Category Archives: 1 John

The Practice of Sinning

 

In the first letter by the Apostle John to the saints in Asia, likely a circular letter to include the church at Ephesus, it has been well noted that he provides a series of tests or checks and balances for the Christian life.  The centrality of these tests are: knowledge of God, growth in obedience, and love for others.  In chapter 3, we see obedience approached from the negative side with an exhortation to avoid the “practice of sinning” in order to affirm the genuineness of faith.  Note the passage below:

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” 1 John 3:4-10

Here we may observe the Apostle making 4 crystal clear assertions regarding those who make a practice of sinning, the first of which will be addressed in this post, and is the observation that those who make a practice of sinning are practicing lawlessness found in verses 4-5.  We might say that practice is to give oneself over to repetitive or habitual action.  This does not have in mind sinning in general, which we all do (1 John 1:8), rather it is a reference to the ongoing patterns or practice of sin.  In other words, the life that is marked or defined by the downward spiral of sin.

Additionally, we read that all sin, not simply that committed habitually, is equated with the breaking of  God’s holy law.  Generally speaking this is God’s moral law, the requirements of which were written on the hearts of men from Adam onward (Rom. 2:14; conscience), summarized and codified in the 10 Commandments at Sinai, and written on the hearts of all those who through the blood of Christ have been redeemed and brought into the New Covenant by repentance and faith (Jer. 31:33, Ezek. 36:26-27, Heb. 8:10).

Inherently within this statement is the assertion that the Christian life is to be one marked by obedience.  It has oft been assumed, in error, that the law and subsequent obedience to it, are to be eschewed from the life of a believer.  As is evident from this and many other passages in the New Testament, the law clearly has a place in the life of a believer, lest we fall into the error of antinomianismhttp://www.presenttruthmag.com/archive/XXVIII/28p1-11.htm

We would do well to remember the words of our Lord, “If you love me, keep my commandments” John 14:5.  Our Apostle draws upon the language from his gospel in this very epistle when he writes, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” 1 John 2:3-4.  Furthermore, as we alluded earlier, one of the great promises of the New Covenant is God writing His law on the hearts of those who have been redeemed by the shed blood of Christ.  We may conclude that the importance of obedience to God’s law in the life of the believer is paramount and to walk contrary to it is sin, namely lawlessness.

This first exhortation is supported by two clauses, one a reaffirmation that sin is lawlessness to help drive home the point and two that Christ, who is sinless, appeared to take away sin.  This statement is meant to contrast Christ with sin and subsequently sin with believers. It is meant to offer a sober alert to the reader that where sin exists, it is contrary to Christ because 1. He is sinless and 2. He died to take away sins.  Therefore stop sinning, more on that later.

Far too often we are given to light thoughts of sin and are often ignorant of the sinful patterns of behavior that flare up in our lives from time to time.  In our passage above, the exhortation is clear:  the practice of sinning is contrary to the life of a believer because it is contrary to God’s holy law, and subsequently to God Himself.  It is contrary to the life of Christ and should be contrary to the life of a believer who is united to Him.  And finally, it is the reason for which Christ died.

Thanks be to God that by His mercy He sent His holy Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the law on behalf of all those who would repent of their sins and believe in Him.  Christ, the only sinless One, the only One who upheld the law on every point has through His obedience credited, or we might say imputed, the righteousness that He earned to the account of those who have trusted in Him.  As we have seen, the law still has a place in the life of a believer as a rule and guide, but it is no longer a heavy yoke on the neck.  It is not a means to life, i.e. it is not a means to either justification or sanctification, each of which come only through Christ our Savior, but instead should be a delight (Romans 2:22, et.al.)

 

*Antinomian image credit: http://www.presenttruthmag.com/archive/XXVIII/28p1-11.htm  Note: reference to this source does not imply endorsement.

Keep Yourselves from Idols

 

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” 1 John 5:21

With these words the Apostle of love concludes his first epistle with an exhortation that the saints are to avoid idolatry of the heart.  While not his primary interest, throughout the letter John provides a series of tests for evidence of faith, namely through increasing knowledge of God, growth in holiness, and expression of love for others.  With this in mind, it becomes all the more interesting that he concludes his letter as a father toward his children with a statement of keeping oneself from idols.

In beginning our exposition of this verse, we may ask, what are idols?  Why are we to keep ourselves from them?  And how are we to keep ourselves from them?  The Old Testament often outlines the image into which the New Testament supplies the paint and it is true with regard to idols as well.  In the Old Testament we get a clear picture of what idolatry looks like.  For example, at the foot of Sinai, restless for the return of Moses, Aaron leads the people into fashioning a golden calf:

So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.’”

From this passage we gain insight into the nature of idolatry.  Though obviously it is a physical, tangible, visible idol toward which they offer worship, the issue is more a matter of the heart.  Additionally, we can see there is sometimes a level of syncretism within idolatry as well; worshipping a golden calf yet giving it the credit for deliverance from Egypt and proclaiming a feast to the Lord on behalf of the idol.  God demands not only external worship, but internal worship as well.

