Monthly Archives: September 2015
Christianity is often attacked as a religion that was developed hundreds of years after the life of Jesus Christ. The obvious problem with that hypothetical situation is that hundreds of years is a long time for doctrine to be modified. However, in 2 John 1, it struck me that even early in the life of the church, there was the idea that doctrine was something worth preserving.
2Jn 1:4 I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father.
2Jn 1:5 And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.
The evidence seems to point towards the fact that John was legitimately the author of this letter, and if that is the case, then this was written at some point around 95 A.D. I point this out because John is referring back to a tradition here. I do not have a new commandment for you, but I want you to remember what we talked from the beginning.
This message of love came from Jesus Christ Himself. The rest of the book speaks about avoiding people who are coming and teaching misleading doctrine. As a result, it is easy to see here that there was a very strict commitment to doctrine in the early church. They cared about following Jesus Christ, and they wanted to remain faithful to that which was taught.
It is also significant that John refers to the idea that these people were walking in truth. Again, this is an affirmation of the Christian idea that Jesus is truth. John did not refer to Jesus as one of many truths. Rather, this exclusivity and even seen here.
Early in the history of the church doctrine mattered. Doctrine matters today. We need to make sure that we are faithful to what has been taught from the beginning and not how modern interpretations want to twist certain passages to make political points.
1 John 5 would be hard to reconcile for anyone who wants to remain as a Universalist.
1Jn 5:12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
1Jn 5:13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
It seems rather straightforward here. This entire chapter is talking about having a relationship with Jesus Christ, and this is the summary of the first section. This seems to square with Jesus claiming that He was the Way. It is a rather straightforward dichotomy. Either we have Jesus and we have life, or we do not have Jesus and do not have life.
I understand that these types of statements don’t seem very comforting, and many Christians might be hesitant to take this type of position. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, salvation is a free gift from God. All it takes is a decision to follow Jesus Christ. You do not need to be rich; you do not need to be powerful. You need to recognize the reality of Jesus and make a commitment to following Him.
Second, while many people might argue that as Christians we should not be criticizing the religions of other people. Maybe it is all one mountain of truth, and we are simply climbing up different sides of it. Remember that this is not a position that we are taking because we feel like it. I believe what the Bible teaches because I believe that God is the best explanation for the way the world is. The Christian worldview makes the most sense. Therefore, I don’t take this position simply to disparage other religions. I take this position because the Christian worldview is the one worldview that corresponds best with reality, and you simply cannot erase parts that society might not be comfortable with. If Christianity is true, then the teachings of Christianity are true, and this is one of them.
Some people might be uncomfortable with this type of narrow gate to God. However, for Christians, we need to recognize that it one reason Jesus is so important is because He is the Way.
It’s no secret that many people have disagreements, and even the church is going to have conflict in it. Ideally, it should not happen, but we are human, and people do not always get along. However, we need to be very careful that these disagreements do not become hatred. In 1 John 4, there is very strong terminology used for people who carry hatred with them.
1Jn 4:20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
1Jn 4:21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
Brother here does not necessarily mean a familial relation. According to my Greek dictionary, brother here can be literal or figurative. It is the same root word used in Philadelphia also known as The City of Brotherly Love.
As a result, this seems to indicate to me that we cannot hate either our Christian or our non-Christian brethren. Keep in mind that this does not say anything about how the act towards us. Jesus speaks about the world hating him and his disciples, but as Christians we cannot reciprocate that. If we do, John says that we cannot simultaneously say that we love God and hate our brother.
Getting back to my original thought at the beginning. Churches are not without conflict, and feelings are hurt without a doubt. However, Christians need to be careful not to fall into hatred. John uses strong words, and I don’t want to discount them. If we’re supposed to be people that are marked by loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, then what does it say to the world around us when we hate each other in the church? Discipline might certainly be appropriate and necessary in certain situations, but at the same time, should we not characterize our interactions specifically within the church but also with everyone with grace, forgiveness and mercy?
There is a lot has been said recently in the news about the importance of Christian conscience. 1 John 3 reminds us that conscience is important, but there is a higher authority than that.
