1 John 4:4-6

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
(1 John 4:4-6 NIV)

John continues his teaching on discernment, picking up where we left off in the previous passage (vv. 1-3).   John has shared a simple test to see if someone is teaching the Gospel or is a false teacher.

The test?  Simply answering the question, “Who is Jesus?”.  Either we acknowledge Jesus as Messiah, fully God and fully human, or we don’t.

In the previous passage, John went on to say that either the spirit of God (the Holy Spirit) is in a person, or the spirit of the world is in a person.  Considering the mess of the world in John’s day (and the mess we find ourselves in today), where the vast majority of the people are not followers of Christ, this could be overwhelming to those that follow Christ.

John begins today’s passage with a familiar term of endearment – “dear children”.  John uses the Greek word “teknion” (“young learner”, as in elementary school) to address his readers (and us).

John uses this term of endearment to let us know that as Christ-followers who believe that Jesus was and is fully God and fully human, we are counted as part of God’s family.  And as part of God’s family, we have overcome the spirit of the world.

In the same breath, John says that we are overcomers not because of something we said or did, but because God is greater than the evil one (v. 4).  We have nothing to boast or brag about in and of ourselves; we can only boast or brag about what God has done on our behalf.

It’s easy to get into an “us vs. them” mentality, to see the overwhelming odds as only the quantity of people who follow Christ compared to those who don’t.  John is writing this to remind us that despite these odds, God is still greater than any comparison we might try to make on the human level.   Even one person with God is a majority.  The battle is not ours to ultimately win or lose – it is a battle that is between God and satan.  But we still have a part to play.

John finishes this passage by laying out two “world views” – two ways of looking at life and our existence on this earth.  John says that either we listen to and speak from the viewpoint of the world, or we listen to and speak from the viewpoint of God.  Yes, there are many variations to these two worldviews, but ultimately, it boils down to these two perspectives.

With these two viewpoints in mind, we can go back to John’s teaching in verse 1 – to test the spirit of the person who teaches.  Do we teach from the Bible (God’s Word), and do we believe that Jesus was Messiah, fully God and fully human?   If so, then God counts us as His children.

Remember that John is not teaching us how to win a philosophical argument, nor is he teaching us to have a “feel good” session to recite our theology and beliefs.  John is reminding us that God gives us His truth that we can live by, despite the circumstances that may come our way.

This same truth is also the light that God offers to a lost and dying world, the same truth that someone once shared with us.  May we be Christ’s light and hope to the little corner of the world where God has placed us.

Blessings,
~kevin

1 John 4:1-3

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
(1 John 4:1-3 NIV)

As we start chapter 4 today, John begins his third round of teaching doctrine and our duty associated with that doctrine.

The first round (1:1 – 2:17) taught about Jesus as Messiah, and about sin and righteousness.  Round two (2:18 – 3:24) taught about Christian fellowship and how those who are not Christ followers break fellowship with the saints and try to take others with them.

In this third round of teaching, John highlights the importance of discernment – to whom we give our attention.  There were many “teachers” during John’s day, similar to today.  Some taught the truth of the Gospel of Christ; some did not.  John is instructing us to be careful to whom we listen and receive instruction.

Notice that John begins this section with another term of endearment – “Dear friends”.  The KJV, NASB, and ESV all use the word “Beloved”.  Both of these phrases come from the same Greek word (“agapētos“, from the root Greek word “agape” – unconditional love).  This Greek word is used to show the same love for us that God the Father has for His son Jesus.

John did not use his previous terms of endearment when he referred to the folks in the Asia Minor churches as his spiritual “children”.  Instead, John uses “Dear friends” / “Beloved” to address us, and includes himself as “beloved” by the Lord.

Similar to John’s day, we often see the church as a “safe haven”, a place where we can trust those who are teaching the truth.  When we find ourselves in a safe haven, we often let our guard down, and accept what is said and take it as valid instruction.  Unfortunately, the false teachers knew this and used this opportunity to sneak in and try to lead the churches astray with their teachings.

So what test did John give us to see if a teacher is speaking God’s truth or something other than the truth?  Verses 2 – 3a are clear:  Either you recognize Jesus as Messiah, fully God and fully man, or you don’t.  John does not mince words here, nor does he make it hard or complicated to understand.

John has spoken about this in the earlier parts of his letter and reiterates it here to be sure we remember.  The Gnostics were claiming they had the truth.  They claimed one of two lies:  1) that Jesus was not God, or 2) that Jesus was not really human (of flesh and blood like the rest of us humans), but rather only spiritual (not human).  Again, John reminds us that Jesus was and is fully God and fully human.

John reminds us that those who deny Jesus as both fully human and fully God have the spirit of the antichrist.  John is not saying they are “the antichrist” – he is simply saying that they have the same spirit as their father, just as those who recognize Jesus as fully God and fully human have God’s Spirit in them.

May we be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16), listening to the Holy Spirit’s direction and discernment to determine if the spirit of a teacher is from the Lord or otherwise.   John’s simple test of “who is Jesus?” is a great place to start.

