqueness of the faith, but Whom your faith is in and What your faith believes. Saving faith results instantly in eternal salvation because it believes in the right object: the promise of eternal life to every believer by Jesus Christ Who died for our sins and rose from the dead (John 3:15-18; 6:40, 47; I Corinthians 15:1-8; et al). Therefore, those who refer to “head belief” or “heart belief” are reading into the word “believe” as the Bible neither does, nor provides basis for doing. 8

When Martha answered Jesus’ question with, “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 statement? Does He ask her if she believes in her “heart” and not merely in her “head”? He does not because if 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.

Let’s get back to I John 2:3. Again the apostle John includes himself, the other apostles, and his Christian readers (2:12-14; 5:13) when he uses the word “we.” To say that “we” cannot refer to genuine Christians ignores the entire context and denies the obvious meaning of the text (cf. 1:1-2:1). 9

The Greek word for “know” (ginōskō) occurs twice in this verse. Anderson makes a very important observation concerning the different tenses of this same verb, “The first use of ‘know’ is in the present tense (ginōskamen); but the second use of ‘know’ is in the prefect tense (egnōkamen). If we miss this deliberate shift on John’s part, we miss his intent for the verse. Others have pointed out that this root word for ‘know’ (ginōskō) speaks of ‘experiential’ knowledge as opposed to intuitive knowledge. It is what is called by Greek grammarians a ‘stative’ verb because it refers to a state of being as opposed to a verb of action. In other words, to ‘know’ or to ‘believe’ speak of inner truths but not outward actions.

“Now a Greek grammarian named McKay has written an excellent article dealing with the perfect tense of stative verbs in which he demonstrates that putting a stative verb in the perfect tense has the effect of intensifying the basic meaning of the verb. It’s a deeper state of whatever the meaning of the verb is. In this case, the verb means ‘to know’ in the sense of an experience. So, putting it into the perfect tense means ‘to know intensely,’ ‘to experience deeply,’ or ‘to know fully.’ It’s much like the OT meaning when it says, ‘Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain…’ It’s an intimate knowledge.” 10

None of the commentators who think I John was written to provide tests for eternal life observe this significant change in the verb tenses of I John 2:3 because that would not support their conclusions. Instead of letting the text speak for itself, they read their own presuppositions into the text.

Anderson writes, “The perfect tense in the Greek language has the basic meaning of ‘completed action in the past with present results.’ But according to its use in context, a typical verb can put its emphasis on the completed action in the past or on the present results… But in a stative verb McKay’s point is that it should always be translated with the emphasis on the present results. In other words, ‘have come to know’ [NASB translation] does not recognize the significance of a stative verb in the perfect tense. A more accurate reflection of the emphasis on the intensified state of experiential knowledge here would be, ‘And by this we know that we know Him intensely.’ And what is intense knowledge if not deep, intimate knowledge?” 11

John is not testing to see if his readers have eternal life in I John 2:3. He is writing to test whether a person is having close fellowship with God. He is saying, “By this we know that we know Him intimately if we keep His commandments.”

The phrase “know Him” is more than knowing we are saved and have eternal life. It is knowing Christ intimately in a fellowship sense. While it is true that all Christians know Christ for salvation (John 10:14; 17:3), not all Christians know Christ in depth as a result of spending time with Him.

For example, an infant knows his parents in terms of being able to recognize them, but a teenager of the same parents knows them more in depth. Through shared time and experience, the teenager has become more intimately acquainted with his parents, whereas the infant has not.

In John 14:7-9, we see an example of a believer not knowing Jesus to a certain degree. Philip has just asked the Lord Jesus to show them the Father (14:8) and Jesus rebukes His ignorance, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9). Philip did know Christ in one sense. He was a saved man and possessed eternal life (cf. John 1:43-50; 2:11). Yet he did not know Christ in a deeper sense. He didn’t know how perfectly Jesus reflected the Father.

Continuing in John 14:15 Jesus says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Jesus makes it clear that His primary love language is keeping His commandments. The way we show Christ we love Him is to “keep” or obey His commandments. But there is more.

