Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Letters Of The Apostle John. Day 18, Praying According To God's Will/Sins Lead To The Death Of A Believer

John concludes his first letter today, and in it he sums up the main message of the letter, which is to help his readers feel confident in their salvation. He also promises us that if we pray in accordance with God's will we will see our prayers answered. He will then make a mysterious statement which deals with sin in the believer's life---sin that can lead to the Lord taking the believer out of the world.

"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 5:13) Did some of John's readers, whom he refers to as those who believe in the name of the Son of God, have doubts about whether their souls were saved? It could be, because even very sincere and devout Christians can be afflicted with doubts about their salvation, particularly if they suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and related conditions. Satan will try to use our weaknesses against us, and if he can he will keep us from experiencing the joy that should be ours as a result of our salvation. A person can develop what is known as "religious scrupulosity", which is defined as a condition that causes the sufferer to have "obsessive concerns about blasphemy, having committed a sin, behaving morally, maintaining purity, and about going to hell". This condition causes the sufferer to: doubt he was ever saved in the first place, or, have fears that he will somehow lose his salvation.

In John's letter he has provided his readers with a checklist by which they can test whether they belong to Christ. One of the questions on this checklist is: is the person who claims to be saved still living comfortably in the same old sinful lifestyle as he did before? Another question is: does the person who says he is saved love his fellow man as Christ has commanded? If the person's life has been changed, and if he is uncomfortable when he messes up, and if he is now able to love those who aren't always so lovable, then these things are proof that he belongs to Christ and that Christ is at work making him more like Himself.

If we belong to the Lord, we should want what He wants for our lives. And if we pray according to His will, we are going to receive the answers to our prayers. "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us---whatever we ask---we know that we have what we asked of Him." (1 John 5:14-15) There are things that we can know are God's will. Examples would be when we pray for God to help us to love others more, or when we pray for the strength to resist a temptation, or when we pray to better understand our Bibles and to be able to apply Biblical principles to our lives, or when we pray for the Lord to increase our faith in Him. God honors requests like these. We can make these requests with confidence, knowing He is willing and eager to say "yes" to them.

God honors godly requests we make also for others. John urges us to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and most especially to pray for them when we see them fall into sin. "If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them 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 you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death." (1 John 5:16-17) What on earth is he talking about? These two verses are quite mysterious, but we will begin with the first half of verse 16 which clearly instructs us to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ when we see them messing up. Sadly, our first reaction might be to shake our heads and look down on them for their sin. We aren't perfect ourselves and we have no right to have this attitude. Another thing we may do wrong is, instead of talking about them to God, we talk about them to others. If we have anything to say about the sin of our brother or sister, we should be saying it to God while we're asking Him to bring that person to repentance and to help that person to turn away from their sin.

But what does John mean about sin that leads to death? We know John can't be talking about spiritual death (eternal separation of the soul from the presence of God). He's clearly talking about believers since he refers to them as "brothers and sisters". Therefore he must be talking about physical death. The Lord sometimes removes a believer from this life because they have fallen into such sin that they must be taken out either to prevent them from falling into even worse sin or else to prevent them from pulling other believers into sin with them. The Apostle Paul gives an example of this in 1 Corinthians 11 when he scolds some members of the church for treating the Lord's Supper in a disrespectful manner. He says that some believers have already died because of the way they repeatedly dishonored the Lord in regard to the supper that is meant to honor the sacrifice He made. In this context, John appears to be saying something like: "If a brother or sister is dying of a terminal illness, and the Lord reveals to you that His intention is to take the believer home due to the sin the believer has fallen into, do not pray for the Lord to heal this person. What the Lord is doing is for the person's own good, so his spiritual condition does not grow worse. It may even be for the good of the church as a whole, so this person doesn't influence other believers to fall into the same sin. You may pray for your brother or sister in other ways, but do not pray for the Lord to heal them if He has shown you that it is best to take them on out of this life. In that case you would be praying against the will of God, and God is not going to say 'yes' to a prayer that goes against His will."

