Tag Archives: faith

Summarizing the Christian Life

In the final chapter of 1 John, the letter to the believers of Asia minor penned under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we arrive at essentially a summary of the entire book.  Verses 1-5 serve to tie up loose ends and bring to a close the tests of assurance that have been scattered throughout.  The style of this letter, as has been pointed out, resembles closely that of a spiral.  In one instance John may introduce a singular point and abandon it, only to circle around to it again at a later point, which he develops more fully.  In this way, the author certainly is logical in his writing, though the pattern is less linear, as with Paul.  Never is this pattern more clear than at the beginning of chapter 5, as seen below.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Here, our focus is on three main ideas, seen in the passage above, which have been instrumental throughout the letter and often presented in a kind of test or measuring stick for professing believers.  They are, faith – sometimes expressed as an intimate knowledge of God, love – for both God and the brethren, and obedience.  Knowing God – Showing love – Growing in Obedience. (I write this just shy of a decade since I once preached these three themes at a fall youth retreat.)

Our first idea, faith, introduces the passage cited above.  Everyone who believes…that is those who have placed their faith in something, or better Someone.  This is the faith rooted in a knowledge of Who the object of faith is.  It is never a blind faith, never an ignorant faith, rather it is an informed faith, one that has come to know and believe that Jesus is the Christ.  Perhaps it should be pointed out that Jesus Christ is not our Lord’s first and last names.  Jesus is His name, Christ is His title.  It means Anointed One, or Chosen One, i.e. Messiah.  He is the object of the faith expressed here as the outcome, or evidence, of regeneration.  Without delving into a deep discussion on the ordo salutis (order of salvation), it seems most consistent to conclude that the Holy Spirit regenerates the heart giving a person the ability to repent and believe in Jesus, which is contrary to the idea that faith precedes regeneration.  The order in this verse describes those who have been born again are those who believe that Jesus is the Christ.  With this first summary point, John is wrapping up earlier  passages which expressed a similar idea, noteworthy among them are 1 John 2:22-23 and 1 John 3:23.

While being born again is the point of connection in the opening of this section, there is a transition from the evidence of faith to the evidence of love, our second major idea.  Expressing love for God the Father is a reality for those who have been born again.  This has been a prominent theme throughout the letter, most notably in 1 John 2:10-11; 3:1; 3:11-18; 4:7-21 and is really the central theme in the section before us today. The vertical love that a believer has for their heavenly Father is complimented by the horizontal love that they have for others who have also been born again, i.e. the brethren.  This common new birth creates a familial relationship.  Just as we have love for our physical, blood relatives, in a deeper and more profound way are we to have love for our spiritual brothers and sisters.  To love God without loving other believers is inconsistent, put more strongly according to 1 John 4:20-21, it is impossible.  We may conclude then that belief is the personal evidence of being born again while love for God and other believers is the outward, relational expression of that inward faith.

But this is not the only outward expression.  In verse 2 above, we are reminded again of the previously developed relationship between love and obedience, our third major idea or test in the letter.  To get there, we must circle back through the evidence of our love for the brethren, namely love for God, then arrive at obedience to Him.  In verse 1 we saw the order of:

regeneration –>faith–>love for God–>love for the brethren.

Here we see:

love for the brethren–>love for God–>obedience to God’s commands.

On a whirlwind summary of the Christian life, John has led us back to the starting point.  Faith and obedience are not contradictory, rather they are complimentary.  This isn’t a legalistic, external obedience, rather it is gospel obedience, obedience that comes from the heart.  Similarly, in 1 John 3:23 we see that the commandment of God is to “believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ.”  Furthermore, we have the commandment to love God and love the brethren (1 John 4:21, etc.).  Commandments to believe and commandments to love, neither of which can be accomplished in any meaningful way apart from the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit, changing our heart’s affections and giving us the desire to obey.  In a sense, we are not blazing a new trail in this 5th chapter, we are backing up over familiar ground laid down throughout the book in order to drive home these points.

