1, 2, & 3 John
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John is especially concerned to discuss the role of ongoing sin in the life of a believer, the assurance Christians have of their salvation, and the command to love.
A. Introduction to John’s Letters
B. 1 John
1. John Asserts His Authority (1 John 1:1-4)
2. Role of On-Going Sin in the Life of the Believer (1 John 1:5-2:6)
3. Assurance (1 John 2:1-6)
4. Command to Love (1 John 2:7-17)
5. Antichrists (1 John 2:18-27)
Lecture: 1, 2, & 3 John
We’re going to be looking at 1, 2 and 3 John. Let me say some things by way of introduction about the letters.
Introduction to John’s Letters
Authorship and Date
The author of 1, 2 and 3 John is the same as the author of the Gospel, it’s John of “Peter, James and John.” This is “the disciple whom Jesus loved” as he is called in the Gospel. I did find out and it’s just a guess, but it’s possible that John is Jesus’s first cousin. There’s a chance that his mother is Salome, and Salome may be Mary’s sister which would interesting, but anyway the author of the Epistles is the same author as the author of the Gospel.
In terms of date and location, when John wrote it and where he wrote it, these are pretty much anyone’s guess. There are a few indications; John appears to be elderly in the letter. Church tradition has him living much of the second half of his life in Ephesus; he was exiled in Patmos, which is an island off the coast of Ephesus. It’s generally believed that these letters were written in late first century generally to believers throughout Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey. Some of the commentaries talk about it being a circular letter, that it wasn’t designed for any one church, but just to be published abroad.
False Teaching of Pre-Gnosticism
I want to say something about the false teaching that John is addressing, because if you can see it, what he actually says makes a lot more sense. There was a heresy that came into its full form the second and third centuries called Gnosticism. The Gospel of Thomas is an example of this. Gnosticism was not yet a full blown philosophical system, but the beginnings of it were everywhere. It would appear that these early Gnostics are the false teachers that John is arguing against. Let me just tell you a few things about Gnosticism. Gnosticism is from a Greek word gnosis meaning knowledge, and Gnostics claimed to have a special knowledge that other people didn’t have. The basic belief in Gnosticism is something called duality, where they broke the world into two different realms, the realm of the material and the realm of the spiritual. What they taught was that the realm of the material was evil and the realm of the spiritual was good. For example, for a Gnostic, salvation would consist of leaving the material world, leaving the body and moving into a spiritual existence.
Gnosticism took several different forms. One of the forms we called Docetism. Docetism is the doctrine that Jesus only appeared to be human. Why would God who is Spirit become flesh, that which is evil in their system? They couldn’t really believe that God became flesh so he only appeared to be a human being he really wasn’t a human being. There’s another version of this called adoptionism, and it’s the idea that Jesus was fully human, but he wasn’t fully God, and he was in essence adopted by God when the Spirit came down at the baptism. Then, since they believed that God couldn’t die, their solution was that God left the human Jesus on the cross. These are just two different ways of saying we can’t believe in the incarnation, that God, who is Spirit, would have become fully human, which is flesh.
That appears to be the basic struggle that John is dealing with in this letter. Some Gnostics became ascetics; they just wanted to remove themselves from the physical world. Other Gnostics said, if it’s the physical world, it doesn’t matter so I can be as licentious as I want and it’s okay, because it’s the physical realm and we’re really spiritual beings. Especially in the case of the latter, which seems to be going on and which John is addressing, the people were saying it doesn’t matter how I live, I can live anyway I want. I can live as sinful a life. They were as licentious as they wanted to be because they figured they were spirit beings and what happened in the physical world didn’t matter. That explains a lot of what John is emphasizing in 1 John.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to see that Gnosticism is still very much alive and well in the church. People who say, how I live out my life doesn’t matter, my labors on earth after my conversion are irrelevant, I can live any way I want—it doesn’t matter. We’re still full of modern day Gnostics. That’s Gnosticism: the duality; material is evil, spirit is good, and therefore I can live anyway I want, trouble with the incarnation and with believing that Jesus was fully God and fully human.
