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Category Archives: 1 John Series

Truth 3: Introducing Reflections on the believer and his relationship to sin from 1 John 3:7-15

Truth 3: Every believer no matter his level of spiritual maturity is fully accepted by God on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ, not his own righteousness.

To address this third truth in our series, I would like to make the distinction between positional acceptance in Christ and joy in the Lord that comes through a healthy fellowship with God. To say that someone is accepted in Christ and enjoying fully that acceptance is not the same thing.  We will address the issue of sin in the believer’s life and how it affects his walk before the Lord in a later post, but rather than getting into that topic now, let us set it to the side and address this truth first. In Ephesians 1:3-6 Paul wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.”

Notice the details of this text quickly. First, notice his audience. Paul describes them as people who are: “blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ,” “those who are chosen in him before the foundation of the world,” “people who are chosen to be holy and without blame before him in love,” and “predestined to adoption as children by Christ.” Paul’s audience is narrowed to those who are in Christ and only those who are in Christ. Paul uses a similar approach when he writes to the church at Corinth, Philippi, Rome, and Colossae. As we read the remainder of Paul’s epistle, it will become clear to us that though his audience is in this position, they are far from sinless persons in their daily conduct. In chapter 4 he writes: “put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” He then proceeds to command them to put away a series of serious sinful practices including lying, stealing, and corrupt communication. I do not make the point to justify these actions or to suggest that these sinful responses are insignificant. I simply make the observation, that Paul is referring to these believers as saints, though their lives are tainted by sin. I think this observation should draw us to ask the following question: Since God is holy and just, and these people are not, how is it possible for God to accept them? The answer is found in the nature of our justification and acceptance before God. In Isaiah 64:6 the prophet writes: “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Please do not miss the significance of Isaiah’s state. He says “we all.” Isaiah is a faithful prophet of God, and has been functioning in that official position before the nation of Israel for some time. He includes himself in the statement. Also notice the statement “all our righteousness.” He realizes that all our good deeds are on some level tainted by our sinfulness. To get the sense of Isaiah’s statement, consider the following illustration. Let us say that you have just completed university, and for your graduation, people bring gifts to honor you for your hard work and the accomplishment. One friend decides to go to the community landfill, and pulls a shirt from the smelly pile of waste. Technically, you could wear the shirt, and could use it, if you had no other alternative, however my question is, “How would you respond to this “gift?” I think it is safe to say that you would feel insulted by the “gift,” because the “gift” is unacceptable. Our righteousness before we are placed into Christ, and after we are placed into Christ, can never be the means through which God accepts us. This is why Paul wrote in Philippians 3:7-9 “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ…and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ…and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith…” Paul’s attitude toward his righteousness after his conversion, radically changed from his attitude when he was a devout Pharisee keeping the law to the best of his ability. Even the Apostle Paul’s acceptance before God, positionally in Christ, was rooted in one thing, the imputed righteousness of Christ. Paul stated the following way in Romans 3:21-25 “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested…the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe…justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Our standing before the Lord is exclusively rooted in Christ’s righteousness and not our own. May this truth bring humility when we are tempted to lift ourselves up in self-righteous pride and joy and comfort when we stumble in our Christian experience!

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Posted by on November 21, 2017 in 1 John Series

 

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Truth 2: Introducing Reflections on the believer and his relationship to sin from 1 John 3:7-15

Truth 2: Every believer comes into this position as an act of the grace of God when the believer repents of His ungodly views of himself, his righteousness, his sin, and the person and work of Christ, and turns to trust only in the finished work of Christ in the gospel.