This idea of obeying the commandments of God is further developed in verse 3, crystallizing the relationship between love for God and obedience to His commands.  This is one of the promises for believers in the New Covenant, that with the regenerate heart comes faith and obedience – a desire to obey, the law that has been now written on our hearts.  God says as much in His promise of the New Covenant found in Ezekiel, “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Ezekiel 36:27

In the latter half of verse 3, we find, as is typical with John, a pithy commentary on a point he’s just made.  In effect he says, evidence of loving God is obeying His commandments, and by the way, His commandments are not burdensome.  They’re not tiring.  They’re not laborious and draining as were their Old Covenant, external, written on stone counterpart.  Rather, because we now have the law written on our hearts, having been given both the ability and desire to obey, we therefore obey not merely as a duty, rather as a delight.

Bringing this passage to a conclusion, verse 4 serves somewhat as a note of application, bringing us back to the practical realities of regeneration and faith.  Having already seen that faith, love, and obedience, are interrelated, and that those who have these qualities, have been born again, further we read that those who have been born again have “overcome the world.”  Added to this is the supporting clause acting again as a commentary, And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”  Then Finally, this passage concludes with, Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”   Three times we see the author’s use of world, cosmos, which is a key word used throughout the letter, as well as in John’s gospel account. 

In order to understand what is referred to by the use of world, we need to at least look at some previous uses of it in 1 John.  In 1 John 4, we read that the spirit of antichrist, those who do not confess that Jesus is from God, is in the world.  Following that, we find a parallel use of world and overcomer, Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”  Here we see that one aspect of the world is its universal denial of Christ.  In contrast, overcoming the world is directly related to our union with Christ, a point we’ll need to tuck away for understanding chapter 5. Furthermore, in chapter 2, we read of the exhortation to not love the world, nor the things in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, all of which are contrary to the Father, and that this corrupt world is temporary and passing away.  The world, that which we overcome by faith, via our union and communion with Christ, is replete with those things which are contrary to the person and work of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as well as contrary to those who have been born again.  Our victory comes because Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33) and greater is He, in me, than he that is in the world.  This victory is secured by the supremacy of Christ, through His finished work on the cross, and His gift of faith to the regenerated hearts of all of God’s children. 

This is the summation of the Christian life, and it is a grand encouragement in this present evil age.  In all of the things that this world brings, we are more than conquerors, through Him who loved us. (Romans 8:37)  

“The Wind blows where it wishes”

 

Originally published August 11, 2009.

The other day I checked in on a Bible Facebook group that I sometimes follow and in the comments there was an interesting request.  One member, perhaps passing through, indicated that he was an atheist and would like for someone to provide a convincing argument that a divine entity existed.  Now, it’s at this point I must say I don’t know what compelled me to message him, nor had I prepared any sort of conversation.  I was just honestly wondering what might have persuaded him to be an atheist, where his beliefs came from, and what convincing argument he was looking for.  I’ll also quickly mention that as Christians we should care for each and every lost soul and I still pray that Christ might reveal himself to this young man, perhaps even through this site as I recount our conversation.

When I first mention a conversation with an atheist, the initial thought might be to take an apologetic route.  I don’t claim to be an expert on atheistic issues, but I felt like I should try to find out what his beliefs were and admittedly to determine where his thought process fell, i.e. relativism.  I asked questions along the lines of “Do you believe we are born with the ability to determine right from wrong” to which he answered no.  I then followed up attempting to probe deeper into those thoughts, but each time I was thwarted in MY efforts.

At this point I prayed, “Dear Lord guide my steps, my thoughts, let my words be Your words” and the young man’s next response was essentially let’s stop being so apologetic and cut to the chase.  And then it hit me and with all the sincerity of my heart I replied with:

Ahh I see, well forgive me. I was merely trying to understand where you were coming from. Without apologetics, you’re left with one thing standing in your way between understanding whether a divine entity exists or not.