John’s Answer to Gnosticism
John answers, and let me just give you a few points to John’s answer. You’ll see John several times asserting that Jesus was full humanity and full divinity. There are some very strong statements in especially 1 John that if you don’t believe that Jesus has come in the flesh you’re going to Hell. You have to believe that he is the Son of God, you have to believe that he is divine, that he has a special relationship with the Father. John is making very strong assertions that he is fully human as well as fully God.
The second emphasis in John’s answer is he’s going to talk about the necessity of sanctification, especially love. He’s going to talk about how it does matter how you live out your life. That you have to love your brother and if you hate your brother, then you’re obviously going to Hell. There’s a very strong emphasis on the necessity of living out our Christian commitment of walking in the truth, of loving God, of obeying his commandments. Thirdly, there’s a lot in John on assurance, on the assurance of our salvation meaning that we can know that we’re going to go to Heaven because for John assurance of our salvation is primarily, not exclusively, but it is primarily tied to our obedience. As we continue to live out our lives in obedience and grow in love and walk in love and walk in righteousness, this is our assurance that we are in fact children of God. This is our assurance that we know God and John will say it several other ways. At the end of his letter in 5:13 John writes, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God” in other words, he’s writing to Christians “that you may know” there’s your assurance “that you have eternal life.” That’s the essence of John’s answer.
John Asserts His Authority (1 John 1:1-4)
Let’s jump into the first letter of John. John begins by asserting his authority. It’s important to see what’s going on. These false teachers were claiming that they had the truth and so he’s saying, no, I have the truth and so he says, “That which was from the beginning, which we (1)” which means John and all true disciples “have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life,” in others words I’m an eye witness, I was there, I touched Jesus, I saw him, I heard him, I know what I’m talking about the false teachers don’t. “And the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us (2),” and then he goes back and he finishes his earlier thought “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (3).” You can hear between all these lines that the false teachers don’t have fellowship with Jesus, the false teachers don’t have fellowship with God. He says “we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete (4).” John starts by claiming a position of authority because of personal experience.
Role of Ongoing Sin in the Life of the Believer (1 John 1:5-2:6)
Then in 1:5, and John’s a little hard to divide, it’s free flowing, but 1:5 through 2:6 John jumps right into the whole issue of the role of ongoing sin in the life of a believer. The false teachers are saying sin all you want, it doesn’t matter, like we often hear today—sin all you want and God will forgive you. John is going to address that issue right up front.
He begins by establishing a biblical dualism and I think it’s interesting; His opponents are saying there is a dualism, that spirit is good and flesh is bad. He’s not going to knock this system down right away, this dualistic way of looking at things, but he’s going to define it correctly for them. For example, he starts in verse 5, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” This is one of the many ways in which John sets up a dualistic way of looking at reality, there’s light and there’s dark. He sets up this dualistic structure of light and dark and then he states his thesis positively and negatively in verses 6 and 7, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” He just called the false teachers liars (6). “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (7).”
Right up front that’s the point that John wants to set apart. There are two kinds of people in this world, there are those of the darkness and there are those of the light. If we’re claiming to be in the light, if we’re claiming to have fellowship with God, but we live in sin, if we walk in the darkness, then we’re liars. But if we do live out our Christian commitment, if we live in the light, then we do have fellowship and we have been forgiven for our sins, the blood of Jesus Christ has forgiven us of all of our sins. John states his thesis right up front—there is dark, there is light, there is bad, there is good, there is unrighteousness, there is righteousness, there is Satan, there is God, there is not knowing God, there is knowing God—see this is his dualistic way of looking at reality. He says right up front that your life does matter; how you live out your life does matter.
