As We Think, We Live
I look at my world and I try to make sense of it. As a Christian, I desire to fit the pieces together, at least, to the point where I am able to function within the parameters of my own conscience. In this, I am no different than any other, for the space in which I live must somehow exist in harmony, so I take to myself certain beliefs, or principles by which the world around me conforms to a central reality. And make no mistake about it…from the most stringent legalist mind to the most liberal…as we think, so we live!
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain Philippians 1:21
And without this foundation the best theology is in vain, for Christ, Himself, is life! Though you may strive to find fault with things I write, it is my intent only to stir your heart and mind to a greater understanding of a person…Jesus Christ, and to Him alone. And this is where I believe theology is found and understood to be true: if it begins and ends in Him! This may sound rather simplistic, but there is much that has disguised itself as Christianity that when exposed to this simple concept is revealed as nothing more than bloated, human logic. And I have seen many of my own views that I had held as dear to myself crumble and fall. And though much that I had thought to be part and parcel with Christianity has fallen by the wayside, amazingly, the pre-eminence of Christ and his gospel has not only not lost it’s centrality and dominance in my thinking…it has grown in importance to all that I think and believe and do. As a personal note, that which I now hold most dearly is that which has come through great turmoil and struggle; for many fears and false securities were found hiding underneath particular beliefs!
Years ago, a good friend of mine had described how words and concepts have come to mean different things to different people. Basically, a word is like an empty can in the mind of a person. You may fill that can with all kinds of ideas and thoughts that might or might not be true, but to you it is true because it agrees with what you put in the can. Even if the ideas in the can are good or correct thoughts they still may not match the label. I have a lot of cans and boxes and bottles around my house, and most of the time when I am looking for a specific item that has been put in the wrong place I usually can’t find it when I need it. I got all this good stuff all over the place, but it doesn’t do me any good in the wrong can!
And that’s just looking at good things put in the wrong place. What about stuff that’s no good no matter what can it’s in? You and I have a lot of that trash, too. In reality, we were called with a mind full of futility and darkened understanding; and we deceive ourselves if we think that we are not to this day affected by the old, dead thoughts. As a matter of fact, God is well-pleased to have left us here to live as new creations in the presence of that to which we have died! And He reveals this grace to us in such a way that goes far beyond mere book knowledge. As He opens our eyes we will know that He works in and through us…those who least deserve it!
But back to the cans. Our head is full of these cans, but what is really in them? Fear and pride and impurities and anger and resentment and such things as that. And with these God will most certainly deal. Some futile ideas will jump from one can to another in an attempt to stay valid and alive. Some trash will find cans with compatible doctrines in them. Yes, make no mistake about it, for if religious history shows nothing else it proves to me that the two co-exist quite comfortably! Bible verses (with perverted thinking) have harbored many fears and hates. And we have in our own thinking wrong thoughts nestled in under the cover of “Christian” truth.
Before you cast me off as one who looks to pooh-pooh anyone who doesn’t believe the same as I do, let me say this: I am thoroughly convinced that there are those who in their living actually live out a stronger faith than many who profess to believe the doctrine behind that belief. Take the battle between Sovereignty vs. Free-will. I have seen those who steadfastly preach election behave as if God is not truly in control when a trial shakes his faith; and on the other hand, one who insists that salvation is his own decision comes to pray that God will interfere with another’s free-will. What am I saying? Only this: things are not as they appear…even to yourself! Christianity is life and not a doctrine. And I say this as one who loves doctrine. What you say you believe and what you actually do believe may be two different things, and you may need to change one or the other…or both. Hey, when you find yourself agreeing with what you have been opposing, don’t be too surprised.
Do I seek controversy? No, but truth has always been controversial all by itself. I do want to shake up some of those cans…and there are an awful lot of cans in 1 John (John didn’t put them there by the way). I will present some things that you may already agree with, but may not realize that John was teaching that particular truth. You may disagree with much of what I see in 1 John and that’s OK, for you may actually live the faith I speak of. But please be open to the Spirit of God if He shows you something different.
As we think, we live. And many believers live under the strain of a system that is not very Christian. It does affect you more than you know. 1 John teaches freedom and assurance and joy and the pure truth of new life and yet many come away with bondage and insecurities and fear and a totally distorted view of who a Christian really is. With the exception of a few favorite verses, most do not venture too far into 1 John. Consider this: John does not try to tell us how to live the Christian life, but instead he describes what life in Christ is! I do not suggest a few minor changes in understanding this letter, but instead a whole different mind-set. I am sure there are others who have taught this view, but I have not yet seen it, so I cannot blame this on someone else!
Actually, I am quite humbled by the understanding that much of my digging has only brought me to the point that the original readers of the letter probably understood at the first reading, for they did not have to wade through all the accumulated religious slime that has formed all over John’s writing. And on top of that we have further distorted the words by our own darkened understanding.
Have you ever stared at one of those picture puzzles that if looked at in a certain way actually has a definite image within it? Once seen, it becomes hard not to see it. What was just a jumble of scribbles or dots or lines has taken on an undeniable shape. I have often wondered how I could not have seen it before. And yet I only stand at the threshold of insight. But it is an exciting, mind-boggling, living view!
If I were not sure that what I have to share was intensely needed by the body of Christ I would be wasting my time. For what I teach does not make for nice Bible studies. I do not offer advice, nor am I giving some kind of steps to holy living, for there are none! But of this I know…I present to you the life of Jesus Christ; that life that has been raised from the dead and dies no more! That life that is now in those who have come to Him. That life that when seen as in a glimpse has the power to blow the roof off of our house.
Dare to believe beyond theology, for the love of Christ surpasses knowledge. I may know all the books of the Bible forward and backward and be able to quote verses for every given situation. I may hold a doctorate in Biblical Theology and teach with conviction the attributes of God. But do I dare to believe the overwhelmingly obvious inference of what it means to be…
in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 1 Corinthians 1:30
1 John is full of the reality of that which is in Christ Jesus, who is in us. The Word of God compels us to consider it. For it is one thing to believe in the God who truly is and to believe that He alone is Holy; and yet another thing all together to accept that the One and Only God of the universe dwells in us in all His fullness! For anything beyond the most superficial notion of His indwelling provokes such a strong reaction in most believers that it has been safely labeled “Positional Truth”…but I would hold forth to you that this is the mystery of the Gospel and not a side issue!
It has been said that hindsight is 20/20…but I often wonder about that. Our libraries are bloated with endless perspectives on history, but the overwhelming number of discrepancies between the accounts cause me to question the reliability of 100% accuracy. Somehow, we think that even though we haven’t the faintest idea what is happening right in front of our eyes we can see it more clearly after it is done. We have also heard it said that those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it. Now, I may personally agree with this, but which version do I take heed to?
The problem with understanding history is really quite simple in that it is about multitudes of complex people and their interrelation over the course of time. Cold, hard facts can not tell the story accurately because the facts are intermingled with the perception of all who were even remotely involved. Then on top of that there is the perception (or lack of it) added in by the story teller. And if that’s not bad enough we have to deal with deliberate exaggerations or falsified accounts. Of course, the difficulty ends there for I am totally unbiased in my perspective as I read these written records…yeah, sure!
Take an everyday argument, for example, involving just two people. You witness this stuff all the time. Let’s say two of my daughters are having it out (this is just hypothetical, mind you…it doesn’t really happen…yuk, yuk!) and they come to me to explain what really happened. I’m not sure what kind of things you’ve been told during such a session, but it sounds like two different people were in two different locations having a fight with two different people over some other conflict! Whatever really happened is not what I’m being told. Now, imagine what my wife is perceiving about the matter after I explain exactly what really happened.
When John wrote this letter there was a philosophy invading the church which was later called Gnosticism, and there has been much written on the subject. And there are very different views as to it’s origins, which severely influences how it is understood. There is value in researching the historical accounts of Gnosticism, but take caution that you do not tailor your understanding of Gnosticism to demand the interpretation you desire! And I do believe that this is one of the major problems with the contemporary views of 1 John.
What was a Gnostic? Did his specific beliefs make him what he was? Did he have a certain appearance or mannerisms which gave him away? Are there Gnostics around today? And if I knew what a Gnostic looked like back during the time 1 John was written would I still recognize him today? Consider something a little more familiar: a dollar bill. You know what a buck is. You’ve grown up understanding it’s importance, and you know one when you see one. But is the first dollar bill you held in your hand the same as the one you now use when you buy something you want? It is still the standard monetary unit of the U.S. and is still equal to 100 cents, but it doesn’t buy the same amount of stuff that it used to! So, it’s the same, but it isn’t! That first bill I ever touched as a small child would more closely resemble a $10 bill today! And if I did not adjust my perception of the changing nature of a one dollar bill I would not be able to function financially, because I would not truly recognize the thing I thought was so familiar. My understanding would be so linked to my past perception that I would be fooled by the familiar appearance, and I would be one of the last people that you would want to get financial advice from.
Yes, I am going somewhere with this…for I would suggest to you that it is just too easy to get caught up in outdated facts which end up as nothing more than religious trivia. Let’s say you get it all figured out exactly who a Gnostic was, but other than having acquired a bit of information, what would you do with it? Of course, you can always become a teacher and pass on the worthless info—which may give you some sense of satisfaction that you could do something with it—but is knowing how the enemy appeared two millennia ago going to help you if you can’t recognize him now?
Hey, if this stuff was just mere academia then it wouldn’t really make any difference what any of us thought about any of it. If you are approaching this as if it is a battle of opinions, then that’s all you’re going to get out of it; and there is someone who is very pleased to observe a spitting contest. As for me, I’m saving my saliva for digestive purposes. Furthermore, I couldn’t care less about winning an argument with you, it’s just too non-productive. And the intellectual realm is one of his favorite hiding places.
Getting an accurate view of history has value. But if you were engaged in battle it would prove fatal if you knew how the enemy dressed during every previous war known to mankind, but had no idea what he looked like right now! Our enemy has a strategy…and it is far more important to know how he operates than to know his prior disguises.
