Tag Archives: First Epistle of John

Who Holds the Chain

Enormous, yellow fangs, dripping with slobber, and hot, angry eyes were all I saw as a German Shepherd hurtled across the lawn at me.  I was walking to my first grade class at Clinton School, just cresting the rise on South Hamilton St., when I first encountered the beast from Hell.  He almost got me; i was too scared to run.  But just before his vicious teeth clamped around my face, the chain went taut and he was yanked back off his deadly trajectory.  Stephen King couldn’t have scripted it any better.  Who would do that to little kids on their way to school?  I picture an old, twisted, asthmatic geezer, rubbing his hands and cackling with glee.  Fact is, first grade wasn’t much better, but that’s a different story…

You never knew when that dog would be out.  Every day, on my way to school, I had to convince myself that the chain would hold, that he couldn’t get me.  Eventually, I learned to really trust it.

You and I are in a similar situation with Satan.  John says:

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God [Jesus] keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.  (1 John 5:18 – my added explanation)

Read this right:  It doesn’t say a believer is never tempted and never sins, but that he or she does not continue on that course as an habitual, regular lifestyle.  It does not say we have to try hard to be good.  It says Jesus keeps us safe. The evil one cannot harm us.  Literally, he cannot fasten himself on to us.  This is not meant to scare us, but rather, to reassure us.  We are meant to be encouraged and trust Jesus to keep us safe.  From time to time Satan will come flying out and attempt to make us think we are goners.  But Jesus holds the chain.

The Point of No Return

You are standing on a tiny ledge of trim that runs around the top outside wall of a building.  Your shoes hang over the edge and looking down makes your head swim.  Just picturing this makes my palms sweat.  If you pay attention and keep your balance, you just might make it back to safety.  But, if you lose your balance and fall there won’t be anything anybody can do to save you.  

There is a sin like that, a sin from which there is no rescue, nothing anybody can do to save you.  John calls it “the sin that leads to death.”  Commit that sin and you have fallen off the ledge.  Even prayer isn’t going to help.

If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. (1 John 5:16-17)

Are your palms sweaty?  Do you want to know what the deadly sin is?  Jesus called it “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.”  He said:

“But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”  (Mark 3:29)

But what does that mean?  The best explanation is that it refers to someone who knows that what he has experienced was accomplished by God’s Spirit, and that he nevertheless attributes that experience to the work of Satan. In simple terms, the sin that leads to death is deliberately and knowingly hardening one’s heart against God.

Bad news and good news.  Bad news: If you deliberately turn away from God, knowingly turn away from Him, there really is a point of no return. Good news:  If you are worried about this, you probably have not yet stepped off the ledge, so to speak.  And there is a way to be sure you don’t.   

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God  [Jesus] keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.   (1 John 5:18)

How can we be “born of God?”

Yet to all who received him [Jesus], to those who believed in his name [believed in Who He is], he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent,c nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  (John 1:12-13  with my added explanations)

Ruth’s Truth

A cruel, degenerative disease twisted the old woman’s back into a question mark and she shuffled through her final years looking toward the ground.  But she saw the drug-fueled goings on next door, heard the loud rock and roll, the late night parties. Ruth (not her real name) went out of her way to be a good neighbor and developed a real friendship that blasted through presumed age and culture gaps.  I know this because I was the guy next door.

Several years went by before my wife and I each encountered the truth about Jesus, gave Him our trust, and came to life by His Spirit.  Ruth noticed.  She may have been forced to physically look down, but she knew how to look up.  One day, in a quiet and gentle way, she let on that she had been praying for us, all those years, every day.

I’m guessing Ruth knew this part of John’s first letter:

If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.  (1 John 5:16a)

When Ruth looked across the alley and saw me, she saw her brother.  She knew we were stumbling around in the dark, trying to find a way to make darkness more tolerable.  She prayed, and God turned on the lights.  He gave us life.

When you see someone stumbling around in sin, recognize him as your brother.  Don’t judge, pray.  Be like Ruth.

Gimme a Scroll Bar!

