Tag Archives: 1 John

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.

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”.

Christ the Advocate – 1 John 2:1-2

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 1:8-2:2

Last time we reviewed the passage of Scripture from 1 John 1:8-10 included above.  This time, we will look at how the verses from 2:1-2 connect with our previous passage.  Remember that John has just laid down a test for us, one of recognition and confession of sin.  We looked at what it means for a person to deny sin, namely self-deception and calling God a liar.  We also dissected 1 John 1:9 to better understand how God’s character is linked to His actions for believers who confess their sins, namely in the forgiveness and cleansing from sins.

John begins verse 1 by addressing his readers as “little children.”  This is the first occurrence of several instances where he uses this compassionate term.  Like a father with his children John has a way of encouraging and assuring while also offering exhortation and warning.  He clearly speaks the truth in love as a loving Father would for his children.  After all, John has assumed the position of elder in these churches and he’s likely the oldest and remaining survivor of Jesus’ disciples.  Needless to say he has a spiritual as well as physical maturity.  With this address to his readers, it’s almost as if he jumped out in chapter 1 with a quick blow to the Gnostic influences of the Church and here settles into the message of his letter.  He does this by pointing out the first, of several, reasons for writing his epistle.  The first is an exhortation to holiness, “so that you may not sin”.

In the previous 3 verses John has just delivered a test of assurance for his believers: recognize your sin and confess it.  As we previously mentioned, he ties this into Christ’s atonement (from vs. 1:5 and in vs. 1:9) and links this to the character and actions of God (vs. 1:9).  After reading the end of chapter 1, you can almost hear people clamoring with the same response that the Apostle Paul expected in his letter to the Romans, “Hooray!  We can sin all we want and as long as we confess it to God, He has to forgive it!”  To which Paul responded “By no means!  How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Romans 6:2 John’s response comes by way of giving reason for his letter, “so that you may not sin”.  This is a purposeful statement by John, not just mere sentiment.  He’s instructing them in a path of godliness and holiness and will soon outline for them (and us) the Christian’s incompatibility with sin.  It’s important to understand that John has not given his readers a pass to sin, quite the opposite, but watch the amazing direction that He takes next.  “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”  This is a hope filled statement from John.  Imagine the churches reading this for the first time and you can almost hear the gasps and sighs of relief.  A gasp at vs. 1:8, a sigh at vs. 1:9, gasp again at vs. 1:10 and holding it in to the middle of vs. 2:1, when a divine truth is revealed through the little powerful conjunction that the ESV renders, “but”.  In a practical application of John’s letter the phrase “but if”, could nearly be replaced by “when” anyone does sin, because of the given certainty of the action.  In fact, as we will see, the very nature of Christ’s advocacy implies that believers will indeed sin.

We can best picture Christ’s role as Advocate in terms of a divine defense attorney.  Perhaps in the courtroom setting we would see God the Father as the Supreme Judge, Christ as Defense attorney, Satan as the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10), and 1 by 1 persons are brought before the Judge.  Will you stand before the Judge and represent yourself?  Or will you entreat yourself to the Divine Advocate?  That is the eternal question dear reader.  Only insane, depraved people would dare stand before a holy God and plead their own case.  Yet it does not have to be that way.  The evidence is stacked against everyone: sinful by nature (Ephesians 2:1-3), guilty not merely on the basis of imputed sin (Romans 5:12-19), but on the basis of rebellion against God in breaking everyone of His righteous, holy commandments (Romans 3:10).  The Accuser standing in prosecution pointing out every vile detail, when Christ the Advocate stands in and lays His body of evidence down before the Judge on behalf of all those who have repented and placed their faith in Him.  Puritan Thomas Watson adds, “Christ by his intercession answers all bills of indictment brought in against the elect. Do what they can, sin, and then Satan, accuses believers to God, and conscience accuses them to themselves; but Christ, by his intercession, answers all these accusations.”1   It’s as if Satan would say, “See what sin he’s committed!”  And the Judge replies, “Yes, but see what my Son has done!  See His nail-scarred hands and pierced side!”  And the verdict is handed down for the believer, “Not guilty, on the basis of Jesus Christ.”  What glorious news dear Christian!