Jesus says, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” (John 14:21). To “have” Jesus’ commandments, we must spend time with Him to be aware of what He has said. When a believer “keeps” or obeys the Lord’s commandments, God the Father and God the Son will “love” him or her more intimately and Jesus will “manifest”or reveal more of Himself to them. The word “manifest” (emphanisō) means “to make visible.” 12 Christ reveals more of Himself to us, including His love, as we show him our love for Him by obeying His commandments.

God’s love is not static or unchanging. It is a growing experience in our relationship with the Lord. “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), but He also loves the obedient believer in a special sense (14:21, 23; cf. 13:23). God rewards obedience with a special experience of His love. Hence, when a believer obeys, Christ will reveal more of Himself to him or her leading to a deeper intimacy with the Father and the Son.

Isn’t this much like a love relationship with another person!?! We don’t usually tell someone everything about ourselves the first time we meet him or her. We share a little of ourselves and wait to see if the other person reciprocates by revealing some of their feelings for us. If he or she does, then we share a little more about ourselves. As we share a little more of ourselves with the other, our feelings for them intensify. Through shared time and experience the other person opens up to the other in a more intimate way.

The same is true of a Christian’s relationship with Christ. Christ will not reveal more of Himself to a believer unless that believer expresses his or her love for Him using His primary love language (keeping His commandments). When Christ sees us expressing our love for Him in this way, He has more confidence that we are ready for Him to share more of Himself with us. So, He reveals more of His love for us.

Verse 3 is telling us how we can know that we know Christ more intimately. If we are growing in our obedience to Christ’s commands, then we can know we are growing closer to Him. But what if a Christian says he knows Christ more intimately while living in disobedience to Jesus’ commandments? John tells us, “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (I John 2:4). Interestingly the word “know” (egnōka) is in the perfect tense, so it could be translated, “He who says, ‘I know Him intimately…’” 13

John explains that a believer in Jesus who claims to know Christ more intimately while living in disobedience to His commands “is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” The reason he “is a liar” is because you cannot know Christ more intimately while disobeying His commandments. Such a claim is false. When a believer is living in disobedience, “the truth” of God’s Word is not dynamically active “in” him. The truth has lost its hold on his heart. When “the truth is… in” a Christian in a controlling way, however, such self-deception is not possible. “On the contrary, the most godly saints throughout church history have also been those most deeply aware of their own sinfulness…”

“The truth is either in me as a Christian or it is not. If it is, then I will be engaged in active obedience to God’s commands. If it is not, I am sadly out of touch with the transforming power of the truth of God.

“Thus, it is altogether appropriate for each of us as born-again believers to ask ourselves: ‘Is the truth really in me? Is it working dynamically in my heart and life?’ On the answer to questions like these depends the reality of our communion with our living Lord.” 14

What happens in relation to God’s love when a Christian keeps His commandments? “But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.” (I John 2:5). In contrast (“But”) to the dishonest claim of verse 4, John now observes that obedience to God’s commands (“whoever keeps His Word”) results in “the love of God” being “perfected in him.” Love for God and obedience to His Word are not tests for eternal life as some often claim. Instead, they are tests for genuine fellowship or intimacy with God. 15

Keeping God’s Word is not a sign you are saved; it is a sign that you love God. This is taken right out of the Upper Room Discourse where Christ’s believing disciples are informed that their Teacher (Jesus) is going to be leaving them (John 13-17). What is their response to this news? “Don’t You care about us? Don’t You love us?” They are not questioning if they will go to heaven when they die. Their hearts are troubled by this news, so Jesus says to them, “Let not your heart be troubled…” (John 14:1). 16

The word “keeps” (tērō) means much more than “has” or possessing God’s Word (I John 2:5). John 14:21 states, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” Loving God is more than having His commands. It is keeping His commands. This is more than obeying God’s commandments. It has the basic idea of “watching over, guarding, and protecting,” 17 much like a shepherd watches over his sheep, or a banker protects and guards his treasure, or a fiancé’ his bride-to-be. 18

Anderson illustrates this with a church member’s experience. “In a trip to visit her parents in Quincy, Illinois, she was looking out the front window and saw a baby bird which had fallen to the ground. The mother bird was coming down to feed it. She would feed the birds still in the nest high above the ground, but then she would swoop down to feed the baby bird on the ground. This went on day after day. Finally, Carol observed that the mother bird was building a protective tent over her baby bird so people passing by wouldn’t notice it. Her ritual was to feed the little birds above and then fly to the ground and stay a few feet from the ’tent’ to watch for predators she might have to ward off should they get near her hidden, baby bird. She was protecting, she was guarding, and she was keeping her little one safe.

