Happy New Year to everyone and welcome to 2019!
The last 3 months of 2018 I failed to keep up with my devotional blog as life and ministry took some turns. I assure you I didn't stop reading my Bible, I just had less time to write and reflect through this particular medium. That said, I intend to re-start and maintain this pattern for 2019. So, let's get to it...
Introduction: Having spent portions of the last three years preaching through John's Gospel, and most recently spending over 4 months walking through John 11-17, it's interesting to see John's application and fleshing out of so much of what Jesus said and taught, particularly in the private moments of the upper room discourse with his disciples. I said, and do still believe, that so much of what John writes here in his epistle, is making practical and personal sense of Jesus' claims and commands, with the help of the Holy Spirit. So, as we walk through this letter, I'm thinking of it as John expounding and elaborating on Jesus' teaching and applying it to the life of the church.
1 John 1:1-4
This is a rather breathtaking introduction or re-introduction to Jesus, depending on your prior exposure or understanding. I imagine the Apostle, so many years ago, decades past Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension, and he's penning this letter for the building up and shaping of the church, as some of the last apostolic content to be circulated... and he's as convinced as ever about who his friend, Jesus, was and is and the essentialness of knowing him as he is for the sake of our own lives.
Jesus is from the beginning... He has always been. He has always existed. He is eternal. There is no time which precedes Jesus. Which means he is God. This is why John, and the other NT writers, use the term "appearing" or "manifest" in relation to Jesus' incarnation and life. Because Jesus didn't come to be at some point in history, Jesus was presiding over history and simply revealed himself in time and space. That's what John testifies to here...
So when he speaks of Jesus and his life and ministry and teaching, he is speaking of the very life of God, the ministry of God and the teaching of God, concerning reality itself. And he is talking about something he and the other apostles saw visibly, heard audibly, touched physically... meaning he is not talking about spiritual, ethereal, mystical ideas. He is talking about spiritual realities, yes, but they are spiritual realities which ground our understanding of and engagement with the physical universe we inhabit. So these ultimate truths and spiritual realities are not detached from our everyday lives, but rather they are embedded within our everyday lives and they anchor us in our everyday lives if we will view life properly through this filter and adjust accordingly.
John is telling us about life and reality from the perspective of God, revealed in and through Jesus, so that we can align our hearts and minds and lives according to their original and ultimate design. We can't experience life the way God intended until and unless Jesus is at the center. That's where real life begins... when we actually enter into life with God, through faith in Christ.
And life with God means fellowship and intimacy and closeness to the Father, the Son and to all those who are also in fellowship with the Father and Son through faith. When we enter into life with God, we're entering into life with God's people, necessarily. There is no life with God that does not include life with God's people. And any attempt to live life that way is at odds with the life God has invited us into.
Brothers and sisters, this is so important... we can't experience life with God and remain disconnected from God's people. Trying to live and grow as a Christian without being meaningfully involved in a local church is like wanting to get paid for a job you won't do. I'm not saying church is a job or that maturity in Christ is earned, but their is a causal relationship between experiencing deep community and walking faithfully with Jesus. Lone-wolf Christianity, or church-on-the-periphery Christianity, are incongruent and incompatible with real Christianity. To be in Christ is to be a member of Christ's body, the church. And to live as a disembodied member of Christ's body is to harm oneself and the body of Christ severely.
That's why John is writing the things he writes in this letter... he wants us, as members of Christ's body, to know Christ personally and collectively. And he wants us to know how to live in the reality of Christ together so that we can all flourish and that God's mission to rescue and redeem His lost sons and daughters advances through us. And John says that's where his joy and the joy of the apostles is found... in connecting us to the ultimate reality which God has revealed in Jesus, and invited us all into through Jesus.
Father, as this new year begins, would you reveal yourself more powerfully to me and to us as a church than ever before. Help us to see and experience the reality which John witnessed personally and testified to joyfully for our sake. There are many things I want and feel a need for, right now. I have tons of competing desires within my heart. But I confess that my greatest need today, and this year, is and will be to see you more clearly, to know you more deeply, to walk with you more intimately, and to depend on you more desperately. Give me a deeper, richer, fuller experience of life with you this year, I pray. And I ask that you would do that through my deepening relationships with and commitment to your body, the church family you have called me to at Generations. Unite us in our love for you, and for each other, and do among us what only you can do. I ask all this on the basis of Jesus' perfections and for the sake of Jesus' glory in and among us. Amen.
1 John 1:5-10
Yesterday we saw that conscious faith in Christ unites us to Jesus, to the Father and to all those who share that same faith in Christ... In these verses John is telling us the essential character of the fellowship we've been brought into. It's a fellowship of Light, because it's a fellowship created by the God who is light and the God gives light, and God in whom there can be no darkness.