Having stated it in pretty much black and white terms John grays it just a little with verses 8 and 10 because he doesn’t want people to think that a Christian is someone that never walks in darkness. We do sin, and so John put a little qualifier in here and he says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Anyone who claims to not sin does not have the truth in them, but (8) “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (9). If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (10).” He set up this dualistic view of reality—there is darkness and people who walk in sin belong there and then there is light and people who walk in righteousness belong there. Yes, these people can still sin, they’re going to sin, in fact, if they say they’re not sinning they are a liar, but there is forgiveness; God is faithful, he will cleanse us, but nonetheless there are two kinds of people in this world—there are those in the darkness and there are those in the light.
The Exegetical Issue of Strong Language
That’s John basic way of looking at reality. I need to take a quick parenthesis to talk about an exegetical issue, exegetical just means understanding what the text says. John pictures the world as black and white; that’s just his way of looking at things, but he also admits that there is gray. People who walk in the light still sin that’s why there is forgiveness. Some people have really misunderstood John’s dualism.
Are you familiar with the doctrine of perfectionism? Perfectionism is a doctrine that unfortunately is hooked to John Wesley, even though John Wesley violently preached against it. Perfectionism is the doctrine that there is a second work of grace. The first work of grace is my regeneration, that I’m saved, and then they believe that at another time God comes and in a second act of grace removes your ability to sin. This is the passage where they often go to point that out, saying, I’m of the light and I don’t sin, and they’ve really misunderstood it. I feel bad for Wesley because he got stuck with this. I’ve read sermons of his where he preached against it, but it was his students that took it further. John Wesley had a thing where he said it is possible for a period of time to perfectly love God. Wesley’s emphasis was that Christianity should make a difference in our life, and Wesley even held that you can move into this perfectly loving God and then fall back into sin and not lose your salvation; this was just Wesley’s way of thinking. It was his people that took it beyond and went to perfectionism. I heard a story about Dwight Moody, the evangelist, that somebody came up to him after a revival and said that was an interesting sermon, but the fact is that I can’t sin and so it really is irrelevant. As the story goes, Moody spit on her. Whether there is any way that Moody would have done that, I don’t know, but apparently she got absolutely furious, and he said, if you’re not sinning now, what is that? That’s the idea of perfectionism, the idea that God can remove your ability to sin, it’s a doctrine that’s around in the Nazarene tradition and the free Methodist tradition and probably some of the others that are related to that.
That is definitely not what John is teaching, otherwise 1:8-9 is senseless and he just said right there that you are going to sin even if you are walking in light. In other words, don’t misunderstand my dualistic structure, you’re never going to be perfect, but this is what we strive for. It’s hard then to know, it’s hard to know exactly how to deal with John. Later on he’s going to say Christians don’t sin, children of God don’t sin, the seed of God is in them and they don’t sin. Because of possible misunderstanding, the ESV translates it “we don’t continue in sin” or “we don’t live in sin” to point out that it is not the primary characteristic of our life. I think what John is doing in this Book is he’s saying this is the way it is, or at least the way it should be. I don’t want to lessen the strength of what John is saying, saying Christians don’t sin, they don’t hate their brothers. If they see someone in need, they take care of them. He doesn’t say you should, he says you do.
What John is doing I think is saying this is the way it is for a Christian or at least it should be and by speaking that way what it does is it calls us. It calls us to move towards that goal of saying, I understand now that for a Christian sin is to have no ongoing role. I’m going to sin, but my goal, my standard is to move as far away from sin as I possibly can. I hesitate to say that because the text just says a Christian doesn’t sin, but I think you have to do something with it. Anyway that’s how I’ve handled John. What I don’t want to do is minimize John’s language, that what I really don’t want to do. I don’t want anyone to say well since he doesn’t really mean it, it’s okay if I sin. That’s not what John is saying at all. He’s not a perfectionist, he knows that people who walk in the light fail, they sin, there’s forgiveness, but our goal is to live out who we are.
Student: Bill, I spent years in the Nazarene Church, but what they say is, you don’t sin, if you do sin you have to start all over again. That’s the idea if you’re a Christian, and you sin you’ve lost out and you start all over again.
