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 — 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.

Scripture Resource — Perseverance of the Saints

There are some who believe that a Christian can fall away into sin and lose their salvation; while others believe that, once God saves someone and adopts them into His family, that individual will always be saved. I believe that this is a primary gospel issue and vitally important to one’s view of Christ and His gospel. However, I do not seek to argue or wrangle over words.

I believe firmly in God’s Word and its ability to teach, reprove, correct, and train God’s people to walk with Him (2 Timothy 3:16). For that reason, I present to you the following passages of Scripture and let God’s Word speak for itself.

If you would like to talk about this further, feel free to contact me. I cannot promise that we will come to a consensus, but I can promise that I will respond as lovingly and graciously as I can and would love to talk to anyone, especially about the gospel and the Word!

John 6:35-40 —

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”[1]

John 10:25-30 —

25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”[2]

Romans 8:31-39 —

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

       “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[3]

John 3:16-17 —

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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.[4]

John 3:36 —

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.[5]

Romans 8:1 —

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.[6]

Romans 8:28-30 —

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.[7]

Ephesians 1:13-14 —

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.[8]

1 Peter 1:3-5 —

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.[9]

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.[10]

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 6:35–40.

[2] Bible, Jn 10:25–30.

[3] Bible, Ro 8:31–39.

[4] Bible, Jn 3:16–17.

[5] Bible, Jn 3:36.

[6] Bible, Ro 8:1.

[7] Bible, Ro 8:28–30.

[8] Bible, Eph 1:13–14.

[9] Bible, 1 Pe 1:3–5.

[10] Bible, Php 1:6.

Refresh & Restore — January 28, 2021

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.[1] 

1 John 2:7-11

Greetings, Sojourner – “Beloved”!

I am struck by the way that John writes to his original audience. He refers to them often as “little children” (2:1, 12, 18, 28; 3:7, 18); now, he calls them “beloved” (2:7; 3:2, 21; 4:1, 7, 11). He loves them, and it shows. But this word we see as “beloved” is more than a regular term for someone you care about. The love in it is the word agape – God’s never-ending, unfailing love. “Beloved” is a word that is unique to the Church. It is rooted in His love for us. It refers to those who love God and worship Him. And it is a greeting specific to the family of God – those united by their adoption through faith in Christ (John 1:12, Galatians 4:5-6).

I greet you the same today, beloved Sojourner, knowing that as we journey through this world that we are loved by God. That love is at the heart of John’s writing. It is one of the themes that we loop through over and over: life, light, and love, all of which we will see in today’s passage.

Before we get too far, I want to address the issue of following/keeping commandments. So far in 1 John, we have seen the importance of walking in the same way that Jesus walked (2:6) and how we should keep His commandments (2:3), His Word (2:4), and abide in Him through all of that (2:5). It is easy to get legalistic when we talk about being obedient and keeping commandments. So, I would like to revisit a statement from the end of last week’s devotion:

“We follow Him, learning from Him, and keep His commandments. We do not keep His commandments to earn our freedom but because of our freedom, in love and gratitude for what He has done for us.”

It is important that we do not fall back into trying to keep the Law (Galatians 5:1; Romans 6:14-18). Any reference to keeping commandments here speaks to following Christ and imitating Him (Ephesians 5:1) because He loves us and gave Himself up for us (Ephesians 5:2). We obey because we love Him (4:19) and trust that His Way is better than ours (John 14:6, Isaiah 55:9). To keep His commandments is not to earn salvation but to see that salvation has taken root in our hearts and lives (Colossians 2:6-7).

The commandment that John talks about here mirrors Jesus’ exact teaching:

“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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35

This was no doubt unforgettable for John as it was part of Jesus’ last supper with His disciples on the night before He was arrested, the day before He was crucified. That night would impact the rest of John’s life (1:1-3). It was that same “new commandment”, given straight from the mouth of God, that John references here: love others as Christ loved us.

You have no doubt heard this commandment before. It was Jesus’ upgraded version of the commandment found in Leviticus 19:18 – “You shall not take vengeance or bear grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself” – which has been a feature of many Sunday School lessons and sermons. Yet Jesus’ command, especially the way it is referenced in 1 John, is not based out of loving like we love ourselves or treating others how we would like to be treated. No, this is no “golden rule”; this is a heart overflowing with the love we receive from Christ.