There’s a good bit of the Gnostic’s MO (modus operandi…mode of operation) seen in the name that has been applied to this thinking. For the word comes from the Greek word gnosis which means knowledge. And there seems to be a general consensus of opinion that this philosophy held to a secret knowledge that was crucial to their view of God. I think they perceived the attainment of union with God by means of this special knowledge, in contrast with the declared way provided by the blood of Jesus. But somehow, these Gnostics were not only tolerated, they seemed to have achieved positions of respect in the Christian community. Their influence returned the believers to fear-based living which eroded their confidence. There is so much more to be said about these people, but the letter itself reveals their character by way of contrasts. Look for it as you are reading.
There is a specific source of background that seems to be mostly overlooked when considering the first letter of John…John’s own writings! By this I refer to the account he wrote known as the Book of John. Now, I have heard some lame excuses given to claim that the subject matter is too different to make much of a comparison. But consider how well known John would have been to the Christians of his day…this guy lived quite a long life according to tradition. And his stories, most certainly, were passed all throughout the churches that knew him. Simply stated, the Book of John is the best reference for the letter. If it seems that I spend to much time dealing with passages from it, then I only ask your patience, for the end result should prove worthwhile.
The Word of Life
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life—and the Life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— 1 John 1:1-2
John starts with “What was from the beginning”. In his gospel account he starts with “In the beginning was the Word”. To which beginning does he refer? His or ours? How about the most obvious:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth Genesis 1:1
Take a quick look at that which Genesis, John and 1 John have in common:
- The beginning–Genesis 1:1; John 1:1; 1 John 1:1
- The assumption of God (declared, not explained)–same verses
- Creation–Genesis 1&2; John 1:1-5; 1 John 1:1 (“Word of Life”)
- Darkness–Genesis 1:2; John 1:5; 1 John 1:5&6
- Light–Genesis 1:3; John 1:4; 1 John 1:5
- The Word–Genesis 1:3 (“Then God said”); John 1:1; 1 John 1:1
- Separation of Light from Darkness–Genesis 1:4; John 1:5; 1 John 1:5
- Day & Night–Genesis 1:5; John 8:4
- Spirit & Water–Genesis 1:2; John 3:5; 1 John 5:6&8
- Life produces after it’s kind–Genesis 1:11; John 3:6; 1 John 2:29; 3:9
- Cain & Abel–Genesis 4; 1 John 3:12
Hopefully, it is clear enough that this is not mere coincidence! And I truly believe that John saw the connection of what the Spirit guided him in writing.
And in the beginning God created by speaking into existence all that has ever been made. Who, among us, even the enemies of God is not aware of the phrase, “Let there be light”? Sure, we all know who supposedly said it (at least, here in the civilized world), and as a kid, I can remember hitting the light switch synchronously with speaking that creative phrase and the lights would magically come on (and I didn’t even know what synchronously meant!). There was something about that feeling of power that would motivate me and others time and again to go through those same motions even though we all knew why the lights came on.
Power…the power of creation, just by the spoken word; this is a universal concept. The masters of this world speak the word and it is expected to be done (and each of us are masters of our own little worlds). The magicians also strive to create the illusion that they do their magic with a word. We live in world that is filled with puffed up words of people who desire to have that elusive last word. Maybe, having been created in the image of the only true God, who spoke our very being into existence, has given us an automatic respect for the power of the word, but in a twisted expectation of our own evil desires. And the history of our world is a dramatic display of the bloody conflicts that have been waged over whose words are the true and final authority!
The Word of God–the Word of Life–went forth out of the mouth of God and gave all things their being. “Let there be…let there be…let there be…” Genesis, chapter 1 records. Did you know that you were looking at a person in those words?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He (literally: this one) was in the beginning with God. All things came into being though Him; and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being John 1:1-3
It had been understood, as recorded in the Psalms that…
By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host…For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. Psalm 33:6,9
I think John shocked and/or delighted many when he revealed that the creative Word had a personality!
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, John 1:14
The Word came to be born in the form of a man and John saw the Word, he heard the Word, he touched the Word, and he beheld the Word! This is what the apostles proclaimed and bore witness of…He who is called the Word of Life and the eternal life!
And you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins Matthew 1:21
Don’t miss the connection…”Jesus” is not just another name for “the Word” or “the Life”; He was not called by the name of Jesus before the incarnation (born as a man). The name for Jesus does not speak of His existence, or of His being, for that name was given Him in connection with us and our forgiveness and salvation. Don’t speak the name as if it fits a formula for understanding God, or as if it were the handle for the “second person of the Trinity”. But speak His precious name with awe and wonder of the glory that the Father has placed upon the meaning of His name, the name that is above all other names. “The Word” speaks of His very existence and the power of God in the creation of all things; Jesus is the name of the Word made flesh, who came to die on a cross for the sins of His people!
Do you also see that He is called the eternal life? I wrote a song years ago and the words express some of my thoughts regarding the misunderstanding I believe we have of life itself.
You’ve been traveling down the road to life for a long, long time
You’ve had your eyes on those pearly gates, sometimes you feel like you’re straining
“Heaven is a wonderful place” you keep telling yourself
You keep your head in the clouds, ‘cause you’re so afraid that maybe you’re dreaming
Everyday is just one more step till you reach the door
Some days you’re hoping that He comes real soon, some days you’re not too sure
You find it hard to visualize the streets of gold
You try to hide your secret fear that eternal life is gonna get old!
What does it mean to exist for eternity?
It’s got to be something more that the kind of life we’re so used to living
Even if we took out all of the bad, what do we got left?
Take selfish motives away and you find there ain’t no reason for giving
Somewhere between fact and fantasy we got thoughts of heaven
We got some strange ideas that are not much different from pagan
Everyone’s looking for a place where pleasures are forever
Is this what you call, is this what you call Eternal Life?
What is this gift of God that’s called Eternal Life?
Are we to know in time what it is really like?
What is this gift of God that’s called Eternal Life?
Have we the eyes to see this invisible sight?
We talk about heaven…and it’s easy, ‘cause it’s so far down the road
Do we really believe that Eternal Life is just a place we go to when we die?
Can we see past our own earthly ideas?
‘cause real life is something much more than man’s mind can explore
with all the wisdom of the world
This is Eternal Life, that we may know our God!
That last phrase is taken from John 17:3–
And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You has sent. John 17:3
The basic understanding of eternal life is declared by John to be a person and a relationship! This is the same writer who penned the book of the Revelation, from where we have gathered verses to support the false concept that eternal life is a place! Sure, we will be in the heavenlies, but the where does not define the what. Jesus Christ, Himself, and the relationship we have with Him and His Father is what Eternal Life is all about, and this, my friends, far surpasses anything you could ever imagine!
An added thought: have you ever noticed how few scriptures seem to state that “Jesus is God”? I know, I have looked carefully for those verses that would “convince the gainsayers”. I even used to wonder why God wasn’t a little more clear on teachings of such importance; after all, we had doctrinal statements that were more to the point! And it disturbed me when a fellow-student cynically pointed it out to me years ago. Didn’t God want people to know that Jesus was deity?
Think with me a moment: when someone is playing word games with me, I can pretty sure that the wording is not accidental, but instead is designed to be deceptive. If I don’t catch on in time I will hear those exact words repeated back to me with emphasis added in the right spot. For though I may have to admit I said it or agreed with it I was actually bamboozled…taken advantage of by their wit. Anyone who has had kids has come against such intentional misleading. You know how it goes, you learned it as a kid and refined it as an adult. You can get away with anything if you word it the right way.
And this type of reasoning is quite common with religion. A phrase I have heard more than once is, “If you can show me a verse that says it exactly like this, then I will believe it.” The first few times I heard this said I took it as a sincere challenge, but after I got a little bit wiser, I realized that I was being set up. The one who was asking for a Bible verse would not have believed it if I had found one that said exactly what he had asked for.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that we back off in presenting Christ to those who see Him as just a man, but instead that we understand that it is not in our logic or masterful presentation that one comes to see who Jesus really is. After all, the more clearly I present Christ to the unbeliever the more foolish my message will appear to him!
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached (this phrase is a description of how those of the world estimates the gospel) to save those who believe 1 Corinthians 1:21
Let us be bold and declare Him in truth knowing that God saves those who believe the message that their human reasoning views as absurd! And let us never be apologetic for believing the ridiculous assertion that in Him and in Him alone is life,
for the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God 1 Corinthians 1:18
So, what’s the point? Just this: while I am looking for words, I may easily miss the Word! Do I really think that God is concerned with word games? Maybe while I’m trying to convince others I’m actually trying to convince myself. But those who are born of God hear the words of God. It is not an intellectual reasoning that persuades, it is God, Himself. Hear this…in everything He is declared to be…
the exact representation of His nature Hebrews 1:3
Listen to His words, consider His actions, behold His character, examine His attributes, ponder His death and resurrection. The scriptures ooze with the reality that the life in Christ was the Spirit of God … and we look for a verse to prove it!
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…and the life was manifested. John 1:14
What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. 1 John 1:3-4
I have this 5-gallon paint bucket next to my desk that I use for trash. If you were to look at it you could tell at a glance that it was not originally sold as a garbage pail; but being the frugal guy that I am (or maybe just a cheapskate) it does just fine. There is such a can at most religious functions that has a label on it that reads: Fellowship. After all, what is fellowship? Is it what happens when you go to church? Or is it the special little gatherings after the regular worship service that are named such? How about the clubs that are called fellowships? Hey, even the financial grant given to a fellow at a university is also called a fellowship (Ok, so we could easily rule that out). But mixed into this can there is the concept of our relationship with Christ. So, will the real fellowship please stand up!
When Christians speak of their relationship with Christ what do they really mean? Let’s face it, the idea is a little ethereal from the get go, and this phrase is difficult, at best, to pin down. The desire of the heart in the believer seems to be the improving of this ethereal relationship, but what if we are trying to improve something that cannot be made better? Are you struggling to gain some better standing with our Lord? Believe me, I know the intense feelings of coming before Him in sincere shame…but there is a new and living way.
