The Tests of the Believer (1 John 4:1-5:12)

[Note: This is part 5 in a six-part series looking at the First Epistle of John. Some of the material is adapted from my commentary That You May Know: The First Letter of John. During this series, we won’t necessarily touch on every single verse, but will look at the major messages that 1 John presents.]

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

    Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 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. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

    By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. 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.

    Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

    This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 4:1-5:12).

Today, we continue our look at 1 John. John has now talked about the marks of the believer, and also given some counter-examples. Like a good teacher, he tells his readers what is needed to pass the test. Then, he proceeds to lay out the tests. That is the subject of this passage. One who understands and applies these tests can not only be assured of salvation for themselves but will also be equipped to spot true and false believers in the fellowship.

Test #1: Test the Spirits (4:1-6)

The first part of the test measures how well a believer can distinguish between the Spirit of God and other spirits. The context seems to suggest that he is referring specifically to so-called prophets (v.1). He tells the believers to “test” (“try,” KJV) the spirits to see whether they be from God. Paul apparently gave a similar instruction to the Christians of Berea concerning his own teaching, since Acts records that they searched the Scriptures to see whether what Paul said was true (Acts 17:11-12).

What is the test? John tells us that any spirit (speaking through a person) that confesses that Jesus has come in the flesh is of God, but any spirit that does not confess Jesus is not of God—indeed is the spirit of antichrist (vv. 2-3). John is not laying out some strict formula here. He is not necessarily advocating that a believer ask the person, “What do you think of Jesus?” The sense, rather, is that the spirit behind the prophet will be obvious in what he teaches about Christ. Nowhere in Scripture is it commanded that we interrogate a spirit or a prophet. The assumption is that a true believer, grounded in the truth, will be able to tell. Verses 5-6 support this, in that the implication is that if a prophet is teaching anything at odds with apostolic teaching, it will be obvious to the congregation (“by this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error,” v. 6).

Test #2: Test of Love (4:7-12)

The second part of the test is one of love. The test is meant to cause the believer to ask, “Do I (or another believer) love others as God loves them?” John reminds us that “God is love” (v. 8b). Because God is love, one who does not love does not know God. Then John reminds us of what looks like: God sent His Son into the world so that we might live through Him (v. 9), and He loved us (before we could even think of loving Him) and sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sins (v. 10).

Test #3: Test of Doctrine (4:13-15)

The third part of the test seems at first glance to be a repeat of the first. It is a test of doctrine. Yet, it is a different question here. The first test sought to test the spirit behind a prophetic utterance. This test seeks to determine the actual belief and commitment of a person claiming to know God. The question is a simple one: “Who do you say that Jesus is?” (As opposed to the first test, in which we said that question may not be appropriate or useful.)

There are two confessions here. First, Jesus is the Son of God. In saying that, one confesses that Jesus is one with God (begotten, not created). Second, Jesus was sent to be the Savior of the world. Note here that He was not sent just to save the Jewish nation, but “the world.” Indeed, Christ testified of that when He gave one of His most well-known statements of all time: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17). 

Though not stated in the text, the two confessions are inextricably linked, and John says that anyone who confesses Jesus as the Son of God, and thus as his Savior, has God abiding in him. The reverse is also true. Anyone who does not confess Jesus as the Son of God, rejecting His work as Savior, does not have God.

Takeaways:  Results of the Test (4:16-5:12)

At first glance, this section seems to be a series of loose repetitions of what John has already taught. In truth, however, it is John showing the results of the tests put forth. We are told what happens when one passes the tests (i.e., is a true believer). Here is what we learn:  

First, “we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us” (4:16). In the modern church, there seems to be a serious lack of the understanding of the love of God for the believer. Many suffer from a lack of trust in the Father’s love and goodness. Once someone has come to truly know and believe the love of God and abides in that love, John says His love is perfected in us (made complete).  