 

Blessings,
~kevin

1 John 3:19-24

19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
(1 John 3:19-24 NIV)

John has given us the principles of living in fellowship with one another (chapter 2, verses 18-27).  John now focuses on practicing those principles in our everyday lives (chapter 2 verse 28 through chapter 3 verse 24).  John reminds us that the Lord is not honored by our knowledge, but by our obedience.

John has laid out three tests for us to examine our hearts and check if our practice as a Christ follower is in agreement with the principles we say we believe:

  • the test of righteousness – do we demonstrate that we love God by obeying His commands?
  • the love test – do we love other Christ followers in word and in deed, or are our words just words?
  • the Holy Spirit test – do we have God’s Holy Spirit living inside us, as evidence that we are Christ’s follower?

John addresses this third point in today’s passage.

John begins with the test of our conscience as evidence of our walk with Christ.  John is not referring to our moral, ethical, or societal conscience, which changes with the tide of nationalism or public opinion.  John is referring to our God-consciousness, of having peace with God through Christ, where our hearts can be at rest in God’s presence (v. 19).

In verse 24, John tells us that the source of our God-consciousness is God Himself, through His Holy Spirit living in us.  We know that only Christ-followers have His indwelling Holy Spirit – it is the gift and promise that God Himself gave us (v. 24).

So what is the test to show we have the Holy Spirit indwelling our lives?  John says that God, through His Holy Spirit, is either condemning our hearts (v. 20) or confirming our hearts (v. 21).

Does this mean we never sin?  No, not at all.  John is saying that we have an advocate, a coach, a mentor in the Holy Spirit to assist us in our daily decision-making and attitude toward God and toward others.

And what is God’s command?  What is He asking us to do?  To believe in (trust in, have faith in) His son Jesus as Messiah, and to love one another as Christ loved us.

Remember that our obedience is not our means of salvation.  Our righteousness is like filthy rags, like dirty diapers in God’s sight.  Only Christ’s righteousness can take away our sins and make us right in God’s sight.  Our obedience is simply our gratitude to Christ for all He has done for us.

May our walk match our talk and give God the glory for all He has done for us through His Son Jesus Christ.

Life is busy and often crowds out our time with the Lord.  May we each intentionally set aside some time to let our souls breathe, to give the Holy Spirit a quiet place to minister to our hearts.  The rest of life’s busyness will take care of itself when we put the Lord first.

Blessings,
~kevin

Happy Thanksgiving!

In this Thanksgiving season, as I have paused to prepare my heart for this holiday, the Lord has repeatedly brought one phrase to mind:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

This phrase was originally spoken by King David when he welcomed the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem in 1 Chronicles 16:34.

This phrase is repeated many times in Scriptures:

And there are so many more Scriptures that use some variation of the above theme stated in slightly different ways – too many to list.

I have been reminded throughout the days leading up to this Thanksgiving season of God’s character, demonstrated through His love and kindness towards us.

Yes, life is hard, but God is good.  And His love trumps any momentary difficulty we may be experiencing this side of heaven.

God’s goodness and love are definitely worth celebrating.  We can rejoice and proclaim His goodness and love every day – we don’t have to wait to celebrate on just one day a year.

May we not only celebrate our blessings, but praise even more the One from Whom those blessings came.

Humbled and Thankful,
~kevin

1 John 3:11-18

11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life,because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
(1 John 3:11-18 NIV)

In today’s passage, John continues his reminder of practicing what we say we believe.  John has given us the doctrine of living in fellowship with one another (chapter 2, verses 18-27).  Now John focuses on practicing that doctrine in our everyday walk (chapter 2 verse 28 through chapter 3 verse 24).  Our faith practice is our test!

In our last passage, John laid out the test of righteousness – do we demonstrate that we love God by obeying His commands?

In today’s passage, John reminds us of the love test – do we love other Christ followers in word and in deed, or do we just say we do?

Notice that the previous passage and today’s passage follow a familiar passage and order that Jesus taught:

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
(Matthew 22:34-40 NIV)

John reminds us that we have heard this command to love one another “from the beginning”.  For us, that refers to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew.  For the Jewish believers in John’s early churches, the meaning ran deeper, all the way back to God’s teaching to the Israelites found in Leviticus 19:18.

John reminds us that love is reflected in both our actions and our attitudes.  Cain killing his brother was an action of jealousy, not of love.  And hatred, John says, is an attitude of murder, not of love.

These are hard tests!  But John offers hope and encouragement in verse 16, where he reminds us that Jesus laid down His life for us.  And in the same breath, John says we should do the same thing for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

John uses Jesus’ example to test our love for God by the way we love other Christ followers.  If we see a brother or sister in Christ in need, and we have the ability to help them out, we demonstrate our love toward them by meeting that need.

John admonishes us to love as Christ loved.  In verse 18, John summarizes true love so clearly and succinctly:

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

May we demonstrate love as a verb, with action and kindness toward others.  May there be tangible evidence beyond our words that love is sacrificial, genuine, and true, just as Christ demonstrated His love for us.  We perform these acts of kindness not to earn God’s favor, but out of gratitude for the example He set for us.