Nowadays, we are unlikely to see a golden calf perched on a hillside, though certainly in some cultures and religions idols and icons still maintain a very visible presence.  Nevertheless, though less obvious, idolatry runs rampant in the land.  Anything that the human heart elevates above the one true living God, by way of desire, time, attention, money, habits, etc. is idolatry.  While we may not have golden calves hidden away in our closets, we likely have golden calves hidden away in our hearts.  Puritan David Clarkson summarizes well,

“Idolatry is to give that honor and worship to ‘the creature’, which is due to the Creator alone. When this worship is communicated to other things, whatever they are, we thereby make them idols, and commit idolatry. Now this worship due to God alone, is not only given by the savage heathen to their stick and stones—and by papists to angels, saints and images—but also by carnal men to their lusts.”[1]

Pressing forward towards further identifying what may be termed an idol, Thomas Watson in his book The Godly Man’s Picture identifies the chief form of idolatry as the worship of self.  Surely this is becoming increasingly evident in our ever-changing world.  Interestingly, a passage from 1 Corinthians 6 places idolatry squarely between sins that are sexual in nature, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality” 1 Corinthians 6:9

Romans 1 provides additional support for this sexual form of idolatry that reaches its zenith in homosexual desires, “24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” Romans 1:24-27

If our identification of idols at this point is beginning to take shape far beyond simply the presence of a golden calf, then we may ask of the passage why it’s important to keep ourselves from them.

At its heart, this exhortation from the Apostle John is a restatement of the Second Commandment and is in fact a call to proper worship of God.  Here is the original command from God, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”  Exodus 20:4-6

In this passage, God gives a clear reason for His prohibition against idolatry, namely that He is a jealous God.  Giving worship to anything else, in essence robs God of the worship due His name and provokes His jealousy.

Through the message given by the Lord to the prophet Ezekiel, we may note how idolatry, even those of sticks and stones, becomes internalized, “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces….” Ezekiel 14:3

The Apostle John in his first epistle is keenly aware that idolatry of the heart will keep one from eternal life because it is a reflective pattern of an unregenerate heart.  Note additional commentary from elsewhere in the New Testament:

 “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” Ephesians 5:5

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5

In the two passages above we may glean that covetousness, i.e. unlawful desires of the heart, are labeled as idolatry.  So again we find that idolatry, this time from a different perspective, is a violation of God’s holy law, namely “Thou shall not covet” Ex 20:17

Why then are we to avoid idols? 1) It robs God of the glory and worship that is due His name. 2) It is a violation of God’s holy law 3) It hinders and inhibits man’s proper relationship with His Creator. 4) It elevates concern for self above concern for others.

Turning our attention to address how it is that we are to keep ourselves from idols, we may conclude with 4 summary statements.  1) Only a regenerate heart can truly avoid the plague of idolatry. 2) Be alert to all presence of idolatry in your heart 3) Renew your mind daily by the Word of God 4) Pray for God to reveal any unrecognized idols

For John to summarize his letter in this way, he is ultimately defining the chief obstacle for everything he outlined in the previous 5 chapters.  Idols stifle one’s knowledge of God.  Idols are contrary to growth in holiness.  Idols elevate self over love for others.  How can one be sure to pass the “tests” of 1 John?  Simple, “little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

 

[1] http://www.gracegems.org/SERMONS/Clarkson_soul_idolatry.htm

Reasons for Writing

 

I began this blog in January of 2009 as a way to organize and present my thoughts on particular passages of Scripture, areas of theology, and cultural issues that require a biblical worldview (and they all do!) for the purpose of edifying and instructing believers, restoring the wayward saint, and/or calling the sinner to repentance and faith.  I had no idea how long I would be writing or what would be the outcome from it, but 6 years and over 550 posts later, I’m still writing with the hopes of reaching and teaching people with the good news of Jesus Christ while expressing the importance and necessity of understanding theology and doctrine from the Word of God.

Similarly,  the Apostle John provides for his readers, several purposes for writing his first epistle.  He weaves each of his 13 reasons into the content of his letter.  As you can see below, John clearly knew his audience and wrote to them purposefully.

  • And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. – 1 John 1:4
  • I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. – 1 John 2:1
  • I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. – 1 John 2:7
  • It is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. – 1 John 2:8
  • I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. – 1 John 2:12
  • I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. – 1 John 2:13a
  • I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. – 1 John 2:13b
  • I write to you, children, because you know the Father. – 1 John 2:13c
  • I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. – 1 John 2:14a
  • I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. – 1 John 2:14b
  • I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. – 1 John 2:21
  • I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. – 1 John 2:26
  • I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. – 1 John 5:13

First John stands as a pillar for the test of true genuine faith and it’s author, the Apostle John wrote with pastoral care and concern that His people’s faith would be found true.  What an encouragement for those of us who communicate the truth’s of God’s Word to do so with brotherly love and compassion such that “our joy might be complete” and that our hearers and readers “may know that [they] have eternal life”.