Now John makes his concluding remarks by reminding us that the one who devotes himself to Christ will not be able to live comfortably in a sinful lifestyle like unbelievers. He tells us we who belong to Christ will not live like the world, which is under the influence of Satan. Instead we will live like the children of God, who are under the influence of Christ. Because we are His children, we must be careful not to become entangled in idolatry, which in our day doesn't often take the form of bowing to an image. In our day the devil has disguised idolatry, but at its core it's still the same old thing: putting something else in place of God. "We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are the children of God, and that the whole world is under control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true. And we are in Him who is true by being in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols." (1 John 5:

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Letters Of The Apostle John. Day 17, The Testimony Of God Regarding The Messiah

In Friday's study we talked about how the baptism of Jesus and the death of Jesus both proved that He is who He says He is. At His baptism, God the Father spoke from heaven and testified that Jesus was His Son. The people standing at the Jordan heard this voice. The death of Jesus proved that He's the Son of God because He rose from the dead. If He had gone to the tomb and remained there, how could we ever be sure that anything He said during His life was true? He kept telling His followers He would rise from the dead; if He had not fulfilled this promise, He could not have been God the Son, for God cannot tell a lie.

Today John talks about the testimony of God. In this world it's possible for people to give false testimony even when under oath in court, but it is not possible for God to give false testimony. This is because God, who is perfectly righteous, cannot tell a lie. "God is not human, that He should lie." (Numbers 23:19) "God...does not lie." (Titus 1:2) "It is impossible for God to lie." (Hebrews 6:18) We can trust the testimony of God. In the Old Testament, God told us how we would recognize His Son. He told us Christ would be born into the world as a baby to a woman who was a virgin. (Isaiah 7:14) He told us Christ would be born in Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2) He told us Christ would perform great miracles. (Isaiah 35:5-6) He told us Christ would be rejected and would suffer and die---not for His own sins but for the sins of others. (Isaiah 53:1-9) And He told us that Christ, though He died, would again see the light of life and would be satisfied with the "offspring" (the believers) His sacrifice had produced. (Isaiah 53:10-12) I have referenced only a few of the Messianic prophecies that can be found in the Old Testament, but only Jesus of Nazareth has fulfilled them all. These prophecies are the testimony of God. They were the checklist by which anyone who claimed to be the Messiah could be compared. Everyone throughout history who has claimed to be the Promised One has failed the test---except Jesus of Nazareth.

John warns us in our passage today that if we reject Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, we are rejecting the very words of Almighty God. We are also resisting the testimony of the Holy Spirit, whose ministry it is to work with our hearts to prove to us that Jesus is the Son of God. This is why, when we lived in doubt and unbelief, the gospel message troubled us. Hearing the gospel causes a person to have to do something about what he or she has heard. There are really only two choices we can make: either we accept the testimony given by God and by the Holy Spirit and by Jesus Himself and by all the prophets, or we reject it. It may seem like there's a third option where we can push the matter to the back of our minds for the time being to be dealt with at a later date, but there comes a point when failing to make a decision is a decision. We aren't guaranteed the next breath, much less tomorrow, and time may run out for us to make a decision for Christ. Also, resisting the Holy Spirit can make our hearts so hard toward Him that we no longer feel moved by anything He has to say. This can lead us to complete all our days on this earth without ever giving another serious thought to the fact that we are sinners and that we need a way to be made righteous in the sight of the God before whom we will someday stand.

As we said yesterday, under the Mosaic law, two or three witnesses were required to establish a thing as a fact. John picks up there by reminding us we have all the witness testimony necessary to establish as fact that Jesus is the Promised One. "For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood, and these three are in agreement." (1 John 5:7-8) We have already discussed why the voice of God at the baptism of Jesus (which John references as "the water") and the blood of Jesus (His death and resurrection) prove His identity. These are two witnesses, which are all that is necessary under the law to prove that a thing is true. But there is also a third witness, the Holy Spirit, who deals with our hearts. The Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit that Jesus is the Christ.

Since we would be willing to accept the eyewitness testimony of two or three people in a court of law, John says, "We accept human testimony, but God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about His Son." (1 John 5:9) God can't lie, so if we're willing to accept that the agreeing testimony of two of three human beings is true, why would we not accept that what God says is true? God told us what to look for in the Messiah so that no one would deceive us. Jesus fulfilled the checklist that God gave us through the prophets. There is proof after proof after proof that Jesus is really who He claimed to be. If God had only spoken from heaven at the baptism of Jesus down at the Jordan River, we might be able to convince ourselves that the crowd by the river experienced a mass hallucination. But Jesus did all the things we were told the Messiah would do. No one, not even His worst enemies, ever denied His miracles. They couldn't. They saw them with their own eyes. They couldn't accuse Him of any sin either. In order to bring Jesus before Pilate in hopes of getting Him crucified, His enemies had to make up lies about Him, because no one had a single shred of evidence that He had ever broken a law of either God or man. Believe me, if Jesus had had any skeletons in His closet, those who hated Him would have found them, because they looked so diligently for them. But they came up empty.