We have seen already, that we are not saved by keeping the law or by doing some good deed to merit a righteous standing before God. We are justified and saved from the wrath of God in Christ by grace alone and on the basis of the work of Christ, and His imputed righteousness. The follow-up question ought to be, then what unites a person to Christ? Or to put it another way, what must a person do in order to be saved. I will answer the question with our second non-negotiable Bible truth that is true of every believer. Every believer comes into this position as an act of the grace of God when the believer repents of His ungodly views of himself, his righteousness, his sin, and the person and work of Christ, and turns to trust only in the finished work of Christ in the gospel. Paul answered the question this way in Acts 17:30. He said “The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” Acts 20:21 I have testified “both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peter put it this way in Acts 3:19: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.” And Jesus put it this way in Matthew 4:17 “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Luke 13:3 “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

Did Christ and apostle say here are the Ten Commandments, follow them and you will live? The answer is no. They said repentant and believe the gospel. Why did Christ and the apostles emphasize repentance and faith? They emphasized these two aspects of our response to the gospel, because that humble repentant dependence upon the person and work of Christ is the only thing that will bring conversion and union with Christ. Repentance is essential to our response to the gospel, because of our condition as natural men. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:14 “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 1:18 “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” No person is by nature a believer. His mind is clouded by sin. Everything that he sees in that condition is affected by his fallen condition. Unless he is awakened from his stupor, and brought to see the light by the grace of God, he can never and will never embrace the cross of Christ for his redemption. Repentance is that radical change in one’s thinking wrought by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the gospel that changes an arrogant self-righteous person into a humble person looking only to Christ for his redemption and standing before the Lord. Ephesians 2:13-14 Puts it like this: “Ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” Notice the order. You trusted after you heard the gospel, and then after you believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. There can never be faith without the proclaiming of the gospel, and one’s response of repentance toward God and faith in Christ is the critical response that unites us to Christ and the benefits of the gospel. I can think of no passage that more clearly expounds the practical elements of repentance and faith than Paul’s personal testimony in Philippians 3:4-9. He writes: I was “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ…and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” Paul in beauty and clarity articulates the two critical aspects to his faith. He had a radical change in his disposition toward God, righteousness, and self. He turned from his former confidence in self and embraced the righteousness of Christ in the gospel. He viewed his religious credentials as rubbish, to embrace the perfection of Christ’s righteousness. This is what repentance, faith, and conversion look like in a practical world. As we read 1 John 3:7-15, let us not loose sight of this second non-negotiable truth. Every believer comes into this position as an act of the grace of God when the believer repents of His ungodly views of himself, his righteousness, his sin, and the person and work of Christ, and turns to trust only in the finished work of Christ in the gospel.

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2017 in 1 John Series

 

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Truth 1: Introducing Reflections on the believer and his relationship to sin from 1 John 3:7-15

Truth 1: No person is justified before God by doing any good works, making any commitments to stop any sin, or committing to follow the Lord.

While it is true, that God used many different men to give us His word, and that their life experiences and personalities are reflected to some degree in their writings, that does not change the fact that God is the ultimate source of every word in the scriptures. It is His “breath” passing through these instruments that is the ultimate source of every word. God’s Spirit guiding Paul cannot be in conflict with His guidance of John, therefore, we need to start with the basic conviction that this passage can be reconciled with every other passage in the Bible, and that when set side by side their complementary nature will be more clear, not less.

John is not teaching that we or any other person is justified before God in part or in total by doing good, committing to becoming good, or by staying good. The scriptures teach that no person is justified before God by doing any good works, making any commitments to stop any sin, or committing to follow the Lord. Let’s look at just a few of the many passages from which we draw this statement. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us: “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” Four critical words of phrases should catch our attention. The word grace means, unmerited favor. If we have been saved by grace, then that salvation was not rooted in any part in something that we did are doing or will do. Justification before God is rooted entirely in the work and goodness of Christ, and not in the work or goodness of the one who has been justified. It is our union with Christ that gave us that righteous declaration. Next we see the phrase “through faith.” Faith is an interesting word, because it describes a condition of the heart that is the antithesis to self-reliance. Faith relies on the strength, work, and word of another. Faith is the disposition of humility and vulnerability, not arrogance. Next we see that our salvation is “not of yourselves.” There is nothing in us that makes us acceptable. It is all the work of God. Lastly we see that it is called the gift of God. Gifts are free to the recipient at the expense of the giver. The nature of our justification can be described as grace, a gift, not of ourselves, and through faith. We see a similar explanation in Titus 3:5 where it says; “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Again, all the work is done by God. Romans 3:20 “By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.” Again the law does not serve as a ladder to climb to God, but rather a lens to magnify our sinfulness and spiritual bankruptness.  And lastly, I mention Romans 4:4-6. It says: “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.” No person is justified before God by doing any good works, making any commitments to stop any sin, or committing to follow the Lord. We are justified by faith alone in the finished work of Christ, and the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ, not our faith, our faithfulness to the law, or any other meritorious activity. John’s statement is not inconsistent with or in opposition to this Bible doctrine.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2017 in 1 John Series