The word fellowship has been used to describe a believer’s condition as in the phrases “in fellowship” or “out of fellowship” (neither of which appear in 1 John, where they supposedly have been taken from). This usage is quite relative, and seems to shift depending on who is speaking and/or how we happen to feel at the given moment. Consider this: what is the standard by which a person is labeled “in” or “out” of fellowship? How far in is in, and how far our is out? If the presence of sin in a believer’s life causes him to be out of fellowship, then all believers are out of fellowship most of their existence on earth. If it is said to be certain degrees of sin that cause the loss of fellowship, then we have adopted a view that sounds very close to Romanism with categories of sin (i.e. mortal or venial). Scripture doesn’t teach anything like this, especially not the letter before us.
God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all 1 John 1:5
So what is fellowship? It simply means communion, or sharing in common. And John states that we “have fellowship”, and he does not suggest that we slip in or out of it! This is an objective truth, not subjective and therefore, not relative. What in the heck does that mean? It means that you are out of the equation! It means that how you feel, or what you do, or what you think has nothing whatsoever to do with it. Sounds pretty heretical, doesn’t it? Listen to how Paul says in 1 Corinthians that we have been…
called into fellowship with Jesus Christ 1 Corinthians 1:9
…and nowhere does he imply that we fall out of it (even in the famous “fallen from grace” verse in Galatians), but instead he rests everything he wrote on the reality that…
…nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:39
Believers are those who have been called out of the darkness and into the light.
As a father of three girls, I have given them names. I call them by the names that I have bestowed upon them. Even if one of my daughters decides not to be called by her true name, does she lose that name or her birthright? If her friends call her by an alias, is she any less the person as named by her father? Isn’t the confusion found in the relativity of the minds involved in the confusion as to who my daughter really is? Nothing can change the fact that she is my own daughter and no name or lack of name given her after the fact can alter what is true. DNA testing would show her to be my daughter regardless of the alterations made to her outward appearance or to the alias claimed. Sure, we have all heard of fathers who have disowned their children, but even then does the father’s delusion change the reality that the child is always his own? Can he go back in time and undo the union that brought it to pass? Though I may rue the day it cannot be undone!
Why are we so quick to assume that God is such a negligent father toward His kids? Isn’t the mix up in our own heads?
The Lord knows those who are His 2 Timothy 2:19
And this is wonderful to know because I get so screwed up so quick that if was up to me we would all be orphans without a father! And for the same reason, I am glad that it is not dependent upon you, either. I would hate to think that my relationship to Christ was such a flimsy thing that either one of us could alter it! It is difficult enough as it is to deal with my own identity crisis since I am so easily deceived as to the true nature of spiritual realities without having to figure in a God who has mood swings! No, no! He knows…I am the one who can’t remember who or what I am when I have been awaken from sleep!
The simple truth according to John is that we had nothing in common with God, but now we are sharers, partakers with God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Here is a good description of fellowship in John
…and this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you has sent John 17:3
Do not expect to understand this reality if you do not see yourself as having been…
…separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world Ephesians 2:12
The new reality is…
but now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ Ephesians 2:13
Fellowship is an objective truth accomplished by God and is not regulated or lost by any of man’s doings. Maybe this truth frightens you, for what restraints are left to keep us in line? Know this, if you are of Christ, your life is not as it was in any sense. Stop thinking in terms of needing the guardrails of the world to keep you from falling!
When John declares that we can have fellowship with God and His Son Jesus Christ, he speaks of that which is concrete and definite! There was nothing before, but now we are related to God through His Son, Jesus. We have been given…
the right to become children of God John 1:12
Now, try to ask those shifting questions in the light of our relatedness to Him: How is your relatedness (relationship) to God today, brother? Are you in or out? Has God thrown you out of the family and withdrawn your birthright lately? Or does He still claim you as His child?
Maybe you don’t enjoy fellowship with Him as much from one day to the next, but that is an entirely different matter, and if we try to displace the realities of God with our observations of Christian living, then we can only do damage to our understanding of fellowship. Hold to the truth of God even though for all appearances you are not what God describes. For as always…
…man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7
…and He knows our heart better than we know our own.
I know that I have not covered all that can to be said concerning fellowship as it fits into 1 John yet, for the trash can has been shaken but not dumped, but I will show how it ties into the seeming contradictions of verses such as…
if we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 1 John 1:6
And I hope that you will see that I will not have twisted any scriptures to do so, but instead only unraveled the twisted and frayed knot of religious minds. Do both of us a favor, though. Don’t look for a flashing light or an arrow saying, “This is it!”, for it will be riddled throughout the whole discussion without being announced. Do you remember the scene in “The Lion King” (assuming you saw it) where Rafiki (the baboon) tells Simba (the lion king heir) to look into the pool to see his father? But all Simba saw was his own reflection, until Rafiki commands him to, “Look harder!”…at which time Simba indeed sees his father’s face looking back at him. So, to you I say, Look harder!
Regardless of how much you are willing to accept, if, at the least, I am able to challenge some of your thought processes concerning the idea of fellowship, I will have succeeded. My real intention, though, is that you will gain more confidence in you standing with God through His Son, Jesus, and that you will count on this fellowship as a position given to you, through faith, by your Father because of the work of Christ on the cross. And that you will rejoice in the reality that you are now a partaker of God. And that you will never overlook the fact that this inexhaustible well holds all you will ever need to live before God in victory, for it is the very life of God from which you partake!
Wasn’t “Apostolic Authority” made up by the church? And shouldn’t it be avoided at all cost? What is really in question here? Most Christian doctrines do have their root in Biblical truth and by avoiding or ignoring such teachings we may be cheating ourselves! Does the Word of God belong to any particular religion or group of people so that we need to stay away from their pet verses or doctrines? All truth is God’s truth, and just because a truth has been tainted by the touch of man, we should not discount the truth that lies buried under the dirt of man’s logic.
So, how do I suggest that Apostolic Authority fits into the teaching of 1 John? Actually, it’s very simple. Just look at the pronouns that John has used…we heard, we saw, we beheld, we proclaimed it to you so that you may have fellowship with us, etc…. Who do you think he is referring to? I know who you assume it to be because it is the same way I have read it and the same way it was read to me! But it’s not you, me, the preacher, the so-called laity or clergy…it’s not us! I know it’s hard to swallow because it goes down like a rock…I have the scars to prove it! Just remember, you and I weren’t there when this letter came out…it was written a long, long time ago. And I know we like to read this as if it was God’s love letter to us personally, but the guy who wrote it and the guys who read it are long gone and their bones have turned to dust by now. I do not write this in denial of the inspiration of the scriptures, but in rejection of how we read it!
Obviously, I consider this important. And even though this seems to remove the personal element found in reading the Bible, I have discovered that my understanding of my Father, and Jesus, my brother, has become more, not less intimate by reading the Word as being written to someone else. I am sure that I am not alone with the gut feeling that I must make something real to myself for it to be so. But I have enjoyed coming to a position where I am not afraid of approaching the Word of God honestly (or should I say, at face value?). It cannot become any more real by my efforts, nor can it become less real by reading it as it is written. God’s Word is real, and my attempts to make it more real may actually hinder the true meaning and the Spirit who opens my eyes!
The consideration of the writer and those written to is of critical importance. This is not mere historical trivia that can be set aside; for to ignore it is to remove the true personal touch that was designed by God. Listen to the things John wrote in his gospel regarding the unique position held by the apostles:
Jesus answered them, “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” John 6:70
Jesus, knowing that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. John 13:1
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. John 13:20
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one anther. John 13:34-35)
“He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us, and not to the world?” John 14:21-22
No longer do I call you slaves; for the slave does not know what his master is doing, but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give it you. John 5:15-16
But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. John 16:13
I manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; Yours they were, and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word…I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours;…While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them, and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled…As You did send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:6,9,12,18,19
This is indeed a privileged group of men, and I repeat, men. There is no substantiation to the practice of praying to or worshipping them (remember Peter’s reaction when Cornelius fell down and worshipped him?
Stand up; I, too, am just a man. Acts 10:26
Outside of Paul being chosen by Christ after the resurrection, there have been no other apostles (in this understanding of apostleship) since then. Apostle does mean “sent one”, and in that general regard, the term is expanded, but first, please consider the inauguration of the new covenant through these specific men that were hand-picked by Jesus. But then how do we fit into the picture?
I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; John 17:20
The apostles represented Christianity in toto (the whole) and that which is true in them is also true in us through the word they preached. So, you see, we are included, but the distinction is essential in how we read their words…though the original writers, letters, and audience is long gone!
When John says, “we”, he speaks of this apostolic authority–the chosen of Christ in this world–which represents all that is true of Christianity. It is the editorial “we” of one who speaks on behalf of Christ. In John’s presentation, he claims the fellowship they have with God may be experienced by those who hear their word! As he continues, he makes a clear-cut distinction between those who are of God and those who are not. This division is highlighted by his use of we as he demonstrates what can and cannot be Christianity. Yes, he is saying that if you don’t hear their word, then you do not share their fellowship! Rather arrogant, don’t you think? But this is the basis for true unity, not division! Today, how many who claim this apostleship only use it to exclude all but their own sect?
Take a look at how Paul uses this style of presentation to bring his point home to those whom he writes…
Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written 1 Corinthians 4:6
The similarity here will become more apparent in the next section. Also, in Galatians, Paul declares,
But even though we or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed Galatians 1:8
This rings with authority, for Paul basically states that any gospel other than that which was preached by himself is a fraud! That which was given him by God stands as the litmus test of the gospel message. Notice, though, how his use of we drives home the truth that the gospel cannot be changed. And anyone who does so, even himself or and angel from heaven, is not to be believed! If he holds himself accountable to his own message, then surely those who were perverting the gospel in the Galatian churches, regardless of their standing, would be seen as under the anathema of God.
