1 John 2:28-3:10

Now John shifts his focus to the confidence that Christians can have in Christ. Having seen the dangers of false teaching, it remains now to see how we are to live.

v28. John begins by urging his children to “continue in [Jesus].” These types of exhortations have appeared and will continue to appear all throughout this book (cf. 1:12-14; 2:20, 24, 27, etc.). Since a person cannot “continue in” something they are not already in, this is yet another reason to remember that John is writing to believers–to people who are already in Christ.

The reason they are to continue in Christ is so that “when He appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him.” It is unclear if the “we” here refers to the apostolic community or to the general church. If the community (as in chapter 1), then John is saying that if his children in the faith falter, he himself will suffer loss, much as any father is embarrassed when his children get into serious trouble. This is actually my preferred view, because I tend to think this ties back into the overall purpose of the book, which is how to have fellowship both with Christ and with one another. After all, if these believers do continue in Christ, then John can be confident, which would only enhance their fellowship with him.

If, on the other hand, the “we” refers to Christians generally, the message is simply that if we do not remain or abide in Christ, then we will be embarrassed when He returns. In fact, whichever view of “we” we take, this ends up being the bottom line. If we want to be confident and hear “Well done my good and fail servant,” we must “continue in Him.” Such praise from Jesus is simply not guaranteed to all believers, even if their eternal salvation from Hell is.

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1 John 2:15-27

In the last section, John addressed the spiritual state of the church he was writing to and encouraged them on in continued growth. He had already talked about the importance of loving one another. Now he turns his attention on what they were not to love and the dangers of this world.

v15. While Christians are required to “love their brother and sister,” on the other hand they are forbidden to “love the world or anything in the world.” This is a blanket statement that will be clarified shortly, but its force should not be diminished. Taken seriously, this command is as hard to keep as the positive command to love each other (and maybe for the same reason!). It’s easier, though, when we realize how important it is. John tells his readers that if they do love the world, “then the love of the Father is not in him.” How can we be in fellowship with God if “the love of the Father” is not in us? To put it in simple, stark terms, we either love each other and so are in fellowship with God and one another, or we love the world and are not in fellowship with God (and so not with one another, either).

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1 John 2:12-14

The next three verses are an obvious unit. Here, we have two panels of three statements: “I write/wrote to you children/fathers/young men.” In the Bible, repetition often marks emphasis, but I think John is doing more than that here. As we look at the subtle changes he makes when he restates his reasons for writing, we learn something about how John views the Christian life.

v12. First, John addresses “dear children,” whose “sins have been forgiven on account of His name.” The word for “children” here certainly implies a young child (so “little children” is a good translation), but the primary emphasis probably is not so much on age as it is on relationship. A child is the offspring of someone. The term speaks either to the actual relationship the child enjoys with her parents or at least to the possibility (and expectation of) that relationship. We are, then, God’s “children” in virtue of the fact that our “sins have been forgiven on account of His name.” This is what all Christians have in common. It is the beginning and basis of the Christian life: our forgiveness in and for Him.

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1 John 2:7-11

In this second portion of 1 John 2, John begins to turn his attention to the way Christ lived and what that means for us. The command to love one another (and the consequences for failing to do so) dominate this section. Through it all, the focus remains, however, on fellowship: fellowship first with God through Christ, and second by expressing (and indeed living out) that fellowship by keeping Christ’s command to “love one another.”

v7. Next, John points out that what he is saying is “not an new command, but an old one.” That is, this is something that the church had always known. In fact, they “have had it since the beginning.” So what is this “old command.” John says it “is the message you have heard.” That message, of course, is in general the gospel of Jesus Christ, and in particular Jesus’ command that we “love one another.” That is how He lived, what He commanded us to do, and how we are likewise to live.

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1 John 2:1-6

As we begin looking at the second chapter of this book, I want to start by noting that this is one of those places where the chapter division is probably much more confusing than helpful. Look at the last two verses of chapter one and the first two verses of chapter two taken together:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (NIV)

Perhap you can immediately see that there is no break in thought here.  So try to make it a point to understand these verses in light of the end of chapter one as you study them.

v1. John refers to this church affectionately as his “little children,” reminding them both of their need for his guidance as well as his love for them. He then reminds them that he writes “this . . . so that you will not sin.” The “this” refers to the previous few verses. In telling the church that Jesus had paid the price for their sins, far from giving them a license to do whatever they want, he tells them that this should encourage them not to sin! But how could that be? If we follow the logic of the apostle so far, the answer is fairly straightforward. If we walk in sin, then we are liars. We are deceived. We are living in darkness. Therefore, we have no fellowship with God or with one another. In other words, sin has serious consequences!

