Category Archives: 1 John

The Heart’s Gauge

 

During our Lord’s earthly ministry, He repeatedly pressed upon His disciples, and those who heard Him speak, that the heart and affections must be set upon heavenly, spiritual, godly things, indeed upon God Himself, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  Desiring to convey both what he heard and saw from His Lord, the Apostle John provides this sentiment of proper desires in chapter 2 of his first epistle.

There are two major sections that lead into our passage under consideration in this post.  The first occurs in 1 John 2:3-6 in which the Apostle outlines the requirement of obedience to God’s commands as evidence for coming to know God.  Rather than leaving it as heartless duty, he intertwines it with love, “whoever keeps His word, in Him truly the love of God is perfected.”  With that statement he paves the road for our second passage, 1 John 2:7-11 which builds upon this concept of love.  Notably, John introduces love as a commandment, not a new commandment, but an old one, but not really an old one because it is new in Christ.  By weaving together love and obedience, John most definitely recalls the words of Christ from John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

But also our Lord’s words from John 14:15,  If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” As well as His words from John 15:9-14

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

With this context in mind, providing our framework for understanding what the Apostle is aiming for in this chapter, we arrive at the passage under our consideration

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” 1 John 2:15-17

Love continues to be the theme in this section of chapter two, though stated negatively, do not love, or we might even say dislike, or perhaps even more strongly stated, hate the world and the things of the world.  Said this way, we should be compelled to ask, what does John’s use of world here mean?  Surely not the created order that God made as recorded in Genesis?  Surely he doesn’t mean hate trees, and squirrels, and the sun?  Before unpacking this further, notice that John places a qualification on loving the world, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  As has been typical throughout the book, there is no room for gray area here.  Love the world, then the love of the Father is not in you.  Love the Father, obey His commandments, and love the brethren, then it is incompatible to love the world.

Here we are in need of further defining the use and meaning of world.  Thankfully, this is done for us in the verse that follows

  • the desires of the flesh
  • the desires of the eyes
  • the pride of life (or pride in possessions)

Puritan Matthew Henry sheds light upon the meaning of these three phrases when he writes, “The things of the world are classed according to the three ruling inclinations of depraved nature. 1. The lust of the flesh, of the body: wrong desires of the heart, the appetite of indulging all things that excite and inflame sensual pleasures. 2. The lust of the eyes: the eyes are delighted with riches and rich possessions; this is the lust of covetousness. 3. The pride of life: a vain man craves the grandeur and pomp of a vain-glorious life; this includes thirst after honour and applause. The things of the world quickly fade and die away; desire itself will ere long fail and cease, but holy affection is not like the lust that passes away.”

In our passage we are exhorted, or better commanded, to not love the world or the things of the world.  This was preceded by a test of our affections for God and a delight in the duty of obedience.  The issue under our consideration is where do our affections lie?  We ought to consistently, even daily, consider the gauge of our hearts to determine whether it is inclined towards loving the things of the world, or whether it is inclined towards loving God, obeying Him, and loving others.  It isn’t a matter of legalistic do’s and don’ts.  It is a matter of desire, at the heart level, of where the affections of our heart rest.  That is the genuine test of a Christian and it is one that we need to apply to ourselves on a regular basis.

Soli Deo Gloria

3 Tests for Genuine Christianity

 

In 2011 I had the great joy and pleasure of preaching through the book of 1 John.  It was a series birthed out of the necessity to ensure that those who heard had 1. definitely been exposed to the gospel and 2. Had known without question what genuine Christianity was to look like.

In this epistle, the Apostle of love, writing under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, provides for us three tests for genuine Christianity which of course should be applied first personally (2 Corinthians 13:5) and then to professing believers (Matthew 7:20).  These three tests, by way of gleaning through and interpreting the epistle, may be summarized as follows:

  1. Knowledge of God
  2. Growth in Holiness
  3. Love for Believers

First, knowledge of God.  This knowledge of God is more than just accumulating facts about who God is, or what He has done.  Instead, this knowing is more intimate, it is far more relational.  In fact, in 1 John it is called fellowship, If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:6-7  This mention of fellowship, namely the “with him” is further defined in verse three as “fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.”  

