Refresh & Restore — May 6, 2021

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

1 John 4:7-21

Greetings, Sojourner!

I chuckle as I begin writing to you today because I have had a song running through my head; I have even caught myself singing it. If you have a church background, you may be trying to guess which glorious old hymn or praise song about God’s love I am singing. And, if so, you are about to be terribly disappointed (although I imagine many of you singing along as you read the lyrics). The song is from 1984 – Tina Turner’s classic, “What’s Love Got to Do with It”. Here is the chorus:

“What’s love got to do – got to do with it? 
What’s love but a secondhand emotion? 
What’s love got to do – got to do with it? 
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?”

To answer and apply Tina’s questions to today’s passage: EVERYTHING! Love has everything to do with today’s passage and everything to do with the lives of those who profess to know Christ. Over the next few weeks, we will be walking through this passage and find out just what it means for us and our lives.

At this point in John’s letter, he is beginning to wind down toward a close. The first half of the letter was devoted to making sure his readers (then and now) knew what it was to have life in Christ and walk in His light. Now, love is being treated similarly – both as an example of what He has given us and as a test to find out if we indeed do “walk in the light, as He is in the light” (1:7).

To some it may seem like John is repeating himself, but it is important to note that he is not merely writing a letter. First, this letter reflects his heart as an apostle and teacher of the Word to see his readers know Christ more fully and walk in Him. Second, this letter is “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16) through John, giving his audiences the Word they/we need to hear from the Lord. So, this is not John repeating himself but the Lord emphasizing truths He knows we need to hear again and again. With that in mind, we can see the importance of reflecting on past sections of 1 John:

  • (1:5) This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.
  • (2:2) He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the world.
  • (2:5) …but whoever keeps His Word, in Him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in Him….
  • (2:29) If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of Him.
  • (3:10-11) By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

It is easy to see how the Spirit builds these truths over the course of the letter, namely light, life, and love. Today’s passage begins the final build of the topic of love.

The teaching that we are supposed to “love one another” (v. 7) is not new. We have looked previously at how John’s message here comes directly from Jesus: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). The difference in John’s teachings on this in chapter 3 and our passage today is that John adds explanation to his earlier examples: “God is love”. Our lives cannot be characterized by hate and love at the same time any more than we can live lives that point to Christ while walking in darkness; we would be liars (1:5-7).

While v. 7 speaks positively to John’s “beloved”, what we find in v. 8 is tough love. A life that is absent of love is absent of God. I realize this sounds harsh, but the contrast is important. Just as you should love because “God is love”, hatred shows absence of God in one’s heart because “God is love”. This is meant to be tough because love, like we have seen throughout this letter (1:6, 1:8, 1:10, 2:4, 2:9, 2:11, 2:15-16, 3:6, 3:8, 3:10, 3:14, 3:17), is another means to test our lives. God very clearly wants us to know whether we are – or are not – His children (3:10), whether He does – or does not – abide in us (3:24). This is serious business and requires us to honestly check our lives.

On the subject of loving one another, it is important to see that John continues to emphasize this at the end of our passage. In v. 19, we see a bold statement that should give us pause: “we love because He first loved us”. This is reminding us of the love that Christ has shown us! And, while this is something that – if we have experienced it – we should not need to be reminded of, this is a common theme throughout Scripture. Throughout the Old Testament, God describes Himself as “abounding in steadfast love” (Exodus 34:6, Numbers 14:18). The Psalms remind us that God’s “steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136). The most widely known verse in the Bible proclaims it beautifully (John 3:16): For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 

That is a rare, unique love, so special that it multiplies in the hearts of those who receive it. Think back to how, earlier in this writing, we love others because “God is love” and our lack of love shows a lack of God. People do not like being presented with stark realities like that (think right/wrong, love/hate, etc.). In today’s world people want to blur the lines or add gray areas to soften hard truths we are not yet ready to face. But the Holy Spirit through John does not allow for softening this hard truth; look at v. 20: “If anyone says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar”. That, dear Sojourner, is a stark reality. He continues, “for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” 

Look at that word “cannot” – can NOT. This word pains me because I struggle with loving people, struggle with hate in my own heart. It seems to say that hatred of a brother and love of God cannot both be in my heart at the same time. And, no matter how hard I try to rationalize – no matter how hard I try to make this fit in my justifications as to why what I feel is right, the Word of God says what it says. What does that mean for me?

It means I need to repent.

It means I need the love that Christ has shown me to impact my life. 

I need to remember that “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) – that He died for me knowing all my sin. At the same time, I need to remember how much that love has changed my life: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled shall we be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10). Basically, I need to remember that, in my sin, I was an enemy to God and that, while I was His enemy, He loved me enough that He lived for me, died for me, and rose again defeating death, hell, and the grave. If He could show His love for me while I was His enemy, what ground do I have to hate anyone, especially a brother.

“What’s love got to do – got to do with it?” Everything when it comes to knowing I am in Christ. I have to look at my life and test it according to the Word of God, and the Word of God says that hatred – again, especially for a brother (another belonging to Christ) – is evidence that I am not walking with Him. When faced with that fact, those who are not in Christ will make excuses and, ultimately, justify their behavior or decide that their will, their hatred, their sin trumps the Word of God. But, when one of God’s children is faced with the reality of their sin (hatred or otherwise), they are driven to repent and turn back to God.

Where does this leave you? Is your life characterized by love or hate? Do you love (v. 7) or not love (v. 8)? Do you say “I love God” while knowing full well the hatred in your heart (v. 20)? These are questions that I must answer for myself. And they are questions you need to answer on your own, and I pray that you do.

As usual, know that I love you and am praying for you. This week, I am praying specifically that the love of God is poured out on you and that, if necessary, God grants you “repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25).

Refresh & Restore — April 29, 2021

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish….

32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.[1]       

Greetings, Sojourner!

Have you ever had something on your mind so much that you cannot let it go? When that happens, it is like you feel like it shows up in everything you look at – commercials, conversations, stores. It even seems like it is all you can talk about. That is what the past few weeks have been like for me, and the topic that has been the epicenter of my focus has been church – not a church, my church, or your church: the Church.

I have preached on it several times during these weeks. Even as I studied and planned to write on 1 John 4:7-21 today, the Church has been on my mind. Verses like 1 John 4:11 (“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” and 4:20 (“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen”) have me thinking of the way that the Church is to share the love of God with each other and the world around them. In 1 John 4:9 when John says that “the love of God was made manifest”, that is the love that was shown to, and now through, the Church. And, when you read passages like ours in Ephesians 5, you see that love is to be at the center of everything in the Church because Christ loves His Church and calls her His Bride.

What a beautiful image that is – the Bride of Christ!

Look at how the voice (“of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder”) speaks of the Bride of Christ in the end times:

Let us rejoice and exult
and give Him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and His Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”…. (Rev. 19:6-8)

The picture I see painted in Scripture here is the arrival of Christ’s Church in Heaven to be a marriage celebration – His Bride will finally have arrived! I think back some fifteen years ago when I laid eyes on my bride when the back doors of the Church open. That moment is seared into my memory and is clear and fresh on my mind today; it is a watershed moment for me. But, the magnitude of that moment, is but a tremor compared to Christ receiving His Bride.

Yet many of us do not see the Church in the same light. When we think of the Church, we think of buildings or denominations or traditions or religion or someone who professes to be a member of a particular church who we think lives more like Hell than Heaven. I have heard people say that they do not have a problem with Jesus; their problem lies with the Church (or with a particular church they have in mind). How does that fit with the way God’s Word talks about His Bride?

In Ephesians 5, we see a passage that often appears only at weddings. It seems to talk about this ideal marriage where a husband loves his wife with this self-sacrificing love. It absolutely is! It lays out that husbands are supposed to give themselves up for their wives in the same way that Christ did for His (v. 25). It shows how husbands are supposed to set their wives apart, loving them with the same care that they give to their own bodies (v. 28). But, while it highlights the way that earthly husbands should absolutely love their wives, it does so by looking at the way that Christ loved/loves His – He died for her, but He also lived for her!

