Tag Archives: Holiness

The Emphasis on the Son

In John’s first epistle, He begins with establishing himself as an eye-witness to the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He emphatically states that he had seen, heard, touched the Lord and now from that experience He proclaims Christ.  For this purpose, we would expect the entirety of the book to be focused on Christ, and this is true, however there is a remarkable pattern that emerges when one examines how it is that John brings his emphasis to the Son, particularly through His use of the terms Father and Son.

In the opening chapter, God the Father is mentioned in 1:2 and 1:3, while the Son is mentioned in 1:3 and 1:7.  However, at the beginning of chapter 2, it is the Father who is mentioned again, not the Son, as we might expect his pattern of proclaiming Christ to proceed.  The use of Father appears in the discussion from 1 John 2:1, and again in 2:13, 2:15, and 2:16.  Meanwhile, though Jesus Christ is mentioned in 2:1, the actual use of Son does not occur again until 1 John 2:22.  This is rather shocking given that we would expect the bulk of references to be about Christ, the Son of God, given John’s own emphasis on his experience with Christ’s earthy ministry.  But then something remarkable happens.

In 1 John 2:22-24, there is a transition that takes place from emphasis on the Father to the Son.  Note the passage below

22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.

Here we see the use of both Father and Son in verse 22 and again, twice, in verse 23, followed by the fourth pairing in verse 24.  These pairings single a massive shift in emphasis from the Father to the Son.  From this point forward, God the Father is only referenced 3 times in the remainder of the letter, whereas God the Son 14 times, after only being mentioned twice up to this passage.

The question we need to ask at this point is why?  Is there a purpose for John to withhold and then subsequently emphasize the Son?

Interestingly, on the heels of this shift from Father to Son, we find a passage describing believers as children of God, those marked with consistent obedience and desire holiness.  For instance, 1 John 2:29

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

then again in 3:1

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.

The development of the teaching that believers are children of God extends from 1 John 2:29 to 1 John 3:10 and includes specific mention in 3:2; 3:8 (negatively stated); 3:9 (2x); and 3:10 where it is stated both positively and negatively.

This pattern is simple enough, if one slows down long enough to see it, but it brings up another question.  What is John’s purpose in connecting the emphasis on God the Son with believers as children of God?

Quite frankly, it is to show the relationship that exists between God the Father and God the Son is parallel with God the Father’s relationship with those who have been born again,

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”  John 1:12-13

Similarly, as we read in Ephesians, we are co-heirs with Christ.  Not only that, but as the emphasis on the Son continues, we also see impeccability, i.e. sinlessness, righteousness, and purity attributed to Him, but not in isolation from us.  He died to remove sin from us; as He is righteous, so too ought we be righteous; as He is pure, so too will we be pure.  The relationship is familial, but also one of shared identity – holiness – through our union with Christ.

Oh the wisdom of God, who by way of simply shifting the emphasis from Father to Son, draws attention to the person and work of Christ and His holiness, but subsequently uses it to transition into our relationship as His children, that we too ought to look like His only begotten Son and walk in purity.

To Let Go and Let God or Strive to Enter

 

Several years ago, I was introduced to the popular phrase, “Let go and Let God.”  It’s popularity with the influence of social media has only increased in the last decade because it fits easily into posts, tweets, memes, or whatever the latest medium pithy quotes might fit best (t-shirts, coffee mugs, bumper stickers, etc.).  In these uses, and in a wide variety of others, you’ll often find this saying used in reference to struggling through daily life issues independent of whether or not they are spiritual.  For instance, it could be work/employment, financial, family/relationships all which might require the individual to simply, “Let go and Let God.”

Summarizing the origins of this phrase in his helpful overview, No Quick Fix, Andy Naselli, notes its roots may be found in the theology of Hannah Whitall Smith’s The  Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, in which she provides the basis for this phrase as “entire surrender”, i.e. letting go, and “absolute faith”, i.e. letting God.  Since then, circa 1885, the concept has evolved through the teachings of the Higher Life movement and Keswick theology proponents, including more recently by dispensationalism, which was heavily influenced by these aforementioned teachings.  While this phrase, Let go and Let God, may sound like good advice or even a proper exercise of spiritual maturity, it is in fact wrong, misleading, and potentially dangerous.

In Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 we are introduced to the wilderness generation, i.e. those who were delivered out of Egyptian captivity by God through the leadership of Moses up to the doorstep of the Promised Land.  This group is held up as an example of unfaithfulness and disobedience in their rebellion against God and His subsequent punishment of prohibition from entering the Promised Land.  For more, see this post on Hebrews 3 The Builder of the House.

This is the context upon which the Author draws support for his exhortation for believers not to be like the Wilderness Generation, which fell at the hand of God’s wrath, but instead we are to strive to enter His rest

“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:11

The word translated in the ESV as strive, spoudazo, carries the idea of exertion or diligent effort.  It’s root is also used in Hebrews 6:11, “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end “

The word of exhortation in Hebrews 4:11 is for believers to exert themselves by faith and obedience, with a constant, diligent effort until they reach the finish line and enter God’s rest.  It is an effort that is led by the Spirit, fueled by grace looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who has secured our victory and will bring us to the completion of our race.  Nevertheless, it is an active Christian life, not a passive one.  It is a Spirit-led life in which we are clothed with the armor of God and equipped to wield the sword of the Spirit with the expectation of battle.

Letting go and Letting God tells us to, “lie quietly before [God].  Open all the avenues of our being, and let Him come in and take possession of every chamber.  Especially give Him your heart – the very seat of your desires, the throne of your affections. ” (Naselli, pg. 39-40)  However the book of Hebrews presents a drastically different, less passive approach to our pursuit of holiness, which culminates in the finality of reaching God’s eschatological* rest.

It calls us to strive.  To earnestly pursue.  To diligently make it our business.  There is not a letting go, there is a holding on, yet in our Christian duty to pursue Christ with a passion and mortify the deeds of the flesh we may become faint and weary, as did the Wilderness Generation.  We may encounter opposition from within and persecution from without.  Yet it is especially in these moments that we are exhorted to keep on believing and keep on obeying, persevering to the end.  It is here that we may realize that the holding on was through no efforts of our own, but by the preserving hand of Almighty God who has held on to us every step of the way.

 

 

*eschatological – final; ultimate end.

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