Concerning this fellowship, Martyn Lloyd- Jones says, “Here we are given, without any hesitation, a description, the summum bonum [highest good], of the Christian life; here, indeed, is the whole object, the ultimate, the goal of all Christian experience and all Christian endeavour.  This, beyond any question, is the central message of the Christian gospel and of the Christian faith.” As the Apostle instructs us, walking in darkness is incompatible with having fellowship with God.”

Which brings us to the second test, growth in holiness.  An extended quote from chapter 3 is necessary to establish the significance of this in the apostle’s message

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.

Clearly, a practice of sinning is incompatible with practice of righteous, or growth in holiness.

Finally, love for believers.

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:9-11

A genuine Christian profession, by necessity, manifests love for the brethren.  It is not optional.  Commenting on this test and its relationship with fellowship with God, Lloyd-Jones writes, “To fail to love the brethren will interrupt our fellowship with the Father and therefore rob us of many of the blessings of the Christian life.” 

This trinity of genuineness, in the form of these three tests, cannot be broken.  If one has perceived knowledge of God, but lacks any noticeable evidence of growth in holiness, then their profession is simply disingenuous.  How many scholars have waxed eloquently on philosophical musings of the attributes of God, yet their words have lacked any notion of charity or love.  How many preachers of doctrine of God have garnered a spot in the public eye only to fall hard and fast from scandalous sins.

Similarly, if one would appear outwardly to be holy, perhaps by living a moral life, but internally lacking any knowledge of God through His Son Jesus Christ, then again, the result is a disingenuous profession of faith.  It is by grace we are saved through faith in Christ, thus drawing us to an intimate knowledge of the Father through the Son.  Works have their place after salvation, but despite the efforts of men simply cannot contribute towards a coming to faith.  We throw around the label of a “good man” far too liberally, yet why do we call anyone good?  No one is good but God. (Mark 10:18)

Finally, love for believers is sometimes the most misconstrued quality because it seems most naturally connected to the condition of the heart, i.e. good heart, and this may sometimes prove to be true.  Downstream of genuine knowledge of God and growth in holiness is a necessity to show love for the brethren.  It is an indispensable consequence.  However, charities, hospitals, and mercy organizations by the legion have been started by men and women who could care less about who Christ is, yet alone the demand of holiness placed on their lives.  Additionally, there have been those whose great goal in life was the establishment of social justice, yet lack genuine knowledge of God and any semblance of holiness.  Would anyone dare doubt the love for humanity that someone who rings the bell for social justice, be it race, class, economic or otherwise? (unless of course there were ulterior motives, but that could never happen…right?)

The motivation for this post has primarily been driven by recent conferences in which men have ascribed genuine Christianity and then celebrated a man who has certainly rung the bell for social justice louder than any other in the United States, yet without question there is documented evidence of failing the first two of these tests.  Is he then among the faithful?  No.  Should he then be celebrated and held up as a Christian model for showing love to the brothers? No.

Brothers and Sisters I implore you, do not let personal agendas or feelings, even if they are for friends or family members who you genuinely desire to see saved, compromise the written and holy word of almighty God.  As we know, our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, yet God’s Word is true and provides a plumb-line, a compass for navigating this life through the revelation of Himself.

If you are struggling to know whether you are genuinely saved, look to the epistle of 1 John and humbly ask the Lord to apply these tests to your heart.  For those who do not struggle with assurance, these tests are a good reminder and litmus test for where you are currently in the process of sanctification.  Are you growing in the knowledge of God, a desire for holiness, and expressing love for the brothers?   Finally, if there are those within your circle, even those whom you admire from a distance, apply these tests to their lives and take the results into consideration before ascribing to them the label of a genuine believer in Christ.

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.