It seems so easy to look at the church as a building or a house of religion. It is another thing entirely to look at her as Christ’s bride. Take the example above where people say they have no problem with Jesus, just the Church. How would that work if said to an earthly husband (even a mediocre one)? “Hey, man, I like you well enough, but I cannot stand your wife!” Any husband worth his salt would at least have a salty retort, and, at most, feelings would not be all that get hurt!

Jesus loves His Bride. He gave Himself up for her, knowing full well her faults and all the difficulties that would come as He – through His Word and His Spirit – grows her, sanctifies her so that “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (v. 27). He knew her/our blemishes. He knew the wrinkles. He knew the sin. Yet “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

He gave us the example of Hosea who loved his wife even though she was a prostitute when he met her (Hosea 1:2-3) and had sold herself into physical bondage to another man. Just as Hosea went to that man and purchased his wife from him (Hosea 3:1-5), Jesus paid the price for us – His life – so that we could be free from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:6) and be His alone (1 Peter 2:9). Except in this scenario, the Church has a husband who loves her enough to die for her – but He LIVES for her despite death, “because it was not possible for Him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24)!

What a beautiful image that is! Yet I find my heart hurting as I think about the Church more and more. You see, part of the reason that the Church has been on my mind is noticing that the more I study the Word and the closer I get to Christ, the more precious the Church becomes to me – the more precious getting to be part of the Church becomes. And, when I see how the Church is treated around the world, facing persecutions and distress and dire circumstances, it both breaks my heart and fills it with joy and hope.

It breaks my heart because I am afraid that I would fail and fall away if such treatment began here. I am afraid that I would care more for the safety and comfort of my family than I would being a part of Christ’s Church. As bad as I hate to say it, I am afraid.

I see how many churches have shuttered their doors, even before the onset of the pandemic. I hear of people citing the recommendations – yes, they were merely recommendations and not laws where I live in Mississippi – of our state government as reasons to shut the doors of our churches. Now, I realize that most of this was done out of an abundance of caution (the recommendations and the decisions), but I wonder what the cost has been. I also do not fault the government for recommending such things. Are we to expect worldly government to recommend biblical teaching? I do not fault churches who, out of caution for their members, made decisions to go virtual or meet outside or have church in the parking lot or gather in homes. The Church is not a building, remember?

There are churches like Grace Life in Alberta, Canada who, when it was genuinely against the law to gather and worship Christ in their location, kept gathering anyway. Even when their pastor was arrested and jailed and fences (yes, plural) were built around their building, the Church was not stopped because “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands” (Acts 7:48). The same goes for His Bride.

Multiple churches in California faced similar situations and, pending legal appeals, face tens if not hundreds of thousands in fines even today.

I am trying to be careful and gracious when I talk about this, but I am reminded of Peter and John’s words when they faced something a bit stiffer than recommendations: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). If you keep reading, Peter and John did not heed the threats of the powers-that-be but kept preaching (Acts 4:23-31). And the result was more people added to the Church (Acts 4:32-37).

Where does that leave us today? I want to ask you where you stand regarding Christ. Do you belong to Him? Are you a part of His Bride, the Church?

Where I live in the Southern U.S., we have largely lost what it means to be a part of the Church or to be a part of a local church or congregation of believers. We use the word “member” like we would a member of a country club or a fraternity or sorority. But that is not the way the Bible uses it:

  • Ephesians 2:19: So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God….
  • Romans 12:4-5: For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:12: For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

Are you a member (like a dues-paying, sort of part ownership), or are you a member (like an arm or a leg)?

Pardon the pun, but I feel like my message here is a bit disjointed. I do not want you to miss my heart. So I will speak plainly: the Church has been on my mind, and I am afraid that we treat her too casually. I fear we have grown complacent and comfortable, not realizing our playing around is dismembering Christ’s Bride.

There is a set of verses that often get quoted in this context. I have quoted them myself often and increasingly more recently, but I think there is a greater message here:

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)

It is not hard to see why this verse seems so appropriate. But, I think I have been emphasizing the wrong part. I have been focusing on what “is the habit of some” and not why that is not good. Plain and simple, we need each other. No, we do not need bodies to fill roles and carry out programs and ministries. We do not need teachers and leaders. We need the members of the body of Christ – we need the members of His Bride – to “hold fast” to “He who promised” more than His promises. We need each other to “stir [us] up…to love and good works”. We need to be “encouraging one another” – and “the Day” is “drawing near”! We need the body of Christ to be whole once more.

I pray this helps whomever it is meant to. If you need help finding a church home, I would love to help you.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 5:25–32.

Refresh & Restore — April 22, 2021

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.[1]   

1 John 4:1-6

Greetings, Sojourner!

You have been on my mind a lot over this past week. Thinking through the way that John talks to his audience – little children, beloved – makes me think of the great care he uses when talking to them. As I write to you, Sojourner, I hope you see my heart for you as well – my heart to see you grow closer to Christ through studying His Word and my desire that your relationship with Him become deeper through the process.

In thinking of you this week, I have also been thinking about the assurance that John offered us last week. It is good to be able to know where we stand with Christ and not have to wonder whether we belong to Him because of the hope and truth found in His Word. Part of trusting that the Word we have is true and comes from Him is that we are able to know what does and does not come from Him by how it fits with the Scriptures. This is what John talks about in our passage today – testing the spirits so that we know what comes from God’s Spirit or the spirit of antichrist.

Think back to the way John speaks of the Spirit in verse 3:23 from last week: “And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us”. Today’s passage flows directly out of this, and for good reason. We can be sure that what we are taught through our pastors, Bible teachers, and Christian literature is of God by testing it according to the Word of God and the Spirit of God.

The idea of testing is a little too close to judging for some people’s tastes, but verse 1 here clearly tells us we need to “test the spirits”. The word translated test here means “to try to determine the genuineness of”[2] or “to make trial of [or] put to proof”[3]. Basically, whenever we encounter someone teaching, preaching, or writing about the Bible, we should test it – check its proof/genuineness by what it says about God’s Word. And, before you dismiss this, look at the way that the Berean believers were heralded for doing this very thing in Acts 17:11:

Now these Jews [in Berea] were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the Word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

Yes, they were eager to hear what was being preached, but not so eager as to take whatever was offered as truth simply because a “preacher” told it to them. I fear that we are not nearly as cautious as we should be.  

We have seen warnings like this from John already in 1 John 2:18-27 where he showed us the influx of antichrists – those who are literally against Christ and bring a false gospel to tear up churches and lead people astray. The primary issue with the message of the antichrists was first brought up in 1 John 2 (“Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?”) and now emphasized more in today’s passage: “every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (v. 3). That word translated “confess” there in verse 3 is the same that is used in Romans 10:9 to describe the declaration or profession that Jesus Christ is Lord that accompanies salvation. Basically, these false teachers are professing false gospel and false truth to keep people from being saved. And anything that keeps people from salvation wants to see them kept in bondage to sin and death. This is serious business because they are presenting a false Christ!

Look at the way that Danny Akin puts the issue:

“If [Jesus] is just another enlightened religious teacher, He is permitted and tolerated as one opinion, one option, among many. If, however, He is the very incarnation of God, then the gospel and only the gospel is true and He is the only viable option for salvation amid the multitude of imposters.[4]

Basically, altering the truth of who Jesus is according to the Bible alters the gospel. An altered gospel holds no power – it points away from Christ, away from His life, death, burial, and resurrection. And anyone who preaches “a gospel contrary to the one you received” in the Word of God, that preacher is “accursed” – lost, damned, and devoid of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 1:9).

It is tempting to begin to list some people who I believe are marketing a false gospel here, but I believe it best to let God’s Word and His Spirit handle that Himself. Instead, I want to point you to the Truth – to Christ. Look at how verse 4 tells us “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them”. Christ is already victorious over these false teachers, and, if you are in Christ and have received His Spirit – “He who is in you is greater than He who is in the world” (v. 4). Christ is greater than the false prophets. Christ is greater than the antichrists. Christ is greater than the Antichrist. Christ is greater than Satan. He has won, is winning, and will ultimately reign forevermore over them – “they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with Him are called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14). The Jesus of the Bible – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – is greater.