Second, because the love of God is being perfected in us, we “have confidence for the day of judgment” (v. 17). We have confidence because we are no longer afraid (v. 18). Here John speaks of fear in the sense of terror, not in the sense of the positive “fear of the Lord” that is holy and reverent.  

Third, one who has passed the tests loves his brother.  John says that it’s impossible for one to claim to love God yet hate his brother (v. 20). His logic is unassailable here. It is much easier to love one we can see and touch. Therefore, if one cannot love the one they can see and touch, how can he claim to love the One who is unseen, the One that we interact with through faith? He further ties all of this together. Keeping the commandments necessarily includes loving God and loving the brethren (5:2).

Before moving on, John reminds us that Christ’s commandments are not “burdensome” (v. 3). That is not to say that the act of love is not difficult at times or that a believer will not struggle. “Burdensome” in this context can be compared to the law which was called a yoke and a burden by other writers such as Peter and Paul. It was a burden because the people did not, in themselves have the power to obey, whereas now the Spirit-indwelt believer, with the new heart, has the power to obey; the law is written on his heart.  

Fourth, the one who passes the tests overcomes the world (v. 4). When the New Testament writers speak of overcoming the world, they do so in the sense of the spiritual. That is to say that one who has overcome the world has held steadfast to his faith and has not given in to the lusts and temptations of the world. It is through our faith that we overcome the world. John pointedly remarks that the only one capable of overcoming the world is the one who “believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (v. 5).   Finally, John tells us that whoever passes the tests has the very testimony of God within him. This testimony is concerning the One who came by water (referring to Christ’s baptism) and the blood (his death on the cross).  Whoever receives the Son of God (i.e., trusts in Him for salvation) has this testimony in himself (v. 10a). But, whoever denies the Son of God does not have the testimony, and also is calling God a liar. The testimony is that God has given His Son to us that we might have eternal life through Him (vv. 11-12).

Continue to Part 6 of this series ===>>


Hindrances to the Mission–Money

From the title of this post, you “might” conclude that you’re going to read about an encouragement to give to missions. Well, giving to missions is of course needed! “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent” (Rom. 10:14-15). What we give to support missionaries is vitally important.

But, that’s a topic for another day, another blog post. Today’s topic is more personally focused.  As the Christian musician Steve Green put it, our mission is “a call to deepen our devotion to the cross of Christ at any price. . . . The heartbeat of our mission is to love the Lord our God.” One of the hindrances to our mission, then, is a wrong view of the topic of money. Now there are a lot of views on the subject of money in the Christian life. What is the biblical view of money? That’s what we will look at today.

First, the Bible treats the subject of money as both the same as, as well as different from, other earthly possessions (stuff and things). That is to say that money, in one sense, is just another possession that one can accumulate. At the same time, however, on this earth money has power. We see it every day. People with money are treated differently than others. Some people think that economic inequality is the real problem.  However, the real problem is the results of that. When Bill Gates, Tim Cook, and the like are treated better than John Smith from Main Street simply because of their bank accounts and influence, that is the problem.

Contrary to some folks, the solution is not to start a class war and redistribute wealth and try to make everyone equal. The root of the problem is spiritual, not financial. Thus, we must change our view of money and possessions.

The Gospel makes it clear that anything that hinders us from fully trusting in God, whether for salvation or in our daily lives, must be forsaken. Jesus made it even more clear: “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). Must we actually abandon everything? In some cases, absolutely. Jesus did, after all, tell the rich young ruler to sell all he had and then “come and follow Me.” And we know that the man went away “very sad, for he was extremely rich” (Luke 18:23).

Now, why was he sad? Not just because he was rich, but because he loved his riches more than God. Jesus called the man to part with them, and he could not do so. He will also ask us to part with anything that is preventing us from being fully devoted to Him. In some cases, that means we lose a lot—or everything. But we have Him. And that is exactly how He wants it.

Let’s talk about some common questions when it comes to money, wealth and poverty.

Q: Is wealth a sign of God’s favor?