Before we move from this passage, there are two details that John has provided for us in this passage, as it relates to the Advocacy of Jesus Christ.  The first we find at the end of 2:1, “Jesus Christ the righteous”.  Certainly tied up in the name of Jesus Christ is his deity, Sonship, Lordship, and Messiahship, but look at what John adds, “the righteous.”  It is a sad fact that so many evangelical churches neglect the importance of a statement such as this and as a result, many Christians fail to understand its significance.  Just as important as Christ’s death on the cross, which all orthodox believers would agree on, was His perfectly sinless, holy, righteous life.  If the single focus of Christ’s work was His death, then certainly He could’ve come as a man and died on the cross that very same day.  But there was greater purpose.  Christ had to be born as a man, live as a man, do what man could not, namely obey the law of God, suffer as a man, and die as a man all the while His divine nature was joined together with His human nature (100%/100%).  The Apostle John points out to us that Christ’s advocacy is secured on the basis of His righteousness.  Not only that, but had Jesus merely offered forgiveness of sins and a pardon of the guilty, it would simply bring the guilty party from debt to balance.  There would still be no basis upon which to grant eternal life in the presence of Almighty God.  Thus Christ’s righteousness was needed for the believer.  This is what theologians refer to as the “Great Transaction”.  Man, guilty in his sins, has his sins “imputed”, judicially speaking credited, to the “account” of Christ, for which He takes the punishment due them, namely the wrath of God (1 Cor. 5:21; Romans 3:24-25).  The other side of the transaction involves the righteousness of Christ being imputed to believers (Romans 5:19).  The righteousness of Christ cannot be overstated.  John includes it because it is His character and he once again links character with action, as we see in vs. 2:2.

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”  The word propitiation completes the link that John creates and is our second detail that provides the basis for Christ’s advocacy.  Propitiation is a word that has massive implications.  One in which we will look at in greater later, but for now, we will summarize by pointing out that in Christ’s death on the cross He was the One making the sacrifice and also THE Sacrifice.  It is on this basis that His advocacy took effect.  With the inclusion of Christ as the One making the sacrifice and the One being sacrificed, we can draw upon deeper meaning into His advocacy, namely His Office of High Priest (see Hebrews).

Now the question you might ask after hearing this is, “If all of our sins were forgiven, why do we need an Advocate?”  We need an Advocate because we cannot stand on our own righteousness because we have none and for that reason God always looks at believers through Christ, the Advocate. His legal brief as defense attorney is His righteousness and His propitiation (altogether His atonement).  Because of the holiness of God, He cannot look upon sinful man as forgiven and cleansed from unrighteousness except through His Son Jesus.  As Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out, “I need such a representative in the presence of God because of the holiness and the absolute righteousness and justice of God.  That is the way, and the only way, whereby any one of us can ever come into fellowship with God or can ever be maintained in that glorious fellowship.”2  Simply put, His advocacy on our behalf is eternal, as “He always lives to make intercession for us” (Heb. 7:25) and this should give all believers immense  assurance.

Before reading the next post in this series, consider the following for additional study (from 1 John 2:1-2:2):

  1. Review Hebrews, specifically chapters 6-10 which focus on the High Priestly role of Jesus and the offer of His sacrifice.
  2. Read Leviticus 16.  What parallels, if any, can  you draw between the Old Testament ‘Day of Atonement’ and the passages from Hebrews?
  3. If you previously looked up the definition for propitiation, what two significant actions from Leviticus 16 are foreshadows of Christ’s propitiation?

 

Resources:

  1. Thomas Watson Body of Divinity
  2. Martyn Lloyd-Jones Life in Christ Studies in 1 John