If you are His, you have nothing to fear from false prophets. But, even though there is nothing to fear, we need to spend more time in the Word of God in order to “rightly [handle] the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) and adequately test the spirits – to know the difference between “the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (v. 6). To help with this, I would like to show you some more warnings in the word of God regarding these antichrists, false prophets, and false gospel preachers:

  Jesus’ WarningsMatthew 7:15-20: 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.Matthew 24:11-14: 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.Mark 13:21-23: 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.
  Paul’s WarningActs 20:28-30: 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
  Peter’s Warning2 Peter 2:1-3: But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
  Jude’s WarningJude 4: For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

I urge you to take these warnings seriously. There are many voices that try to speak and have influence over you, and we need to be more and more vigilant and guarded over who we let speak truth in our lives. One of the gifts that God has given us is His Church. Our Christian walk is personal between us and our Savior, but it is not meant to happen in solitude. We are made to be members of the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27; Ephesians 2:19). And God has called pastors to these churches to make His Word known and shepherd the “flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2, Ephesians 4:11). Sitting under the teaching of these pastors – Bible in hand following the example of the Bereans in Acts 11 – we get to hear from God.

If you are not a part of a local church, I urge you to find one where the Bible is preached, and Jesus is proclaimed. As much as I love you and enjoy writing – as much as I hope that these writings help you get closer to Christ, they are no substitute for being a part of a body of believers in a local church who will hold you accountable and walk with you (Hebrews 10:23-25). If you do not have a church family, feel free to contact me, and I would love to help you find one where you live.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 4:1–6.

[2] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 331.

[3] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

[4] Daniel L. Akin et al., Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2014).

Refresh & Restore — April 15, 2021

18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.[1]

1 John 3:18-24

Greetings, Sojourner!

It has been a few weeks since we have been in 1 John together, and I think that today’s passage is quite an appropriate diving board for us to get back into the swing of things.

Part of the purpose of 1 John is to help people know that they have the Life of Christ, that the Light of Christ has shone on them, and that the Love of Christ has been extended to them. That knowing is called assurance, which basically means that we can be sure –  we can truly know – that we are children of God. Throughout the first half of 1 John, the idea of walking with Him in the light “as He is in the light” (ch. 1:7) and abiding in Him and His truth (ch. 2:27) is used to help us see what it means to be God’s children who do not have to “shrink from Him in shame at His coming” (ch. 2:28). Today’s passage continues that in helping us have confidence in His promises to know who we are in Him, and more especially whose we are – His, even in the presence of doubts.

Doubt, believe it or not, is not necessarily a bad thing. It can keep us real and honest. It can make us double-check our motives. But it can also freeze us up and make us ineffective. There are five truths in today’s passage that can either help overcome our doubt or show us that we need to repent – both of which are blessings in and of themselves. If, through the reading of God’s Word, His Spirit lets you know you have no reason for doubt, you will no doubt feel blessed. But, if through reading He shows you that you are not His, this is a more gracious blessing than we could understand in the moment.

It is my prayer that whichever you find – doubt or repentance – that you, ultimately find yourself closer to Him.

Truth #1 – Love Reassures Our Hearts (vv. 18-19)

Verse 18 is like a hinge of a door, opening up from John’s discussion about the love of Christ and how it does (or does not) show up in our lives. I believe that we underuse this verse and just kind of tag it onto other verses to prove what we want to say. Look at what it says about how we should love – it does not exist in “word or talk” but in one’s actions, “in truth”. I work with kids every day who are not fooled with the words of love – they understand what love is through experience, through truth.

In the case of the love John speaks of here, it is the love that comes from Christ (Romans 5:8, Galatians 2:20). Those who are in Christ (who is Himself the Truth – John 14:6) have experienced His sacrificial, never-failing, never-ending love. And part of being in Him is sharing the love that He has given us with others –
“He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (ch. 3:16). Loving others with Christ-like love trumps any “I love you”, it triumphs over any promise or lie but is true through and through because He said it was:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)

The Truth has spoken on the matter, and, when His love shows up in our lives and practices, our doubting hearts can be reassured that they belong to Him.

Truth #2 – God is Greater Than Our Hearts (v. 20)

Rather than diving into an analogy or illustration, I think we need to get down to the truth regarding our hearts. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Our hearts lead us to sin. Despite what we would want others to believe, we enjoy sin (just not necessarily the consequences that come with committing it). Sin is the sum of our heart’s desires. Yet the most common advice I hear given to people who are seeking truth or counsel on big decisions in their lives is for them to follow their hearts!

In the context of today’s passage, John talks about the heart acting as our conscience. This can be a good thing, but, remember, the heart is “deceitful” and knows how to trick you better than anything else because it is truly and foundationally you. Why else would our hearts lead us to sin that leads only to heartbreak? Why else would pursuing the “loves” (word and deed) that end up being lusts?

Sometimes, our heart – our conscience – cues us into something wrong. And, in those times, it serves us well. But, sometimes, our heart merely aches because we do not get what we want – that missed opportunity, that time you chose this over that, that time you could have gotten ahead and could have prevented so many struggles. Jeremiah 17:9 ends with a question: “Who can understand [the heart]?” Today’s passage answers that: “God is greater than our heart” (v. 20).

You see, when one repents and believes in Christ and becomes born again, God performs a heart transplant. He gives a “new heart” and a “new spirit” to replace “the heart of stone” (Ezekiel 36:26). I have already said that our hearts give us what we want whether or not it is what we need, but the new heart that God gives us beats for Him and what He knows we need. He alone is the one who “search[es] the heart and test[s] the mind” so that He can know who we are and whose we are (Jeremiah 17:10).

So, if your heart – your conscience – is condemning you because you have sinned, it is God working in you to bring you to repentance. But, if your heart is doubting and dragging you back into former sin, be reminded that “God is greater than your heart” and what He says about you is what matters into eternity.

Truth #3 – Prayer and Assurance Go Together (vv. 21-22)

I remember vividly receiving my first Walkman[2] and Garth Brooks’ debut album. If I close my eyes, I can take myself back to walking around the yard and having the music pour directly into my brain (no doubt too loud). There was a song on that album whose lyrics try to speak to me even some thirty years later: “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers…”. While this is a song about a man reminiscing on an earlier love not coming about in the light of his current romance, it illustrates John’s point here. How we pray and what we pray for – counting our motivations and desires and hopes – shows our hearts and can either reassure us that we belong to Christ or not.

John, here, illustrates that those who are in Christ have “confidence” to come “before Him” that leads to an openness in prayer (v. 21). That confidence is not in ourselves or our actions but in the fact that He has produced a change in our lives that led us to “keep His commandments and do what pleases Him” (v. 22). When you pray, are you seeking the Lord’s will and wanting what He wants? The answer to that question will either reassure us, drive us to repent, or condemn us. May we find confidence in what He has done in us.

Truth #4 – Biblical Beliefs Produce Biblical Results (v. 23)

Truth in the world today is subjective. I hear more and more people saying things like “this is my truth” or “it is the truth to me”. True truth does not work like that. And Biblical truth does not deviate from what the Bible says because it shows Jesus saying that He is the Truth (John 14:6) – that He is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And, if it is lying about Him, nothing is true.

John references “His commandment” in verse 23. He speaks of this with respect and authority, almost as if acknowledging Jesus’ authorship of the Word in the way He says it. Jesus’ commandment here is two-fold: 1) “we believe in Jesus Christ, and 2) we love one another (“just as He has commanded us”). If you have doubts and need reassurance, this truth gets to the heart of the issue. If you do not believe that Jesus is who the Bible says He is, you cannot be saved (Romans 10:9). He is strong enough to take our questions and our doubt, but what His Word says about Him is true or it is not. The way that John writes this in the original language shows how we can truly know if we believe this: love. Belief, or faith, in Christ is an action that is defined by whether we continue on (ch 2:19, 3:10) in Him, whether or not His love shows up in our lives. This is where it gets tough and ,trust me, I have to wrestle with this more often than I would care to admit, because it is easier to hate others or love myself than love God and show His love to people.