The apostles proclaimed Christ Jesus, the Word, the Life to others so that they could enter into the fellowship they had together with God, the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ; that precious union of…
…because I live, you shall live also…I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you John 14:19-20
This is the result of the proclamation: fellowship with God. John wrote…
And these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete 1 1:4
Notice that he did not write, “so that we may cause you to feel guilty and insecure in your fellowship with God.”
I did not stick this section in as a filler of any kind, for it will become quite apparent that the whole first and second chapters are seen in a different light when viewed from the perspective of the author. Why don’t you stop right now and re-read 1 John 1 and 1 John 2 on your own and look at it from his eyes?
God is light
And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all 1 John 1:5
Why is this the message? Why does John seem to leave out the very essence of the gospel? And why is it not more like Paul’s statement to the Corinthians where he says,
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4
Now, this is the same guy who recorded the verse we call John 3:16, so he is obviously not ignoring the facts as stated by Paul…his writings are full of gospel truth. No, John is not overlooking the gospel, but the more I examine this declaration, I have come to the conclusion that he is looking through it! He has peered deep down inside it, for it is the door to God. He sees the Christ who died and rose again, and it shows him the God who is light. And doesn’t this fit with the words that John has recorded of Christ, who claimed to be the door, and the way, and the LIGHT? So, when John says that the message is “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” he not only assumes the work of Christ on the cross is relevant, he leans totally upon it! He actually announces to us Jesus!
No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him John 1:18
Remember, the gospel was never declared to be an end in itself, it is the declaration of the very essence of God:
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And HE is the radiance of His glory, and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; Hebrews 1:3
And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all 1 Corinthians 15:28
So, here is John, who actually beheld and touched and saw the ONE who is the very declaration of God; the ONE who when seen, showed the Father:
Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.” John 14:9-10
Tie these thoughts back to the concept presented by John regarding the Word,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. John 1:1-2
“…that God may be all in all.” The Word became flesh and hung on a cross and rose from the grave…John was a witness and declared what he saw. And when he saw this Jesus, he saw that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all!
Walking in the light vs. Walking in darkness
If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself 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
Here are two more terms that need to be redefined, two more cans that could stand some examination of their contents, which are the companion phrases, “walking in the light” vs. “walking in the darkness”. And by redefined I simply mean that the original meaning must be rediscovered; and we don’t have to look very hard or very far to find it. So that we’re on the same page let me tell you how I have come to hear these terms described. I think it will sound somewhat familiar.
Walking in the light is generally identified with one or more of the following: living a good Christian life; being obedient to God; being in fellowship; being close to God; being confessed up; not sinning, etc. These may appear to be dissimilar, but in reality they share a common basis: conditions to be met by the individual. I must ask the question again…how much is enough? Perfection is the standard. Not ours, but God’s, for God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all.
Walking in the darkness, on the other hand, conjures up the idea of a Christian who is: out of fellowship; being controlled by his sin nature; not close to God; disobedient; having unconfessed sin, etc. Once again, it is really the same: performance, or the lack of it. But where is the line one must cross from darkness into the light, and vice versa? If you were to view that question at face value you would know the answer!
Just as fellowship with God is a definite, non-shifting reality, this concept is likewise a stable truth by which you can know where you stand, for John has left no room for doubt. So, get out your scrub brush because there’s lots of slime to remove in order to see the words clearly!
The gospel of John opens with the claim that the word…
was life; and the life was the light of men John 1:4
He is also called…
the true light John 1:9
Let there be no misunderstanding that the light referred to is Jesus Christ, and it is upon Him that these concepts find their significance and their certainty. According to what John wrote, mankind is broken up into two categories:
And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. John 3:19-21
Notice that all those who do evil are those who walk in the darkness…they hate the light and will not come to it. Not too much relativity concerning this category. This is…
that which is born of the flesh John 3:6
And this means that all of us have been intimately acquainted with it. But this is only the first half of your reality if you have believed in Christ…and it is past history! So why do those who do wrong hate the light and not walk in it? It exposes their evil deeds. The darkness does not cause sin, but it does cover it. Remember this.
Now, who is the one who practices the truth? One thing is for sure, it is not he which is born of the flesh. But here is the new reality:
that which is born of the Spirit is spirit John 3:6
Who was born of the Spirit? Let me give you a hint…Jesus! He came…
….and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth John 1:14
But there is more…
Again, therefore, Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world; he who follows me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.’ John 8:12
The emphasis usually given to this verse is on the word “follows” and those who emphasize it so are taken up with the conditions that need to be met in order to be followers of Jesus. Wrong emphasis, wrong understanding, wrong interpretation! First of all, the context must be adhered to. Who is Jesus talking to? Once this is established then the phrase “he who follows Me” will take on a new meaning. This is no secret. These words have been recorded for two centuries! Jesus was confronting the Pharisees. Look it up for yourself and listen to the other things he says to them right after that.
You know neither Me nor My Father…unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins…you seek to kill Me because My word has no place in you…if God were your Father, you would love Me…you are of your father, the devil…he who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God. John 8:13,19,24,37,42,44,47
These statements leave no doubt that the men being addressed were those who walk in the darkness! They were not walking in the light, for whatever is meant by following Jesus it is obvious that they did not!
So what is the focus that makes this whole thing so clear to me? Let your heart rest on this thought: it is Jesus. He is the light of the world and He claims that “he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness”. Look and you will see that it is always Jesus Christ that is the focal point of understanding.
He who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life. John 8:12
Can you see the connection to this:
but he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. John 3:21
We follow Him to the light. He is the light!
that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. John 3:6
This is our new reality in Christ: we have come to Him, we have followed Him, we have received Him. And now we walk in Him IN THE LIGHT! And we shall not walk in the darkness anymore because we are in Him, who is the Light.
You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life. I have come in My Father’s name and you do not receive Me; if another shall come in his own name, you will receive him. John 5:39,40,43
There is Christ and then there is everyone else. He is the true light and there is no other. To follow Him is to reject all others. It is not a religious choice, it is to choose against everything that your soul comprehends. To hide in the darkness, even by religious means, is that which is natural to man. To follow Jesus is to be exposed to the light. Don’t forget this.
In the ninth chapter of John we read the account of Jesus opening the eyes of the man born blind. Here we have a very clear picture of those who walk in the darkness and one who was called to walk in the light. Having been asked whose sin caused the blindness,
Jesus answered, “it was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:3
If this sounds familiar it should:
but he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God John 3:21
Now this miracle does attest to the deity of Christ, but it is the specific character of Him being the light of the world that is brought into focus here, through the opening of blind eyes. Without Him there is only darkness for He is the light. God said, Let there be light…the Word went forth and there was light, for He is the Light. Listen to what He says just before He applies the clay, made from His spit, to the blind man’s eyes (and I hope you can see some significance in that picture…remember, the Word went forth and created all that is):
while I am in the world, I am the light of the world. John 9:5
The blind has his sight restored and now comes the clash between religion and truth. Here is the Pharisee’s confidence:
that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness Romans 2:19
And so they stand in judgment around this man looking for some way to disprove the obvious, because they were the accepted caretakers of the Law, they were perceived as those who knew the will of God. But these same men claimed that Jesus was not from God (John 9:16), that He was a sinner, and they did not know where He was from (John 9:24). To them he was a nobody!
Now, hear the words of the man who had been given sight and notice how his insight becomes progressively clearer (keep in mind that he has not yet seen Jesus with his physical eyes):
He is a prophet John 9:17
whether He is a sinner I do not know; one thing I do know, that whereas I was blind, now I see John 9:25
well here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes John 9:30
if this man were not from God, He could do nothing John 9:33
Lord, I believe…and He worshipped Him. John 9:38
Does this unfolding realization display some indication of conditions needing to be met before salvation? The story does not back up such a fallacy. Was the man saved because he finally said “Lord, I believe”? I don’t think so. Consider this: He is standing alone with no one to help him, and he is being questioned by those whom he has respected as the authorities of the Law. As he is answering, he knows that he is in jeopardy of being ousted from the house of God, and yet he speaks that which is rapidly formulating within his thoughts. The more the Pharisees reject and revile, the more obvious it becomes to him. The Pharisees finally have had enough and they say,
“You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” and they put him out. John 9:34
The Pharisee’s statement clearly reflected the assessment of the natural mind, for they could not understand. The light shines in the darkness, the blind is given sight and he recognizes his former blindness. He attributes to Christ that which is true, and recognizes Him as the Lord, the giver of sight. Those in the darkness run from the light because their deeds are evil. They despise the name of Jesus and call Him evil…they walk in darkness! The man who comes to the light can do nothing but declare the works of the Lord!
The end of this confrontation reveals much, for Jesus declares the reality of the situation:
For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see; and those who see may become blind John 9:39
“Is He suggesting that we need to have our eyes opened as well?” was the thought of the Pharisees as they replied,
“We are not blind, too, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see’; your sin remains” John 9:41
This is a devastating judgment, for He gives to those who have nothing and takes from those who think they have something. If they had been blind in the sense that the healed man was, then they would have been healed by Jesus and He would have forgiven them of their sin. Paul wrote,
And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief 1 Timothy 1:13
But these saw His works and still rejected Him, claiming to see. Their sin remained and
the wrath of God abides on [them] John 3:36
Those who see may become blind. Have you ever been in the dark and someone flashed a light in your eyes? The darkness became pitch black when the light went out.
Chapter 11 contains a reference to the concept of light and darkness that adds another thought.
If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world, but if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, the light is not in him. John 11:9-10
This should be obvious to anyone who has ever walked in the dark without some kind of light. For you fall over everything! So it is for those who are not in Christ; they stumble because there is no light in them. Walk in the same place in the light and you will not stumble. Can we honestly read what John has described and then suggest that a Christian can walk in the darkness? Maybe we see things in one another’s lives that cannot be considered good, but do we dare, by the old perspective, disregard the reality that Christ has established through His death and resurrection by calling his Light to be darkness?