In the Old Testament, God promised to bless Israel for as she was obedient to Him. In turn, the covenant also contained curses for disobedience. These blessings and curses were primarily directed at the nation as a whole, though they also applied to individuals—though not all the time.  For example, God granted Solomon and David riches and honor. Why? Because they were faithful to Him (in Solomon’s case, at least for the first part of his reign). Yet, the same thing cannot be said of others. The Levites weren’t even allowed to own land, for “the Lord is your portion.”

We cannot say that money is always a sign of God’s favor, especially for those who have become wealthy at the expense of others.

Q: Is poverty a curse?

There is a teaching in certain segments of the church that says, “If you are poor or struggling financially, something is wrong in your life.”  The teaching suggests that poverty is a curse, and even Christians can suffer from it. Considering the answer to our first question, we must say again, “Not necessarily.”  Jesus was poor. And while He became poor “that we might be rich,” those riches are more spiritual than physical. Again, Jesus did instruct the rich young ruler to sell all he had.

What do we say, then, to a person or a family who is faithful to Christ, gives as they are able out of a grateful heart, and still struggles financially? Do we tell them to repent of some unknown sin? Pray more? Have more faith? Break the curse?

A better counsel would be, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches.” Poverty, when understood rightly, can drive us to seek Christ. We have nothing, He has everything. We are nothing, He is everything.

The idea that poverty is a curse generally comes from the Old Testament (see question above). However, if one applies that curse to the believer, then the other curses apply as well, since the law is a unified whole. To accept one part of the law is to accept all, and to stumble at one point is to be guilty of the law. For the believer, though, the curse has been broken because Christ became a curse for us.

Q: Is money in itself evil?

By teaching “renounce all,” some might wonder if I think money is inherently evil. This is not the case, and it’s not a position supported by Scripture. Money is a possession that, like other possessions, can be used to buy things we want and need. However, Jesus did often comment on “the deceitfulness of riches” (Matt. 13:22; Mark 4:19). This suggests that, as we said above, in this world money carries worldly power, and that while money is not evil per se, it has an inbuilt corrupting influence. Money, along with many other things, can easily draw a person away from God. Money makes it easy to trust in oneself.

Paul echoes this point when he says the love of money is the root of all evil. And it’s easy to love money, not only because of the status it can buy, but also because it gives us a form of security. It’s possible (and common) for a middle-class or even one who is poor to ‘love’ money.

Implications of This Teaching

First, we must not seek wealth or earthly power in any form. Those things have an inherent corrupting influence. They entangle us in things that believers ought not be entangled in. Along those lines, we must not see money as our security, regardless of our socio-economic status. Our security is to be found in Christ, not anything or anyone else.

While we’re on this subject, this includes the idea of seeking God’s blessing “to bless others.” That is a subtle trap that many fall into, disguising their longing for earthly blessings in spiritual terms.  Blessings are for the Lord to dispense, and that includes the means of that dispensing. We are to seek Him and Him only, leaving the blessings up to His sovereignty.

Second, we should not seek poverty, unless it is special call from the Holy Spirit. (“Leave all you have and follow Me.”) The Lord calls each of us in various stations in life. The Bible teaches clearly that we are to learn to be content in both want and plenty, for He provides all we need. We are to seek Him and allow Him to provide our needs.

Third, we must abandon ourselves to Him. He calls His disciples to renounce all. What does this mean? It means that if He takes something or someone from us, we are to acknowledge that it or they are His. Even if, in His wisdom, He takes all we have, we are to cling to Him—not in the hopes of getting it back, but because He is truly all we need.

Marks of the Believer Part 2: 1 John 3:1-24

[Note: This is part 4 in a six-part series looking at the First Epistle of John. Some of the material is adapted from my commentary That You May Know: The First Letter of John. During this series, we won’t necessarily touch on every single verse, but will look at the major messages that 1 John presents.]

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 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.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 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.

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us (1 John 3:1-24).