John is telling us that our fellowship with God and one another is one of honesty, openness, safety and truth... a fellowship without deceit, hiddenness, fear, and uncertainty. The gospel gives us permission, and even compels us to see ourselves as we really are, at our absolute worst, and to be honest with ourselves and others about our true selves... that is the bleak backdrop against which God's grace and the gospel shine the brightest. When we diminish our sin and guilt and need, we diminish the grace and mercy and provision of Christ.
So a fellowship of light celebrates the total goodness of God to guilty sinners, with the total depravity of each member in full view. There is no need in a community formed by the gospel to hide, pretend, fear or impress... we each bring our need and weakness and moral guilt, and the empty hands of faith while God brings His sovereign and rescuing grace to every one of us, and we're all remade and refreshed by him... None of us has anything to prove or defend. We just come in utter depenedency and desperation to God, and we daily return and remain in that place, so that we can get our lives back from Him who gave His own life for us.
The only way we continue to experience the grace of God and live in the felt love of God and enjoy connection and belonging among the people of God is to continue to confess our sin and weakness and unbelief to God... to repent and believe again and again in the finished work of Jesus. We savor the sweetness of God's kindness and we taste and see the goodness of the Lord only as we receive him continually on his terms... through the empty hands of repentance and faith.
We fear that honesty about our limitations and failures, and admitting or exposing our own weakness will isolate us from people and leave us alienated. But John is confronting that wretched belief and giving us a new thought that makes no sense to our natural mind. He's saying that being real and honest about ourselves and with others is actually the doorway through which we travel in order to find rich fellowship with God and life giving connection with others. 1 John 1:5-10 is the basis for a social environment characterized by the Gospel, Safety and Time. That's what we're called to cultivate personally, create collectively, and protect vigilantly.
Father, let me never grow tired of seeing myself as I am so that I always have the lens through which I can see you as you are. Don't let me obscure your grace by diminishing my guilt. Let me always delight to bring myself in total dependency to you and let me always resolve to walk openly with my brothers and sisters that surround me. Give me the commitment and courage and humility to be known truly, so you can be seen clearly, rather than to grope after impressiveness. Let me be content and glory in the fact of weakness and need before you, so that your provision for my need to draw others to you. Amen.
1 John 2:1-6
Continuing in the thought stream from yesterday, this is so counter-intuitive. John seems to indicate that his emphasis on our need to identify and confess our sin is the catalyst to our putting sin to death. In other words, the more we acknowledge our sin, the less we will sin. Sin draws it's life from hiddenness and pretense, and it's power is diminished and defeated when it is brought into the light. Everything in me fears talking about my sin, and wants to downplay sin, and thinks sins greatest harm will be done when others know about it...
But again, the truth John is teaching us is that it's in our admission of sin that Jesus' defeat of sin is personalized... his righteousness is applied to us, when our unrighteousness is owned by us. We live in the reality of Christ's atonement for our sin, only when we bring ourselves under the covering of his atonement. To receive and live in the benefits of union with Christ, we must exercise and keep exercising the instruments given to us to be joined to Christ... and that's conscious repentance for personal moral sin and guilt, and the empty hands of awakened faith in Jesus Christ alone and his completed work... that's the basis, and the only basis, of our life with God.
The next few verses connect us to the fruit of repentance and faith. That's how we must walk continually before the Lord and as we do, it will produce a visible holiness of life. We will keep growing toward Christlikeness, imperfectly but observably, as we remain in a posture of repentance and faith toward Jesus, and submission and openness to God's Word. It's through gazing into the living word of God and beholding the risen Son of God that we come to experience the fullness of life with God... His love and grace and presence and power are increasingly realized and personalized to anyone of us who will continually adjust their life to Him.
Prayer: Lord, than you for giving me the righteousness of Jesus... for applying the perfections of your son to a wretch like me, so that I too could be your son. I rejoice in your holiness, and the holiness of Jesus that has made me holy. I give thanks for the righteousness of Jesus that has made me righteousness before you... and I ask you know to help me embody today the holiness and perfections which have already been applied to me through Christ's blood. Let me actually walk in a manner worthy of Him today. I am utterly unable to walk uprightly before you and yet you have given your Spirit to do the impossible in me... so I submit myself today to your Spirit, in the hopes that I might walk, by His power, as Jesus walked by the same power. Amen.
1 John 2:7-14
v. 7-11 - John has spoken about keeping God's commandments, without specifying any one commandment. Then he says he's writing "no new commandment, but an old commandment..." However, there is newness in the old commandment, which he says, we've had from the beginning. So what is new in the reiteration of the old commandment? Jesus.
Before the life and ministry of Jesus, the impact of God's commands condemned us. The law of God was an albatross around our neck weighing us down because of our inability to keep it and even our inclination to reject it. But in Jesus, that weight is lifted... his fulfillment of the law on our behalf removes the accusation of the law which fosters resentment in us, and instead reveals the goodness which motivates our obedience. The grace we receive in and through Jesus allows us to see the beauty of the law and the joy of obedience without the threat of condemnation hanging over us.