The apostle brings a frightful accusation against us if we refuse to accept what God has said about His Son. "Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about His Son." (1 John 5:9-10) I don't want to stand before my Judge someday and be accused of having called Him a liar. But John says that's essentially what we are doing when we refuse to believe what God has said.

I want to stand before my Judge and be counted righteous for the sake of His Son, who died for me and who I have trusted with my eternal soul. I want all my family members, friends, and neighbors to have this. I want everyone in the world to have this. The Lord wants everyone to have this. That's why I find it so difficult to understand when anyone says that Christianity is "exclusionary". The Lord Jesus invites "whosoever will" to come to Him and accept the free offer of salvation. (Revelation 22:17) No one is excluded. Everyone is welcome. Jesus gave Himself for every person on the face of the earth because He loves every person on the face of the earth. He wants to redeem every soul. But He won't force redemption on anyone. Faith has always been a choice, and salvation has always been by faith. The Apostle John wants everyone to have salvation through Jesus Christ the Lord, so he concludes with these words in order to encourage us all to make the right choice: "And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son does not have life." (1 John 5:11-12)

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Letters Of The Apostle John. Day 16, The Water And The Blood

John's words in today's passage have puzzled scholars ever since he wrote them down. We are going to look at the two most prevalent theories of what he may have meant when 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." (1 John 5:6a)

Some scholars believe John is referencing something he witnessed at the crucifixion. A Roman soldier wanted to make sure that Jesus was dead, so he pierced Him in the side with a sword. The piercing of the sword brought forth "a sudden flow of blood and water". (John 19:34) John wasn't a medical doctor and he didn't understand why water would have flowed out of the wound along with blood, but we know today that crucifixion victims often went into hypovolemic shock. This means that fluid would gather around the heart and lungs of these victims, so when the sword of the Roman soldier went between two of Jesus' ribs and into His chest cavity, it released the fluid that was gathered there. There are "resurrection deniers" in modern times who claim that Jesus didn't really die on the cross but that He revived in the tomb and His disciples whisked Him away. But John's eyewitness account of the piercing of Jesus' side, and of the blood and water which flowed from His side, ought to put to rest any speculation that Jesus wasn't really dead. The outpouring of water proves that the sword went through His heart and lungs. If He had not already been dead before the soldier pierced Him through the heart and lungs, He would have been dead afterwards.

Personally, I don't think John's words in today's passage are a reference to what he witnessed at the crucifixion, but still it's beneficial for us to recall his account of what he saw on the day Jesus died. There is no doubt that Jesus suffered terrible torture on that day, and there is no doubt He was really dead when He was placed in the tomb. Therefore, there is no doubt He actually rose from the dead as those who saw Him in the flesh claimed He did. There was no "reviving" possible after what He endured at Golgotha. When His followers walked and talked and even ate with Him following His death, they were walking and talking and eating with a man living in a resurrected, immortal body. How else can we explain why the disciples, who hid behind locked doors during the time between Jesus' death and resurrection, later risked and gave their lives to proclaim that He had risen from the dead? They knew what they had seen.

I agree with the scholars who think John is speaking of the baptism and death of Jesus when he speaks of the water and the blood. Both these things confirm the deity of Jesus of Nazareth. When He came down to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist, John testified to the crowd that Jesus was the "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world". (John 1:29) When Jesus came up out of the water, God testified from heaven, saying, "This is My son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:17) According to the law of Moses, any testimony had to be confirmed by two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19:15) So at the baptism of Jesus we find two witnesses (John the Baptist and God Himself) confirming the identity of Jesus.