Jesus’ love for us in salvation should impact the way that we interact with other people. Having received grace, we should be gracious. Having received mercy, we should be merciful. Having experienced the love of God, we should love others. But, as simple as that sounds, it is extremely difficult.

Part of the reason that this is difficult is because it requires more than just lip-service. Here where I live in the American South, “I love you” and “love” are thrown about casually. The love that Jesus commands of us is anything but casual. His love is a “greater love” (John 15:13). He loved us “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8). It is because God is “rich in mercy” and out of the “great love with which He loved us” that we have Life at all (Ephesians 2:4)! I speak from experience when I say that the true difficulty lies in acknowledging how difficult I am to love and how amazing the love of God is that He could ever love and save a “wretch like me”.

This is the reason that love becomes the defining characteristic of what it is to be a Christian. Just like Jesus told His original disciples that they would be known by their love for one another, the standard is the same for us. How we love God and share that love with others shows whether we are in darkness or light (2:7-8). In fact, hating our “brother” is an indicator that we live and stumble in the darkness (2:9-10).

Darkness is most definitely of Satan and not of God, but it also comes from our own sinful hearts. If we allow our hatred of someone – especially one close enough to be considered a brother in Christ (we will study more on this in the future) – to blind us, the darkness comes from that hatred; our own sinful hearts and desires have clouded our judgment and led us astray (Jeremiah 17:9).

If you are like me, this is where you start justifying your hatred. No, I do not know what they did to you. No, I have not experienced what you have. But God has (Hebrews 4:14-16)! He has experienced how I have sinned against Him (Psalm 51:4). His heart has been grieved time and again (Genesis 6:6, Ephesians 4:30).

And it is at the feet of the One who would be righteous to cast us out that we learn to love and forgive instead. Or, if our love for ourselves and hatred for others makes us unable (or unwilling) to forgive and let go of hate, we find that we truly abide in darkness and have not experienced the love of Christ at all (2:9, Matthew 6:14-15).

Rather than rationalizing your hatred, beloved, I urge you to repent – to not “abandon the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4). The beauty of repentance is that it is always met with love. Always.

If you look at today’s passage and feel more than a little inadequate, you are not alone. I remind you that we are incapable of following Christ’s commandments perfectly. Remember, when we sin we have an Advocate (2:2) to meet us where we are and carry us through. I believe that John included this next section (2:12-14) to illustrate that, no matter where we are in our walk with Christ, none of us have arrived:

12  I am writing to you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
13  I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
     I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
     I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.
14  I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
     I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God abides in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.[2]

John pauses here to give a special word to Christ-followers in every stage of walking with Him: “little children” who are just starting out with Him, “fathers” who have walked with Him for many years, and “young men” who are actively (and often through error and trials) seeking to serve the Lord.

To the children, he reminds them that they have been forgiven of their sins (2:12) and adopted by the Father into the family of God (2:13). When we sin and stumble, these things are easy to forget and necessary to remember to continue following Christ.

To the fathers (and mothers) in the faith, he reminds them that their relationship is grounded in “Him who is from the beginning” (2:13-14) – both the beginning of all things and the beginning of their walk when they were but children in their faith.

And to the young men (and women) who are in the midst of spiritual warfare and service of the Lord – not yet mature in their faith but actively walking with Christ, he reminds them that the evil one has already been overcome (2:13) and that the strength to win the battle comes from the Lord as found and taught from His Word (2:14).

Wherever you are on your journey – baby or an elder – Christ still has something for you. Rest assured, that His same new commandment still applies. Go out and find ways to “love one another” today.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 2:7–11.

[2] ESV, 1 Jn 2:12–14.

Songs for Sunday, January 24, 2021

There’s an old song that my daddy taught me when I was young. Any time I think of the words or hear someone sing it, I can hear daddy’s voice in my head. I can hear the specific way that his fingers hit the strings of his guitar when he plays it. This song comforts me more and more the older I get:

“Oh, Lord you know I have no friend like you. If Heaven’s not my home, then, Lord, what will I do….
“This world is not my home. I’m just a-passin’ through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me to Heaven’s open door. And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”

Jim Reeves, “This World is Not My Home”

There’s some good theology and better advice in those words: this world was never meant to be home for us! It reminds me of Paul’s words in Philippians 3:20: “…our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ”.

If you are struggling this week with earthly things – governments and people and things, be reminded that this world is not home. Be reminded that God is still on His throne and that He does not need anyone’s consent to stay there – it’s His forevermore.