Ultimately, you know how this plays out in your life. Does it lead you to reassurance or repentance?

Truth #5 – Only His Children Have His Spirit (v. 24)

As I type this section, I can hear my father-in-law singing John 15 as a song; look at verse 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in Him, He it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” The final truth to reassure our hearts is whether Christ – His Spirit – abides (lives, dwells) in us. Paul says it thusly in Galatians 5:16, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh”.

John here carries out the same analogy that Jesus did in his gospel. He shakes our tree to examine our fruit. If He is not abiding in us, our fruit is sinful, rotten, dead. If His Spirit is in us, His fruit is evident – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Are you connected to Christ? Are you rooted in Him? Is the fruit of His Spirit growing in your life?

I stated at the beginning of this week’s devotion that rooting out doubts would either lead to being reassured – finding renewed confidence in Christ – or it should lead to repentance. Maybe, after reading through 1 John 3:18-24, you have come to realize that you do not belong to Christ. Maybe the fruit – the proof of His Spirit, His love – is not in your life. Let me assure you of this: it can.

The Bible tells us that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). So, if you have found that you do not have Him and want to receive Him, call out to Him and be saved.

If you read these verses and find that you are in Him but need to repent of sin and walk with Him in love and truth again, let the words of the writer of Hebrews be a comfort and guide to you: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). No matter how far you have strayed, He has not moved. He is still on His throne. And His throne is one of grace where you can surely receive mercy and find grace – where you can surely find Him. Beloved Sojourner, know that I am praying for and love you. If you need to talk, need someone to listen, or would like to pray, I am here for you and would love to point you to the throne of grace today.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 3:18–24.

[2] For those of you too young to know what I mean, Google it. It was a portable cassette player (cassettes fit in between records and CDs in the time line), had head phones, and was a symbol of cool and a source of music.

Refresh & Restore — March 25, 2021

11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.[1]

1 John 3:11-18

Greetings, Sojourner!

 As I have been studying this week’s passage and thinking about our setting off into the second half of 1 John, I have been amazed at the way John shows the difference between the children of God and those who follow after the world. The entire book deals with contrasts – life and death, light and dark, and, now in today’s passage love and hate.

I am struck with how different God’s children should be than the world. Paul describes the difference to the church of Philippi very clearly that we are to be “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life…” (Philippians 2:15-16). Now, as we have talked about many times in our study of 1 John, we are not capable of sinless perfection. But, in our unfortunately sinful lives, we should be pointing to Him who is truly “a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19) – Jesus Christ. This should be our ultimate goal: to live the Life that Jesus has given us through faith in Him and show others who are dead in their sins how to receive that very same Life.

This is where the second half of 1 John comes in. While we looked a lot in the first part about the difference between being in the Light (being in Christ) and walking in darkness, now we shift to how sharing the love of Christ illustrates the Life that comes only through Christ. Basically, this is where we leave the garages of our faith (our local churches and homes) and take our faith to the streets. This is the hardest part because it is easy to shine in a room full of lights, but it is another thing entirely to be a single candle amid overwhelming darkness. It is easy to love people who show you love, but it is terribly difficult to love when confronted with hatred.

I love the way that John introduces this to us (like he has throughout the letter – vv. 1:5, 2:24) by bringing everything back to the basics – back to the way that Jesus taught it. This is good to remember because we are not called to follow Christ in our own strength. John tells his original audience and us to remember “the message that you have heard from the beginning” because we need the reminder that Jesus taught that we should “love one another” (v. 11). This was important enough that Jesus said it was the second greatest commandment (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”, Matthew 22:39) and took time to talk about it on the last night He spent with His disciples (“A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another”, John 13:34).

Cain, Hatred, & Death

John shows us how important love is by showing us how dangerous hate can be. He takes us all the way back to the beginning with the first brothers – Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16). If you are unfamiliar with the story, Cain and Abel were Adam and Eve’s first kids. Both brought offerings to God. Cain brought “an offering of the fruit of the ground” (Genesis 4:3), but Abel brought “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions” (Genesis 4:4). There are many opinions about why exactly God had “regard for Abel and his offering” (Genesis 4:4) but “had no regard” for Cain’s (Genesis 4:5). The only light the Bible sheds on it is found in Hebrews 11:4: “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.”

While we will never truly know what God’s issue with Cain’s sacrifice was[2], we know the end result. Cain was so angry because God considered Abel righteous that he killed him in cold blood (v. 12). Even before he was a murderer, the unrighteousness in Cain’s heart – the darkness and his being dead in his trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) – hated his brother to the point that he ended his life. The darkness and death in him hated the Life that was seen in his brother.

In Abel, we see Jesus. And, in Jesus “was Life, and the Life was the light of men” (John 1:4). People, like Cain, who walk in darkness hate the Light. Just as Abel’s righteous sacrifice highlighted Cain’s unrighteous one, “everyone who does wicked things hates the light because their works [are] evil” (John 3:20). In the same way, we should not “be surprised…that the world hates [us]” (v. 13). Jesus Himself said that “people loved darkness rather than light because their works are evil” (John 3:19), and, if you have received the gift of eternal life (John 3:16, Romans 6:23), you are a child of God (John 1:12-13) and cannot fit in the darkness of the world. Jesus, the Light of the world “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Hatred is evidence of darkness – plain and simple. John says that “everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (v. 15), echoing Jesus’ own words in His Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment….” (Matthew 5:21-22)

My first instinct when reading these verses is to make excuses, but none of them will do any good. These verses are clear. Hatred in my heart is clear evidence that I love myself more than I love my brother, and, if I do not love my brother who I have seen, I cannot love God who I have not yet seen. It is plain and simple.

Jesus, Love, & Life

The plain and simple truth about hate and darkness does not have to be bad news. In fact, the fear that I feel when thinking about the sin in my own heart highlights just how good the good news of the gospel is! Verse 16 tells us how we hateful-hearted sinners can “know love” – because “He laid down His life for us”! 1 John 3:16 echoes John 3:16 where we find out that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”!

We do not have to go the way of Cain and let our hatred breed darkness and death in our lives. We believe in Christ, repenting of our sin and trusting in Him, and experience His love. It is a game-changer to understand that “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We do not have to give into our natural tendency toward hatred and sin but can say with Paul that “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20)!

We know that we have the love of Christ when that love begins to be spread to others. Just as Jesus laid down His life for us, we find that – if we have Life in Him – that our lives begin to be characterized by the same sort of selflessness. Does this change happen immediately? Unfortunately, no. But, through continuing to follow Christ and experiencing more and more of His love and grace, our lives begin to transform to be more like His. And the more we become like Him, the brighter His Light shines in the darkness around us.

This means that our faith will be practical. If we see a “brother in need”, we will be unable to close our hearts to him (v. 17). This means that we will give of what Christ has blessed us with. If we see people in need, we will share of what we have. Again, this is plain and simple. James 2:15-16 questions whether a faith sees someone who is “poorly clothed and lacking in daily food” but does not help meet that need is of any value. This convicts me heavily. God has blessed me with much – not so that I can horde it or show how “blessed and highly favored I am” but to be His hands and feet and share His love and Light in the darkness.

Concluding Thoughts

I leave you with the challenge of verse 18: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth”. Think about your life. Is it characterized by love or hate, light or dark, death or life? I do not ask any more of you than I have had to ask myself while studying and meditating on this passage. But I offer you a listening ear and a sympathetic heart should you need it. But, more importantly, I lift you up, dear Sojourner, to the God who is love and light and life.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 3:11–18.

[2] The only other context we have is in Jude 11 where Cain’s sin was compared to “Balaam’s error” (Numbers 22) and “Korah’s rebellion” (Numbers 16).

Refresh & Restore — March 18, 2021

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.[1]           

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Greetings, Sojourner!