Today, we continue our study of 1 John. After pausing briefly to discuss the characteristics of an “anti-Christ” (“Antichrists Among Us: 1 John 2:18-29”), John now turns back to the marks or evidences of a follower of Christ. How can we know that we are saved and in Christ? In addition to being theological in nature, this section has strong practical implications and teachings. (Which is, after all, the goal of good theology—to change us and our behavior to align us with God’s Word.)  It also takes us on a journey, from grace and hope to confidence and assurance before God. Read in its entirety, it’s a great encouragement to continue in the faith.

Grace and hope lead to purity (vv. 1-3).

John’s opening words in chapter 3 are meant to evoke a response of “Wow!” And, in truth, once a believer truly understands what has been done for him, that reaction is quite natural. The guilty are forgiven, but that’s not all. They are called righteous in God’s sight, but that’s not all. The ones who were once guilty and alienated from God are called children of God! And if that weren’t enough, we are promised, as children of God, that one day we shall be like Him, once again morally perfect without any spot or blemish.

Some things that stand out here:

  • Not only are we “called” (declared) children of God, but “so we are” (v. 1). There’s a difference between simply being declared a child of God (in a judicial sense) and actually “being one” (in the sense of nature or identity). We are children of God. We are Beloved of the Father.
  • Because we are in fact children of God, we are no longer children of the world. Thus, John says, the world does not know us (v. 2). In the same way, the world did (and does) not know Christ.
  • The end goal is not to just be with Christ. It is to be like Him. And John encourages us to remember that it will happen. It is a certain hope, not simply wishful thinking. And “everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (v. 3). It is that very hope that enables and encourages us to live pure.

Purity means practicing righteousness (vv. 4-10).

To be pure, according to John, is to practice righteousness (v. 7). As we have said many times over, John refers to “the practice of” righteousness, rather than any single act (the same way he looks at sin). A broken clock shows the correct time sometimes. But a working clock does so consistently. In the same way, a believer will consistently, if not perfectly, practice righteousness. The unbeliever, however, is like the broken clock. He cannot help but live a life of sin. John reminds us that the one who practices sin also practices lawlessness. This is because the unbeliever is living as a law unto himself, rather than doing the will of God.

The implication of this, then, is that one who claims to know God yet has not changed from a life of habitual sin has never encountered or known Him, John says. And one who has truly encountered Christ and abides in him cannot help but change from a life of sin to one of righteousness (v. 6). The change may–indeed will–be progressive, but it will absolutely take place, because one who has God’s seed in him cannot help it (v. 9). The practice of righteousness, then, is one of the surest marks of a believer (v. 10).

Practicing righteousness includes loving the brethren (vv. 11-18).

The message that John is reminding his readers is the same one he taught them “from the beginning” (v. 11). The message is that we should love one another.  He then gives a pointed contrast. We should not be like Cain, who killed his brother Abel. Why did Cain kill Abel, John asks? He gives two answers. First, because Cain was “of the evil one” (v. 12). Cain had no fear of or faith in God. How do we know this? Because of John’s second reason: “Because [Cain’s] deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (v. 12b). The Lord confirmed this position when He told Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted” (Gen. 4:7). The implication is that Cain’s offering was unacceptable to the Lord, and the context suggests that it was because of Cain’s attitude. Therefore, John says, just as Cain hated his brother (hatred being the seed of murder), we should not be surprised that the world hates us.

When we can say we love the brothers (here John seems to focus on the household of faith), “we have passed out of death into life” (v. 14). For, whomever hates his brother walks in darkness. (This is the same conclusion that he gave in 2:9-11 when he mentions loving the brothers.) Further, the one who hates his brother “is a murderer,” John concludes (again, hatred being the seed of murder). This is clearly equivalent to Jesus’ teaching on murder (Matt. 5:21-22).