And that’s what we are singing about this week: the hope that comes from our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Rescuer – the Great I AM – who has always reigned and will continue to reign forever because He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. We can trust in Him and not fear anything, even the grave, because He has already won!

Here are our songs:

  • Psalm 103:1-12

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

 The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
 He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

  • Revelation 17:14

14 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 19:11-16

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

I hope to see you with us, whether you gather in person, in the parking lot via speaker, or on Facebook or YouTube live!

If gathering in person, please remember that masks are recommended and that we need to remain vigilant in our social distancing measures. Continue to pray for those who are sick – not just our members but all those around the world.

Refresh & Restore — January 21, 2021

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. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.[1]   

1 John 2:1-6

Greetings, Sojourner!

I absolutely love this week’s passage. It shows us so much of Christ’s heart for us and introduces us to some unique aspects of His character. It also shows us John’s heart for his original audience and, I hope, it shows a bit of mine for you.

Remember that the passage that we look at each week comes out of the larger whole of 1 John. So far, we have seen that what John writes in this letter flows out of his personal experience and testimony with Jesus (1:1-4). We have also seen that, to “walk in the light” (1:7), we must repent consistently of our sin and trust in Christ – that how we see and talk about our sin matters (1:5-10). And it is the seriousness of our sin that brings us into today’s verses.

John starts this paragraph with “my little children” (2:1). This shows that he cares about them. The fact that he calls them that in this paragraph shows that what he is talking to them about is serious. It reflects how parents talk to their children in times of extreme danger or importance. Speaking from experience, I find that when my children are terrified that I remind them to “listen to Daddy” and my tone is the same as it was when I spoke to them as infants cradled in my arms. John is talking to his spiritual children about sin.

In fact, he expands his purpose for writing to include “so [they/we] may not sin” (2:1). I want to clarify that this does not point to personal, human perfection. It is unattainable on earth. This is not a cop out; it is merely the truth. It is in our nature to sin and our sin nature continually wages war against the Spirit of God in us (Romans 6:23, 7:15-20; Galatians 5:16-17). But even though this is true, we have to be careful in how we talk about sin. Knowing that we will always struggle with sin does not give us an excuse to sin (Galatians 5:1). Sometimes, even knowing that there is forgiveness to be had can tempt us to sin more and more (Romans 6:1-2).

Just as John showed us in last week’s passage, we must have an appropriate view of sin. If we deny our sinfulness, we are liars who have no part in Christ (1:8). But, if we confess our sins to him in repentance and faith in Christ, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). I do not know about you, but I struggle with the reality of my sin. I long for the day when I will see Jesus face-to-face and no longer struggle with sin. But I would be a fool to think that I had arrived at perfection before I kneel before perfection Himself in glory.

So, how does the reality of my continued sin fit with John’s purpose of writing “that [I] may not sin”? John acknowledges the reality of sin in verse 2: “But if anyone does sin”.

The picture that we see unfold in verse 2 is that of a courtroom. Our sin deserves death and hell (Romans 6:23, Revelation 21:8), and we are very clearly guilty (Romans 3:10, 23). As we saw last week, to plead innocent would be a lie and show that we are not in Christ (1:8). To plead guilty would be the truth. And, standing before the righteous Judge (Psalm 50:6, 75:7; 1 Corinthians 5:13; 2 Corinthians 5:10), we would be as aware of our sins as Isaiah was when he stood in the presence of God:

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Isaiah 6:5

As in any criminal trial, there is a prosecutor – an accuser. His name is Satan (which literally translates as “the accuser”). Revelation 12:10 describes him as “the accuser of our brothers” and actively accusing them “day and night before our God”. He will have plenty of evidence against us – all we have said and done. And, if we are honest, we know we are guilty of everything he accuses us of and that we have sinned against God (Psalm 51:4). In fact, if we look in the Word, we know that God already knows everything (and so much more, including our thoughts, desires, and motivations) that Satan brings before the court (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Do you yet grasp the gravity of our situation? Surely you know how this works. We have seen enough courtroom dramas to know when a prosecutor has nailed the proverbial coffin shut with evidence. Yet this is exactly where John begins: “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (2:1).