“That’s what ‘keeps’ means here. It’s more than just to have a Bible or several of them in your house. It’s to treasure God’s Word, to guard it, to protect it. It’s to realize that many people in this world don’t have this book, have never had a chance to listen to its promises or read it for themselves. Outside of our personal relationship with Jesus, His Word may be the most precious thing we have from Him. The person who ‘keeps’ His Word is the one who has His Word, guards His Word, and cherishes His Word. In this person the love of God is perfected.” 19

John tells us that the Christian who keeps God’s Word in this way “truly” has “the love of God… perfected in him” (2:5). The Greek verb “perfected” (teleioō) is in the perfect tense (teteleiōtai) and means “to bring to completion, to bring to its goal, or to bring to full measure…” 20 While God’s love is incredible to the believer at the moment of salvation (John 3:16; Romans 5:8), it’s goal is not reached until the Christian returns that love by his or her obedience, resulting in a greater understanding and experience of the deeply personal love of the Father and Son as they “make [their] home with him” (John 14:23). 21

When a believer cherishes and obeys God’s Word, he or she becomes more intimately acquainted with God’s love. Since God is love (I John 4:8b), to know God intimately is to know His love more intimately. 22

Anderson suggests that this is a reciprocal experience of God’s love. “John says what is in a state of completeness here is the ‘love of God.’ This could mean our love for God or God’s love for us. We would suppose it means our love for God since this is God’s primary love language, that is, the main way He says we can show that we love Him. But we can’t rule out His love for us here since He promises in John 14:21 to love us back if we demonstrate our love for Him by keeping His commandments. Reciprocal love—our love for Him and His love for us. Love is most complete when it is reciprocated. If it is all one-sided, it is still imperfect and incomplete.” 23

When John writes, “By this we know that we are in Him” (2:5b), he is not referring to the apostle Paul’s concept of being “in Him” (Christ) which describes the permanent position of all Christians. John uses the phrase “in Him” like Jesus did in the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17), to describe, not all Christians, but the group of believers who “abide” in Christ (John 15:1-8). Abiding in Christ is another term that John uses to describe fellowship with Jesus. 24 Jesus said, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so, you will be My disciples.” (John 15:8). It is very important to observe that Jesus does not say fruit bearing is necessary for salvation. He says it is necessary to be His “disciples.”

Abiding in Christ is a discipleship experience, not a salvation experience for John. “In I John 2:5-6, discipleship is also in view, as is seen from the reference to the imitation of Christ in verse 6… In short, 2:5-6 continues to talk about the believer’s fellowship with God.” 25

“He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (I John 2:6). For the first time in his epistle, John uses the phrase “abides in Him” as another way of describing fellowship with God. The Greek word “abides” (menō)means “to remain, stay, dwell, continue” 26in fellowship. John uses this word twenty-four times in I John (2:6, 10, 14, 17, 19, 24 [3], 27 [2], 28; 3:6, 9, 14, 15, 17 24 [2]; 4:12, 13, 15, 16 [3]. The emphasis of I John is abiding in Christ so we may have close fellowship with Him. The believer who claims “he abides” or remains in Christ must live just as Jesus lived (“walk just as He walked”). He must live as Christ’s disciple.

In John 8:29, Jesus told His enemies, “And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” The proof that Christ’s claim to be God is true is that He “always” does “those things that please” His heavenly Father. If we claim to abide in Jesus, we are to seek to do the things that please God the Father. Christ taught that the goal of a disciple is to be like his Teacher (Matthew 10:24). If we claim to be Jesus’ disciple, we must live as our Teacher lived.

“When it comes to making tea, some people dip their teabags in and out of the hot water. Many Christians approach their relationship with Jesus like this—dipping in and out of church on Sunday mornings, with little change resulting. Other tea drinkers place their teabags in the water and let them remain. In time, the tea seeps into the water and transforms it. For Christ to influence and transform your life, you must remain in Him.” 27

Anderson illustrates I John 2:3-6 with this true story: 28 “Boris Kornfeld was a Jewish doctor living in Russia. He grew up with Stalin as his God. He was not a practicing or religious Jew. He did not believe in Yahweh of the OT. He believed in Lenin and Stalin and socialism. But one fourth of the people in the USSR were informants for the KGB. It was a terrorist state. Someone turned Boris in. For what he did not know.