To walk in the light describes a miracle, not a set of conditions. Because Christ is the Light, those who are in Him walk in the light no matter where they are or what they are doing! There are symptoms brought about by this miracle, but they are the effect and not the cause. It refers to the work of God and not of man, for those who come to the light have it exposed that God is doing the works in them! It is the perspective of the natural mind to view this concept as what we do or don’t do.
To walk in the darkness is the state in which the natural man lives. There is no light in him because he does not have Christ! And they walk in the dark no matter where they are or what they are doing! There are symptoms that can be seen in those who are in this state, but the natural mind has no light and it’s perception is wrong no matter how it views itself as either good or evil. To insist that this can refer to a believer’s condition is to agree with the mind that has no light!
If we say
If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with on another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. 1 John 1:6-10
Take a look at these five verses. Do you see the five “ifs” and how they alternate in a very clear pattern? There are three, “if we say” and two, “if we (do)” statements. Compare this to James 2’s, “If a man says…” When all the smoke clears, there are those who say and there are those who do…but be very careful lest you misjudge what is meant by that statement, for the natural mind definitely has it’s own thoughts on the subject.
What is it about what is said that we are so impressed with? Is it the words? If so, why is it so easy to drift off during discussions of great importance, but hang on every idle word from those in whom we are infatuated? And keep this in mind: most of us have a long time love affair with ourselves! Don’t be fooled, it’s not the quantity of words that one says that proves his love of himself, but instead the seriousness with which he takes his own opinion. Regardless who we listen to the most…bias plays the major role.
There is a popular joke that goes: “How can you tell if a politician is lying?” “If his lips are moving!” Don’t get upset yet, this is not about politicians, it’s about you and me, and how we allow those we know we should distrust to intimidate us into believing them.
By their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. Romans 16:18
In their greed they will exploit you with false words 2 Peter 2:3
I say this in order that no one may delude you with persuasive argument Colossians 2:4
So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts great things…and the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity…no one can tame the tongue James 3:5,6,8
I am reminded of various times in my past when someone took advantage of me by something they said. I can remember well the intense feelings of being cheated and how, after the fact, I stewed over the situation and devised imaginary plans for revenge. But mostly, I kicked myself for having been so naive to have allowed myself to be duped! And yet, I fell into the same dilemma over and over, simply because somebody said, “Trust me”.
Knowing what we do about how words are used to deceive, wouldn’t we be just a little suspicious when we are listening to someone who is proclaiming to be a Christian? Don’t get me wrong on this, I am not suggesting that we are the judges of one another’s faith; but doesn’t something seem out of place when a person is overly concerned that we must accept what they say, as if it is the ultimate test?
Jesus told us that we can know the false prophets by their fruits (Matthew 7:16), and John speaks of real differences between those who are and are not of God. But we make a mistake when we assume the role of Fruit Inspector as if God has given us some special calling to be so. Listen, those who are not of God will give themselves away. Not because we have such a keen sense to detect it, but because light exposes that which is in the dark!
Consider two examples. And keep in mind, you know these people!
- The “Righteous” Brother–He has all the right answers, and he will let you know it. Of course, he claims to be a Christian. He appears to follow the rules, and he makes sure you see it. Because he knows what he’s talking about it’s nice to have him around when you are confronted with questions you can’t answer during a witnessing scenario.
- The Doubting Brother…with problems–This guy feels guilty most of the time and with good reason. He questions his own salvation (heck, you question his salvation). He is often regarded as a bad influence. You find yourself wondering, Can a Christian sin habitually?
How do you view these people? Because of what they say? If so, guy #1 is generally considered a Christian, while guy #2 is usually castigated as an unbeliever by type #1’s. There are assumptions falsely made about both. How about the obvious? #2 has problems because you hear him talk about them; while #1 must not have problems since we don’t. Maybe #2 just doesn’t want to go to the trouble of hiding his problems, maybe he enjoys the attention, or maybe he is just being real with what he sees. How do we know that #1 isn’t going through severe sin problems, but just knows how to hide it well?
Can we really know if one or the other is saved or not? Maybe both are and maybe both aren’t, and I don’t propose we can really know, especially based on superficial observation. But I do believe that John desires to change the way we would regard who is and who isn’t. And the concept is so simple and profound at the same time. As to the fact that John is distinguishing between believers and unbelievers, consider this:
even now many antichrists have arisen…they went out from us, but they were not really of us…By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious…They are from the world…we are from God. 1 John 2:8,19;3:10;4:5&6
John does teach us to listen to what is said, but if a man says, John tells us to listen very carefully, because what the words say may not be the same as what the words claim! If this sounds confusing, as I am well aware that it may, hang on and be patient.
Consider again, the drastic statement of Paul to the Galatians:
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:6-9
Paul didn’t write this to negate the very gospel he was declaring, but doggone if we don’t usually read it that way. If you are at all like me, you find your attention drawn to considering how something I may do could affect my own faith and salvation. But the contents of this letter were written for the express purpose of convincing the Galatian believers that,
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm… Galatians 5:1
For there were some who wanted to deceive them with reasonable sounding words. If you miss Paul’s focus then you cannot understand what he is telling you. Everything he says here is to get your attention on the true gospel, as originally proclaimed by himself. For this is not about you. He holds up the gospel that he had preached to them above any other message, even against another version of his own! For there is no other.
But to us, there are others who may appear to have validity, and this is what he is getting at. He is not describing the unforgivable sin, but he is proclaiming the impossibility of another gospel, no matter who tries to convince you of it. And he is not telling you that you will go to hell if you do the bad thing (for we would have all been in hell by now if that was the case), but he is demanding that we regard anyone who preaches a different gospel, other than the one he received from God, as being accursed, as being one who does not speak from God, but who seeks to please men!
And this is exactly the same place John is coming from: in view of those who are preaching a different gospel (their version of fellowship with God) he says to effect that even if we say it, do not believe it, because there is no fellowship apart from the Light that we proclaimed. The difference between John and Paul’s approach is that Paul examines the gospel as the revelation given by God and, therefore, not to be tampered with; while John zeroes in on the life which is born of God, which can only operate within the parameters of the Light, so that anything outside of the Light is shown to be in the realm of the Liar!
A few thoughts from Matthew:
Not every one who says to Me, “Lord, Lord.” will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father, who is in heaven…Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” Matthew 7:21,23
They say, they say! They apparently did that which others would have accepted as the works of God, but it was just words! How many were fooled? Not Jesus, and He is the only one who counts. “You who practice lawlessness” I am sure that these who were rejected of Christ spoke often of keeping the Law.
And who are those who do the will of God? Sounds like some kind of conditions laid upon the people of God to enter the kingdom of heaven…wrong! Where does good fruit come from? The good tree. How many are good? None, but God alone. Only those who are born of God can be said to fulfill the requirements of the Law…but it is the Spirit producing the works in us. There is an infinite difference between truly keeping the will of God and trying to do so (I’ll deal more fully with this in 1 John 2)! They say, but the reality is not there. Can you see it? Don’t believe the claims of men!
There is a familiar story in Matthew about the judgment of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-36), and I think there may be much more than meets the eye here. Basically, the sheep are told how they ministered to Christ; while the goats are told how they did not do so. Aside from that obvious difference, there is even more said by their responses. The sheep said, When did we do this?, but the goats asked, When did we not do this?. Let’s turn this around. What if the sh4eep had been told that they did not minister to Christ? I would venture that they would have accepted His word without question. But as the story stands, the reaction of the sheep displays the grace of God at work in their lives…they did the will of their Father in heaven and were not aware of it! Talk about no boasting…the glory was God’s alone, because it is quite obvious that the work was thing of Christ. The goats, on the other hand, had no works to present before the Lord…this is the reality. They had nothing to offer so they had no recourse but to say something on their behalf. The sheep had someone to speak for them!
If there is a reality in my life it will be seen; I don’t have to call attention to that which is obvious. If there is nothing to be seen in my life, then all the words I may say will not make it true. If a person has to say it, then there’s a good possibility that there is no truth to the claim.
The truth is not in us
If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. 1 John 1:6-10
Having fellowship with Him, walking in the darkness…the two don’t exactly go together, do they? Can you see the contradiction, not of behavior, but of essence? In other words, John speaks of something that cannot be, not what should not be! God is not in the darkness, so you can’t be in the darkness and partake with Him…period. The whole concept of walking in the light as opposed to walking in the darkness is a question of where a person is rather than how he is! So, therefore, if I declare to you that I have fellowship, yet I myself walk in the darkness (don’t forget what that means), I am declaring to you that there is another way to God through the door of darkness, and it should be obvious to you that there is no truth in me!
I know this verse is held by most to be one of the primary sources that declare that believers can walk in the darkness and fall out of fellowship with God. And in view of such universal acceptance, I know that I must sound quite irrational and insignificant to suggest what seems totally contrary to the obvious, but it is only contrary to that which seems obvious. Keep in mind that John speaks as part of a group of men that Christ chose to be His representatives, those who would stand in His place and continue to speak in Him. He says, “if we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness”, and not, if you say…as if he were trying to single out a few wayward Christians. And when he says “we” he does include anyone, but from the understanding that he is defining Christianity and not subdividing it. That is, he was not dividing believers into two groups: those who walk in the light and those who walk in darkness; those who are in fellowship and those who are out of fellowship. There is no such thing, so he cannot be referring to Christians! If I claim that I am one of God’s children or that I have a connection with Him, and yet I do not walk in the Light (which is Jesus), but instead walk in darkness, then I have not even come to see Christ yet, nor my own sinfulness which tells me I truly need a savior. Then, very clearly, I am a liar and I do not practice the truth THAT I CLAIM TO DO!
Look at that phrase…
…we lie and do not practice the truth 1 John 1:6
What did John have in mind when he wrote this? Consider what Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 8 about the devil:
Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar, and the father of lies … and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I shall be a liar like you, but I do know Him, and keep His word. John 8:44,55
Guess who had been claiming to know God?