The word advocate is used only a handful of times in the New Testament, and most of those times it is translated as Helper or Comforter and refers to the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26; 16:17). It paints the picture of one who shows up on behalf of another. In the case of the Holy Spirit, it refers to Jesus leaving His Spirit with His people once He ascended back into heaven. In the case of our advocate, Jesus Himself appears on our behalf – defense attorney, key witness, evidence, and Divine plea bargain.

Let me be clear that this is the point where our earthly legal dramas fail to picture what is going on here. Much of what we see on television (and assume happens often in the real-world) centers around someone “getting off” instead of being found guilty. As I said earlier, we are most assuredly guilty. Again, I remind you that everything the accuser says about us is true – all the evidence is genuine. The sin is ours, and we willfully committed each sin.

Our advocate is “Jesus Christ the righteous”. Were He to try to get the charges merely thrown out, He would not be righteous. There is “a record of debt” and “legal demands” that come with our sin (Colossians 2:14). The Judge cannot allow the debt to remain unpaid. But every penny – every good deed – that we have ever been capable of is not a drop in the bucket compared to the sin debt we owe.

Our accuser no doubt delights in this. What prosecutor could keep from delighting in a sure win? Yet our advocate steps forward and enters Himself into evidence. He is not just advocate but also propitiation (2:2).

Please, do not let the size of these words intimidate you. They are not fancy, academic words. They are Bible words that are important to our understanding of what Christ has done for us. The word propitiation means a sacrifice that trades wrath for favor, anger for gladness, Christ’s sinlessness for the punishment our sin deserves (Isaiah 53:5).

As our propitiation, Jesus covers our sin and shame. He decides to fully bear our punishment and gives us the favor He has as the Son of God, so, now, when the Judge looks out, He does not see our sin but His Son. How does Jesus do this? He does it “by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” by “set[ting] it aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). He – the sinless Lamb of God (1 Peter 1:19) – took on our sin so that “we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Rather than judgment, we find mercy. Instead of being condemned, we find grace. Since the Judge sees a son in the place of a sinner, we gain eternal life rather than the death sentence we deserve. And the accuser’s cries go unheard like those of a bug meeting the heel of a boot (Genesis 3:15). And we can rejoice that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

What do we do with this freedom?

We follow Him, learning from Him, and keep His commandments (2:3-4). We do not keep His commandments to earn our freedom but because of our freedom, in love and gratitude for what He has done for us (Matthew 11:29).

We see the love that He showed us through His death and resurrection (Romans 5:8) show up in our own lives (2:5). We love Him because He loves us (4:19). And we show that love to others for the same reason (4:11, Matthew 22:38-39).

We reflect His Light and Life (2:6) like the moon does the sun – a pale reflection but pointing to Him, nevertheless. And, hopefully, just as the moon pulls the tides toward it, people will be drawn to our Savior because they see Him in us.

I do not have to ask if you are struggling with sin. But I ask that when you do, you run to the advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous. “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Now, that is good news!

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 2:1–6.

Refresh & Restore — January 14, 2021

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. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.[1]

1 John 1:5-10

Greetings, Sojourner!

What a privilege it is to get to spend time together in the Word of God. When turmoil, confusion, and fear seem to be the norm, it is good to see the eternal perspective of God found in His Word. And, especially in the context of 1 John 1, we get to see the same hope that was promised in Christ long ago by the prophet Isaiah:

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.

Isaiah 9:2

This is part of what John wanted to show in his first letter. No matter how dark the darkness seems – whether in the world or in our own hearts – there is hope because “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (v. 5). Let us dive into today’s passage, and may the Word of God shine into our lives today.

Since we are going through a book of the Bible together, it is important that we see how each week’s passage flows as part of the larger text – sentences into paragraphs into sections into chapters into the whole book. This week’s passage flows out of the introduction last week by John getting specific about the message that he “heard” and “proclaim[ed]” (vv. 1, 3) – a message directly from God and not man.

The message he writes here either sums up or elaborates on what he wrote previously in his gospel. This is cool because 1) he has already shared specifically what he “heard” directly from Jesus, and 2) the Word of God is the best commentary for itself (i.e., the verses that are cited in this devotion clear up the meaning of the word and bear more weight than any of the other words). Here are some of the verses from the gospel of John that are drawn on in today’s passage:

  • In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (1:4-5)
  • The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (1:9)
  • But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (3:21)
  • Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I Am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (8:12)
  • So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (12:35-36)
  • I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (12:46)

John wanted his original readers – and us – to look at the way that Christ – the Light– shines despite the darkness – that it is His shining that ultimately drives the darkness away because it cannot contend with Him. And, just like it is the nature of light to shine, Jesus revealed/manifested Himself to us (v. 2) and shines his “glory…full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This is good news. It also carries with it some bad news.