1Jn 3:19 And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.
1Jn 3:20 For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.
1Jn 3:21 Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.
I think that all of us have had that feeling that something is just wrong. We don’t know why, but our consciences start to work on us. We obviously have two options at that point. We can try to suppress it and continue anyway, or we can stop doing what we’re doing because we are not comfortable with it. The options are rather straightforward, but we all have decisions to make.
John makes a very good point here. If we intuitively know that something is wrong but continue doing it, how much more then does God know that we have done something wrong? Remember that sins are deliberate actions that we take against God. Therefore, if we feel like we are deliberately doing something that is going against God, the obvious question is why would we want to do that?
If we are truly living in such a way that we are following Christ trying to discern His will in all things, then these intuitions are powerful. This is not talking about justifying our sins. After all, there are many people in the world who say they are Christians, but they justify things which are totally contrary to the word of God. Drunkenness is a rather obvious example. Alcohol use for Christians is obviously a debate, and I don’t really want to go there. However, it seems rather straightforward that we are never to consume to an excess. We can justify our own behavior on that, but that is not what John is talking about here. Even though we might feel fine about it, we are simply suppressing condemnation.
We have been given a conscience for reason, and it seems that as Christians, we need to take our Christian convictions and consciences very seriously.
1 John 2 brings us back to the idea about the relationship between faith and works.
1Jn 2:3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
1Jn 2:4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
1Jn 2:5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
1Jn 2:6 He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
A relationship with Jesus is a life-changing experience. Paul wrote in Romans that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. It certainly does not mean that we all become perfect right away. Otherwise, I don’t think I could conclude that there is any person who has a relationship with Jesus Christ. However, knowing Jesus puts us on a new trajectory.
As a result, it seems to me that there should be a desire to keep the commandments of God. If there is not that desire to continually grow closer to Jesus Christ, then maybe we need to evaluate ourselves. I’m not here judging anyone’s salvation, but this seems to be the implication of this passage. If we are only a Christian in words, but our lives do not reflect anything about actually following Jesus Christ, then we better make sure that we are truly in the faith.
This problem has plagued American Christianity for decades, and because most people were culturally Christian, when they had to answer a survey, naturally they would say that they are Christian. Now, that is not happening so much, and we see the rise of atheism and agnosticism in the survey data. However, the question I have about most of this day that is what people are falling away from cultural Christianity or true Christianity. There is a difference.
Nobody’s perfect. I know we say that all the time as a justification for some kind of shortcoming in our own lives, and on the surface, it is a true statement. 1 John 1 encourages us to go farther than that.
1Jn 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
1Jn 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1Jn 1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Confessing our sin is important. Acknowledging the fact that nobody, including ourselves, is perfect is an important part of the Christian worldview. After all, we believe that Jesus came to solve the problem of sin, so if we are not willing to open our eyes to the obvious and realize that everyone has made wrong decisions, you have to wonder why Jesus would have come. Why would he come to solve a problem that wasn’t really a problem?
However, after we confess our sins, something very important happens. God is faithful to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we are repentant of our sins, God is going to forgive us. That is not the question. Rather, the question is whether or not we are going to be willing to confess. From the time that we are small children who tried to avoid getting in trouble, we are very good at trying to dodge responsibility for what we have done wrong.
This chapter makes it pretty clear. Every person has sinned, and I am part of that group. Therefore, if I am part of that group, then I do need to confess if I want forgiveness. It is hard to admit where we have fallen, but the good news is that God will forgive.
2 Peter 3 brings us to the end of another book, and it encourages us to continue growing in Christ.
2Pe 3:17 Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.
2Pe 3:18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
I think that many people have an incomplete picture of what Christianity actually is. A lot of people would say that Christianity is about avoiding sin. We are supposed to not do that which is bad. That is true on some level, but as we see here, there is also a positive component to it. It is not just about avoiding the evil things, but it is also important to grow closer to God.
