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.