John concludes this statement with a blunt observation: “And you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (v. 15). How are we to take this statement? Does it suggest that murder is an unforgivable sin? For various reasons, that cannot be the case. John’s point here, as in many other places, is simply that one who continues to allow hatred to dwell in his heart is not a true believer. We are not talking about a single act, but rather the attitude of the heart. The Gospel, according to John, sets one free from hatred.

One might then ask John, “What does loving my brother look like?” His answer is very practical: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 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” (vv. 16-17). Love of the brothers consists of generous giving. We place others above ourselves. James would wholeheartedly agree with these statements (see James 1:27; 2:15-16). Love is practical and active. Otherwise it is useless. As John puts it, “Let us love in deed and truth, not just word or talk” (v.18).

Practicing righteousness leads to assurance before God (3:19-24).

A believer who truly practices righteousness and loves the brethren can find assurance before God, John writes. He first addresses an anxious question, that of the one whose heart condemns them (vv. 19-20). We can be assured in two ways: First, if we know that we are practicing righteousness and love toward the brethren as best we know, then we can be assured that we are in Christ. Second, even if our heart should condemn us, God is greater than our heart and knows everything (including our heart).

Can a believer’s heart condemn him? Most certainly. Whether it be from an immature conscience, unrealized sin, or simply the ever-present attacks by the enemies of Christ, it is not uncommon for true believers to experience guilt, doubt and anxiety. This is why John gives this encouragement.

The apostle then turns to the rest–those that have clean hearts that do not condemn them. To these he says that they can have “confidence” before God. This distinction is not by accident. The one who is condemned by their heart, though they are truly saved, can hardly have true confidence in the midst of anxiety, guilt and doubt. But when one is in a place of having a clean heart, then such a person can truly step out with the boldness of Christ to do His will, asking what he will and receiving his requests (vv. 21-22). Such a person, John says can have that confidence because he keeps Christ’s commandments.

It’s important to point out that there is no well-defined progression from one who needs assurance to the one who has confidence before God. It is possible (and common) for a believer to be in one state at one time in his life, move to the other state, and then back to the first. This is often the result of spiritual growing pains.

Finally, John summarizes what he has told us so far: The commandment is that we believe in Jesus Christ and love one another (v. 23). And he promises that those who keep those commandments do truly abide in God and God in them (v. 24a). As a final reminder, John tells us that we can know for certain that we are God’s, by the fact that He has given His Spirit to abide in us (v. 24b).

Continue to Part 5 of this series ===>>

When Our Faith is Shaken (On Faith: Part 3)

What happens when our faith is shaken? Those around us seem to be enjoying the blessings of God, yet He seems deathly silent to us. We struggle with questions about why He isn’t answering our prayers, healing our bodies or hearts, or just not speaking to us. We feel like we have been given the “cold shoulder.”

Are we in trouble? Have we done something wrong to offend Him? You know the questions that are often so prevalent and yet just as often hidden from public view. Some, like Job’s friends, would say that yes, we have sin in our life, or we don’t have enough faith, or we just need to keep reading and praying harder and more. Others give in and think, “Hey, we’re just a bunch of worthless slugs here anyhow. We have no reason to expect anything from Him.”

The Bible is clear that God is sovereign. He is over all, bound neither by time or space, nor by human freedom. His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isa. 55:9). We must not, however, use that train of thought as an excuse to give in to despair. While God is sovereign, He is also good, loving and gracious. One of my favorite passages in the Old Testament is God’s self-introduction to Moses:

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation (Ex. 34:6-8).

In a some very early posts, we looked at this passage in detail (see The God of Gospel:  Part 1 and Part 2). Here, I simply want to point out that the very first phrases God uses to describe Himself include:

  • merciful and gracious
  • slow to anger
  • abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness

What does this have to do with our faith? Everything. While we cannot understand His ways, we can trust His character. When it seems He is silent or distant, healthy self-examination is a good thing. After such a time, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we conclude that we are walking as best we know how, then what’s left? We’re still missing something. What could it be? It could very well be that the Lord is using this time to draw us closer to Himself—to a place where we want nothing but Him.