The blood of Jesus also confirms His identity. As we've already established, there's no doubt He died on the cross. The Roman soldier confirmed it. The witnesses standing by the cross confirmed it. Those who placed His body in the tomb confirmed it. Medical experts of our day, reading the account John gave of the blood and water which ran out of Jesus' side, confirm it through their scientific understanding of what the blood and water signifies. Jesus was as dead as any human being has ever been. And yet the fact that He is alive has been confirmed by many witnesses. The Apostle Paul reminds us that all the disciples saw Him at various times (some alone and some in groups). Jesus spoke privately with His brother James and perhaps with His other brothers as well. And on one occasion, He appeared to more than five hundred of His followers at the same time. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8) Paul says that, at the time of his writing, most of these five hundred people were still alive and available to give their testimony of what they witnessed. The number of people who saw and interacted with the risen Christ is far more than was necessary to establish a thing as fact under the Mosaic law.

On top of all the witnesses who gave their testimony that Jesus is the Christ, the Holy Spirit witnesses to our hearts. "And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth." (1 John 5:6b) It is the Holy Spirit who convinces us that Jesus is who He says He is. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts our hearts of sin, and who leads us to repentance, and who brings us to accept Jesus Christ as the Savior whose blood cleanses us of sin.

What more evidence do we need to establish that Jesus is who He says He is? What more could He say to us than what He has already said? What more could He do than what He has already done?

I'm going to close with my favorite quote from the late evangelist and author C.S. Lewis. His words are a perfect way to sum up what we're saying in our study today. If Jesus isn't really who He says He is, then we can't follow Him at all. If He isn't really the Son of God, we must dismiss everything He ever said or did. If He isn't really the Messiah, how can we explain the eyewitness testimony of His miracles, or of His death and resurrection? When it comes to Jesus, we either have to accept that everything the Bible says about Him is true, or we must reject it entirely. There is no in-between. C. S. Lewis helps us understand why this is so, saying: "I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic---on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg---or else he would be the devil of hell. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Letters Of The Apostle John. Day 15, Overcoming The World

The Lord Jesus said He had overcome the world. (John 16:33) Through Him, we can overcome all the things of this world that seek to draw our devotion away from Him. Today John finishes up with the long discourse on love he's been providing, then he moves on to tell us how we can be confident about our salvation and how we can obey the Lord's commands even when the world tries to keep us from obeying Him.

Several days ago we clarified what John meant when he said that the one who loves has been born of God. We pointed out that he doesn't mean that everyone who loves anyone is right with the Lord. After all, the Lord Jesus said that even unbelievers love those who love them. (Luke 6:32) John is talking about loving others in the way God loved us. He's telling us that we know we belong to the Lord if we are able to love not only those who love us, but also those who can do nothing for us and who would do nothing for us if they could. God loved us when we were still unprofitable to Him. He loved us when we were living in opposition to Him. And now that we are in Christ, let's think back to what drew us to Him in the first place. It was His ability to love us when there was nothing about us to love, wasn't it? It was the fact that He gave Himself for us even though we were so unworthy. This is the type of love we are to have for our fellow man. How can we lead them to Christ if they don't feel like we love them? If they don't see any Christlike love in us, they will not be interested in hearing about Him.

"We love because He first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister." (1 John 4:19-21) Would we have ever loved Him if He hadn't first loved us? Probably not. Will unbelievers ever love Christ if they don't feel like Christians love them? It's going to be difficult for them to come to faith in Christ if they never see anything admirable in Christians.

Love is the fruit of a changed life. And what was it that changed our lives? Believing that Jesus is the Son of God. "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) We want to please those we love, don't we? If we love the Lord, we will want to live in a way that pleases Him. Having the desire to do what's right in the eyes of God is another fruit of a changed life. "This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands." (1 John 5:2-3a)

We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. By loving others we are displaying our love for God, because obeying Him is how we prove our love for Him. If there's nothing in us that wants to show our love for the Lord by doing what He says, we must question whether we really love Him at all. The Lord Jesus clearly stated that our obedience is the proof of our love: "If you love Me, keep My commands." (John 14:15)

The Apostle John knows that we're going to run into people who don't want to get along with us. He's been a minister of the gospel since he was a young man, and he's run into a lot of people who are very difficult to like. But, as we said earlier in the week, we're not commanded to like everyone. We're commanded to love them because the Lord loves them, and because Christ gave His life for them, and because we (like God) don't want their souls to spend eternity separated from the Lord.

