Lessons from 1 John (Part 5)

Chapter 4

1-6: More on the person, nature, and spirit of the antichrist (see note on 2:18-27) but with one new command and one new insight. The command is to test these spirits. And the new insight is to remember that these spirits are not neutral.

In The Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character, Christian, meets many characters on the path to the Celestial City, and he always would press them with questions about how they came to be on the path and where they were going. He knew that not all who seemed to be going the same way as he were actually going to the Celestial City. Through a series of questions he could always tell whether or not these characters were truly believers, pretenders, or enemies.

By asking these questions he was testing the spirit of each traveller – were they truly of and for God or not. If they were truly believers, he invited them to join him on his pilgrimage. If they were pretenders, he quickly rebuked them, hoping they would repent and join him. However, if they did not repent, he rejected them and continued on his way, so as not to be slowed down to reach his destination. Finally, if they were enemies, he battled them.

While each of these categories represented many different things in the story, Christian’s example of testing the spirits highlights the value in doing so. It also segues nicely into the new insight that John mentions: no neutrality.

By testing the spirits, Christian knew whether or not these characters were for God or against him. Being for God meant obedience at all costs that was birthed out of a love for him. This love, which was evident in all characters who proved to be for God, always came from realizing that they were wicked on their own but Jesus was their beautiful Savior. Being against God, however, took two different forms.

The first form that enmity toward God takes is outright rejection. This is the more obvious form of enmity, that needs no real explanation. The other form is what looks like neutrality. In the book, these would be characters that knew the right language and wanted to talk about God but had no desire to admit they were sinful or that obedience was required – or it looked like people wanting to be moral but have nothing to do with the cross – or it was clergy that took positions for the material gain it would bring.

In the end, Christian and his companions would always reject these “neutral” travelers and warn them that if they are not wholly for God, they are not for him at all. Thus John says, “…every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” At best, this would allow for some to be “neutral” – they may not be for God but, at this point, it doesn’t mean that they’re against him. But then John brings it home with another black and white statement, and says, “This is the spirit [the spirit which does not confess Jesus] of the antichrist…” This removes any neutral ground.

Lessons from 1 John (Part 4)

Chapter 3 (cont’d)

16-18: Love will require sacrifice. Christ gave his life, we ought to be willing to do the same. Love through sacrifice will require the believer to willingly give of his material possessions for the good of a brother.

19-24: God is pleased when we keep his commands. At first glance these verses may seem to support some kind of works-based righteousness that believers can begin to build up and earn interest on, but verse 23 destroys this thought. The command is: faith in Christ and love toward one another.

The works which please God are the works of Christ. Therefore, man’s faith in the God-pleasing life of Christ is the work that pleases God.

Our work is faith.

The second part – to love one another – is going to come from obedience to the first – faith in Jesus.

So, these verses teach at least three things: 1) God the Father is satisfied with the work of Jesus, 2) he commands our faith in Jesus, and 3) knowing that God is satisfied with us, because of the work of Jesus, we are set free from the burden of depending on our ability to keep the law.

The other wonderful truth is that faith is a gift (Eph. 2:8)!

Lessons from 1 John (Part 3)

Chaptet 2 (cont’d)

18-27: The common definition for a liar is someone who does not tell the truth. Here (specifically vs. 22), John says that a liar is someone who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Interestingly, in John 14:6,  Jesus says that he is truth. This is not a semantic accident or mystery. John is saying that the true measure of what makes someone a liar is whether or not he testifies that Jesus is the Christ.

If you are a liar, in this sense, and deny Jesus as the Christ, you are an antichrist. But there is hope (see part 2)!

28-29: Perseverance comes through abiding in Christ. So crucial.

Chapter 3

1-3: God loves believers as his children (see vs 10 below).

4-9: a) Sin is lawlessness, b) in Christ there is no sin, c) in Christ there is no lawlessness or, in the positive, d) in Christ is lawfulness.

Those who are in Christ are justified, because he perfectly fulfilled the law, and his righteous life is imputed through faith.

10: God’s children are those that believe Jesus is the Christ.

11-15: Christians are the Abel’s of the world, hated for righteous acts (which come through faith in Christ). The response ought to be continued love for others, particularly other believers, so that the world might see how God loves his children and that unbelievers might be compelled to respond in faith.

Lessons from 1 John (Part 2)

Chapter 2 (cont’d)

15-17: a) Do not love (the things in) the world, b) (the things in) the world are: desires of the flesh, desires of the eyes, and pride in possessions, c) if you love these desires, then the love of the Father is not in you.

Once again, John hits hard with a black and white statement about the nature of spiritual life – you either have life or you don’t – and then he gives some diagnostics to check against your life (see also note on 2:7-11).

These verses (and Luke 17:1-4) show that sinful and tempting desires will come to the life of the believer but when they come, there is an important question to ask: do I love these desires or hate them? If you love these desires (which come from man’s wicked heart; James 1:13-15), then the love of the Father is not in you.

Is it possible that you are saved but God is allowing you to struggle, as your heart continues to harden to the convicting work of the Spirit, so that eventually your sin becomes so overwhelmingly obvious that you turn to him? Absolutely.

However, this verse says that if you are sinning and you love it, it is more likely that God has nothing to do with you.

In either scenario – whether you love sin or are a numb believer – man’s response ought to be the same: repent and turn in faith. As I have struggled with assurance over the years, this is the inescapable conclusion I always find in Scripture. Whether a believer or not, when confronted by the gospel, man must testify that he is a sinner in the midst a holy God.

The second part to this is faith. To stop at repentance would lead to depression, but the gospel is good news! The good news is that, through faith in the work of Christ, we can be saved from sin and be given right standing with God. Jesus took our unrighteousness and gave us his righteousness. When God sees us, though still sinful, he sees the perfect life of Christ. There is no better news than this!

Lessons from 1 John (Part 1)

Chapter 1

1-4: Jesus was from the beginning, and made himself known to man by coming to earth

5-10: Jesus is truth (not a truth among many) and he is light; you are either in truth and light or you are not. Because he is truth, he is the standard by which your life is measured. We cannot use our life to measure his.

Chapter 2

1-6: Jesus did not sin, so we should not either. But when we do, he will advocate for us as the only righteous advocate.

7-11: The “old” command was to “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” and ” (Deut. 6:5)…”love your neighbor as yourself…” (Lev. 19:18). The “new” command is the same as the old but with a new, severe warning: if you don’t do these things, it means you are not in the light (see note on 1:5-10, on light).

This new amendment to the old command is not for instruction on how to merit a relationship with the Father. It is a divine observation of the nature of the command. In other words, it is saying: “if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might and you love you neighbor as yourself, it is because you are in the light.” It is not saying: “If you do these things, then you will be in the light.”

Important distinction; severe warning.

12-14: An encouragement to believers at different stages.