John is saying that the reality of Jesus, and life with God through faith in Jesus, allows us to see the commands of God as they really are... as a pathway into the fullness of life. Jesus frees us from the demands of God so we will actually desire God... only the gospel can bring this kind of clarity to our confusion, and only the gospel can generate the obedience which the law requires but can never produce. Grace gives us the ability to see God's heart for us, and the power to walk in step with God's design for us.
v. 12-14 - I just would emphasize here, John's identification of three distinct stages of development, and the responsibility we bear in those stages. More seasoned people (not old people) seem to be responsible to maintain a proper perspective. They are to be steadfast and unflinching and reassuring during the uncertanties of life, grounded in truth and not swayed by emotions.
Young men are to allow their fighting spirit to drive their spiritual engagement... to wage war against sin, to stand firm against temptation and accusation, to be bold and courageous in their faith. They are to be on the front lines of spiritual battle and giving energy and force to representing and advancing the kingdom fo God.
Children are to be rooted in the simplicity of the gospel, and in the centrality of God's glory, and in the love of the Father... their identity in Christ. These seem to be areas of emphasis for these different stages of life and development which are worthy of our consideration and cultivation.
1 John 2:15-17
These 3 verses are so loaded with insight that we would never come to on our own. We deeply resist taking these words as seriously as we should, especially when considering the stark picture they paint…
v. 15 is an outright rejection of our morally ambiguous culture. John is not speaking of outward behaviors, but internal affections, and he’s saying that what we cherish and value, and the hierarchy of what we cherish and value is morally charged. The notion that all loves, values and affections are incidental or acceptable or equally valid is categorically false. The idea that our attraction to whoever or impulse for whatever is acceptable or legitimate, is outright denied. To love that which is in the world and internal to us which is not of the Father, is evidence that we have not yet encountered the fullness of the Father’s love.
The connection here is powerful. John is saying that the Father’s love, while it is unlimited in measure toward us, is limiting in it’s impact on us… we can’t love the Father and live under the love of the Father without hating other things. In some sense, the worldly conception of love is exactly the opposite… the world’s version of love is broadly applied but heavily conditioned. The world hates the idea that loving God would keep us from affirming anyone else in their life and choices. Love, they say, should cause us to endorse everything. And only thing we can’t endorse for anyone is the withholding of their endorsement of someone. Love, God’s word says, demands the rejection and repudiation of a great many things in order to love him and that which he loves.
v. 16 goes on to explore the love of the world more specifically… John says the love of the world consists in what we are drawn to physically and visually as well a emotionally… It’s about what indulges my appetites, what captures my eye, and what makes me feel better about me. If our lives and the lives of others are about the pursuit of self and indulgence of self than they are inherently opposed to the Father.
v. 17, John says it’s temporarily satisfying but ultimately hollow. Sin and self has it’s moments of pleasure to be sure, but it also always has a gotcha. The love of the world is the preference of corrupted versions of what comes from the Father over and against what actually comes from the Father and leads us into life with the Father.
John is telling us to pay careful attention to what we ascribe worth and value to; what we pursue and chase after; what we cherish and hold dear; what we long for and orient our lives toward. Our affections are never morally neutral or without consequence. What we love will determine the direction and trajectory of our lives, and as v. 17 tells us, of our eternity. There is life that leads to life and life that leads to death.
1 John 2:18-25
In this passage John is writing to true believers in Jesus about those opposed to Jesus, though some of them identified as followers of Jesus. And he’s saying that real followers of Jesus keep following Jesus. Those who claimed to follow Jesus, even those who genuinely thought they were following Jesus, if they no longer follow Jesus were only ever following some version of Jesus they developed or customized for themselves. To encounter the real Jesus in a saving way is to be bound to Jesus for eternal life. But there is a kingdom of darkness that hates Jesus and wants to undermine peoples faith in Jesus and one of the chief ways he does that is not just to rage against Jesus but to counterfeit Jesus. The spirit of antichrist is in the world to cause people to settle for a version of Jesus that actually centers on the self in a way that ruins them for the real Jesus who calls us to crucify the self in order that his life may take root in us.
John is provoking an urgency for those who are true believers, those in whom the Spirit of Jesus is alive and well, pleading with them to be diligent and vigilant about their pursuit of Christ… he’s reminding us that a peace time mentality is a danger to our souls because we live at a time with war raging all around us and within us and to passively exist in that war leaves us vulnerable to the enemies attacks. Though satan and his efforts cannot undermine our salvation, by making us indifferent regarding our salvation, he can undermine our fruitfulness and faithfulness. So, let’s live right now, this day, in the present alive to the future we have with the Father for all eternity… let’s live in the darkness of this moment by the light of our eternal reality.