John knows that some of his readers are going to sit there with his letter and think about how some of the people in their community are very unlikable. He knows they're going to be thinking to themselves, "How can I be nice to my neighbor Jimmy? He's so ill tempered all the time." Or, "I don't know how I'm going to be polite to Ellen. All she does is brag about herself and look down on others." If we rely on the strength of our flesh to maintain a loving attitude toward those who are unlikable, we will probably fall short. But we don't have to rely on our own strength. We must lean on the strength of Christ---on the One who was able to love those who hated Him. This is why John can say that the command to love others is not too hard to follow. "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 the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God." (1 John 5:3b-5)

How can we have confidence in our salvation? First, by being certain that we believe Jesus is the Son of God. This is the step of faith it takes to become a child of God. Second, if we've given our hearts and souls to the Lord Jesus, we should be bearing the fruit that is the evidence of a changed life. Do we have a desire to obey our Lord? Are we able to love others as He has commanded us? Do we care about those who are lost? Do we want to see people set free from slavery to sin? Do we want others to have the peace and joy that we have in our Lord? If we can answer all these questions with a "yes", then we know without a doubt that we are new creatures in Christ and that He is daily working to make us more and more like Him.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Letters Of The Apostle John. Day 14, Perfect Love Drives Out Fear/The Day Of Judgment

John is continuing with the theme of love. It might seem like he's spending a lot of time and putting a lot of emphasis on this subject, but what greater thing can we really do with our lives than to love others in the way God would have us love them? As we studied yesterday, if we have been changed by the transforming power of Christ, we will even be able to love those who are unlovable. This type of love in our hearts proves to us and to those around us that we have been made into new creatures by Christ. This type of love gives us the assurance in our hearts that we don't have to face the judgment with fear. Instead we face that day with the confidence that our hearts are right with the Lord.

Who guides our lives and teaches us about love? It's the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent to believers when He ascended to the Father. Through the Holy Spirit, we have Christ residing in our hearts. And where Christ is, there is love. "This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of His Spirit." (1 John 4:13)

John was an eyewitness of the life, death, and burial of Christ. He was an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ. So were the other disciples and many followers of Jesus. Just as he did in the beginning of this letter, John gives his testimony about what he has seen and heard. His testimony is a fact, and he has based his entire life (and has entrusted his immortal soul) on what he knows to be a fact. "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 them and they in God." (1 John 4:14-15)

If we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, how can we help believing that God loves us? True love is unselfish and sacrificial. "And so we know and rely on the love God has for us." (1 John 4:16a) This confidence should be the bedrock of our lives. God loves us! God unselfishly and sacrificially did everything it took to save us. Not only can we depend on His love, but we can also depend on His help. God is going to help us in every way to live the lives He has called us to live, as the Apostle Paul so beautifully put it: "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all---how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)

Because God poured out so much love on us, we who are His children ought to display a heart like His. Remember, if we don't look like our Father, it is doubtful that we belong to Him at all. "God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them." (1 John 4:16b)

If we know that we are the sons and daughters of the living God through the Lord Jesus Christ, then we need not fear the day of judgment. We have studied today two ways in which we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we belong to Him: if we have the Holy Spirit, and if we love others with a heart like the Lord's. "This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:17-18)

John isn't saying that we won't ever make mistakes while we live in the flesh on this earth. What he's saying is that, if we have been regenerated and remade by our faith in Christ, we don't have to be afraid of meeting God face to face. I'll give you an example from my own life that may help to illustrate John's point. In April I had to have a medical test done that required me to be under general anesthesia. I'd never had general anesthesia and I was terrified of the very idea of it. I was afraid something might go wrong and I wouldn't wake up. Fear of death is a natural instinct that's built into every living creature; if it wasn't, we'd do abnormally reckless things that would get us killed at a young age. So I was naturally nervous about the risks associated with going under anesthesia. But you know what I wasn't afraid of? Going to meet my Maker. Not once during the month I waited for my upcoming test did I toss and turn in fear during the night wondering what terrible judgment lay ahead of me if I died. Not one time did I doubt that the Lord Jesus Christ had saved my soul. I didn't spend a single second in anxiety over whether I'd spend eternity with my Lord. This is because, like John, I know something to be a fact: Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, and He died for my sins, and He rose from the grave to prove that everything He said about Himself was true, and my faith in who He is and what He did for me on the cross has saved my eternal soul. Amen! Amen! It's natural to feel apprehensive about the death of our bodies, but we don't have to feel apprehensive about the eternal destination of our souls! Christ has made it possible for us to face the day of judgment without fear.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Letters Of The Apostle John. Day 13, God Is Love

John has been speaking a great deal on the subject of love. He's told us that if we don't love others, the love of God is not in us. He's told us how true love is demonstrated: with an unselfish attitude like Christ's. Today he talks about the love of a God who, although we were completely unlovable, loved us anyway.