We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. John 8:41
What did Jesus tell them? You claim to know God, but you are liars and you do not know God; instead, you are of the liar. And there’s more found in the phrase, “do not practice the truth” in chapter 3:
For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. John 3:20-21
Those who do not practice the truth hate the light and do not come to it! Doesn’t this sound exactly like 1 John 1:6? Those who lie claim to know God, but do not know Him; those who do not practice the truth do not come to the light, but walk in the darkness. In view of this, how could it ever be suggested that this verse describes believers who stray? John does not stop there, but continues his expose of those who have infiltrated the church where in verse 8 he says,
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8
Back to John 8. In verses 21 & 24 Jesus declared to His audience (infiltrated by Pharisees, as they seemed to always be around) that they would die in their sins if they did not believe Him to be the Christ. In verse 32, He tells those who had believed in Him:
and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. John 8:32
The Pharisees were quite indignant with this statement and are obviously the ones who responded,
we have never yet been enslaved to anyone John 8:33
How did Jesus answer?
Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. John 8:34
WHO doesn’t have any truth in them? Those who deny that they have sin; those who do not believe that Jesus is the Christ! Listen to the damning declaration of Christ:
You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. John 8:44
Now I ask you, even though we desire to understand what happens to believers when they sin, does 1 John 1:8 sound as if it could be describing a faltering Christian? Notice instead, the similarity in these:
If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. 1 John 1:10
And you do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. John 5:38
I know that you are Abraham’s offspring, yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. John 8:37
Have you noticed that all of these references revolve around the person of Christ, and that in each there is a rejection of Him? In no case does it speak of the one who has come to the light but is now having problems with his walk. Those to whom Jesus was so harsh have denied that they have sinned and instead have consistently tried to convict Him of sin (John 8:46). Read over these accounts where Jesus has run-ins with the Lawmen and you will see denials of both sin and Christ in every response and reaction.
So, how does one go about making Him a liar? For is the suggestion here that when someone says, “I have not sinned”, that it will actually make Christ become a liar? The natural mind may come to that conclusion, but then again, the natural mind enjoys swimming around in the pool of relativity. Only when we view this passage as being spoken by the representatives of Christ does the true meaning come forth. If I, as the spokesman for God, declare that I have not sinned, when in fact, the very name of Jesus has it’s meaning hinged to the saving of His people from sin, I make the very Christ I proclaim to be a liar! Remember, Jesus did not come for the righteous, but for the sinners. How can His word, His truth be in me if I deny the very thing He came to do?
John is not describing some kind of potential reality here, he is presenting the absurdity of such a reality. It cannot happen! So…the obvious presents itself then. Why on earth would John be telling us of a hypothetical situation? But the answer should be equally obvious. So that when you are face to face with this hypothetical situation no amount of words will convince you that it can be true!
Those who claim to be in the Light of Christ, but deny having sinned are denying the very ultimate purpose and name of the Christ in whose light they are supposedly in. Those who speak of such a Jesus are regarding Him as a liar with every word they speak, every thing they do, and every breath they take! This is how the religious authorities esteemed Him then, and by and large, this is how they regard Him even now.
If you truly desire to make scripture “practical” by putting yourself into these verses as one who…
- lies, and does not practice the truth
- deceives himself and has no truth in him
- makes God a liar, and does not have His word in him
…then you have a far more serious problem than you originally thought! The only true practicality found here is that you have rejected Christ and that you truly do not have any relationship with Him whatever!
Have you come to see Jesus as the One who has delivered you from your sins? Does your testimony sound, even remotely, like this: I once was blind, but now I see? Are you at all thankful that God has forgiven you because of His Son? If so, then the truth is in you. You already have fellowship with Him and you already walk in the light, because if you didn’t you couldn’t see it! And you wouldn’t care! But you may be caught up in a vicious struggle in an attempt to gain what you already have as your birthright in Christ. Cease to struggle…and rest in the reality!
The blood cleanses us
But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7
To be cleansed from sin — does John really teach that there remains conditions to be met by in order for the cleansing by the blood of Jesus Christ to occur? How is it that we, the people of God, seem to find verses to show that the completed work of Christ on the cross is not completed at all? Can it be that our feelings of inadequacy and our belief that we must do something to present ourselves to God brings us to the point of not counting on the truth that Jesus paid it all? I know that when the reality of Christ is presented so clearly, many believers will cringe at the insinuation that they do not fully believe in the gospel of Christ; but my friends, all of our growing in the grace of God always revolves around surrendering the thoughts and beliefs of there being something in us that is presentable to God!
Guess what? To really understand what John is teaching us in his letter we must go back to John himself. In the 13th chapter there is an amazing incident: Jesus strips off His clothes and assumes the role of a slave or lowly house servant and washes the feet of His twelve followers! Maybe we don’t fully appreciate the scene, but a look at the reaction of those present speaks volumes. Consider Peter’s reaction when Jesus got to him:
Never shall you wash my feet John 13:8
I’m sure that Peter spoke what the others would like to have said. Now, Peter was not offended only because this act humbled his lord, but more so in the implications of the act. Implications? Yeah, they wouldn’t be “achieving” any higher a “position” than their master! What had Jesus said to Peter when He was ready to wash His feet?
What I do you do not realize now; but you shall understand hereafter. John 13:7
But Peter’s doubts and fears had brought him to the point where he had to say something even though he hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. Aren’t his reactions much like our own? First, he says “don’t wash me” and then he asks for a whole bath! What is actually happening here is that Jesus is not only teaching them what cleansing is all about…He shows them how to deal with one another in reference to this truth.
Listen to this. Jesus tells Peter,
If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me. John 13:8
No wonder he asked for a bath, he did not want to take a chance of being left out of fellowship with his Lord. Here is the mind-block I think we have when we read such statements — we have come to believe that we control when or if the washing occurs, so therefore, the fellowship as well! But here is the reality — if Jesus does not wash your feet (whatever that means), then you have no part, or fellowship with Him. There is no suggestion of this in and out type of thinking here, only that those who have their feet washed by Him are the same who have fellowship with Him. And as Peter misunderstood and asked for more washing than Jesus was offering, so do we. For we continue to ask God to cleanse us when, in fact, He already has done so!
He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, John 13:10
Sure, the dirt that gets on the feet represents the sin that gets on those who walk through this world, but do you notice that Jesus still refers to one with dirty feet as completely clean? He repeats His claim by saying “and you are clean.” I deliberately left off the tail end of the verse till now.
…and you are clean, but not all of you John 13:10
Why am I pointing this out now? So that you will recognize that this statement is not a qualifier of our being clean.
For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’ John 13:11
According to Jesus, having dirty feet does not change one’s status of being completely clean.
So now, if the cleansing referred to in 1 John indeed relates to the cleaning of the feet in John 13 (which I’m sure in John’s mind it would have), when does this “foot washing” by Jesus take place? It is actually very clear in John 13, but look instead to John’s letter.
but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7
His “blood” continues to wash us. You could say it is set on AUTO-WASH! Don’t miss the simple reality presented here that there is, not only nothing we can do to get clean, the real point is that there is nothing Jesus has to do to KEEP us clean! For somehow, the blood that has ALREADY been shed and dried up long time ago off the earth keeps us clean. Somehow this “dirt” we walk through NEVER touches us the way we think it does. For by what Jesus ALREADY did through his death on the cross we are always left in the reality of being “completely clean”. In case you’re not aware, this is the reality of what Jesus’ “sanctifying” work is all about.
Remember, he died before we were even born, and there was a point in our history that we passed from death into life, from darkness into the light. If we are those who walk in the light…then we are the ones who have fellowship with Him and His blood must of necessity continue to keep us clean. I say this because of that which should be obvious: God cannot have fellowship with anything that is not in the light (and this is not such a deep concept for it is taught in soul-winners basic training classes.). If you insist on seeing the phrase “as He Himself is in the light” as being some sort of qualifying degree to which we must walk, then you have missed the whole identifying reality that we are in Him and He is in us. If we have been joined with Christ, then we do indeed walk in the light as He Himself is in the light!
It is the blood that cleanses us, and not some thing that we do. Walking in the light is not being presented here as a cause of our cleansing, but as a sign of our cleansing; for as discussed previously there are real expressions manifested through one who walks in Christ, who is the light. And that which should be most recognizable I will discuss next.
Confession to God
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
This has got to be one of the most exploited verses of the whole New Testament writings. When confession is spoken of, 1 John 1:9 is the premier verse. And do you know why? Because there are no other verses in the Bible that seem to say, that as Christians, we are forgiven and cleansed from our sins because we confess them. Go ahead and look for them, thou shalt not find them. Now there are other verses use regarding confession that when built upon this “clear” statement seem to support the doctrine, but shouldn’t such an important teaching have a large list of verses to back it up? How about any of the writings of the apostle Paul? You know, when he wrote his letter to the Romans, and he laid down the most organized account ever written about the “whooooooole counsel of God”…did it just slip his mind? Now he does write concerning the truth of confession, but it doesn’t say at all what we have derived from 1 John 1:9.
Doesn’t this disturb you? It did me. Is it possible that 1 John 1:9 should be understood differently? And let me say here (just as I am probably being considered a heretic) that confession is a wonderful thing and 1 John 1:9 is and especially important verse to me and that I believe there is a definite link between confession and forgiveness. But I also believe that it is a destructive teaching for Christians to live their lives as if God withholds forgiveness, cleansing and/or fellowship until such time that we confess the particular sins that offend. Maybe you or I would not state it quite that way, but it is the bottom-line of the popular teaching. Another question that I asked myself: would John be proposing such an idea after having recorded his gospel account where forgiveness was portrayed as being complete through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection? And wasn’t John there with the apostles after Pentecost when forgiveness through Christ was declared a done-deal?
Then there is the whole smoke-screen about “unknown sin”! Am I out of fellowship when I have unknown sin, or does God make an exception under the Psalm 66:18 clause? This sounds like one of the doctrines of the Pharisees by which we can excuse certain sins on the premise that we didn’t know it was wrong!. But I can also guarantee that one of the Pharisees will find you out and preach about your unknown sin, so that you will be brought to the place of a broken and contrite heart and will repent of your newly exposed sin! Excuse me, but what a hell of a way to live as a child of God! A far cry from, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”, huh?