See where apologetics fails is that it presumes that all things can be broken down into logical concepts, arguments if you will, that prove or disprove one point or another. While on the surface this makes sense, as it appeals to the very intellectual nature of our being, it lacks a key, necessary component and that is faith.

We can banter back and forth about relativistic points of view, to establish morality or whether a divine entity created the earth or not and that is all well and good, nothing wrong with that at all. But at the end of the day, without faith you and I are the same person. We both do what we want, when we want, and live each day doing the best we can.

Without my faith in the only One and True living God, I am an atheist. Without my faith that God loved His only Son so much that He sent Him to die on the cross for me and all of my disgusting sins, I am an atheist too. But I have that faith. And through my faith I am saved from those sins. And through that faith I have eternal life through my Savior. And that faith is all I need. Because if I’m wrong and everything I believe in is wrong, have I lost anything? No, you and I would end up in the same place after we die. But if I’m right and my faith is all that’s needed in this world, then that’s a big difference isn’t it?

At the end of the day that’s the separation between us <name>, it comes down to faith. Neither of us were granted a higher knowledge over the other or have seen some great revelation that leads us to our beliefs. I have faith in my Savior Jesus Christ and perhaps you want proof so that you can believe in a higher power, but in the end it’s faith you are searching for. But I’m afraid you won’t find it by searching, no one is going to provide you with the answer you’re looking for, it’s within you already and it’s up to you to believe.

“So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” Romans 10:17

I’m sure it’s easy to look back on that and say, well you should’ve said this or that or phrased your response this way, but that’s the way it came out, so that’s the way it is.  Why is it that some have the capacity to have faith while others, like my young friend, seemingly do not, or at least not yet?

See what my friend, and so many others who are searching, long for is a god to mold into what they want.  What Christians have is a God that molds us to what He wants.  That’s the difference and it’s big.

In John 3, Jesus is approached by Nicodemus who says, “…Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” John 3:2 To which Jesus replies, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

Ah, if only I had remembered this encounter before mine with my young friend, because here, it is Jesus who cuts to the chase.  He wastes no time in witnessing to Nicodemus.  He doesn’t even wait for him to ask the question, before He has already stated the answer.   Nicodemus is no fool, he understands the figurative language that Jesus is using, but nevertheless he asks, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  John 3:4 He knows that his question is not a possibility, but as he’s picked up on Jesus’ analogy, he inquires more.  Jesus replies, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.'” John 3:5-7

Jesus reemphasizes His figurative language by pointing out the Spiritual cleansing and Spiritual rebirth necessary for salvation and essential to entering heaven.  It should be noted that being born of water in this passage does not refer to baptism, but rather the spiritual cleansing through being born again.   As though He  perceived the potential next question from Nicodemus, Jesus follows up by explaining the root of this rebirth does not come from man, but from the Spirit Himself.  “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8

That last sentence of Jesus’ statement is so important towards understanding our previous question of why is it that some people come to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, yet others don’t.  It’s this passage that so clearly points out that it’s not a human decision.  Meaning it is not within us to “make a decision” without the power of the Holy Spirit moving in our lives and in our hearts.

As Jesus indicates, the Spirit moves where He wishes and we never see Him, never know from where He comes, nor where He is going, but we see the impacts.  We see the impact on the lives changed by His presence.  Spiritual rebirth is as much or more a miracle than our original birth from the womb.

Our role as Christians is to preach the Gospel and expose nonbelievers to the Word of God. (Mark 16:15) In accordance with this, in order to be faithful to Jesus’ commission, we need to be well equipped with a strong knowledge of the Bible, because it is through God’s Word that seeds of salvation are planted in the hearts of nonbelievers.  We can make rational arguments through apologetic presentations, present emotional “seeker sensitive” church services, and even present biblical truths, but without the power of the Holy Spirit, no true regeneration or even a desire for one can take place.