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1 John 1:1-10 (Part 2)

v5. Now John tells his readers just what it is that they heard, “the message” that they are passing on, that will fulfill the church’s joy: “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” I encourage you to spend some time meditating on two aspects of that message. The first is the message itself. Just think about God as pure light with not a hint of shadow (which reminds me of Jas. 1:17). A philosopher named Etienne Gilson, thinking about God as light, wrote this:

    We do not know what God is, but only what He is not, so that we know Him the better as we more clearly see that He is infinitely different from everything else. This principle, however, can be used in two different ways. We can, with St. Thomas, posit it at the beginning and at the end of our theology; it will then act as both a general qualification applying to all theological statements, and as an invitation to transcend theology, once we are through with it, by entering the depth of the mystical life. Yet between his initial statement that God is, strictly speaking, unknowable, and his ultimate endeavor to experience by love that which surpasses human understanding, St. Thomas Aquinas never forgets, that if we do not know God, the reason is not that God is obscure, but rather that He is blinding light. The whole theology of St. Thomas points to the supreme intelligibility of what lies hidden in the mystery of God. Now, if God is intelligible in Himself, what little we know about Him may be almost nothing, but it is not nothing, and it is infinitely more important than all the rest. In short, even when St. Thomas Aquinas uses reason as a means to a mystical end, he does not use it in a mystical way. Reason is made to throw light everywhere it shines; where darkness becomes invincible, reason gives way to love, and there is the beginning of the mystical life. (Etienne Gilson,

The Unity of Philosophical Experience 

    (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1964), 86)

The second aspect I’d like you to think about is the fact that John–indeed, the apostolic community–somehow saw this as the essential way to distill all of what Christ had said and done during His three years of public ministry. Remember that John 1:18 says that Jesus has “made [the Father] known.” In seeing Jesus, what the disciples saw was light. And why not? Jesus is the light of the world. It’s easy to ask the same things about ourselves. If we were to ask people what our lives said about God, would they be able to say anything like, “He is light”?

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An Introduction to 1 John and commentary on 1 John 1:1-10 (Part 1)

I posted last month saying that I’m getting more regular pulpit time. I’ll be preaching again next week and posting my passage notes then. In the meantime, today we started working our way through 1 John in Sunday School. I decided to post my notes here, too. So when this is done in a couple of months, you’ll basically have a verse-by-verse commentary of the book.


So let’s get right into it. Not only is this going to be an analysis of the book, it’s also going to serve as something of a case study of how to read your Bible–that’s a field that Bible scholars call “hermeneutics.” So you’ll see me giving you several hermeneutical tools that you can apply as you study other books. And the first such tool is, naturally, reading in context. But “context” doesn’t only mean the verses right before and right after whatever verse you are in. It doesn’t even just mean the paragraphs before and after (although that’s a lot better than just the verses before and after). One of the major contexts is the purpose of the book. Why was the author writing? What was he trying to get his readers to understand? What’s the big idea he was addressing?

That’s really important, because if you get it right, much of the book will explain itself. But if you get it wrong, you’ll likely end up with hopeless contradictions within the book and with other books of the Bible. If you’ve ever found yourself reading and suddenly you come across a verse or passage that feels like it came out of nowhere and just doesn’t belong, that’s probably because you have missed the author’s overall point. We’ll see in just a bit how that works in 1 John as our example.

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The Galatian Heresy (Gal 3:1-6)

What happens when you put the wrong fuel in your car? In won’t go very far, right? So what happens when you try to run your Christian life on the wrong “fuel”?

Galatians is one of the most passionately written, emotionally and spiritually challenging books in all of the Bible. Paul’s anger and sarcasm drips from its pages as he battles what he sees to be not only an enemy of the gospel of Jesus Christ but a heresy devilish enough to endanger the entire church. Very often, evangelical ministers, following Martin Luther, argue that in this book Paul is defending the idea of justification by faith alone. Specifically, they say that he is attacking “the Judaizers”–Jewish Christians who taught that Gentile Christians needed to submit themselves to the Law of Moses–for teaching that salvation is by faith in Christ plus keeping the Law.

But what if that isn’t what Paul is saying at all? It is certainly the case that Paul is frustrated that Jewish Christians were telling Gentile Christians that keeping the Law was a requirement. But the question is, what were these people saying that keeping the Law was a requirement for?

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Thoughts on the Election

I know that conservatives are reeling from last night’s loss of Mitt Romney to President Barack Obama. There will be a lot of questions now about what went wrong. Some will argue that the party needs to moderate its stances, that it is too conservative. Others will argue that Romney lost because he ran as a moderate, and what really wins is a truly conservative candidate.

I have my own opinions about the place of conservatism is the politics of winning an election, but I’ll leave that aside. I want to focus on what I think is a deeper issue, since it is a fundamentally ethical and theological one.

Paul said, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom 12:18, ESV). The context is particularly interesting. He had just been telling the Roman Christians to bless those who persecute them. Roman Christians . . . the ones who were living with persecution unlike anything we in America have ever faced. Of course, Paul’s line of thought was nothing new. Jesus had already said, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” and “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”(Matt. 5:44b).