As you look into this with me, please remember that 1 John 1:9 is placed within a greater context where we see a declaration made that God is light, and then we see five “if” statements that are sandwiched together. Three of those statements are false claims (which is made obvious by the previous declaration); while the other two are reality statements that are lodged between the false claims in stark contrast. Granted, the verses by themselves, out of context of the letter as a whole, as well as in disregard of the book of John, seem to indicate that Christians may fall within either category; but nothing could be further from the truth! Each verse actually feeds off the previous and begs the next in such an overwhelming fashion that demands John’s proclamation in 1 John 2:1&2. Don’t worry, if you can’t see it yet it will probably become obvious by time I get to it.
The word confess itself is worth looking at for it’s meaning comes from the Greek word, homologeo, which means to say the same. To say the same as who? There is only One with whom we have to do and that is our Father in heaven. To say the same as God concerning our sins, is the thought here. And many times this “saying the same” is much different than what those in the church may think ought to be said, and most certainly in opposition to the world’s viewpoint! Who can agree with God and say it as He does? Only those who have come to light (remember John 3:19-21) see things at all with God’s vision. How could anyone in the darkness see what God sees in the light?
You are blind. There is only darkness. You don’t even know what it is to see or not to see, so therefore the concept of sight has a different meaning for you. From a seeing person’s viewpoint, any attempt by you to explain sight would show itself to be futile…even if you used the right words. If you were blind you could not know what it is to see, nor would you know the difference between the true and the false of sight. Any concept you have would be wrong, because there is no frame of reference in your senses. You are blind and the sun is shining…yet you walk in darkness. You may feel it on your skin, but it does not affect your eyes. You trip over things in your way while the sun shines as the man with eyes trips during the night. Blind…in the darkness…but it is all you have known…it is all you understand…and nothing you do can change you reality!
Suddenly, by a miracle, you are given sight. And everything that you ever knew has changed…because you now see. You would not need to be told that you had been in darkness…you would know! That which many had tried to describe to you about seeing you now understand in a moment of time. You have much to learn, but you now have a frame of reference, and it is not futile to be told about that to which your eyes are pointed. You are now walking in the light and you no longer stumble over that which is in your path, because you can see where you are going…and you know where you are! For those around you, nothing has changed, but you. For you, everything has changed! Though you are walking down the same paths, you no longer walk them as a blind man.
Remember the man in John 9? He had lived his entire life in the darkness until the moment Jesus opened his eyes. The next thing he know, he is being questioned and judged by those who sought to discredit Jesus. Can you imagine just a little what he was going through? His whole world was turned upside down, but he was seeing! When they tried at first to disprove that he was the same man (the one they judged a sinner because of his blindness) do you think he could really care less if they believed him? Because of Jesus, he was enabled to see, and he was now looking at this pathetic group of men, and they looked ridiculous as they stumbled over themselves and over the simple testimony that the man Jesus spit in the dirt and ended his blindness! My God…the repercussions of new vision must have been swirling around his head…he must have been so thankful! And yet, there he was, surrounded by these gnat-strainers…these camel-swallowers who were doing everything in their power to disprove the most obvious. He must have been exploding inside!
So, what does this have to do with confession? Just this: as a blind man, you never really saw yourself before. And now you begin to look. And as you do so, you would probably be running you hands over familiar parts connecting that which you know to that which you now see for the first time. But what is it that you didn’t know was there before? Dirt. Oh, maybe you felt the sand and grit before, but the stuff that stains the skin you had no idea of. You now find yourself saying the same! Confession! It comes forth from your lips, freely, with no regard to a formula…”I’m dirty!”…”This is disgusting!”…”get me something to get this off with!”. Maybe the smell of the filth used to bother you, but you didn’t really know where it came from and you probably blamed it on someone else. You now cry out for cleansing…and cleanse He does! Because you now walk in the light you cannot ignore the presence of sin in your life. I know, illustrations break down, but if you can just gain the sense of it, then it is worthwhile.
We can make confession such a complicated thing to understand, but it is inherent in those who are born of God. We try begging and pleading and laying guilt trips on one another in the attempt to bring each other to the point of conviction, but do we not understand that there is a saying the same going on all the time in the life of a believer? Listen to the apostle, Paul, as he makes a simple statement of fact regarding confession:
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? Romans 6:20-21
He didn’t use the word confession or any form of it, but he spoke of it none the less; and do you notice how Paul just assumes the truth of what he says? He does not try to convince them that they should be ashamed, he knows that all who are of God have the Spirit within them and therefore will automatically hear the truth in what he claims.
For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. Romans 8:22-23
Maybe you never considered these verses as presenting the reality of confession, but I hope you will not disregard them in your thoughts anymore.
What does confession sound like? I would think that most who may be reading this have rejected the confessional of the Roman church, but do we not still hold some of the basic error? First of all, the words used to validate an honest confession may stand in the way of real heartfelt ones. I would even venture that many confessions have taken place without any words at all! How many times have we groaned within ourselves at the realization of sin we had committed? Is this an acceptable confession…or have we built a system that dictates how we must do it…and how much is enough? I would take an anguished, “Oh, My God!” of a believer over a stilted, proper prayer any day. Somehow, I think that God, Himself, would as well. Remember, we don’t even know how to pray as we ought…for this reason the Spirit interprets our groans to God (Romans 8:26)!
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 1:9
When we read this verse, don’t we add a silent “then” after, “If we confess our sins”, as if forgiveness is the result of our confession? But it is not worded that way, and especially in view of the overall context, it just doesn’t say it. Here is what it does say: if we say the same as God regarding our sins (as opposed to denying our ability to sin or that we may have any actual sins) God is faithful and righteous to forgive us. In other words, the ones who confess their sins are the ones who have their sins forgiven! And why is this so? Because God is faithful and righteous toward us through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus on our behalf and not because of some utterance from us!
So, should we confess? And if so, why? After all, what is the need, since if what I have offered is true, there seems to be no motivation to do so. But until you begin asking yourself such questions you may not be catching my drift. It is so easy to miss the reality of God’s grace when we are bombarded by so much worldly wisdom, both from outside teaching and our own struggle to feel worth in ourselves! What John has written demands an entirely different way of thinking and living. It is unlike anything we have ever known, but it does find a place in those who are of God. Maybe you don’t understand it all, but like the traveling companions of the stranger on the road to Emmaus, you may find yourself thinking,
Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us? Luke 24:32
No, this verse is not about me explaining the word to you, but the Living Word, Himself, who still enlightens us within the new man. The question is not should we confess, but do we confess? Let me push this thought even further: Can we keep from confessing? I submit to you that a better understanding of confession will bring joy and confidence in the confessing, which will result in more, not less of our owning up to the sin in our lives. I have more to share on the reality of confession as it pertains to ourselves and the church, but I save that for the next section.
Confession in the church
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 1:9
Let’s face it, “church” is one of the last places where people will open up and speak of their problems and failures. Instead, there has been a movement called the Support Group where people are learning to admit that they have lost control of their lives and need a power greater than themselves to overcome their inability to deal with the harsh realities of life. They find that they can stand up and fearlessly declare their personal problems because no one will condemn them for the simple reason that all who have gathered have had the same kind of failure. It is an openness that proves to be very healing for many who thought there was no hope. It is a program that has drawn many Christians, who by outward appearance seemed to be doing well and even held positions of responsibility but found no such understanding and support in their respective churches. Very few are able to go back and be open with their church friends, but instead will call on their real friends when they fall. After all, when you know how you will be viewed if you admit to such failures, why would you dare to take the chance? So…why is it that the place where sinners originally came for honesty, truth and reality has become the easiest place to hide from it?
But don’t take my word for it…listen to your own heart! Right now, pull that pet sin of yours out for examination, and then imagine declaring it openly to your home church. Okay…forget the whole church scene…tell it to the board of elders! Maybe just a small Sunday School class? How about just a few of your closer acquaintances? Would you be doing something that was not SOP (standard operating procedures)? And if you are in any kind of leadership role do you sense there would be a good chance that you would be asked to step down…or at least be held in suspicion? And here is the bottom line: would such exposure reveal that you are a “Carnal Christian”? Maybe you think I’m way off-base, but then I ask you: what keeps you from being totally honest with those you gather together with?
Consider this. John wrote this letter to a church that had been infiltrated by those who were denying the founding premises of the life that is brought about in Christ. The false brothers were probably very careful how they said what they did, but their claims put them in a position where they had no need of the blood sacrifice of Jesus. How could such an un-Christian philosophy even exist among true believers? But then again, a counterfeit is always made as close as possible to the real thing, so that we should come to expect it…and not be so surprised that it could happen.
Gnosticism was based upon the receiving of secret knowledge that would bring the “spiritual” one into fellowship with God. Now, remember that the Law was a picture of what was to come in Christ. Could you see how the mystery surrounding the priest entering the Holy of Holies could become a concept where this philosophy would gain a foothold? Sure, they would have to be selective and avoid the issue of sacrifice for sin, but that has proven easy enough over the centuries of Christian history. On top of that, there is the ethereal aspect of spiritual revelation that is easily used in an exclusive sense…”if you come to my group, I can show you how to get it.” The desire to be in the know often overlooks the very means by which it is found!
However you view the situation in the church that received this letter it should be obvious that there was a spirit of fear among them and a lack of confidence as to whether they really knew God (as evidenced by the whole letter). It had become a gathering where many would hesitate at being honest with one another for fear of revealing how “unspiritual” they were; for the admittance of failure only seemed to indicate how fleshly they were. It almost seems that walking in the light was not necessarily always viewed in a positive manner…for those who did so had the bad habit of being too stinking honest and not having the dignity that is expected by those who are spiritual! Likewise, walking in the darkness may not have been so immediately seen in a bad light, either; for the darkness holds mystery…the very mystery that kept their secret knowledge hidden…and something to desire!