Were you surprised the government couldn’t run a website as well as Amazon does?  Not me.  The first time I filed my taxes online, I remember you had to click on a big button that said SUBMIT!  Submit, indeed…   But once I pushed the button, the screen went blank and nothing seemed to be happening.  For a long, long time.  Freaked me out, because I wasn’t sure if they got my return or not.  I wondered if I should shut off the computer and try again or if that would ruin everything.  There was no way for me to know because nobody at the IRS thought to program in a little scroll bar – you know that little green, line thingy that shows you the download progress when you order a new app or song?  it lets you know everything is okay.  Don’t panic; just wait.   That scroll bar has probably done more for mental health than psychiatry has.  It’s nice to have some real time feedback to let you know that everything is proceeding in the right way.

There is a “scroll bar” for Jesus.  Think about it:  How can you be sure, once you have put your faith in Jesus, that anything has changed?  How can you know that by believing in Jesus you really do have eternal life?   John said you can know in three ways:  First, you can know because Jesus came all the way down to where you are – all the way down to stand in the waters of baptism  (See “All the Way – Part 1″).  Secondly, you can know because Jesus went all the way to the Cross – giving His life, spending His blood – which no one would do unless it was going to work (See “All the Way – Part 2” and “What’s Love (or Justice) Got to do with It?“).

But you can know in a third way, too.  God gives us a scroll bar, too – something to let us know everything is okay – don’t panic.  God gives us real time evidence that we have been connected to Him forever.

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.  (1 John 5:6 )

The Spirit shows us day by day, in real time, that we are alive in Christ.  He is like a scroll bar.  Obviously, He is a lot more than just evidence that everything is working, but the fact that He testifies – continuously – is important.  We don’t need to wonder if trusting Jesus is really effective.  We don’t need to wonder if we have eternal life.  The Spirit shows us.

Here’s the rest of what John said:

For there are three that testify:  the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.   We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.   Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.   And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.  (1 John 5:7-13)

That’s the truth.  It comes with a “scroll bar.”

All the Way – Part 2

We’ve been chewing on something puzzling that the Apostle John said about Jesus:

“This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood.”  (1 John 5:6 a) 

NOTE – The previous post dealt what John meant about “water.”  If you haven’t read it, click on this link – All the Way – Part 1.  Hopefully, this second part about blood will make more sense.

When John said Jesus came “by water and blood,” he meant  Jesus came all the way – all the way TO you and FOR you.

Every week in the summer, out here in the Rockies, people find themselves stuck after climbing half-way up cliffs.  They cling desperately to the rock face, helplessly waiting for a rescue.  If someone came all the way down the cliff to stand next to them, they would feel so much better.  (This is the “water” part)   But feeling better wouldn’t be enough.  What they really need is for that person to do whatever is necessary to get them all the way out to safety.

That Jesus came by water means that He came all the way TO you.  That He also came by blood means He came all the way FOR you, as well – He came to do everything necessary to rescue you all the way.   Your rescue from sin, and from ultimate death, cannot be completed without blood.  His blood.

Why blood?  Why did God require a blood sacrifice before He could forgive you, wipe your slate clean forever and connect you to His Spirit?   Perhaps you have heard several explanations about why the Cross was necessary.  If you are like me, you “sort of get it,” but there are still lingering questions.  I believe those lingering questions remain because human explanations cannot completely encompass the wisdom and understanding of God.  If you ask a software engineer to describe what he or she does for a living, they will struggle to explain it to you in terms that make sense.  If you ask an advanced physicist and mathematician to explain string theory, chances are you will only have a vague notion about what they say.  Human understanding strains to comprehend such things.  God knows software and string theory like you know how to tie your shoes.

God helped his people grasp the concept – that blood is required for forgiveness and reconciliation –  by teaching them to act it out symbolically, by sacrificing an unblemished animal.  When Jesus sacrificed His own, perfect and sinless life, they “sort of got it” – some of them – but not fully.  Neither do I.

But I do get this:  Almighty God, Who is characterized by love and grace, would never have required His own Son’s blood on my behalf if there was any other way.  He told His people it was going to happen:

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  (Isaiah 53:5-6)

And Jesus made very clear that it had to happen:

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  (Luke 24:46-47)

Good enough for me.  Bottom line, Jesus came all the way; He came all the way to me in the water and He came all the way for me by His blood.  I wish I understood it completely.  For now, I “sort of get it” and that will have to do.