If you are still laying in bed bound in sickness, am I still good? Am I still Lord?

If I am all you have, will I be enough?

There are those who dispute this kind of thinking, and say we just need more faith. But that view turns faith into a weapon instead of a shield (Eph. 6:16). Faith was never intended to be a weapon. It was designed to keep us connected to the Lord and His promises. Perhaps we need to look again at what Jesus taught on faith.

Jesus often taught that “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed . . .” In context, Jesus was saying “either you have faith, or you don’t.” Faith is not like a liquid, where we pour more into our cup. It’s rather like a muscle that we exercise and build up. But Jesus said if we have faith as small as a mustard seed we could say to this mountain “be removed and cast into the sea” (Matt. 17:20). Now, if we truly have faith and we say to that mountain “move,” and it does not move, where does that leave us?

Jesus often spoke in terms of perfection or completeness. In the ideal world, unstained with sin, our faith would be perfect. We could ask for anything and receive it. Our problem is not that we don’t have faith. Part of the problem is that we don’t yet live in that ideal world! The teaching of the reformers was spot on when they taught that every part of us was contaminated by sin. (They called it ‘total depravity,’ not meaning that we are as bad as we can be, but that all of us—every part—has been corrupted by sin.) That must include our faith also. If it were not so, then our faith could be perfect, and, by extension, we could live sinless lives here on earth.

When Our Faith is Shaken

Notice that this post started with the question about when(not if) our faith is shaken. Our faith will be shaken. It will happen. Is that being fatalistic? Not at all. It’s simply being realistic. What are we to do when that happens?

First, I suggest that we prepare in advance. We know we will face difficult times. We can prepare for those times by growing in our knowledge of God, His character and His Word. It’s much easier to prepare during times when our faith seems strong than it is to try and learn those things in the midst of the struggle.

Second, in the times of struggle, cling to God’s Word. One of the most encouraging parts of Scripture is actually in the Old Testament—the Psalms. It is a book of anger, despair, fear—and salvation. David and the other psalmists were transparent in their writings. You’ll find over and over again things like “my soul is afflicted within me.” But then you’ll see the writer turn toward God and say, “I will yet hope in You.” How could they do that? Because they knew God. They had remembered the goodness He showed them. They trusted His character when they couldn’t understand anything else.

Third, continue to seek and pray. Ask Him to transform you into His image and to show you His works. Ask for wisdom. He gives it generously. Jesus taught that we should continue to ask, seek, and knock (Matt. 7:7-11). The Father is good, and He will give us the best things—even if those things are not what we anticipated.

Above all, what He wants for you and each of us is to trust Him. When the storms come, when we are trapped in the dark night of the soul that seems to stretch for months or years, He wants us to come to the place where we trust His enough to say, “All I want, all I need is You.” When we are at that place, there is no better place to be.

Antichrists Among Us: 1 John 2:18-29

[Note: This is part 3 in a six-part series looking at the First Epistle of John. Some of the material is adapted from my commentary That You May Know: The First Letter of John. During this series, we won’t necessarily touch on every single verse, but will look at the major messages that 1 John presents.]

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 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. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.

    I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

    And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him (1 John 2:18-29).

Today, we continue our study of 1 John. In the last post (Marks of the Believer Part 1), we saw the beginnings of what John calls the evidences of salvation—how we can know that we have eternal life. In this post, we (with John) briefly turn from those evidences to the counter-example. In this passage, John gives us three marks of what he calls “antichrists,” people who reject Christ and teach against Him. These marks should be taken together; we should not try to apply one without the rest, otherwise, we suffer from distorted thinking.

Evidence #1: Rejection of the Fellowship

The first thing that marks the antichrist, John says, are those who leave and reject the fellowship of the church (vv. 18-19). Notice that this is not the same as the church removing someone from fellowship due to unrepentant sin (Matt. 18:15-20, a practice that is sorely lacking today, but that’s another matter entirely). It is also not the same thing as one who might leave one congregation and be called to another congregation. Such a person usually retains their belief in Christ.