Think about normal development. After we are born, there is very little that we can do on our own. It is not nearly enough for our human development to not go badly. We’re supposed to develop into children and eventually adults who lead lives that praise God. It is not enough to say that we are happy with remaining as babies because at least we are not going to develop into an evil person like Adolf Hitler. Rather, we want to raise people who are taught that evil is evil, and as a result, we get adults who do not become like Adolf Hitler. They are avoiding the evil, but they are also continually growing as is natural.
I don’t know if that illustration makes sense, but growth for a Christian should be an exciting thing. After all, as we mature, we’re getting closer to the greatest being in the universe. Why would we not want to do that?
It is obviously no secret that there have been many false teachers in history of the church. In 2 Peter 2, Peter mentions that even at the early date he was writing this book, false teaching was already an issue in congregations.
2Pe 2:1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
2Pe 2:2 And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.
2Pe 2:3 And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.
One consequence of false teachers is that the perception of the way of truth becomes perverted. Christianity is without a doubt beautiful. When people begin to understand who God is and what God has done for us, it is attractive. However, there are false teachers who bring in heresies. As soon as we began to depart from what God has taught, we are in the realm of heresy, and the problem with that is that they are man-made.
Man-made heresies are naturally problematic because they are made by fallen people. If we are all fallen people who do evil, then it makes sense that any type of belief system that we develop on our own will consequently be evil as well.
The problem with heresies is that they claim to be Christian. Therefore, they are taking a man-made religion and claiming it is the same as that which God has given us through inspiration. Then, if people look at this heresy as representative of Christianity, it will not be beautiful because it is a perversion of that which is beautiful.
The early church had many challenges in regards to heresy, and they were very aggressive about making sure that they were still following God and not their own twists. Sometimes I don’t know that we in the church today are strong enough about opposing heresy today. They certainly still exist.
2 Peter 1 explains why teaching and discipleship were always says an important part of the Christian community.
2Pe 1:12 Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth.
2Pe 1:13 Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance;
2Pe 1:14 Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me.
2Pe 1:15 Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.
2Pe 1:16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
Peter, as one of the disciples, knew Jesus before and after His resurrection. He was an eyewitness of the majesty of Christ. Therefore, he says that he would be negligent if you did not remind the people and stir them up because it is true. It is not simply a fable. It is something that is very important for them to know.
He also knows that he is going to die soon as Jesus showed him. In John 21:18, Jesus had told Peter that when he was older he would be taken some worry he did not want to go and have his arms stretched out. Clearly, this was alluding to crucifixion as John himself notes in verse 19. Because he understood that his death was imminent, he did not want the people to forget all of these important things after he was gone.
There are many religious movements or other types of cause-related messages that burnout after the first generation. Maybe those people were passionate, but they have a hard time regenerating that excitement in future generations. Peter explicitly says that he wants them to make sure that they were following the truth which he was an eyewitness of.
The implication for all of us is that we are a product of that truth. As Christians, we are still following that truth. Whatever, we ought to be grateful that Peter and the other early apostles were so dedicated to preserving the message among the brethren.
As we come to the end of another book in 1 Peter 5, Peter points out that it is very important for Christians to recognize that there is actually an active adversary who opposes us as we try to follow Jesus Christ.
1Pe 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
1Pe 5:9 Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
I have heard it said that the biggest success Satan ever accomplished was convincing the world that he did not exist. We live in a very sensitive world today which is good on some level. We ought to be considerate of each other. However, this has come to such an extreme that people are uncomfortable saying that anything is wrong. Everything is simply a matter of personal choice and opinion; there is no more recognition of right or wrong. Many people are simply in denial about the existence of evil.
Peter would tell us that this is a blatant lie. There is still an evil adversary, and he is trying to devour us. If we don’t believe that he even exists, then we are going to be caught unaware. That is the main problem here. How can we be on the defense and protect ourselves from the evil one if we don’t even recognize that he exists and is preparing to drive us away from a relationship with Jesus Christ?
Jesus has already defeated evil. We don’t need to worry that somehow Satan is going to overthrow God or anything like that. However, he likes nothing more than making the people of God ineffective and dragging as many people down with him as possible. We need to make sure that we are first of all aware that the attack is coming and then rely on the strength of God to drive away the attacks.