 

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Reflections on the believer and his relationship to sin: Introduction

Reflections on the believer and his relationship to sin: Introduction

 1 John 3:7-15 Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.  Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

As I have worked verse by verse through 1 John with our church family, I have encounter passages that are not only hard hitting and practical, but also worthy of significant reflection and explanation. 1 John 3:7-15 is one of those many texts. Over the next several weeks, as time permits, I would like to share in blog format the content of our Sunday sermons on this passage. I hope that these posts will be an encouragement to you in your walk with the Lord, and a tool to help you better understand a critically important theological and practical concept namely the believer’s relationship to sin.

Let’s begin our study by focusing on John’s words in verse 5: “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil…”

When you read this text, what questions immediately come to mind? Here are some that came to mine: Is it possible for a Christian to sin? How many sins should bring one’s profession of faith into question? Are all sins on the table, or just significantly repulsive sins? What about sins of the heart like lust or hatred versus sins of the body like fornication or murder? How does this passage harmonize with John’s early statements in chapter 1 or Paul’s teaching on justification by faith alone? Let’s not be afraid to ask these questions nor be too lazy to study the scriptures diligently to understand the doctrines and practical implications packaged in this passage. Articulating Christian doctrine is no small task. It involves labor and precision. Let’s summarize the passage and then dig into explanation and application. Here is our summary: If I can hate another Christian, made in the image of God and sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, and refuse to repent of this evil disposition and thinking as sin, I should have no confidence that I am a Christian. By implication, God wants us to know that this kind of hatred is such a serious sin, that it calls into question our profession of faith. Maybe you do not like the strength of those two statements, but I challenge you to take the passage literally and explain it any other way. Before we get into John’s point, let’s begin by reflecting on seven non-negotiable statements of truth regarding all people in Christ. By reminding ourselves of these seven truths, I think we will be better positioned to articulate John’s point correctly.

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2017 in 1 John Series

 

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Question 1: 1 John 2:20-27

Are John’s statements in verse 20 “ye know all things” and his statement in verse 27 “ye need not that any man teach you…” meant to be understood as universal statements without limitation?

1 John 2:20-27 “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth…These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie…”

For those who may have missed our first post, consider reading Should Christians Hesitate to Use Bible Study Tools Like Commentaries and Studies Bibles Based on 1 John 2:20-27 and John 16:12-14? for context:

If the answer to our first question is yes, consider the implications of such a position. First, there would be no need for a believer to attend any kind of school even for a secular vocational training, he would have no need to sit under any pastoral or lay teaching for instruction in Christian doctrine, nor would he have any need to be discipled by an older more mature believer. In this view, the Holy Spirit would be his only teacher, and he would be wise to shut himself off from all opposing voices that could muddy the waters of what the Spirit is teaching him. In addition, there would be no need for mature spirit-filled believers to debate amongst themselves on doctrinal matters, because they would all believe essentially the same thing, seeing that they all are mature and guided by the same Holy Spirit. We would even expect to see the Great Commission and apostolic instruction in the epistles articulate a different paradigm then the one we find in the New Testament. Having stated these observations without much explanation, I will address these thoughts more thoroughly under question four: “How does the rest of Scripture relate to John’s statement in 1 John 2?”

On the other side, if the answer is no, then in what ways are the scope of these statements limited by the context of John’s epistle? Our next post will discuss that question: “What is the specific situation that John is addressing in this epistle?”

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2017 in 1 John Series

 

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Should Christians Hesitate to Use Bible Study Tools Like Commentaries and Studies Bibles Based on 1 John 2:20-27 and John 16:12-14?