Response: So you were taught at every point of sin you’ve lost your salvation and if you don’t hurry up and repent, and if you die before you do, you go to Hell. Oh my goodness. I’ve heard several Nazarenes say that to me. John has been heavily misunderstood, and your experience is a testimony of that. John sees things in black and white, he understands there is gray, and eradication and perfectionism is not what he’s talking about. It’s a challenge to be who we are.
Assurance (1 John 2:1-6)
In chapter 2 then John moves into the whole issue of assurance, and this is all part and parcel of the same discussion.
Assurance Based in Forgiveness (1 John 2:1-2)
He starts with the whole topic of forgiveness. If there was no forgiveness, you would have no assurance, right? Then if there were no forgiveness and you sinned you’d end up in Hell. He wants to make it very clear up front that part of my assurance that I’m a Christian is that when I do sin I will be forgiven if I ask for it. He moves into the whole issue of forgiveness within the context of assurance, "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin," that’s my goal for your life, "But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." Jesus stands as our mediator before the throne of God and he’s advocating, arguing for us (don’t push the metaphor too far—God the Father doesn’t need God the Son arguing for him), but that’s the picture that Jesus is defending our case.
Verse 2: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Jesus’s ability to forgive encompasses all sin, I have to define that in a second, but in terms of assurance, what he’s saying is that there is nothing that you can do that can put yourself outside of Jesus’s ability to forgive your sins. There are a lot of people who have had such horrible lives that they can’t conceive of the cross being sufficient for salvation. They just can’t see it—“God can’t forgive me I’m too wicked.” In terms of assurance and forgiveness he wants us to understand right off the bat that he died for the sins of the whole world, and that all sins are covered. The cross is totally sufficient. That we can all agree on.
This is one of these verses though that comes up in this whole discussion of the L in TULIP. We haven’t talked about TULIP much. TULIP is an acronym that was developed not to represent all of Reformed Theology, but indicate where Reformed Theology was different from Arminian Theology. TULIP stands for: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints. The L is the Limited Atonement. It is said to be limited because the idea is that if Jesus died on the cross and paid the price for all the sins, then everyone has to go to Heaven, because you can’t have people whose sins have been forgiven going to Hell. So they developed the doctrine that on the cross, the sins that were forgiven were only those of the elect. In other words, Jesus did not die for the sins of someone going to Hell on the cross, but he only died for the sins of those who were going to receive him and go to Heaven. The timing of the atonement in Reform Theology is important here. Sins are actually forgiven on the cross, not potentially, but actually; that’s your problem. It is a problem because the atonement can’t be efficient, this may be more than you care about, Jesus’s death is sufficient to cover all the sins of anyone who would repent. There’s a fine tuning of the L in TULIP and I don’t believe it, because I don’t believe the sins were forgiven on the cross, I think it’s potential. I think that’s the biblical way of looking at it, but this is one of these verses that has to be dealt with. John is saying in terms of assurance that there is forgiveness and that it is sufficient for the sins of the world.
Assurance is Contained in Our Obedience (1 John 2:3-6)
In addition to assurance based in forgiveness, there’s assurance in our obedience, and this is one of the many passages in John 2:3-6, “By this we know that we have come to know him,” here’s how you know you are a Christian “if we keep his commandments (3).” It’s pretty straight forward isn’t it. “Whoever says ‘I know him,’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him (4), but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected (5).” It’s at work and it’s completing what it set out to work. In John, the major indication that you are a Christian is if your life is changed and you’ve moved into obedience. It’s interesting because John’s not concerned with the other side of the debate. One of the scary verses for me in the Bible is in Matthew 7:22 where he talks about people who stand before the throne and say “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” Jesus says I have no idea who you are.
John is dealing with the other side of the debate of the people who are claiming that they don’t have to be obedient and they still know they are going to Heaven, and John’s saying no you can’t do that, apart from obedience you can’t know that you’re a Christian. You can go too far the other direction too, and there is evidently the possibility of self-delusion, but John’s not worried about that, but that’s the the other balance to this. That’s why there are other tests in Scripture about whether you’re a Christian or not. It’s not just how I live my life, but it’s one of the big ones, but there’s the possibility of self-delusion which I think is a scary thing. I’m not self-deluded at least not in this area.