It is the same thing that has been done by those who quote the Scriptures to prove that we can only know the things about God that are written in the Bible…which has lead many on a quest for the knowledge that puffs up! Now, don’t misunderstand me, for I hope it is evident that I am all for Bible study. The problem is not in the information itself, but in the way the old thinking demands us to view our attaining the knowledge! For we begin the journey feeling inadequate as we struggle to emulate our teachers, but somewhere along the way we find ourselves to be regarded as authorities by those who have not come as far as we! Now, this is the point where the puffed up attitude really makes itself known. For instead of realizing that all of us are already made adequate as ministers of the New Covenant by the Spirit of God, we preserve the error that the only way to true wisdom comes by adhering to our own methods! This is not the mind of Christ, but is the means by which religion perpetuates itself. Though it is cloaked in Christian garb it bears all the signs of the flesh. It proclaims unity, but a unity on its own terms, which is always divisive.
John takes these believers back to the simple reality of the way things really are, which is made known by light, and not some truth hidden in the darkness. The light has shown them not only the true nature of their sin, but also the ongoing reality that the ones who say the same are forgiven and cleansed by the very real sacrifice (the blood was shed) of the only One by whom we can enter into fellowship with God, who exists in light. He insists to them that Jesus has come and He is the door to God…and there is no other!
Now, this is exciting because while they felt like second-rate Christians in the atmosphere created by those regarded as spiritual leaders, John insists to them that their very openness is what shows them to be in the light, and therefore, cleansed and forgiven and in fellowship with the true God, who is in light! This is backward logic to all of our religious thoughts, no matter what name it goes under. In other words, we gain confidence by the very things that bring fear to the flesh…which is exposure!
The gathering of believers is where reality should be most evident. Forgiveness is a real thing for real sins and not just a general concept brought in to create religious overtones. Those who join together should know that they are not condemned for the very real failures that they may openly confess among those who have been likewise forgiven; for instead of being despised and intimidated they find hope and reassurance that life is found in the new creation. If our churches were more confident in Christ, then there would be the honesty present that is not always so pretty…but then living a victorious life would be considered the true miracle that it really is! And forgiveness would become precious to us on an everyday basis, and not some rare spiritual high where we get religious once in a while.
Now, while most support groups deal with specific addictions and have an openness within that frame of reference, for the most part the help they offer skirts the true freedom that is found in Christ…and their openness is really very narrow. The church, on the other hand, has infinitely more to offer, but for the most part has lost sight of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and therefore has failed miserably. In reality, we are all addicts who have lost control of our lives and need someone greater than ourselves to restore us to sanity. Outside of Christ, we were slaves to sin…in other words, addicted to sin. Now that we are in Christ there is a new reality…we are freed from sin…but we still struggle with the addictive thoughts and our lives seem to reflect more of the old than the new.
If we, the body of Christ, desire to have a vibrant unity in our local assembly we will be sensitive to the things of God. The workings of the Spirit in the body go mostly unnoticed because we are looking for something else…something more grand. Let us be a gathering where openness and honesty are key elements; for as the light shines we should expect things to be uncovered that will constantly prove that we need the forgiveness and cleansing by the blood of Christ! We can be a group that is not afraid to be real, because we know all too well that His grace continually rescues us from the edge.
My friends, there is unspeakable joy in confessing wrongs and weaknesses not only to God, but to one another, with the knowledge of our commonality of being together in the light. I do not have to put on a show for you, nor you for me. The amazing thing of speaking that which the light reveals is that the body shares in seeing the work of God in one another. Have you ever spoken of your problems to fellow believers only to have them declare back to you that they had been blessed by the sharing? Dare to be real, for if you are truly in the light there is a greater reality in your confessions than you yourself will see…but others will see it
But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. John 3:21
We are wonders of God’s grace and yet we try so hard to be presentable that we often come across as self-righteous and phony…and much of the time we are. When we as believers stop trying to produce the results that only the Spirit of Christ in us is able to do and instead live as those who are born of God–that with which we struggle becomes precious because the life we live is that which rose from the dead!
So, what do you call it?
While speaking with my daughter recently I shared some of these thoughts with her, and she received it well, but had the above sincere question. You know, when you get used to using a phrase like “out of fellowship” to describe those periods of time in the life of a Christian that, well, let’s face it seem to fit the phrase — what do you call it? A good friend of mine reacted to it by stating it as, “out of it”. And I understand the need to have simple expression for my thoughts of the day to day realities of life around me. And I do believe there are easy ways to express the complex…but if my mind-set is looking for another of the same kind, then I will constantly sense a deficiency in whatever substitute phrases I latch on to. What I’m saying is that the handle we use will always miss the mark if we are trying to describe a faulty concept.
As an example, regarding the concept of fellowship I will sometimes use the phrase, “enjoying fellowship”, but this is not a substitute for the expression, “in fellowship”, for our thinking may not reflect any distinction. A rose is still a rose by any name, but the same applies to stinkweed! Don’t concern yourself with what you should call it, instead reflect on the realities that are declared. Cliff Notes may get you through a test, but your understanding of the author will suffer greatly! If whatever terms I use to describe my relationship with the Father negates the truth that I have fellowship with Him right now through our Lord Jesus Christ, then just changing the words I use will only help to cover up my error in thinking regarding the work of Christ.
Such has been my experience that many phrases I have used began to lose their appeal simply because I came to see that I really did not agree with what seemed to be implied by them. I had used the wording because it was popular; and in talking with others I discovered that many times we didn’t really examine what was meant by words that mechanically rolled off our tongues. Hey, if what you say is bothering you then look closely; you may not agree with yourself! Instead of seeking the short route in expressing your thought why not rather take the long road? It is generally more scenic. I don’t suggest that you weary your friends and family with long discourses that you need to deal with yourself on…learn to talk things out with yourself (and don’t be afraid to talk back to yourself, it is actually very healthy…why else do so many psychiatrists sit silently while their patients ramble only to solve their own problems?). If you really think you have to talk with another person then find someone who is willing to do a lot of listening and is more concerned with what you really think than in making sure you say the right words!
Did I disturb any of the cans that are so neatly organized in your thoughts? I sincerely hope so! From my experience it is much easier to simply write-off the teacher as being wrong than to deal with that which has been stirred up inside me. Look closely. Even if I am wrong…what is it that unsettles you? Are you willing to discover what may be hiding deep down inside some of those cans…especially the cans in the Theology section? Once again, I’ll reinforce that fact that I love theology, but I realize how easy it is to hide the works of the flesh therein! Be honest with yourself and with your God…have any fears surfaced?
I was watching this corny sci-fi movie the other day and in the middle of all the bad acting and lousy plot was a scene with the local sheriff discussing a drunken old man who had been unsuccessfully prospecting for gold for thirty years. When the sheriff was asked why someone would keep it up for so long, he replied, “If he were to be honest with himself and give up, then he would have to admit that he wasted 30 years of his life. And it’s easier to keep being a failure than to face up to the truth! If you are of God, dare to take the chance that you have been looking for something that is not there in order to hide from painful discoveries. Dear believer, there is joy that overrides the hurt and even brings us closer to seeing Christ alone!
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he is dealing with a group of Christians that most of us would probably discount as being out of fellowship; just a cursory reading should support this idea. How Paul addressed them is much different than how most churches deal with those of their group who fall into similar error. Paul may sound harsh in some of the things that he says, but he does not treat the believers as if they no longer belong to Christ in any way! Listen to this:
On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that you brethren. Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God? 1 Corinthians 6:8-10
The believers at Corinth reflect this list rather well, but please notice that Paul never once considers that they are the unrighteous, even though they acted like it! But instead he goes on to say,
And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:11
For the most part, we really don’t understand what these words mean, otherwise we would not be approaching our Christianity as if we were still undeserving sinners. In everything that we were we had no access to God nor did we deserve His grace…nor do we now, but there is a new reality concerning us. Yes, we still sin, but it is of the old self and neither John, Paul or the others shield their eyes from what believers do, but they refuse to ignore the overriding reality of the Spirit of God that has brought about the new existence in the life of the children of God.
How about the way we deal with each other? We are so caught up in what appears to be that we quite often think of our brother as just another sinner who is sinning. We admonish one another this way, “Okay, sinner, stop your sinning!” We appeal to emotions, such as gratitude, as if they were the empowering force for godly living…”if you were only thankful enough then you would want to please God!” The world uses such motivations and they get results, too, but is this Christianity? Believers should admonish one another, but on what basis? Emotion has a wonderful place, but not as the power of holy living. How do I view myself? How do I see my brother? Do I see sanctification as the process in which the sinner struggles against sin in order to become holy, or is it where God takes him who was unrighteous, declaring him righteous by the work of Christ, bringing him into fellowship with Himself and then working into the believer’s existence that which reflects His own virtues? How else, then, does the New Testament address the believer in this manner?
Go past some of your favorite verses and follow the flow of how the believer is referred to in spite of some of the criticism used toward him. Do you have a difficult time putting it together without some ridiculous system that ignores the fact that the New Testament writers spoke differently to the new creation? I have had to adjust much of my approach in view of the whole…and I have discovered that what I say has been transformed and captures more of the heart of the apostles writings. I find that most of my compelling encouragements to believers are the same things that Paul or John or Peter were leading to in their writings, and when I stumble across a passage that previously had not impressed me, I realize that this is exactly what they were concluding. I didn’t get it before, but there it had been; and until my focus on Christ and His finished work began to line up with their own I had been blinded to it.
I truly think that I am right in how I see this letter, but it is the surpassing knowledge of Jesus that thrills my soul! If He has called you and you have come to Him, then only in Christ do you find fulfillment as well. I speak to you as brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers and children, not as enemies to taunt! I only wish to build you up in Christ, but there is often much rubble to remove. I cannot do that for you…I can only proclaim what God has done through Christ. The work truly belongs to the Lord!