The problem with light shining into darkness is that everything is revealed – good and bad. My wife and I were so excited to buy “daylight” bright light bulbs for our formerly dark bathroom. Now, we face the stark reality of each day that we age. The bags under my eyes are darker and deeper there. My pores seem magnified. Scars, wrinkles, and blemishes look like chasms in my face. And Candice remains beautiful.

The rest of today’s passage deals with what is found and exposed in the light – how we walk in either light or darkness exposes the state of our hearts and our fellowship (or lack of it) with Christ. It is important here that we note that all of the verses that we are looking at today have “we” as the subject. John is not pointing fingers but showing how everyone, everywhere, for all time who takes these positions (including himself) is included. He does this by making “if” statements that can help diagnose our relationship with Christ with each statement building on the others to help us understand what it means to “walk in the light, as He is in the light” (v. 7).

The first “if” statement is in verse 6: “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness”. Fellowship with God – that relationship that flows out of the grace of God in salvation – does not dwell in darkness. We saw in John 1:5 earlier that the darkness will never overcome the light, and, if we have fellowship with God, we live in the light. Let us check our own hearts. Do we claim to have fellowship with God? Are we walking (living/behaving/participating) in darkness? James 4:4 tells us the question we need to ask regarding our walk with Christ: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?”

The next “if” statement shifts to the brightness of the light and is given in a positive tone (emphasis added): “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light”. Jesus – the Light – is always the contrast to darkness. Walking (again living/behaving/participating) with Him is the opposite of walking in darkness. If we walk with Him, we have fellowship with God (v. 6) and that fellowship extends to our brothers and sisters in Christ because of the shared experience of having been cleansed from sin by “the blood of Jesus” (v. 7). That fellowship will extend to heaven where it will be sung, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…” (Revelation 5:9). And, in heaven, all will “walk in the light” because it “has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23).

Verse 8’s “if” statement shifts back to the darkness: “if we say we have no sin”. The Bible is clear on this subject. Not one single person is righteous in their own works (Romans 3:10); in fact, “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23). Every, single human being from Adam to Kingdom come (except Christ) is a sinner. And, if we convince ourselves that we are not, we “deceive ourselves”. I like the way that Charles Spurgeon put it:

“He who cannot find water in the sea is not more foolish than the man who cannot perceive sin in his members. As the salt flavors every drop in the Atlantic, so does every sin affect every atom of our nature.”

The word “deceive” there means to “lead astray”. So, by saying that we have no sin, we are causing ourselves to stumble. And we are revealing that the Truth (Jesus Himself is the Truth – John 14:6) is “not in us”. Hear me, beloved Sojourner, how we react to our sin matters – whether we choose to conceal it or confess it matters. We might be able to convince ourselves that we are sinless and perfect. We may even be able to convince other people. But the Light recognizes the darkness, and nothing is hidden from Him (Hebrews 4:13).

The final positive “if” statement is where we need to be in our walk with Christ: “if we confess our sins” (v. 9). This is the appropriate attitude for a Christ-follower regarding sin. We should not deny it but admit it and receive the forgiveness that Christ promises (Proverbs 28:13, Psalm 32:5). When we confess our sin and “draw near to the throne of grace” where Christ is seated, “we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). You see, Christ does not just do away with sin. Verse 9 makes it clear that he is “faithful” and “just” in his forgiveness. He is faithful in His forgiveness because He does what He has said He would do for those who have confessed and believed in Him (Romans 10:9). He is just because He paid the penalty for our sin (Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:21). So, I ask again, are we walking in darkness or light? Do we deny and excuse our sin, or do we confess our need for the Savior? Our answers to these questions make all the difference in this world and the next.

John’s last “if” statement shows why all of these questions matter: “If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us” (v. 10). We simply cannot have it both ways. No lie can be the Truth, nor can darkness be Light. And, since it is His voice that created this universe, His Word goes. And by the Word – Christ Himself – we are either saved or left to the death we earn ourselves through sin (Romans 6:23).

He does not ask for perfection from us. He provides that for us. He asks only that we repent and believe.