“The KGB whisked him off to one of their prison camps. He was dumbfounded. He had not been unloyal to the state. Lenin and Stalin had been his gods. But there he was, a prisoner of the state. And as he sat in his prison camp and saw the senseless death and destruction, he threw off the shackles of socialism. He deposed the god he was worshipping. He said to himself, ‘This philosophy of life cannot be true.’

“Kornfeld listened to other prisoners who had put their hope in Jesus. For a Jew to give up socialism or communism was one thing, but for a Jew to embrace Jesus was another. But as he kept hearing about the peace and hope Jesus could bring, Boris decided to try Jesus as his Messiah. Not long after trusting Christ he was in a Bible study and listened to this passage, which gives God’s love language: ‘If you love me, keep my commandments.’ Boris Kornfeld knew he wasn’t keeping God’s commandments. On a regular basis he, as a doctor, would sign slips of paper saying a prisoner was fit to go back to work in the mines when he knew this particular prisoner was not fit at all. This is how the prison system thinned their ranks. They just sent an unhealthy person into hard labor. They rarely came out of the mines alive.

“Boris had signed hundreds of these slips, these death warrants. He thought, ‘I’m not going to sign any more slips.’ He knew he was somewhat protected because they needed doctors, but he really did not know what would happen to him.

“Soon after this decision he saw an orderly stealing bread. He could overlook it but decided the right thing to do would be to report it. The orderly was put into the stockade for three days, but when released Boris knew the orderly would be out to get even.

“He began sleeping in the hospital to avoid being caught in the darkness by this vengeful orderly. But he also sensed a new freedom he had not experienced before. He thought, ‘Being willing to die for Christ, being willing to be punished for Christ—all of a sudden, I had a freedom and a peace I had never known in my life. I sensed God was with me and I sensed that He loved me in a special way, and all of a sudden, I had to tell someone. I had never told anyone what had happened to me.’

“A young man came in who had cancer in his intestines. Boris operated on him, and as the young man was coming out of the anesthesia, Boris said to himself, ‘I’ve got to tell this fellow.’ So as the young man was coming out of anesthesia and still in a stupor, Boris began to tell his story of peace and of love and of forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. The young man missed most of the beginning of Boris’s story because of the drugs lingering in his system, but then he began to understand, and Boris just couldn’t stop talking. He went on talking for an entire day.

“That night the orderly found Boris and hit him on the head six times with a plasterer’s mallet killing him. But the message Boris shared never left the heart of the young man who heard it, the only man who ever heard Boris’s message. This message of good news, peace, and forgiveness burned in his soul until he too trusted in Jesus Christ as his Savior. Ultimately, this young man cured of physical cancer and the cancer of sin was released from that prison. He went out and told the world the story of the Gutlag Archipelago. His name? Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn.” 29

“If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for revealing to us that Your primary love language is keeping Your commandments. We cannot claim to know You more intimately if we are not obeying Your commands. While Your love for us is remarkable the moment we believe in You for eternal life (John 3:16; Romans 5:8), its goal is not reached until we return that love by our obedience, resulting in a greater understanding and experience of the deeply intimate love of the Father and Son as they make their home with us. Teach us to live as You lived Lord Jesus – in willing submission to the Father and total dependence upon Him, always seeking to do what pleases Him. In Your mighty name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 71 cites Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages (Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 1992).

2. Anderson, pg. 71.

3. Ibid.

4. Anderson, pg. 15 cites John MacArthur, Jr., Saved without a Doubt (Colorado Springs: Cook Communications, 1992), pp. 67-91; Constable, pg. 46 cites James Montgomery Boice, The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979); Raymond Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible series(Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1982); F.F. Bruce, The Epistles of John (London: Pickering & Inglis Ltd., 1970; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986); John Calvin, The First Epistle of John, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries series, Translated by T. H. L. Parker. Reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959-61); John F. MacArthur Jr., The Gospel according to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988); John R. W. Stott, Basic Introduction to the New Testament, 1st American ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964); Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistles of St. John (1883. Reprint ed. England: Marcham Manor Press, 1966); and Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 2 vols. (Wheaton: Scripture Press Publications, Victor Books, 1989).