Introduction

As a missionary and pastor, passages like 1 John 2:20-27 and John 16:12-14 have always demanded a significant time of personal reflection. There really are two reasons for this. One is that I have preached verse by verse through John and am currently working through 1 John, and secondly, I have seen first hand the devastating consequences to those who misapply Scripture to their own destruction.  We have all heard the statement “Practice makes perfect.” Really, this statement does not take into account the nature of the practice in which one is engaged. Practice does make permanent, but that permanent may in the long term prove to be detrimental to the person in training if his practice has firmly established detrimental habits. We all approach the Bible with certain biases and blind spots that often cloud the meaning of the text. Our culture, family situations, local church background, friends, fear, and pride all play a role in this subtle blurring of what should be very clear. Many times, our understanding of a passage like these two passages is not really built on careful observation of context and the author’s intent, but rather it is rooted in the status quo, what we have always heard. If we read the passage 5 times or we read the passage 100 times, our faulty understanding is never brought into question; rather it becomes more firmly rooted in our minds. This is why Paul commanded Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15 to be a diligent workman,“rightly dividing the word of truth.” Peter warned Christians in 2 Peter 3:16 to be careful of false teachers who are “unlearned and unstable” and “wrest” “the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction.” We also see in Hebrews 5:13-14, we are warned that spiritually immature people are “unskillful in the word of righteousness” while those who are spiritually mature “by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

Rightly dividing the Word of Truth, is something that we grow in as we mature in the faith, and as we learn to establish good study habits that dig into the correct understanding of what “Paul or John” meant. It is not until we meet someone who rocks the boat for us that we for the first time carefully observe the text and understand it correctly. That person can come in many forms. It may be a person to whom we are trying to minister. It may be someone who flatly opposes our position. Who it is or the circumstances surrounding that confrontation are irrelevant. What really matters is that we step back, put aside our biases, and examine the details of the passage so the correct understanding can tear down our presuppositions. I want to invite you to look at these two passages more carefully, and consider the implications of your current position. Consider the following questions, and then let’s take them one by one:

  • Are John’s statements in verse 20 “ye know all things” and his statement in verse 27 “ye need not that any man teach you…” meant to be understood as universal statements without limitation?
  • What is the specific situation that John is addressing in this epistle?
  • How does this specific situation limit the scope of what John is saying?
  • How does the rest of Scripture relate to this statement?
  • How should we apply John’s statement?
 
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Posted by on August 19, 2017 in 1 John Series

 

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John’s Purpose John 1:1-4

 

When we consider the last post, we were reminded how easy it is to twist words when the whole conversation has not been considered.  Each part serves a particular aspect under-girding the writer’s main point, so I want us to begin our study of 1 John in that place, John’s main point. John writes in verses 1-4 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life…That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.”

What captures your attention in the opening of John’s letter? Three thoughts come to my mind. First, John’s words in the opening of this epistle draw our attention to the opening words of two other books in the Bible, the gospel of John and Genesis. Notice the similarities between “That which was from the beginning…the Word of life…”, “In the beginning was the Word…”, and “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” All three passages emphasize the eternality of the central figure in these books, God. In Genesis, the central figure is Yahweh the Creator. In John’s gospel, the central figure is the Word, the Creator, and in 1 John again, we find the Word of Life. Secondly, John’s words draw our attention to the physical reality of the incarnation of Christ. He says: “that which we have heard, our hands have handled, and that which we have seen and heard we declare unto you…” John is writing as a witness of physical events that he personally experienced, and then he is going to relate those events to the spiritual well-being of his church congregation. Apart from the incarnation of Christ, there could be no eternal life. Thirdly, John is going to emphasize his main point for writing the epistle. He says “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us…And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” John’s purpose can be summarized generally with the following statement: John wrote the his epistle confronting false teaching concerning the person of Christ and the nature of the Christian life, because he wanted these Christians to have a vibrant Christian experience as they walk in fellowship with God. God wants you to have a vibrant Christian experience as you walk in fellowship with Him, as well; therefore He preserved these words for your growth as a Christian. In our next post, I would like to dig a little deeper into John’s purpose, a vibrant Christian experience.

 

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