There are other verses all the way through John, for example, 3:10 “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” Verse 14: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, why because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” I think it’s fair to say that if there is not obedience, then there is no assurance, I think that’s a fair conclusion to draw.
Student: What is your definition of love your brother?
Response: Verses 17-18: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.” I mean that’s not all of the definition of love, but for John love is very concrete and real and moves to action. What he’s concerned to emphasize very emphatically is that a Christian commitment is supposed to change a life. If a life isn’t changed, if it’s not moving toward holiness, then you have no guarantee that you’re going to Heaven at all. Christianity is more than a profession of faith that doesn’t affect anything. He doesn’t give us any more guidelines, other than to say it has to affect your actions. There’s assurance contained in our obedience.
Assurance Through the Inner Witness of the Holy Spirit
There is more about assurance later on, and I want to mention it here. There is assurance through the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. Part of the function of the Holy Spirit is that he is in our lives and he’s subjectively internally confirming that we are his children. You have verses like 3:24, “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. By this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” Over in 4:13, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” Another part of our assurance that we are Christians is the inner witnessing of the Spirit crying out Abba Father, and that there is this witness inside of us and it is the functioning of the Holy Spirit is confirming that we are in fact children, so you have at least two tests here, you have a changed life, and you have the inner witness of the Spirit.
I do want to emphasize though before we leave this topic of assurance that in John as he’s talking about these issues he’s talking about more than just assurance. He’s talking about the relationship between salvation and sanctification. This is a topic that has divided the church, I don’t know if more than anything else, but it has certainly been one of the really big ones. What is the relationship between becoming saved and living saved? In Roman Catholic theology, justification is equal to faith plus works; they have defined being right with God partially dependent upon our sanctification, how we live out our lives. Then there are other traditions that are the exact opposite, that if you have a moment of positive volition, remember that one, I just had one good thought about God, I’m saved for all eternity and I can live any way I want.
John is raising this issue of what is the connection between my salvation and my growth in Christ—my sanctification. Look at 2:4-5 “Whoever says ‘I know him,’” meaning God, “but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.” John’s drawing a very strong connection is he not between the topics of salvation and sanctification. Again this is only part of the picture, you have to bring in Paul’s theology in order to get a well-rounded theological doctrine we need to look at other passages, but there is a connection here and that’s why our Statement of Faith says that sanctification is the necessary and certain fruit of our salvation. That when we become Christians our lives will change, God’s the judge as to how much, you’ve heard those disclaimers, but the fact of the matter is that if you don’t keep his commandments, you don’t know him; if you don’t know him you don’t have eternal life; if you don’t have eternal life you’re going to Hell. That’s why these passages can be so controversial.
Command to Love (1 John 2:7-17)
The Same Commandment that Jesus Taught
John has been talking about the ongoing sin in the life of a believer and in 2:7 he takes a slight turn and he really focuses on the command to love. There is a phenomenal amount of information on what it means to love in 1 John, but let me just hit some of the highlights. In 2:7, he says, “Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him” (in Jesus) “and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” The old commandment is the command that comes probably from John 13 from the life of Jesus, which is the command to love one another—mutual love—and he’s saying this is what it is about, that we are supposed to love one another so when I tell you to love one another, it’s not like I’m telling you something you haven’t heard before. I can understand that the Gnostics are those people with all the new ideas, and John is trying to say, my ideas have been around since Jesus because Jesus is the one who said it.
It’s an old commandment, but it’s new, it’s new in the sense that you are relearning it every day as you put it into practice, and love starts to permeate more and more of your life and your neighborhood and your city. He’s trying to assert that this is what Jesus called us to do, it’s what John has called us to do and that is that we must love one another. In other words, how we live out our lives matters, it’s not an optional thing, but it matters.