5. Tom Constable, Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pg. 7; David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 28; 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 Locations 3367 to 3473; 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. 589; Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 2329-2333; Constable, pg. 47 cites other commentators who hold that 1 John offers tests of fellowship rather than tests of life, including J. Dwight Pentecost, The Joy of Fellowship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977); Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings (Miami Springs, Fla.: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 156-175; Guy H. King, The Fellowship (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1954); Charles C. Ryrie, Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1959), idem, “The First Epistle of John,”In The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Edited by Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), pg. 1466; J. W. Roberts, The Letters of John, Living Word Commentary series (Austin, Tex.: R. B. Sweet, 1968); and Karl Braune, The Epistles General of John, in John Peter Lange ed. Commentary on the Holy Scripture, Vol. 12, Reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960), pg. 15.

6. Adapted from Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 590.

7. To “believe in” (pisteuōn eis) Jesus means to be persuaded that He is speaking the truth and is therefore worthy of your trust. See 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.

8. See discussion in Jeff Ropp, The Greatest Need in Evangelism Today is One Word: BELIEVE (Jeff Ropp, 2013), pp. 31-33.

9. Zane C. Hodges’ Grace Evangelical Society article on July 13, 2016, “Is God’s Truth in You? I John 2:4b,” at www.faithalone.org

10. Anderson, pg. 74; cf. K. L. McKay, “On the Perfect and Other Aspects in the New Testament Greek,” Novum Testamentum, Vol. 23, Fasc. 4 (Brill: 1981), pp. 289-329.

11. Ibid., pp. 74-75.

12. Bauer, pg. 325.

13. Anderson, pp. 78-79.

14. Hodges, “Is God’s Truth in You? I John 2:4b.”

15. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 591.

16. Anderson, pg. 79.

17. Bauer, pg. 1002.

18. Anderson, pg. 80.

19. Ibid., pp. 80-81.

20. Bauer, pg. 996.

21. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 591.

22. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3614 to 3618.

23. Anderson, pg. 81.

24. Constable, pg. 38; cf. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3618 to 3630; Dillow, pp. 488-489; 612-626.

25. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3622 to 3630.

26. Bauer, pp. 630-631.

27. Evans, pg. 1720.

28. Anderson, pg. 81 cites Chuck W. Colson, Loving God (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1983), pp. 19-25. 29. Ibid., pp. 81-84.

I John 2 – Part 1

“My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” I John 2:1

When the apostle John announced the message he and the other apostolic eyewitnesses heard from the Lord Jesus “that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1:5), he then addressed different responses from Christians to this message about God’s complete holiness. Some believers can lie by claiming to have fellowship or closeness with God while living in darkness or disobedience to Him (1:6). Others may walk in the light as God is in the light by being open and honest to what He reveals to them so they can enjoy fellowship with the Lord because of the all-sufficient cleansing blood of Jesus Christ (1:7).

While experiencing true fellowship with God as they walk in the light with Him, a Christian may deceive himself and claim to “have no sin” (1:8a)which would mean he no longer needs the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. To make such a claim means that God’s “truth is not in us” shaping our thoughts (1:8b). There is never a time in a Christian’s life when he or she does not need the cleansing power of Christ’s shed blood.

When the light of God makes us aware of our sin as we walk in the light, God instructs us to “confess” or agree with His conclusions about those specific sins so He can forgive them and restore our closeness or fellowship with Him (1:9a). Confessing our known sins to God also enables Him “to cleanse us from all” the unknown sins in our lives (1:9b).

But what happens when we discover specific sin in our lives while walking in the light and we claim we have not sinned? The apostle John tells us: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” (I John 1:10). We are calling God “a liar, and His word is not in us” as a controlling influence when we deny the specific sins we have committed. We elevate ourselves above God and His Word so that we determine what is and what is not sin. We are telling God that His judgment of us is wrong, and He is therefore “a liar.” 1

For example, God’s Word forbids adultery (cf. Exod. 20:14). Jesus even taught that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt. 5:27-28). But if a believer commits adultery with a woman physically or mentally and justifies it by saying, “Everyone is doing this,“ or “No one will ever know so it won’t hurt anyone,” he is calling God “a liar” and His Word is “not in” him in a controlling way at that point.