For me and my family, it is Spring Break, and, rather than completely taking a break from writing this week, I thought I would share a passage I have been meditating on this week. Hopefully, I can encourage you to meditate on God’s Word, too.

If you think it is odd that I am talking about meditating, you are not alone. But I hope to redeem this word and idea from the way that it is often linked with eastern mysticism. Here are a few of the verses that speak of meditating on God’s Word and a brief definition of the original Hebrew word:

  • Psalm 1:2 – …but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates (to celebrate; to ponder by talking to oneself) day and night.
  • Psalm 77:12 – I will ponder (same word translated “meditate” in Ps. 1:2 above) all your work, and meditate (to occupy one’s attention with thanks and/or praise) on your mighty deeds.
  • Psalm 119:15 – I will meditate (same as “meditate” in Ps. 77:12) on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.
  • Psalm 119:97 – Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation (thoughtful contemplation) all the day.

Basically, the idea is for the Word of God to occupy your thoughts and drive you to worship God and be thankful for what He has done for us in Christ through the power of His Spirit. And this is what I have been doing this week with today’s passage.

The goal of meditating on God’s Word seems counter-intuitive for most of us. While we realize that we need to spend time in God’s Word, we often feel pressured by reading plans that push us through the Bible in a year or to read this or that section in a month, etc. But let me challenge you not to be satisfied merely getting through the Bible. Let your time in the Word be God getting His Word through you – getting it in you!

Here is what meditating on this passage has been like for me and how I plan to continue meditating on them throughout my break and how I am seeking God’s Spirit to move and work on my life through it.

I have read these verses. A lot. Seriously, this is important. I read a lot – for work, for enjoyment, for study, but to meditate on God’s Word is different than just reading. I may read much longer portions of the Word or read from several books in a given week. But there is no way I can meditate on it all. I need a bite-sized chunk that I can chew on, ponder, and keep on my mind. I came across these verses studying for a sermon last week. I found myself pre-occupied by them, so I read them and read them some more.

Next, I went and looked at the context for these verses – I looked at the paragraph/chapter prior. When Paul says “So we do not lose heart”, the “so” calls back to how our faith is founded upon “what is written” in the Word (v. 13a), the way that faith/belief figures in to what he speaks/proclaims (v. 13b), the knowledge of Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of eternal life with Him (v. 14), and the “grace that extends more and more” to God’s people producing thanksgiving in their hearts and glory for God (v. 15). This is a solid, biblical basis for not losing heart!

This basis explains how we can be “renewed day by day” while we are wasting away in this world (v. 16). It explains how our trials can be considered “light momentary affliction” when compared to the “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (v. 17). It reminds us that we do not need to look at the “transient”, passing things that we can see here on earth but, instead, to “things that are unseen”, things that are “eternal” (v. 18).

Having this occupy my mind has helped me have an eternal perspective in the events in my life. I can rest my mind and not think about work while on break because I trust in the finished work of Christ. Usually, I allow my mind to be pre-occupied with future worry, but, this week, I have tried to treat the present as “transient”, the future not a guarantee (James 4:14), and set my mind on things above (Colossians 3:1).

I challenge you this week to give meditating on God’s Word a try. Find you a chunk of Scripture and read it. When you get through reading it, read it some more. Keep it on your mind and seek God to help you apply it in your life. Do not lose heart. Set your mind on the Word of God, and I promise you will find Him there!

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 4:16–18.

Refresh & Restore — March 11, 2021

2:28 And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at His coming. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of Him.

3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Him or known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as He is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.[1]

1 John 2:28-3:10

Greetings, Sojourner!

Today marks the end of the first half of our study of 1 John! It has been so good to slow down and take this book of the Bible section-by-section, making it as easily understood as possible. We have eaten our way through some tough portions of Scripture, sometimes taking a week or two to chew on them, but today’s passage is too rich to divide up. It’s a bit longer than usual, so we will not nibble through an introduction.

In this week’s passage, John uses the image of either being a child of God or a child of the devil. This refers to the characteristics of an individual being similar to their father. For the church, it should be apparent that God is our Father similar to the way that children are viewed as sharing similar traits to their parents. But walking through this passage is going to require us to ask tough questions of ourselves to make sure that we resemble the Father and not look like children of the adversary.  

God’s Children are Characterized by Confidence

Our first verse this week (v. 2:28) is the same one we finished with in the last devotion. But I believe that we can dive into it a bit more. Look at the contrast between the phrases “have confidence” and “shrink from Him in shame”. Both of these are linked with the end of that sentence “at His coming”. In the context of being a child of God, I get the image of a child reacting to a parent returning home from work.

The ideal image would be like my nephew Caleb who, every time his dad walks outside, stands at the door with his hands up waiting for him to come back in and pick him up. Now, if he was a bit older and his mom told him something along the lines of “wait until your daddy gets home – you’re gonna get it”, he would likely avoid greeting or even being seen.

Throughout this passage, we are going to look at the dreaded subject of sin and what it means – both for children of God and children of the devil. But I think v. 2:28 very clearly sets the standard for God and His children that is put out in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”, resting and having confidence in our Father rather than trusting in what we did wrong or tried to accomplish on our own.

When you look to the Father, do you have confidence in what He has done or do you shrink in fear and shame at what you have done? Do you look at His coming return with hope and joy or with anxiety and fear?

God’s Children Practice What They Preach

I know that the phrase “practice what you preach” is loaded. It is often used as a response to a religious person acting wrongly. And that is why I want to use it here.

The word that is translated “practice” can also be translated as “perform”, “behave”, or “make oneself out to be”, and making our practice as Christians into a performance or a behavior is part of the problem. We often try to make ourselves out to be something in order to show the world something or convince others or ourselves about something. I believe the best alternate translation is “produce”, “yield”, or “bear”.

Jesus Himself uses this exact word in the context of those words in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7. You may notice that we cited the first few verses in this section in last week’s devotion:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

Matthew 7:15-20

 Jesus uses the same Greek word that John uses as “practices” five times in that one paragraph, and, if we truly want to understand the Word better, there is no better person to have interpret it for us than Jesus Himself! So, when John says “practices righteousness” in vv. 2:29, 3:7, and 3:10, he does so like he would discuss an apple tree bearing apples. It also means that when he says “makes a practice of sinning” (vv. 3:7, 8, 9) and  “practices lawlessness” (v. 3:7) that he does so in the same manner. Just as apple trees bear apples, those who are born again (John 3:3, 1 Peter 1:3) are children of God and bear the fruit of His Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Those who are spiritually dead in their sin (Ephesians 2:1) bear the fruit of sinful flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) and reflect the heritage of sin that mirrors the rebellion of Satan against God (John 8:44).

This is an opportunity to look at our own lives and test whether or not we “walk in the Spirit” or “gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). Are you able to see the fruit of the Spirit in your practices, or are you trying to bring your own plans and desires into fruition?

God’s Children Reflect His Righteousness

We must be careful here because we run the risk of falling into the same heresies that the antichrists and false teachers were spreading to John’s original audience. The specific brand of heresy that they were spreading is known as Gnosticism where they believed that knowledge could save people. As we talked about at length a few weeks ago, anything that twists or purposefully alters the gospel is not of the Spirit of God but of a spirit of antichrist. One of the things that gnostics believed that is particularly appealing to sinful people is their beliefs that sin was not harmful for those who have become intellectually enlightened and that they were perfect as they are. Both of these are dangerous. One the one hand, God alone is sinless and perfect, and He alone – as the sovereign, all-powerful Creator of the universe – defines what is and is not sinful.

Furthermore, we have to have a complete view of sin here. This is why context is so needed and why walking through a whole book is helpful to us when trying to understand the Word of God better. Everything that John says here in chapter 3 (his original letter did not have chapters and verses anyway) cannot be interpreted apart from what was already written in chapters 1 and 2. Let us look back at a few verses that are extremely important to get this part correct:

  • John 1:8: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
  • John 2:1: My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

Both of these are important here because, 1) they show the danger of false teachings regarding sin and salvation, and 2) how, even though we are to strive to follow Jesus and live following the example He laid out with His life and in His Word, He knows our limitations and has borne the burden of our sin Himself as our propitiation (ch. 2:2) so that we can find cleansing and justification in Him (ch. 1:9).