Love versus Hate of a Brother
The other passages, just so you have them, where John talks a lot about love are 3:11 and then 4:7, which is the passage I recently preached on. He says what I want you to do is not think that your life is irrelevant how you live out your life, but I want you to love—that’s what it is all about. Then he starts in 2:9 he starts to contrast love and hate, and again this is where it gets difficult because you have John’s dualism at work—love or hate. Again, he’s using strong words of love and hate and while we need to understand that life has some gray in it, we can’t lose the force of the imagery. 1 John 2:9 “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”
This relates to the question, when does “not like” move into “hate”? This is a difficult thing in interpreting John. He doesn’t tell us—he says you either love or you hate, but what he’s trying to say, is that it really does matter how you and I relate to each other. If we, and again let’s come up with a definition, if we want the worst for the other person, if we choose those things that we associate with hate, we’re not Christians. He’s not so much interested in helping us to know where the dividing line is between love and hate, he’s just saying there are two kinds of people in this world, you either love them or you hate them. Then he leaves it up to you to figure out where you fit.
In 1 John 4:20, he says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” We are called to love our brother, not hate our brother, and if you fall into the hate camp then you simply don’t know God, it’s that simple, John says. What’s hard is when you and I dislike someone or we feel we’re in the middle. This is the frustrating thing in the interpretation of John, but John says there are two kinds of people in this world, you either love or you hate. If you fall into the hate, then you don’t know God.
Why do abused spouses stay in an abusive relationship? Because the opposite of love is what? You don’t care, being along of being empty, and they stay in an abusive relationship because at least they get some attention. That’s why it’s so hard to define love and hate because it’s just hard. I don’t have the answers for this, I said this when I preached the passage, I don’t have the emotional energy necessary to love all of you given a normal definition of love. I love my wife and my kids and my immediate family and I don’t have a whole lot more emotional energy to “love everybody.”
What is Love?
John isn’t defining love explicitly, but I think he is defining it implicitly by looking at the effects of God’s love and as you look at the effects of God’s love you can come to a better understanding of what love is. In 4:9, he says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us,” this is how God’s love shows itself “God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” This is a verse reminiscent of John 3:16—this is how God loved the world, he gave his only son, 1 John 3:16 “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us,” the next verse in 1 John, 4:10, says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” What you have in these two verses and other verses is love being defined by God’s action of giving.
The definition that I came up with for love is the giving of one’s self for the benefit of the other. Now that’s not a complete definition of love is it. Because if my relationship with Robin were purely, I’m going to do whatever it takes, I’m going to act for your benefit in everything I do, I really like being around you, but I made a vow so I’ll keep it and I’ll do whatever it takes to act for your benefit, this is a partial and incomplete definition of love at best. Again in John’s context, where people weren’t showing love and claiming to be Christians, this is the point that John wants to make: God’s love gives, it lays his life down, it motivates him to action, it’s concrete, it’s real, it acts for the benefit of the other person. That’s about as strong a definition as you can get from love out of 1 John I think. Love is giving, meeting the needs of other people. If we’re not doing that, I guess you fall into the hate camp. If you are doing that you fall into the love camp.
This is hard because I like a lot of people, but I don’t love a lot of people with the way we normally use the word love. I really wish I could be more complete; I can’t figure out how to express it because it’s just not in the text that I can find. Love is seen most clearly not in the victory of the resurrection, but in the pain of the cross.
This has been an ongoing discussion that Dad and I are having, that there has to be an emotional element in love. I don’t know if the emotion follows the obedience or whether it motivates the obedience or they work in tandem together. I know that I love God and I know that to the greatest capacity that God has been able to put in me I love those who are closest to me. I will not water the word down and there are people that come up to me and I hardly know their name and they say, “I just love you” and I go “No you don’t—name my three kids.” How can you love me if you don’t know my three kid’s names, see it’s impossible. It’s a battle that goes on inside of me and I don’t know the answer, but I do know that love is what propelled God to give, and that a significant portion of love must be obedience, and that’s the answer that John gives, but it’s partial at best I believe. You see the problem is that I’ve been in many churches growing up where there was no emotional connection to Jesus. They would walk down the aisle saying they loved God and then they went out and lived like rampant sinners the other six and a half days of the week. They love God though, they got together and they sang their love songs. They didn’t love him. There was no obedience, there was no attachment, and so that’s what I fight with in my heart.