Prayer: My prayer is that the Holy Spirit reaches out to our unsaved friends and family that they might realize their need for a Savior in Jesus Christ.  That the Holy Spirit might bring them to repentance and that they might openly and willingly respond when this happens.  That the Spirit of the Lord might put each one of us in the path of the unsaved and that He might guide our steps, our thoughts, let our words be His words that we might be useful vessels in conveying the wonderful truths of the Word of God.

Additional Study: 1 Corinthians 2:6-16

Humble Like a Child

 

Originally published January 6, 2013.

“1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:1-4

This past Lord’s Day, the pastor of our local congregation challenged us to take time and meditate on what it means to be a child of God, specifically the love of God toward His children as spoken of in 1 John 3:1a, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

The other night, as I was checking in on my sleeping daughter before going to bed, I paused extra long (I most always pause, just to be thankful, admire, and wonder) and just thought about her sleeping so peacefully.  The mind of this near 3-year old was perfectly relaxed, and at rest.  No worries or stress about the next day.  No anxiety over physical ailments or future ones.  No fear of what tomorrow brings.  No worry over life, job, finances, food, clothing, shelter.  By all respects, not a single worry to distract the mind.  The word free comes to mind.  Free from burden.

As I watched her with tears welling in my eyes, it occurred to me that this is exactly how God wants His children to live, free; free from burden, free from worry, stress, anxiety about what will come tomorrow or what life may bring next.  Not living irresponsibly, mind you, but freely reliant upon our Heavenly Father, much like a child is reliant upon his/her own parents.  Isn’t this what it looks like to be a child of God?

Too often it seems instead of being a child of God, we’re more like a teenager of God.  Rebellious, self-centered, selfish.  We want control of our lives and want so much to break free from the control of our parents.  What do teenagers call this?  Freedom.  Free to make their own choices and do what they want.  But this isn’t freedom, it’s bondage, or better a false-freedom.  This inward focus and inward reliance upon self is the foundation for those things mentioned earlier such as worry, stress, anxiety, or even worse an eerie calm that self-strength and determination can carry you through any problem, i.e. over-confidence.  Each of these are ultimately sin and are in fact the opposite of faith.  To be a child is to be reliant; at its very essence, helpless.

Which brings me to the passage from Matthew cited above.  Note the question of the disciples, “Who is the greatest?”  Isn’t that just like the question of an over-confident teenager holding out hope that maybe they would be the greatest.  Or at the very least, desiring to know who #1 is so that they can work harder to beat them.  But notice how Jesus responds, by placing a little child in their midst and saying, “unless you turn and become like children,” and answers their question accordingly, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

It’s so simple to understand that we miss it everyday.  Why didn’t Jesus point toward one of the disciples?  Why not point out a “righteous” man whom they could model their lives after?  Why not say a teenager, or an adult, or a mom or dad?  Why a child?  In fact, Jesus could have even said unless you become like Me.  Certainly He was the perfect example of reliance upon the Father.  Yet He chose the simplest, most basic example that the disciples (and us) could understand, a child.  The humility of a child speaks of their reliance upon their parent for everything: food, clothing, shelter, basically life.

My little girl does not sit around and worry where her next meal is going to come from.  She relies.  She doesn’t wonder how she will clothe herself or whether she will have a roof over her head.  She relies.  She doesn’t worry about health, her future, what obstacles may or may not come her way in a month, year, or 10 years.  She lives free from day to day.  What a beautiful picture of what it looks like to live as a child of God.  Reliant upon Him, not only for our material needs, but for all sustenance in life both now and in the life to come.  Practically, this is what faith in Christ looks like in the everyday.

We are to humble ourselves as little children.  Turn from our teenage, over-confident, self-reliant ways, and become like a child.  Reliant.  Free.   Such are the greatest in the kingdom.