This is good news for us because we are incapable of being righteous on our own (Romans 3:10) and need Jesus to be righteous for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). When we follow after Him, we find that practicing righteousness becomes part of our way of life. It stops being about doing good deeds to earn salvation or to make ourselves look like something we are not and becomes simply being about what He is about.

We no longer find ourselves making “a practice of sinning” because He has changed us from the inside out, bringing us from death to life (Ephesians 2:4-5) and transplanting our hearts of stone with hearts that live and beat for Him alone (Ezekiel 36:26). This is even seen in how John defines sin here – “lawlessness” (v. 3:4). Most of the time, the words referring to sin in the New Testament have negative consequences (hamartia, sin, which is an archery term meaning to miss the target; adikia, unrighteousness, meaning to not do what is known to be right and good; and paraptoma, tresspasses or transgressions, meaning getting off of the right path), but, in this passage, John’s saying that “sin is lawlessness (anomia)” basically describes being in active rebellion against God. This is important because it explains all of the talk John makes about those who are “children of the devil” (v. 3:10).

Concluding Thoughts

I know this has been a lot, but I want to sum up what we have been talking about this week with a closer look at the illustration that John gives in talking about the different children (of God or the devil).

Two verses from this section are key to our understanding how this applies to our lives. The first verse is 3:3 which says, “everyone who hopes in Him purifies Himself as He is pure”. This is the reason that children of God are characterized by righteousness. It is not because we are better than other sinners because we are not – the difference is Christ’s righteousness. It is not because we have something to prove or earn. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation, and Christ’s life, death, and resurrection prove it. Just like the quirks and qualities that come together to make me Just Keith come largely in part to my parents and my upbringing, the way that our lives gradually become more like Christ is because we learn to “walk in Him” because we are “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as [we] were taught” (Colossians 2:6-7). Our hope stems from what He has already done in His first coming and leads us to walk in the hope that He is coming back as He promised.

The second verse 3:8 which clarifies the relationship between one who “makes a practice of sinning” like “the devil [who] has been sinning from the beginning” and Jesus coming in order “to destroy the works of the devil”. Simply put, if we are making a practice of sinning – not committing individual sins but habitually continuing a purposeful pattern of keeping sin going – we are working against Christ. We cannot seek to continue building up what He is actively tearing down and be of Him.

This passage has caused me to look at and evaluate my life and choices that I make on a regular basis. That makes it hard. But hard questions are good so long as they produce good answers. It is good for those of us who identify as children of God to check our walks by His Word. The good news is that, should we find that we are not His children, we can be because all who “receive Him, who [believe] in His name, He [gives] the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). And the way you do it is laid out simply in Scripture. If you want to be a child of God, “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, [and] you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

As always, I love you and am praying for you.

[1] The Holy Bible: ESV (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 2:28-3:10.

Refresh & Restore – March 4, 2021

24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.

26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

28 And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at His coming.[1]

1 John 2:24-28

Greetings, Sojourner!

It is Thursday again. I do not know about you, but I need a little refreshing and restoring this week. There is something about time in the Word that gives comfort and rest for one’s weary spirit.

If you live in Mississippi like I do, you have likely heard about, talked about, or at least have an opinion about our governor lifting the mask mandate. Some are relieved. Some are grieved. But I find myself thinking about the church in 1 John.

Over the past few weeks, we have been walking through 1 John 2:18-27 and how antichrists – false teachers with anti-gospel messages – had infiltrated the church of John’s early audience and were seeking to tear the church down from the inside. Jesus described these false prophets as coming to His people “in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15) and warned those He preached to then – and us today – that we would be able to “recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). As we celebrate or mourn our faces being free of masks or continue wearing them for work or school, let us contemplate the way that Jesus pulls the wool off of our eyes in regard to the antichrists who mask themselves as preachers and would lead us away from Christ.

As we walked through this part of 1 John, we have seen the differences between the Church and these antichrists – at the difference between the Holy Spirit working in us and the anti-Jesus spirit that is at work in them. Then, last week, we broke down their attack and looked at how it affects the Church and the differences between the true gospel of Jesus Christ and the way their anti-gospel works against it.

This has been disconcerting to some but let me assure you again that this is not meant to cause fear. The Holy Spirit did not inspire John to write these words so that his original audience or us today should be afraid of these antichrists. No, he wrote this that, just as Jesus said in the verse cited above, we should be able to “recognize them by their fruits” – that we should be able to see them for who they are and trust in the Jesus from the Bible who, as King of kings and Lord of lords has already conquered, is conquering, and will conquer them!

Since we have that assurance, I want to shift our focus from the attack of the antichrists and their false gospel messages to how God has already equipped His church to withstand them. To see this, we need to look at the word that shows up five times in today’s passage: abide.

The idea of abiding is not new to John. It shows up fourteen times in his gospel, and eleven of those are in the same chapter (John 5:38; 6:56; 8:3; John 15:4-7, 9-10, 16)! This word means to “remain, stay (i.e., lodge) with”, giving off a sense of dwelling or living. It can refer to something that has been set up or established that will continue standing and existing for a long time. Let us look at how this works out in today’s passage.

God’s Teachings Abide in His People

In verse 24, John tells his audience that they need to let what they “heard from the beginning abide in [them]”. This basically repeats the language we have seen already in 1 John (1:1, 1:3, 1:5, 2:7, 2:13-14) where he reminds that Jesus is “from the beginning” (v. 1:1) and that His teachings are what “you had from the beginning” (v. 2:7). The good news here is that John tells us that those who “confess the Son” (v. 2:23) have His Word – His teachings – abiding in us.

You see, learning and studying God’s Word is different than all other types of teaching and learning. It is not based on intelligence or wisdom. Instead, it occurs through the “anointing that you received from Him” (v. 27). Depending on our church background, we may have different views on anointing. Here, we can use the literal translation of the word – coating, glazing, or “anything smeared on” – to understand that the knowledge of Christ comes from Him through the preaching of His Word (Romans 10:17) and who, through His Spirit, will “guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).

If His Spirit Abides in You, “You Too Will Abide” in Him

John continues in verse 24 to explain that those who have the teachings from the beginning abiding within them will “abide in the Son and in the Father”. This is good news because it tells us that we will not be like the antichrists who “went out from us” because they “were not of us” (v. 19). No, those who have trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior have His Spirit, and it is through His Spirit that we understand the teaching of the Word. It is through the Spirit’s illumination of the Word that it comes to abide in our hearts and minds.

One of the most famous verses of all time are from Jesus quoting John about this very same assurance: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Those who believe and trust in Him will not perish like the antichrists but, instead, abide with God continually in eternal life.

His Promise is for His People to Abide with Him Forever

The good news continues in verse 25: “And this is the promise that He made to us – eternal life”. We have already looked at this promise in John 3:16, but I do not think that we can truly grasp the magnitude of what this means. Our point of view is too limited – too small to grasp the scope of eternity with Christ. I do not possess the writing ability to describe it to you adequately, but thankfully, John shares a picture with us in Revelation 21:3-4 that gives us a glimpse of eternal life:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Forever and ever, amen. All of the pain and turmoil caused by sin and death will give way to dwelling with Christ in worship forevermore.

He is the Truth, and His Abiding Spirit Guides Us Away from the Antichrists’ Lies

John shifts his attention back to the antichrists in verse 26, reminding us that he wants to make sure that we know about “those who are trying to deceive [us]”. He does this to explain something about the “anointing that you received” (v. 27). Here, John clarifies that, because we have the Holy Spirit, we “have no need that anyone should teach you” because the Spirit “teaches you about everything”.