Stay tuned – there’s a bit more to this…

All the Way – Part 1

You ain’t Carl Douglas!”  (Remember Carl Douglas?  He had a hit single – Kung Fu Fighting – in 1974)  That cry, hollered by a large and angry woman, seated 5 rows back from the stage, brought that concert to an abrupt and ugly end.  The impostor had demonstrated some blazing Kung Fu fighting moves – he was wowing the crowd and doing okay – but when he tried to sing, his voice gave him away.  The whole crowd knew it: “He ain’t Carl Douglas.”  We didn’t stick around to see what happened next.  it was getting pretty exciting as we packed up our sound equipment and exited, stage left, as fast as we could.

How do you know that Jesus was the real Savior, the One promised by God through His prophets, the One Who was eagerly anticipated by a conquered and suffering people?  Jesus was not the only one who claimed to be the Savior.  Israel had been disappointed and disillusioned before.  How could they identify Him?  For that matter, how can you be sure?  Wikipedia gives a long list of people who have made the claim, dating from 4 BC up through our own day.  How can you tell who is the real Savior?

John gives three reasons to believe Jesus is the One – water, blood and the Spirit.   Confused?  Join the crowd.  Here is what he said:

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.  (1 John 5:6)

Because John used cryptic terms, perhaps understood by the people in his day but puzzling to us, there have been various interpretations of what he meant.  Here is the one that makes the most sense to me:

By water” means that Jesus began His public ministry, standing right next to you, getting baptized.  Deep in our hearts, we understand that we don’t deserve to be rescued by God.  If anyone knew me like I know me, he would also know I don’t deserve anything from God.  And God knows me better than I do.  He knows you, too.  As people in Jesus’ time got more in touch with how unworthy they were, John the Baptist invited them to be baptized.  As they went under the water, it was a symbolic, public expression of their desire to die to their old, corrupt life, to be cleansed and to emerge into a better life.  It was a meaningful and very popular ritual – John touched a real nerve – but a futile one, as anyone knows who has made a New Year’s resolution.   Jesus had no sin to repent of, but He began His ministry of rescue, identifying Himself with you, standing next to you in those waters.  Jesus did not come for those who thought they were pretty good on their own.  He came for those who despaired their inability to live up to what they knew was right and true.  He came to save.  

And He came all the way.  When you need a rescue, you don’t want a cheerleader from the stands, or even a condescending hand reaching down from above.  You want someone who will come to you, stand with you and walk with you.  That is the reason alcoholics have the most success helping other alcoholics.  They can relate, and the ones they are rescuing know it.  Jesus began His ministry on your level.  In the water.  He came all the way.

Stay tuned…  next time we will consider what “blood” means.

The Difference Between Belief and Belief

John writes:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.  (1 John 5:1)

But is that really true?   Everyone who believes Jesus is the Christ is born again?  It is true, if you understand what John means by belief.  There is belief, and then there is belief.

You discover you have a cancerous tumor and go looking for a surgeon.  Turns out your neighbor’s brother is a surgeon.  Do you believe it?  Sure.  But do you decide to lie down on the operating table, undergo full anesthesia and let your neighbor’s brother open you up and cut a few things out?   Not necessarily.  But if you do, then you believe in your neighbor’s brother in a way similar to what John means by believing Jesus is the Christ.

Real belief shows.  It changes a person’s outlook and behavior, so that, instead of following the group-think of the world, he or she gets in step with God’s design and commands.  John calls that “overcoming the world,” and that is a good description of what it feels like to resist the pull of what most people do and choose to do what seems foolish by their standards.

This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.  (1 John 5:2-5)

Which all fits, which all makes sense – provided you believe.

The Main Thing

The teacher said, “Label these maps,” and I did that.  But some of the girls went overboard, trying to impress the teacher with how good they were.  So they colored their maps, too.  I’m still mad about it because it made me and my buddies look bad.  Got all the countries labeled right and I still got a lousy grade.