Do you?

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 1:5–10.

Refresh & Restore — October 8, 2020

9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

12 “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness of the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles – to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.

Acts 26:9-20

Greetings Sojourners!

I hope that this finds you well and ready to dive into God’s Word together!

Last week, we started looking more closely at what it means to have been in the presence of Jesus. Our theme verses for this devotional are Acts 3:19-21, and, in them, we see that “times of refreshing…come from the presence of the Lord”. Those words came from a sermon that Peter preached, and we followed those events through to their end when the hearers of that sermon were “astonished” that “uneducated, common men” – working class fishermen –  could have spoken so eloquently (Acts 4:13). It was clear to all that the only way this could have happened was that they “recognized that they had been with Jesus”.

So, today, we are continuing our look at what happens to one’s life when they have been with Jesus – when He has saved them and “caused [them] to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). Peter and John were standing trial for practicing their faith, and it is the same for Paul in today’s passage.

Paul was standing before King Agrippa and was given the opportunity to “make a defense…for a reason for the hope” that was in him (1 Peter 3:15). I am sure that it had to be tempting to speak up for release. In fact, Paul had been imprisoned for a while by that point. Yet Paul saw this as an opportunity to share the gospel with his captive audience.

King Agrippa was really nothing more than a figurehead, but he had been summoned to hear Paul’s case by the Festus, an official representing the Roman government. Paul was originally put in jail for his own protection as some Jewish men had made a vow to kill him. He could have been released, but he had instead appealed to the emperor (Acts 25:25) since 1) it was his right as a Roman citizen, and 2) he felt compelled to take the gospel to the household of Caesar (Philippians 1:13, 4:22). You see, he had no desire to free himself from his worldly bonds because he was right where Jesus had already freed him to go – “…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

I have often heard people say that they wished that they had a life like Paul’s, but, hearing his testimony, I do not think that people have really thought that through. Paul did not candy-coat his story or gloss over the rough bits. He was unashamedly sharing his sinful past because there was “now no condemnation” for those actions (Romans 8:1); he had already been forgiven!

He testified to the fact that he had been heavily involved in persecuting those who are now his brothers and sisters. He testified to the fact that he put them in prison (where he now finds himself) and that he sought to have them speak against Jesus. Why did he share these terrible bits? He cannot have been proud of them. Why would he tell these strangers about his sinful past? He wanted them to understand that they too could be forgiven – that they too could be saved!

He moves on from his sinful past to the moment that he encountered Jesus. For us, it is through His Word and the prompting of His Holy Spirit as it is read or preached. But, for Paul, it was an experience like no other. The very same Jesus he was persecuting – and trying to convince people that He was dead – showed up on the road to Damascus! Talk about a life-altering experience! The very Light that he was trying to extinguish shined so brightly on that road that he became literally blind. And the gospel truth of the resurrected Christ that he was blind to suddenly became clear!

Any time that a lost sinner, dead in his or her trespasses and sins, gets saved and finds new life in Christ, it is a miraculous thing. Men and women dead in their sins can come alive in Christ through faith and repentance in Him – even today! Think of the awesome opportunity that Paul had that day: he stood before the political leaders of his day and shared with them how to be saved. Let us look at the message he proclaimed to them.

He shared with them that – just as his blind eyes were opened – the gospel of Jesus Christ could “open their eyes” (v. 18a). Isaiah 42:7 tells us that God can “open eyes that are blind” and “bring out…prisoners from the dungeon”. This is especially cool since the prisoner (Paul) is seeking for Christ to free his jailers from the true prison – sin! He hoped that – as he would later write – their eyes would be opened to see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

He also shared with them how Christ can turn us from “darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (v. 18b). This reminds me of the imagery that we read about around Christmas time: “…the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16). Paul introduced them to Jesus who was the “life and light of men” and who “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome” (John 1:4-5)! He wanted them to have the opportunity to turn away from their lives of sin to the light and light that only comes from Jesus Christ.

The last part of his message focused on forgiveness. How many of us could forgive those who had wrongfully imprisoned us? How many of us can forgive things much less than that? But this was not some great character trait of Paul; it is a trait that comes from being forgiven of much ourselves (Matthew 18:21-35)! You see, Paul’s sharing of his former wickedness and life change through Christ showed that he remembered what Christ had done for him. And he knows and wants others to have it, too.