I want to juxtapose those thoughts with some modern American wisdom literature. The central premise of Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People is that people want to feel important and, whatever else we do, we should treat them like they are. And that, I would suggest, is more than just good advice. It is based on a deep theological and philosophical truth: people are important. They are important because of what they are–human beings made in the image of a divine, benevolent Creator who loves them deeply and unconditionally. Paul says to live at peace with people you disagree with. Jesus says to bless them. Dale says to treat them like they are important. All of them are getting the same idea: since people are precious in God’s eyes, they should be treated like the precious things they are.

That takes me back to the campaign we all just endured and the soul-searching the Republicans are already now doing. President Obama’s entire campaign was predicated on disqualifying Romney. I think it largely worked, just as Romney’s entire campaign during the primaries was predicated on disqualifying his opponents (which, again, I think worked). Romney tried to cast a semi-positive message with promises to take the country in a better direction, but there is no denying that his campaign was also extremely negative. Now, people will quickly complain that they don’t want to see negative campaigns, to which political junkies will immediately point out that campaigns go negative because it works. So my point here is not as trite as to say we need more positive campaigns (although I think we do). It is this: Romney’s central task was to convince a large enough portion of people who had voted for Obama that they had made a mistake and to vote for him instead.

In other words, he needed them to admit they were wrong.

This campaign was never about Obama and Romney. It, like all campaigns, was about the voter. When you tell a voter that they cast their vote for a socialist, anti-American, child-murdering Marxist whose whole goal is the destruction of America, you make become defensive–not defensive of Obama, but defensive of themselves. All the polls demonstrate that people fundamentally like Obama as a person. Just like voters took a second look at Romney when the first debate proved he wasn’t the ogre the Obama campaign had portrayed him to be, Obama voters were just never sold on the rhetoric of Obama’s fundamental danger to this country.

You see, it isn’t just good spiritual practice to treat people with whom you disagree (even Obama) with dignity and respect and trust God with the results. It turns out to be good politics, too. A basic rule in politics is that the guy people like more tends to win, because the guy people like more makes them feel better about themselves.

In light of that, as the debate among conservatives about what went wrong begins, I want to point people back to the fundamental notion of the basic dignity of mankind. All people deserve respect, to say nothing of the office of the presidency itself. Conservatives need to base their philosophy, policies, and political methods on the recognition of that fact. And that means starting with respecting the dignity of the voters with whom they disagree. Telling them (implicitly or explicitly) that they are voting for a communistic Muslim who hates America is simply offensive to them, as it would be if someone said the same to you. Preach the truth, but do so in love.  Help people who have to admit they were wrong save face. Be gentle with them. Be kind to one another. You’ll find that to pay dividends if you do so, and if you still lose your political arguments (and someone necessarily will), you can hold your head high, still be gracious, and know that you have kept your integrity. On the cross, Jesus forgave his murderers. I think we can agreeably disagree with fellow Americans of differing political persuasions.

America, Politics, and Morality

There’s a lot to be said about the relationship between politics and morality in America. Hopefully we have a lot of time to say it. But before we try, I want to offer a framework for thinking about the issues.

Most of us agree that we must get our fiscal house in order or face national bankruptcy. What we disagree on is how to do that. This isn’t a political blog, we don’t need to wade into policy questions. I’ll leave that to the politicos. I’d rather make a more fundamental point.

The government isn’t the problem. We are.

In other words, we have a moral, not political, problem. We elect people to take care of us. We empower them to take people’s money and give it to others (often, ourselves), and we justify this by saying that “those people” don’t need that much, or they can accord to sacrifice that bit for the good of all. And lest anyone think I only have liberals in mind, let me say that conservatives seem to be just as guilty of this mentality. Almost all of us get some type of subsidy from the government, whether our pet tax-break or that needed entitlement.

Think of it this way: would you vote for someone who promised to take away your tax break, your subsidy, your entitlement?

Just as people say they hate Congress, but their congressman is good, so the thought process is, “All entitlements except mine are bad.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with getting help from Uncle Sam when things get desperate. But we must recognize that every dime we get, we got from someone else—from our friends and neighbors.

We have a remarkable capacity for generosity. We help each other. But to the extent that that we use the power of government to take from others what they would not willingly give, we engage in theft. Until each of us decides to stand on our own and be responsible for ourselves, no political answer is possible. No politician will be able to do the right thing, because it’s too easy for us to elect someone who will cater to our demands.

But someone may argue that they won’t survive without government help. And just here, the moral problem becomes most obvious. Who do we trust to take care of us? It’s easy to ask others to give up their entitlements, but Christians should be the first lay down their claims to other people’s money, because we recognize neither our necessities nor our abundance comes from the Oval Office, but  from the Throne of Heaven (James 1:16-18). In that, we declare others more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3-5). In putting others first, we seek the Kingdom of God by making ourselves the last and putting all others first (Matt. 6:33; 20:16). Maybe then our politicians could do the right thing. More importantly, perhaps God could use our faith to demonstrate His power to provide for His own. What kind of witness would that be for Christ?

I’m not looking for a savior. I found Him in 1987. I’m looking for Christians to trust Jesus with more than just their soul, to lead by example, and show America what it means to be free. And if that’ is true, then watever we say about morality and culture, we should always keep in mind that it starts with us.