This does not mean that we do not need to be taught or preached to by Bible teachers and preachers (1 Timothy 4:11; 2 Timothy 2:2, 24; Titus 2:1, 3; Hebrews 5:12). The Bible very clearly points to God calling and equipping people to do that very thing – and to do it for our good and His glory (1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11)! What this means is that His Spirit – His “anointing” – helps us to discern what “is true, and is no lie – just as it [was] taught [in His Word]” (v. 27). His Spirit brings to mind what we have studied in His Word (John 14:26) to help us see the lies of false teachers and antichrists and not be led astray.

Because of What He is Done, We Abide with Him in Confidence Instead of Shame

I originally planned on ending this section with verse 27, but I think that verse 28 brings us to a good place to transition into the rest of the book of 1 John.

Some lies are easier to believe that others, and there is no being in this world more suited to lie or better at lying than Satan. He, after all, is the “father of lies” (John 8:44) and the being who gives direction for these antichrists to tear down and seek to destroy. Satan has been twisting the words of God from the very beginning (Genesis 3:1), and he would like nothing more than to bring the same destruction and death to us today as he did long ago in the garden. Unfortunately, the result of the twisting of God’s Word is the removal of hope.

Satan, also known as the accuser (Revelation 12:10), would like nothing more than for the church to lose hope in Christ, for us to not continue to put our hope and trust in Him so that we stop telling others what He has done for us and can do for them. Without salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, God in flesh, we are left in our sin and shame.

But this is the beauty of verse 28 capping off this section. Here, John reminds his “little children” that if they/we “abide in [Christ]…we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at His coming”. This is good news! Rather than believing anti-Christ lies, we can remember that “if we confess our sins, [Jesus] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleans us from all unrighteousness” (v. 1:9). Rather than allowing the Word of God to be twisted and falling further into sin, the Spirit help us to remember that “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” who is “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (vv. 2:1-2). Rather than be shifted from hope to fear, we can just abide – rest, dwell, remain – in Him and in His love, and nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). So, fear not, beloved sojourner. If you are in Christ, no spirit of antichrist has any power over you. Rest in the fact that you can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace”, the throne around which the Church will one day gather in worship – the throne of the risen Lamb and resurrected King Jesus, “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

[1] The Holy Bible: ESV (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 2:24–28.

Refresh & Restore — February 25, 2021

18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.

26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.[1]

1 John 2:18-27

Greetings, Sojourner!

We have – hopefully – survived Snowmaggedon 2021 here in central Mississippi. I am continuing to pray for those still recovering from the worst of the icy terror in Texas and other places. And I am glad for warm weather. However, this warm weather has not been enough to completely melt the ice.

While Mississippians have taken advantage of this shorts-and-flip-flops turn of temperature, there is still a lot of ice! There are large mounds of ice leftover from parking lots being cleared. There are even patches and mounds of ice around people’s houses, namely mine.

I say this to confess that I have had to live out Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Many people fell and slipped and slid on the ice this past week, but I – due mostly to abstaining from winter shenanigans – was proud that I made it through the entire spell of inclement weather without falling. I gave my father and brother a hard time after their hard falls. Haughty might be mild compared to the joking I threw their way.

But, lo and behold, Tuesday morning found me literally face-planted on my driveway, glasses thrown asunder and wrist awkwardly bent beneath the full weight of my body. I was humbled. And I was angry. I yelled and fussed and made quite a big deal about my fall. Thankfully, it appears that my wrist is only sprained, leaving my pride to be the only thing truly and rightfully broken.

You may be wondering how this relates to antichrists and 1 John, but I assure you they are wedded together in my mind today.

Last week, we began our study of 1 John 2:18-27 and saw that it was more than we could cover in a single devotion. Our first look at this passage helped us see the difference between the church in 1 John and the antichrists that were attacking it. In it, we looked at how God helps His Church to persevere through being attacked and how the those aligned with a spirit that is literally anti-Jesus-Christ will fall away after inflicting their anti-gospel message.

This week, we are going to shift to look at the attack of the antichrists and the effects of the attack on the church in vv. 22-23.

To do this, I again remind you of the truth of the gospel. In last week’s devotion, we looked at several verses (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Titus 3:4-5, 1 Peter 1:3-5) that lay out the foundation for the gospel clearly. I would like to shift to a definition of the gospel written by a preacher so that we can compare the false message of the antichrists with the true message of the gospel proclaimed through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the preaching of the Word. David Platt defines the gospel thusly:

“The gospel is the good news that God, the loving Creator, sovereign King, and holy Judge of all, has looked upon men and women wonderfully and uniquely made in His image who have rebelled against Him, are separated from Him, and deserve death before Him, and He has sent His Son, Jesus, God in the flesh, the long-awaited King, to live a perfect and powerful life, to die a sacrificial and substitutionary death, and to rise from the grave in victory over sin, Satan, and death. The gospel is a summons from God for all people in all nations to repent and believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, turning from all idols to declare allegiance to Jesus alone as King and trust in Jesus alone as Lord. All who turn from Jesus will experience everlasting, horrifying suffering in hell, while all who trust in Jesus will experience everlasting, satisfying communion with God in heaven.”[2]

Look at how he speaks about God. He describes Him as “Creator, sovereign King, and holy Judge” (Genesis 1:1, Colossians 1:16-17, Revelation 17:14, Isaiah 33:22). He emphasizes the Bible’s teaching that Jesus is “God in the flesh, the long-awaited King” (John 1:14, Isaiah 9:6)and that His “sacrificial and substitutionary death” (2 Corinthians 5:21, Colossians 1:19-20) and resurrection from “the grave in victory over sin, Satan, and death” (John 11:25-26, 1 Corinthians 15:54-57) as being necessary for anyone to be saved. He explains that salvation occurs when people “repent and believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, turning from all idols to declare allegiance to Jesus alone as King and trust in Jesus alone as Lord” (Mark 1:15, Romans 10:9-10). All the language that Platt uses to talk about the gospel speaks of God and the salvation He offers in a way that is consistent with Scripture. This, like all true Bible teaching, is pro-Christ.

Look at the contradiction we see in 1 John 2:22. The antichrists are liars who deny “that Jesus is the Christ”, going even further to deny “the Father and the Son”. Let me say that again. They are proclaiming that Jesus is not the Messiah. They are proclaiming that He is not God. They are proclaiming that God the Father is not who He claims to be in His Word. They are proclaiming that God the Son is not who the Bible says that He is.

Everything that comes from the mouth of these antichrists – and will ultimately come from the Antichrist – is designed to turn you away from the truth of the gospel. It is more dangerous than you can imagine. This false gospel is designed to stir up doubt and division in local churches. Remember, that “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:9), meaning that his goal is to devour – to devote to destruction – by whatever means he can. But, just as he is known to be “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44) and “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9), he lives up to that and spews his anti-gospel lies through his antichrists.

We have seen a few weeks ago that Satan has knowledge of Scripture, so he knows that the Bible shows his sure doom. I can think of nothing more dangerous than an angry supernatural being with delusions of grandeur and a nothing-to-lose, take-the-ship-down-with-me attitude. Yet I remind you, “Lo! His doom is sure!”[3]

Revelation 20:10 shows a different picture of Satan: “and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever”. The King of kings and Lord of lords will reign victorious, and hell will forever be occupied by Satan and his antichrists. But how many other occupants will be led astray by his lies and false gospel?

We do not have to be susceptible to fall into his trap to “walk in darkness” and “not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6). No, “if we walk in the light, as [God] 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).

We need to follow the warning of the psalmist and seek that God may “turn [our] eyes from looking at worthless things; and give [us] life in [His] ways” (Psalm 119:37). We need to heed the invitation of Jesus Himself who said, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14).

To do this, we need to be careful. Verse 23 clearly states that those who deny the Son do not have the Father – they cannot be saved because they have no part in Christ or His death and resurrection. But verse 23 also gives hope: “Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” We need to be on our guard. We need to be like the believers in Berea who “were more noble than those in Thessalonica” because they “received the Word with eagerness” but made sure they were “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). We need to do the same. We trust preachers only when their gospel lines up with Scripture. And we can tell antichrists by the same token; if they wrongly proclaim Christ, they have no gospel – plain and simple.