Instead, the antichrist rejects the fellowship of the believer entirely (and at the same time rejects biblical teaching on Christ and other matters of the faith—see below). In John’s day, as there were no “denominations,” leaving the church meant living in the world without the protection of Christ, cut off from the means of grace. John then pointedly remarks that if they had been “of us” (meaning believers, part of the fellowship), they would have remained. Thus, while a true believer will seek to remain in fellowship, the false will often fall away and leave the church.

If we are not careful, this passage can pose problems when dealing with someone who has left the fellowship because of wounds sustained at the hands of believers. Sadly, this is becoming more and more common today. For the most part, these people have not truly rejected the church or Christ. They retain their core belief about Jesus and salvation. We must pray for the grace of Christ to lovingly draw them back into fellowship, so that they will not fall victim to the schemes of the devil.

Evidence #2: Denial of Christ

The second mark of the antichrists is their denial of Jesus as the Christ (vv. 20-23). In context, it seems these people (in John’s day) claimed to have some special anointing to receive “truth”—a truth that was at odds with the teachings of Christ and the apostles. They denied that Jesus was the Christ. This often came in two forms.

First, some taught that “the Christ” was a spiritual manifestation that came upon the man Jesus at His baptism but left before His death. Others taught that Jesus and “the Christ” were indeed the same, but they denied that Jesus was a true man, making Him to be a spirit (hence Jesus’s words to the disciples in Luke 24:38-40). Both views deny the truth of the Incarnation that God became a man.

We see much the same thing today, if in different wording. There are many ideas about Jesus and the Christ—good teacher, wise man, prophet, sorcerer (!), etc. Such teachings want to strip Jesus of the very thing that makes Him our Savior—the fact that God took on human flesh and became a man. It’s not possible, John says, to claim to be a Christian and deny any part of the Incarnation.

Evidence #3: Living in Lies

John concludes this section by reminding his readers to abide in that which was taught to them from the beginning–the truth of Christ. The implication is that those who have departed are now living a life of lies. But those who continue to abide in Christ will be granted eternal life and will have confidence when they stand before Him–not in themselves of course, but in His work in them.

Takeaways from This Passage

As we mentioned at the beginning, these three ideas should be taken together. In fact, everything that John says in his letter should be taken together. John here looks at the overall picture when dealing with people. With the exception of denying Christ, it is possible to be a believer and still stumble in other areas. We may be wounded and leave the church for a time. We may struggle with walking in the light (walking in truth). But we are still believers.

John constantly reminds us that he is giving us this information so that we are not deceived. Deception can come in very subtle ways, so we must be alert and hold fast to our faith, rightly judging all things by Scripture. In the end, we too can have confidence in His grace as we stand before Him.

Continue to Part 4 of this series ===>>

The Realm of Faith (On Faith: Part 2)

Last week’s post (On Faith: Part 1) drew a broad outline of what faith means. This week we are going to begin looking at biblical faith. What does the Bible say about faith? In our discussions in this and other posts, we want to be careful not to go beyond what is written. Defining true faith is sometimes like trying to catch the wind. Sometimes we think we have a handle on what faith is, and then something happens to turn those thoughts upside-down.

Nevertheless, the Bible does teach us what faith is like. Sometimes our ‘misunderstandings’ of it are simply due to the fact that we want faith to work the way we think it should! 

The Realm of Faith

Not only is faith something that we have (an intangible concept that we hold onto), but faith is also a realm. What do I mean by this? We often speak of “the realm of politics,” “the realm of science,” “the realm of religion,” etc. Faith in itself is a realm in which we are called to walk. Every area of life has rules or principles that govern that realm. Faith is no different. There are principles and boundaries that we adhere to in order to walk in this realm. What are they?

Biblical faith always has the God of the Bible as its object.