No Christian is under the influence of God’s Word when he denies the specific sin God’s Word reveals in his or her life. Since he denies what God’s light shows, he is making God a liar, which demonstrates that he does not have fellowship with God (1:6) Who is Light (1:5). 2

This denial of sin is what causes the burden of guilt in our lives. “Guilt is like the red warning light on the dashboard of a car. You can either stop and deal with the trouble, or you can decide the light is giving a false signal. The latter decision is big trouble.

“… Many a Christian has been stuck on the side of the road with engine failure because of ignoring the warning signal of guilt… When Hymenaeus and Alexander (I Tim. 1:19-20) ignored their consciences, they made a shipwreck of their faiths. It was Leo Tolstoy who said, ‘The antagonism between life and conscience may be removed in two ways: By a change of life or by a change of conscience.’” 3

By ignoring the guilt of sin in our lives, we are desensitizing our consciences to sin and to God. The longer we deny our sin and guilt, the more calloused our consciences become to the Lord and His Word.

The apostle John did not want his readers to think his insistence on the sinfulness of Christians (1:8, 10) or the simplicity of confession and forgiveness (1:9) are encouragements to sin, 4 so he writes: “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (I John 2:1). Notice John’s fatherly love and concern for his readers when he addresses them as “My little children.” The Greek word translated “little children” (teknia) means “little born ones” 5 and is used seven times by the apostle in this epistle (cf. 2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21) and once in his gospel (John 13:33). 6 The word “My” adds a further note of tenderness here compared to John’s “we” statements in chapter 1. This does not require us to conclude John’s readers were his personal converts, but they were very dear to him. 7

All that John wrote in I John 1:5-10 (“these things I write to you”) is meant to have his readers (including us) take sin seriously (“that you may not sin”) and do all they can to avoid it (2:1a). This does not mean he expects them never to ever sin again (cf. 1:8, 10). His intent is not to encourage or excuse sin. The perceptive Christian will allow his sinful tendencies to put him on guard against them, so he does not sin.

John also understood that though we are to vigorously shun sin in our Christian lives, the fact is it can and does take place in the lives of believers. Hence, John writes, “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (2:1b). The word “if” in the phrase “if anyone sins” introduces a condition assumed to take place for the sake of the argument. 8

John does not want us to sin, but he knows none of us is perfect, so he assures us that “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” What does the Lord Jesus do for the sinning Christian? Does He plead to God to keep us saved? This would not be necessary because in John’s gospel Christ guarantees that those who believe in Him for eternal life are secure forever (John 1:12; 3:15-16; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40; 7:37-39; 10:28-29; 11:25-26)! Since Jesus’ promises are true and He is faithful to keep them, the believer is eternally secure and there is therefore no need for Christ to plead with God the Father not to cast sinning believers away. 9

The word “Advocate” (Paraklēton) means “one who gets called to the side of another to help” 10 or “one who appears in another’s behalf, mediator, intercessor, helper.” 11 One possible idea in I John 2:1 is of a defense attorney who takes up the case of his client before a tribunal. 12 We are not to give up on our Christian life when we do sin. Satan accuses us when we sin (Rev. 12:9-10), saying to God, “Give him back. He does not love You anymore.”But Jesus steps in and defends us because He is “righteous” – He will do what is right for us.

Anderson notes that “while the use of the word for a ‘lawyer’ is possible, but ‘mediator’ is more likely. When we sin, we don’t need a lawyer (see Rom. 8:33-34), because no one can lay any charge against God’s elect, but we do need an intercessor, a mediator, a High Priest.” 13

How does the Lord Jesus express His advocacy of us? Luke 22:31-33 illustrates how Jesus intercedes for us right now as He sits next to God the Father in heaven. 14 In the context of this passage, the disciples had been arguing with each other at the Lord’s Supper about which of them was the greatest (22:24). Christ then challenged them not to look at greatness as the world does but to pursue greatness before God which involves faithful servanthood (22:25-30).