The issue with the false gospel is that they begin with just enough truth to be familiar to their hearers to get their attention and trap them. In the case of the church in 1 John, the antichrists preached in the name of Jesus; the problem was their Jesus was neither the Christ nor God incarnate. They preached a different Jesus. These antichrists come looking like prophets and preachers – they masquerade as sheep “but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). They come up from “among the people” and seek to “secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1). Their entire goal is to “distort the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:7). If you add anything to or take anything away from the gospel – if you preach a different Christ, you have no hope and no salvation.

While this is a dire warning, it is not meant to cause fear. Remember that, if you are in Christ, “you have been anointed by the Holy One” (v. 20). He has left you a His Spirit, and the “Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). And His Spirit will help you discern the truth from the lies (v. 27).

I told you earlier that I fell and busted my wrist, face, and pride on the ice Tuesday. What I did not tell you was that I knowingly was standing on ice. I knew that others had fallen but felt that I could stand on my own two feet – until those feet were following my body to the ground. What I did not tell you was that I fell again this very morning. I was more careful today to avoid the ice, but I did not look as closely as I should have, stepped on black ice on my sidewalk, and busted my pride once more. Let us be on better guard against antichrists and their false gospel. We are foolish to stand in its midst and always – always – need to stand on the sure foundation of “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness” (Titus 2:13-14). He alone can save. Let us trust in Him alone.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 2:18–27.

[2] David Platt, “Gospel Foundations”, Secret Church 20: God, Government, and the Gospel – Study Guide (Radical, Inc., 2020), 37.

[3] Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” (Public Domain)

Refresh & Restore — February 18, 2021

18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.

26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. [1]

1 John 2:18=27

Greetings, Sojourner!

I hope this week’s devotion finds you warm in the midst of all this…winter. I remember the ice storms that hit Mississippi in 1994 and Christmas 1998. I remember that it was cold – and sometimes dark. And I also remember that everything eventually thawed out and got back to whatever normal is. In the midst of ever-changing weather patterns and virtual work and school, I am thankful for the Word of God that will remain forever (Isaiah 40:8) and that the God it proclaims will never change (James 1:17).

The Word of God contains everything that can be known about God. It is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It discerns “the thoughts and intentions of the heart”, laying our motivations and the truth of our allegiances – everything we may want to hide from Him – bare before God (Hebrews 4:12-13). And it is in the Word that we find Life and salvation (Psalm 119:25, Ephesians 2:4-5, John 3:16-17, Romans 10:17).

This week’s passage draws on all of that. It is in this section that John begins to discuss the issues that were plaguing his original audience and their churches, and it is easily seen that the same issues attack us and our churches today. To study this, we are going to break the passage up into three parts and study them over the coming weeks: 1) the difference between the Church and its attackers (vv. 18-21), 2) the qualities and effects of the attack (vv. 22-23), and 3) the protection that those in Christ already possess to stand against the attacks (vv. 24-27).

In today’s section, we see that John uses specific language to describe the Church. He calls them “children” (v. 18) – used other places in 1 John as a term of love – to remind of the fact that they have been adopted through salvation into the family of God (Galatians 4:5, Titus 3:6, Romans 8:15). He describes them as having continued in faith to the end (v. 19). He reminds them that they have been “anointed by the Holy One” and possess “knowledge” that comes from Him through His Spirit (v. 20). And, finally, he reminds them of what he has already said in this letter about the truth and what it means to walk in it (v. 21).

On the other hand, he describes those who attack the Church as antichrists. I want to briefly pause here and talk about the word antichrist. It is one of the few words that, rather than translating, just has English letters replace the original Greek ones (ἀντίχριστος – antichristos – antichrist). It literally means “against Christ” or “in place of Christ”.[2] It shows up in the Old Testament (Daniel 7-8; 9:26-27; 11; Zechariah 11:16-17) and the New (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7; cf. Matthew 24:15-25; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; Revelation 6:2; 16:13; 19:20).

Several of the references listed above refer to the Antichrist who, based on the prophecies of Daniel, will be a “human leader, satanically energized, who will come to Jerusalem, enforce his will, exalt himself above all other people and gods, and wreak havoc and slaughter”[3]. While the Antichrist is a real figure prophesied in Scripture, we should note that 1) King Jesus’ victory has already been recorded (Revelation 19), and 2) he is not who John is talking about here.

The antichrists that John talks about here are those whose message is anti-Christ and anti-gospel. These are figures who come into the church and distort the gospel from within. They are pretenders. They make believe that they are part of the church and seek to tear it down from the inside. They are similar to the “false christs” and “false prophets” that Jesus warned about in Matthew 24:24 and Mark 13:22. Their goal is to use any means at their disposal, even demonic “signs and wonders”, to “lead astray” as many as they can – if possible, even those who are saved and know the truth. The specific message of the antichrists attacking the church in 1 John was related to denying that “Jesus is the Christ” (v. 22); they were preaching and proclaiming a different/false gospel.

Rather than trying to explain the true gospel to you in my own words, let me show you a primary difference between those who seek to glorify God through His gospel and those who seek to distort it. The gospel does not require explanation since it is shown plainly in Scripture:

  • For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
  • For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
  • But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-6)
  • Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

That should be a quality of all preachers/gospel teachers who say that they are “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) – they must actually present the Word and use it in the correct context.

John emphasizes twice in v. 19 that these antichrists “went out from us” because “they were not of us” to make it “plain that they all are not of us”. The antiChrist nature of the antichrist’s gospel cannot abide in the Church. And their leaving – either by their own choice or by being removed – shows that they are not of us. This is important to understand because it helps us see that we can know we are in Christ – that we are His.

We looked a few weeks ago at the importance of understanding that “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (ch. 2:1). That shows that we do not look to be sinless and perfect to show we are saved because it is not possible. We look to Christ, “the propitiation of our sins”, for salvation (ch. 2:2). We look to what He did and trust in that rather than our own actions. It is important that we grasp this truth in order to move on here. Salvation comes from Christ and His grace, “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

When it says that the antichrists left because they were not of us, John emphasizes the eternal nature of salvation[4] – those who are saved by Christ will continue in Him to the end. He, in describing how those who are “not of us” leave the church, emphasizes the same thing that Paul does in Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”. If God has saved you, you are saved. He will not quit on His children nor forsake them (Hebrews 13:5). But those who masquerade as “church members” while not being a part or member of the body of Christ will eventually be exposed. Rather than worrying over this or allowing our natural doubts to bloom into fear, let us take hold of the advice that Paul gave to the church in Philippi – to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”, making sure that it is “God who works in you” and not you working to earn salvation by your own actions (Philippians 2:12-13). The language in this verse is interesting and fits perfectly with the context of 1 John 2:18-21.

The word translated “work out” here does not mean that we make our salvation happen or earn it somehow. It was a word that would have been familiar to farmers of the period, similar to our word “cultivate”. In this case, God has planted the seed of His gospel in our hearts and is growing it up in us to bear fruit (John 15:4, Colossians 1:10). He has done all the work in our salvation; we merely continue in that beautifully simple command and invitation from Jesus that is the same for us as it was for Peter, John, and their brothers all those years ago: “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19-21). And, despite the false teaching of the antichrists around us, we – like sheep – know the voice of the Good Shepherd (John 10:14-16).

It has been my hope that this study of 1 John could be a tool to help you better understand the Word of God so that you can know Him better. But some passages are just plain meaty and need to be chewed and chewed until the bites can be swallowed. Know that you are prayed for and loved and that – should you want to talk about anything you read here or need specific prayer – you can always feel free to reach out and contact me.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 2:18–27.

[2] Daniel I. Morrison, “Antichrist,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[3] John MacArthur, “Antichrists and Christians”, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1-3 John (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007), 96.

[4] The issue of the eternal nature of salvation (sometimes called the perseverance of the saints or, too simply, once-saved-always-saved) is debated by some. Rather than debate that here, I have compiled a list of Scriptures that deal with it in the “Bible Study Notes” section of the website.