As we mentioned last time, many people just want to “have faith,” without expressing an object of faith. Faith, however requires an object. The realm of biblical faith, then, has the God of the Bible (Yahweh) as the object. The one walking in this realm fixes his or her eyes on God, believing His Word to them. It’s possible for faith to be misplaced. What I mean by that is that we can place faith in a person or thing and then find that our belief or trust was wrong—the chair we sat in breaks, a friend we trusted with a confidence betrays us.

God, however, is the one constant. Our faith in Him will never be misplaced. One of the many words that the Bible uses to describe His character is faithfulness. He keeps His Word. He does what He says. Even when everything or every other person fails us, He will never let us down.

Biblical faith is rooted in the character of God.

When God told Abraham to offer Isaac as a burn offering (Gen. 22), why did Abraham choose to believe and obey? Simply because God is God? While it is generally a good idea to obey the Person who holds your life in His hands, there is more to it in this case. God had previously given Abraham a promise: “You’ll have a son, and your son’s descendants will inherit all this land I give to you. They will be more numerous than the sand on the shore and the stars in the sky.”

Abraham judged God to be faithful. God keeps His promises. Thus, Abraham’s faith was rooted not just in the promises of God, but in His character. Biblical faith is grounded in God’s character. That brings up a very important point. In order to have real biblical faith in God, we must know His character. We must know Him. Faith that is not properly grounded in God’s nature and character is little more than wishful thinking.

Biblical faith is submitted to the will of God.

When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, the first thing He taught them to do before making requests was to submit. He said, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Modern teaching on this prayer misinterprets these statements. While they are statements of worship, they are also statements of submission. “Not my kingdom come, but Your kingdom come. Not my will, but Your will be done.” We place ourselves under His authority—and thus our faith under His authority as well.

What does this mean for praying in faith? Are we to pray, “Lord please do this if it’s Your will?” I don’t think that is the intent. When James and others tell us to pray, we are not told to qualify it like that. We are told to pray in faith. We are to pray in faith according to our standing as redeemed sons and daughters of God. But—and this is an important ‘but’—our attitude must always remain in submission. If we pray in faith and our request is not granted, there is a reason. His ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts. I believe we are to keep asking, seeking, and knocking until we receive an answer. But again, our faith (and thus ourselves) must remain submitted to His will. We are to desire that His will be accomplished, not ours.

Biblical faith cannot be increased, but it can be strengthened.

Biblical faith should not be thought of a huge container of liquid to be filled up, drained, and then filled again. Rather, faith is more like a muscle that needs exercise. That’s why we see passages regarding strengthening your faith (Acts 16:5; 2 Cor. 10:15; Jude 1:20), but we see Jesus correcting the disciples’ when they asked Him to increase their faith (Luke 17:5-6). Faith even as small as a mustard seed is counted as true faith.

How does one exercise and build up his faith? It’s similar to weight training. You start with a little weight at first, then begin to slowly push yourself to lift more and more. It causes pain at first, but as your muscles strengthen, the pain goes away, and your strength increases. So it is with faith. We exercise our faith in small things, and then as it grows we exercise it more toward bigger things (mountains). What is the resistance to faith that causes it to grow? Doubt. When we have doubt, we are to push through it, and hold onto God and His promises. Without doubt, faith would become just another easy thing, and would not have the opportunity to grow.

Walking in the Realm and Having Faith

It’s possible to exercise our faith from time to time and not truly be walking in the realm of faith. When we walk in the realm of faith, our eyes are constantly fixed on God, our lives submitted to His will, and we view everything we do and say as an act of faith. While we may start out in single acts of faith, we are called to grow and begin consistently walking in the realm of faith.

As we exercise our faith, let’s remember that faith is not arrogant, but is humble in confidence toward God and His love for us. He calls us to exercise great faith for the sake of His Kingdom. We are to trust Him, no matter the outcome, for He is good, and His love endures forever.

(Go to “On Faith Part 3”)