Pharisees in Jesus’ day colored their maps, too, so to speak.  They went overboard, keeping all the religious rules with strict detail.  Tried to impress God and made everybody else look like a putz.  Now, one of those Pharisee guys was also a head official in the Jewish ruling council.  Double toady.  But he got curious about Jesus, and went to see Him secretly, late at night.  He thought Jesus would be impressed with how good he was.  But Jesus flunked him, said he’d never make it, not the way he was.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again [literally – “born from above“].’  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  (John 3:5-8  my added note)

It’s not about how hard you try to keep the rules.  The main thing is the Spirit of God, living in your soul.  How does that happen?  The Spirit gives birth to the Spirit.  It happens when you accept Jesus’ offer of complete forgiveness and reconciliation with God.  Then He gives you the Spirit.  Alive.  Inside.   Because this is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus, God and Jesus take up residence in your soul.  His words, not mine:

…I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. … On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.  …   “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.   (Excerpts taken from John 14:16-23 –  Read the whole thing; it’s amazing!)

Being a Christian is not about “do this” and “don’t do that.”  It’s about surrendering to Jesus and receiving His Spirit, His eternal life.  That’s the main thing.   That is why John said:

 We know that we live 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. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.  (1 John 4:13-16 )

How about you?  Do you know what John said he knew?  Do you have God’s Spirit living in you?  If not, consider this:  If you believe that Jesus was telling the truth, that Jesus really is Who He said He was, and that He really can connect you to God by His Spirit, then ask Him.  Sincerely ask Him for His gift.  You will likely have a few other things you want to say as well – but those are between you and Him.  Ask Him for the Spirit.  You will be amazed…

Living Love

In 1970, Stephen Stills sang, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with…”  A few years earlier, John wrote: “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7b)

Does that mean Stephen Stills is “born of God?”  Not necessarily.  Because when John uses the word “love,” he means something very different from what Stephen means.  The opposite.  Here’s the key to understanding what John means by love.  He wrote,

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  (1 John 3:16a)

“Love” is giving myself up for you – my wants, my pride, my self-interest, my needs, etc.  I set aside what I want in order to minister to what you need.  For, example If you “can’t be with the one you love,”  you will still be faithful to her.  The ultimate example of love is Jesus’ choice to die so that we could live.  It’s only in understanding what John means by love that we can make sense of the rest of what he wrote:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:7-10)

Once again, John defines what he means by love.  But notice that God’s act of love is not pointless; it produces in us a new birth (born of God) into new life (…that we might live through Him).  Everyone who accepts God’s Gift of love – Jesus and His atoning sacrifice – is given the Spirit of God.  This Spirit is “born” in the believer and “lives” in him or her.  This is God’s Spirit, the Spirit of love, because “God is love.”

Make sure you follow the logic of these thoughts.  They are not just nice valentines from John, but revolutionary truths!  Only when you comprehend what John is saying here, only when you “get it” with an “Aha!” sort of understanding, will it make sense to read:

“Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

Foxhole Radio

A razor blade and a pencil!  Prisoners of war in WWII who could scrape together a razor blade and a pencil were able to construct simple radios, allowing them to hear the truth about allied advances.  Their captors lied to them about who was winning the war in order to discourage them and manipulate them into doing self-destructive things.  But hearing the truth through these “foxhole radios,” many prisoners found the strength to resist.

You and I have been “prisoners” in this world, kept in the dark and lied to by Satan, in an attempt to control us and cause us to do self-destructive things.  We don’t need a razor blade or a pencil; we need God’s Holy Spirit to “guide [us] into all truth” John 16:13.  Jesus gives this Spirit to all those who fully trust Him.

Jesus said:

 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  (John 14:15-17)

Notice that the kind of trust Jesus responds to is the trust that is turned into action through obedience.  That is because Jesus’ commands tend to contradict the things the world tells us.  Who you trust is revealed by who you obey.  Also see in those verses that the Holy Spirit does not merely visit, He lives within the believer foreverThis is the best part of the “Good News.”  If Jesus merely died for our sins, we would still be stuck in our same. sinful condition.  But by giving us the Holy Spirit, Jesus connects us to God in the way God designed for humans to operate.  Now we have access to the truth from within our souls, truth that contradicts the lies we are taught in the world.  (An example of a contradictory truth is Jesus’ teaching that the greatest person in a group is the one who takes the lowest position and serves the most.  Luke 22:26)

John has been living with this Spirit and knows how wonderful the difference is.  He also knows how deceptive and tempting the lies of the world are.  So John reassures believers with these words:

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them (deceiving spirits – in verse 3), because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.  (1 John 4:4-6)

The Spirit of God is our foxhole radio.  During the war, foxhole radios only helped the prisoners if they listened to them and believed what they were hearing.  You get the point…