He wanted King Agrippa, Festus, guards, and anyone else who would listen to “receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith” (v. 18c). He wanted them to know that it is in Christ “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14) and that “to Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name” (Acts 10:43).

I want you to know that the same thing is offered today. I hope that you have looked at the life of Paul today and noticed whether your life shows that you have been with Jesus. One day, we will all stand before Him, and we will either stand on the merit of our own works and the “wages of [our] sin” or on the merit of the work He did on our behalf and “the free gift of God…eternal life” (Romans 6:23).            

It is my hope and prayer that, if you are reading this, you have had your eyes opened by the gospel of Jesus Christ and moved from darkness to light, the power of Satan to God by repenting of your sins, believing in Him, and finding the forgiveness that only comes from Him. If you have, pray with me that God will make Himself evident in your life. If you have not received this eternal life, I would love to talk with you and introduce you to the One who gives it in abundance.

What the Grace of God Can Do for You

Titus 2:11-14


Context is key when looking at the Bible. It is easy to take a verse out of its context and really mess it up.

Before we dive into our passage for tonight, let’s look a little bit at the context of Titus 2. Verse 1 helps a lot: But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Let me translate that verse a little simpler: But here’s what you need to be doing – teaching people (the Word) with correct, healthy instruction.

Paul goes on from there and tells Titus why this is important for various age groups in the church there in Crete where he pastored:

  • older men – (v. 2b) sound in faith, love, and in steadfastness
  • older and younger women – (v. 5b) that the Word of God may not be reviled (the literally word from which we get blasphemy)
  • younger men – (v. 8b) so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us
  • slaves – (v. 10b) so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior

So, when we look at our passage today, we get a piece of the doctrine – the instruction – about salvation that Paul was giving to Titus. Let’s check it out. We’re going to see how God’s grace redeems us, reforms us, and rewards us in salvation.

  1. Grace Redeems Us (vv. 11, 14a)
    1. v. 11 – For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people….
      1. Titus 3:4-5a – But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us….
      1. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 – This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
      1. So, who can be saved? “all people”
        1. Colossians 3:11 – Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
        1. Revelation 7:9-10 – After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
        1. Matthew 28:19-20 – Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
        1. Romans 10:13 (quoting from Joel 2:32) – For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
          1. The Bible is clear: anyone can be saved. It is also clear on how one gets saved: by repenting and believing.
    1. v. 14a – …[Jesus Christ] who gave Himself up for us to redeem us from all lawlessness….
      1. Ezekiel 18:23 – Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from His way and live?
      1. Let’s look at a little more of Titus 3:4-5bBut 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…
        1. Jesus “redeem”s us by paying the penalty for our sin. And He does this simply because He loves us. Oh, what a love He has.
        1. A few weeks back, I noticed a church sign that caught my attention. It said, “Come as you are. Leave changed.”
          1. Jesus meets us in our sin (Romans 5:8) to save us, but He wants more for us afterward. Let’s look at how Grace Reforms Us
  • Grace Reforms Us (vv. 12, 14b)
    • v. 12 – …training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.
      • Even though the world around us has not changed, our hearts are changed when Christ saves us.
        • 1 Peter 4:2 – …so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
      • So, what does all of this accomplish?
        • Philippians 2:15 – …that you may be blameless and innocent, 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 truth….
        • The way we live our lives either shows God to be a powerful Savior or weak and not very effective.
    • v. 14b – …and to purify for himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.
      • Ephesians 2:10 – For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
      • God has a plan for you. God has a mission for you.
      • But the best news of all, is the reward – but it’s not heaven and glory and mansions and crowns – we get to be with God! Let’s look at how Grace Rewards Us.
  • Grace Rewards Us (v. 13)
    • v. 13 – …waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
      • I will never forget June 17, 2006…. When those doors opened at the back of the church….
      • Revelation 21:1-4 – Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 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 there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
        • Amen, and hallelujah!
        • (Paul Washer) “Everyone wants to go to heaven. They just don’t want God to be there when they get there.”
        • He. Is. Our. Reward.


I know I’ve given you a lot to chew on today, but I hope that you have listened to the Scripture that I shared and examined your life.

Salvation is available to everyone who calls on the Lord and repents/believes in Him. How about you: have you called on his name? Have you repented of your sin and confessed your faith to Him?

Coming into contact with the grace of God is life-changing. Has it changed your life?