Before Jesus tells Peter he will deny knowing Christ three times (22:35), Jesus informs Peter that Satan has asked permission to sift him like wheat (22:31). The process of sifting removes unwanted chaff and pebbles from the wheat. There was something in Peter that God wanted to remove. But what is it?

After Jesus tells Peter how He will pray for him (22:32), Peter exclaims, Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” (22:33). Peter was determined to remain loyal to Christ in his own strength. But God must remove or “sift” this self-reliant attitude from Peter before He can greatly use him. Hence, the Lord allows Satan to sift Peter of the “chaff” or “pebbles” of self-reliance from his life.

Christ does offer encouragement to Peter (and us) when He says, “But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:32). This verse gives us insight about how Jesus serves as our Advocate when we fail Him. Christ prays three things for Peter (and us):

  • “that your faith should not fail” – Jesus knows Peter is going to fail Him by denying three times that he knows Christ. But Jesus prays that Peter will not be so shattered by his failure that he gives up and leaves Christian service. Jesus is not looking for perfect Christians to serve Him. He is looking for faithful believers who get back up when they fall (22:30; cf. Psalm 37:23-24). Although “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29), the faith that appropriates those gifts is nevertheless subject to failure (2 Tim. 2:18). 15 Jesus intercedes for Christians that this will not happen.
  • and when you have returned to Me” – This means Peter would turn away from the Lord. But Jesus prays for Peter (and us) that we will return both to fellowship with Christ and to Christian service. Satan wanted to sift Peter of his faith, but the Lord wanted to sift him of his self-reliance. Jesus prays for us that our faith will not give out completely. It is also important to recognize that Peter’s leadership was not disqualified because he had weaknesses. God does not disqualify us because we have weaknesses. He sifts us.
  • strengthen your brethren” – Christ prays that when Peter is restored to fellowship and Christian service, he will be able to “strengthen” other believers because Satan will be seeking to knock them down and out of Christian service (cf. I Peter 5:8). This informs us that Jesus prays the sifting process will equip us to strengthen others. It is impossible to strengthen someone else unless you have been sifted yourself. Once we have been through the sifting process, we can offer comfort to others who are being sifted.

If you are a Christian who thinks you have failed the Lord so badly that you are forever disqualified to serve the Lord, Jesus wants you to know He has not given up on you nor has God the Father or God the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Holy Spirit also intercedes for you to help you in your weaknesses: 26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Rom. 8:26-27). When we encounter failure and pain (Rom. 8:18-25), we may not know exactly how to pray to God, so the Holy Spirit helps us by praying on our behalf (“makes intercession for us”) to God the Father, telling Him exactly what is on our hearts (8:26b). The word “groanings” expresses feelings of compassion for our weak condition. The Holy Spirit requests the Father’s help for us with deep compassion (cf. Ephes. 6:18).

Even though we cannot hear the Holy Spirit’s intercession for us, God the Father can hear and understand Him. So not only does the Holy Spirit pray on our behalf, but we have a heavenly Father “who searches” our hearts and “knows what the mind of the Spirit is” (8:27a).The Holy Spirit makes our hearts understandable to the Father. We can be assured that the Holy Spirit’s prayers for us are effective in securing God’s help for us because the Spirit prays on our behalf “according to the will of God” (8:27b).

For example, when our children were infants, my wife would tune in to each child’s wordless cry. She learned to distinguish a cry for food from a cry for attention, an earache cry from a stomachache cry. To me the sounds were identical, but not to their mother who instinctively discerned the meaning of the helpless child’s cry. The Holy Spirit has resources of sensitivity beyond those of the most discerning mother. The Spirit of God can detect needs we cannot articulate. So as the Spirit prays for us, He gives content and expression to our heavenly Father as to the deep things of our hearts. He makes us understandable to the Father. When we do not know what to pray the Holy Spirit fills in the blanks.

During times of failure, we need to know that God understands us. Even if we can’t express ourselves well, our compassionate Father in heaven will understand how we feel and what we need because of the intercessory work of His Son and the Holy Spirit in us. When we feel understood, we really begin to experience hope. Because if God understands our hearts and our needs, then He can do something about them.