Loving God versus Loving the World
I do want to say one thing here; 1 John 2:15 and following have lots of yellow in my Bible because in talking about loving God I think this is one of the really big issues. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (15). For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father, but is from the world (16). The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides for ever (17).” I’m absolutely convinced in the American church that huge portions of it are in love with the world, and there has been such incomplete preaching for so long that people think that they can love God and love the world. They would never say they love the world, but when you look at the location of their treasures you know where their love is. You see how they spend their time; you know where their love is. I’m just absolutely convinced this is one of the central issues that has to be dealt with in the American church in general and our church. I don’t have the luxury of assuming that our church is a statistical abnormality and all of us actually do love God and don’t love the world. That would not be a safe assumption for me to make. The world is a great place, God created it good there are many immediate pleasures that draw us to it and the church thinks that they can love God and love the world and they can’t. You have to decide.
This is where when you start watering down the language, it gets really dangerous because you either love God or mammon. You either serve God or mammon. I look at how I spend my money and where I live and what I drive and those kinds of things, and I have to ask myself, who do I love. Every time I write a major check, who do I love? I have to assume it’s in me as well, I can’t assume it’s not in me and in all of you, but I’m convinced this is one of the central issues in the church. That’s why there’s no statistical difference between the church and culture, none at all. The highest divorce rate in the United States is among Evangelical Christians in the south. We’re in love with the world, many of us.
Antichrists (1 John 2:18-27)
Lack of Perseverance Shows They Are Not Christians
Anyway moving right along in 2:18 you have John dealing specifically with Gnosticism in the very real sense let me start to read it, "Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist (18)," it’s interesting in Paul there is one Antichrist and it’s capital A, here’s it’s lowercase a and later on he’s going to make it plural, so he’s really talking about the spirit of the antichrist, "you have heard that antichrist is coming," so here it is "so now many antichrists have come. Therefore, we know that it is the last hour.” We know that we live in the last Age. “They went out” (the false teachers) “from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us (19).” That is one of the strongest verses on the perseverance of the saints in the Bible, that if they had been of us, they would not have left, “But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” These are not people who lost their salvation; these are people who never were Christians to begin with and their lack of perseverance showed it.
They Deny the Reality of the Incarnation
He goes on in verse 22, “Who is the liar, but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” He says it clearer in 4:2: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (there’s your full incarnation) “is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus” (that he is not in the flesh) “is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist.”
Here’s the other half of it, 1 John 4:15 “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God,” (there’s his divinity) “God abides in him, and he in God.” You have your two verses 4:15 and 4:2 that say if you’re a Christian, you have to believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man. I have started emphasizing this in my preaching recently, because evidently in order to be a Christian, you have to believe that Jesus was fully God and fully human and it comes from these verses. I say, you have to believe that Jesus paid the penalty for your sins on the cross. The reason he was able to was that he was God, only God could have paid the penalty for our sins, but he also was fully human because there had to be a human sacrifice for human sin. I don’t know if you’ve heard that, those of you that go to church here, but I’ve changed that part of the presentation of the Gospel because of these passages. Evidently we have to believe that Jesus is fully God and fully human, otherwise it is the spirit of the antichrist. I would encourage you likewise in the sharing of your gospel to make sure that the people understand that they have to believe that Jesus was human, but he also was fully God.
You know there are a lot of different analogies for the trinity and incarnation to help people understand. I came down on it once in a sermon and I wish I hadn’t. You know some analogies can help, but ultimately the incarnation is not a shell—that’s Gnosticism. Biblical theology says that God is fully God, one hundred percent, and fully human, one hundred percent. It’s a mystery, and you just live with the mystery. I’m sorry I didn’t have a better definition of love—I really don’t. It’s just something that I always have to keep working only, but there are two kinds of people in this world, there are those who love and there are those who hate. Let’s be those who love.