Blessings,
~kevin

1 John 3:4-10

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.
(1 John 3:4-10 NIV)

Let’s get straight to the point today:  at face value, this passage is hard to understand.  We’ll work through it together to understand what John is saying, and how it applies to us.

In the larger picture of John’s letter, John is in his second pair of teachings on doctrine and practice.  Yesterday’s passage (starting in chapter 2 verse 28) as well as today’s passage is the practice portion of John’s teaching.

In yesterday’s preceding passage,  we saw the inseparability of new life in Jesus Christ and a changed life because of Christ.  Listen to John’s words:

29 If you know that he [Jesus] is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.
(1 John 2:29 NIV, bracketed clarification mine)

John is both clear and careful with his words.  Redemption in Christ results in a changed life.  John’s word order is also important.  We do not change our lives to become righteous in God’s sight – quite the opposite.  Because of our new life in Christ, through nothing that we earned (it is a gift), our changed life is evidence of Christ living in us.

Understanding yesterday’s passage and the larger context of John’s teaching is key to understanding today’s passage.

If we take today’s passage out of context, some might come to the conclusion that every time we sin, we would be in danger of losing our salvation or that God would disown us.  But that is not the case at all.

So what is John saying?  As yesterday’s passage was about the inseparability of new life in Jesus Christ and a changed life because of Christ, then today’s passage is a contrast or the opposite to that.  In today’s passage, John is saying that a willful sinful life is incompatible with redemption in Christ, and therefore, evidence that a person is probably not a follower of Christ and has likely not experienced God’s redemption through Jesus Christ.

John’s teaching is harsh but true.  In John’s day (as in ours), there are many who claim to be followers of Christ, but there is no evidence of Christ’s redemptive work in and through them.

The false teachers in John’s day either denied Jesus as Christ and tried to live good moral lives as a way of earning God’s favor (self-righteousness) or they claimed to be followers of Jesus but lived as if sin in their physical life had no bearing on their spiritual life.

In today’s passage, John is saying our redemption in Christ results in evidence of a changed life, and living in wanton, willful sin is evidence of no redemption in Christ.

John tells us to not be deceived by those who would teach otherwise (v. 7).  John then lays out a series of moral “tests” that help us look in the mirror of our hearts and see if we are truly Christ followers (or not).

Verse 10 is the summary of those tests of our redemption.  John lays out two specific tests:

  1. Do we live a redeemed life, as evidenced by our actions?
  2. Do we live a redeemed life, as evidenced by our relationships?

John’s second question using the phrase “brothers and sisters” refers to brothers and sisters in Christ (which may or may not include siblings).

There is a lot to consider in today’s passage; may we understand John’s context and meaning to help us live more Christ-like.

If you find yourself outside of Christ’s redemption and looking in, dear friend, it’s not too late.  Jesus welcomes all with open arms, longing for you to come “home” to Him.  All of us who are Christ followers have had to make that same choice, to swallow our pride, our fears, and our shame and acknowledge that we cannot come to Christ on our own terms.  He is waiting in love, not condemnation, to invite you to be part of His family.

Blessings,
~kevin

1 John 2:28 – 3:3

28 And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.

29 If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
(1 John 2:28 – 3:3 NIV)

Let’s step back for just a moment and look for the “red dot” on our map that says “you are here”.  John’s letter is a series of five pairs of teachings, with each pair consisting of doctrine and duty, of theology and practice, of teachings and tests.  We are in the second of the five pairs, and John has just finished his teaching about those who are trying to lead followers of Christ away from Jesus.

Today we begin the “practice” part of John’s second teaching pair.  John reminds us that Christ is coming again (2:28 and 3:2).  John surrounds this epic event of Christ’s return with several reminders.

The first reminder is that we need to be ready for Christ’s return.  This is a big deal – a “once-in-eternity” event that we have all our lives to prepare for.  It’s like the biggest marriage ceremony and family get-together that has happened or will ever happen.

Once again, John addresses us as children, not talking down to us, but rather, as a term of endearment.  The Greek word John uses refers to young learners who are able to understand his teaching, like an elementary school age child.

John says we need to be ready for the big event (2:28 and 3:3).  That means getting out of our play clothes, getting a shower, and putting on our good clothes in anticipation of the big event of Christ’s return.  John says that we don’t want to be embarrassed in our sweaty, smelly play clothes with our muddy and grass-stained sneakers when the wedding party arrives.

John’s second reminder is that God lavishes His love on us, calling us His children.  Have you ever had anyone (a parent, grandparent, or family member) lavish their love on you, as they look in your eyes and let you know how much they love you just for being you, and not because of something you have said or done?  John is saying that that is what God is doing to us and for us, as His children.

May you experience God’s lavish love and acceptance today, as you continue to prepare for the once-in-eternity celebration that awaits us as God’s children and followers of Jesus Christ.

Blessings,
~kevin