But what assurance do we have that God the Father will listen to the advocacy of His Son after we have sinned? John tells us, “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” (hilasmos) means “appeasement” or “expiation.” 16 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.

Therefore, we do not have to punish ourselves when we do sin because Christ has already taken our full punishment when He died in our place. Some of us may struggle to believe God has forgiven us after we confess our sins to Him (1:9). We may think we have sinned too much for God to pardon us, so guilt feelings persist long after we confess to the Lord. Satan can use such feelings to make believers doubt that their Advocate can secure God’s mercy when they do sin. But John wants us to know and believe that God is fully satisfied no matter how badly or often we have sinned.

Our sympathetic High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16) is seated at the Father’s right hand pointing to His nail-scarred hands and to the mercy seat as He prays for us. It is especially crucial for us to know and believe that the Father is completely satisfied after we have committed sin no matter how often or badly we have sinned. John assures us of this when he writes, “and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (2:2b).

“That’s why John lets us know in no uncertain terms that the death of Christ not only satisfied God’s anger against my sins and the sins of other believers, but also for the sins of the entire world (verses like John 14:19, 27, 30; 15:18; 16:33; and 17:6-26 should make it apparent that the world includes all unbelievers). That means the work of Christ was so great that it not only was sufficient to satisfy God’s anger against the sins of the believers, but also men like Nero, Hitler, Stalin, and Osama bin Laden. If His sacrifice was enough to satisfy God’s justice with regard to their sins, it is certainly enough to take care of mine and yours.” 17

Some erroneously conclude that since Christ’s death was the propitiation or satisfaction not only for the sins of believers but also for the entire world, then all the world (including non-believers) is saved and going to heaven (universalism). But this view fails to understand that verse 2 is only saying the world is savable because Christ died for all people. Only those who believe in Christ and His all-sufficient death on the cross are saved and going to heaven (Acts 16:31; John 3:14-18). 18

“The argument that if Christ paid for all human sin all would be saved is a misconception. The removal of sin as a barrier to God’s saving grace does not automatically bring regeneration and eternal life. The sinner remains dead and ‘alienated from the life of God’ (Eph 4:18). At the final judgment of the lost (Rev 20:11-15), sin as sin is not considered. Instead, men are ‘judged according to their works’ (Rev 20:12) to demonstrate to each that their ‘works’ give them no claim on God’s salvation.” 19

When Christians confess their sins to God, we must not be overwhelmed with our own sin because Jesus’ death on the cross fully satisfied God’s holy demand to punish sin. Christ’s intercession to the Father as our Advocate assures us of this.

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. 20 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).

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, thank You for making it possible for sinners to have fellowship with a completely holy God. Thank You for being our Advocate before God the Father when we sin in our Christian lives. Your all-sufficient death guarantees our forgiveness when we confess our sins to God no matter how often or badly we have sinned. Thank You for interceding for us when we do fail so our faith does not fail. And as You pray for us, we can return both to fellowship with You and to Christian service so we can strengthen others who go through similar failures. There is always hope of redemption in You Lord Jesus. Please use us to share this everlasting hope with those who need it the most. In Your mighty name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pg. 28.

2. 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. 590.

3. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pp. 60-61.

4. 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 3553.

5. Ibid., Kindle Location 3558.

6. Ibid.

7. Constable, pg. 30.

8. Ibid. The phrase kai ean tis hamartē is a third-class condition in the Greek text.

9. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 590.

10. Constable, pp. 30-31.

11. 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. 766.

12. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3566.

13. Anderson, pp. 65-66.

14. Ibid., pp. 66-67; Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3566-3575.

15. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 590.

16. Bauer, pg. 474.

17. Anderson, pp. 67-68.

18. Anderson writes, “Theologians usually distinguish between sufficient and efficient. The death of Christ was sufficient penalty to pay for the sins of the entire world, but only efficient for those who believe in Him. It’s like being given a gift certificate to Baskin Robbins. The gift has been paid for. That which was paid was sufficient to cover whatever the certificate says. But that certificate has no real meaning in your life until you go to Baskin Robbins and appropriate what was paid for you. Only then will you enjoy the gift. Before going to the store, the gift certificate was sufficient, but not efficient.” (Maximum Joy, pp. 68-70).

19. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 590.

20. Bauer, pg. 816.