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God." (1 John 4:7) John is not saying that everyone who has ever loved anyone is right with God. Most people, even if they don't know the Lord and even if they don't acknowledge He exists, love at least a few members of the human race. The Lord Jesus pointed this out by saying, "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them." (Matthew 5:46, Luke 6:32) So John isn't telling us that if we have any love in our hearts, that this is the proof we are right with a holy God.

The proof that we are right with our Creator is that we are able to love the unlovable---to love those who don't love us. This is the character of God. He loved us when we were unlovable, unprofitable, and unusable for His kingdom. Do we love people who can do nothing for us? Do we love people who have wronged us? Do we love people who want nothing to do with us? If so, we are displaying the evidence of a heart that is becoming more and more like our Lord's. We are bearing the fruit of a life that has been transformed. God loved us when there was nothing about us to love; if we belong to Him, how can we refuse to love others?

The opposite side of that coin is that the person who doesn't love others doesn't know God. "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:8) It's God's nature to love. He can't be someone He's not, so He loves everyone and everything that He created. Does this mean He won't judge sin? No, because if He didn't judge sin, He wouldn't be righteous. A God who is unwilling to avenge wrongs done to His children can't truthfully be said to love His children. Would we worship a God who turns a blind eye to cruelty? Would we reverence a God who gives a free pass to those who gain people's trust only to swindle and exploit them? Would we bow our knees to a God who doesn't punish those who are abusive and neglectful of the innocent and helpless? I could go on and on with examples of things we want to see God pass judgment on, but you see what I mean. We wouldn't feel very loved by a God who doesn't stand up for us and say, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay." (Deuteronomy 32:35) In other words, He tells us, "Be still, My child. You don't have to lift a finger. It is My place, as your Father, to take care of you. I'll handle those who are your enemies."

If we know God, and if we want to be like Him, we will not only love those who love us (as Jesus said "the sinners" do), but we will love people who couldn't care less about us. As we said earlier in the week, we aren't commanded to like everyone, but to love everyone. Once we get the difference in those things straight in our heads we will see that it's actually easier to love everyone around us than to like them. Some people make it practically impossible for us to like them. Some people only want to be disruptive and argumentative. Some people actively dislike us simply because we're Christians even though they know little else about us. So we may find it very difficult or even impossible to like them personally, but we can love them for the fact that they have been created by God and because they have a soul that's going to spend eternity separated from God unless they make things right with Him. If we don't show a loving spirit to these people, we have no chance of ever having an opportunity to tell them about Jesus Christ.

God the Father set the example for us to follow by loving us when there was nothing about us to love. He didn't want us to spend eternity separated from Him, so He gave the very best He had in order to offer us pardon for our sins. "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 4:9-10)

Since we have been shown such undeserved love, how dare we withhold our love from those around us? "Dear friends, since God has so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us." (1 John 4:11-12) You might have heard the expression, "You may be the only Bible that some people read." We can't pull a picture of God out of our wallets to show people what He looks like. No man has ever seen His face. But we can show God to people by how we treat them. We can live in such a way that they see God in us. And when they see the loving heart of God displayed in us, they may want to know Him for themselves.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Letters Of The Apostle John. Day 12, Testing The Spirits

John concluded yesterday's passage by reminding us that we know we are in Christ because we have been given the Holy Spirit. The Lord Jesus promised to send us the Holy Spirit to guide us, and He has kept His word. (John 16:13) Yet we must never forget that there are other "spirits" that want to lead us astray. Satan is a deceiver, and so are the other angels who followed him in rebellion against God. We need to be aware that not every impressive display of power and not every strong emotion is coming from the Lord.

"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1) As long as we live in this fallen world, we will have to engage in spiritual warfare from time to time. The devil wasn't able to keep us from coming to Christ in the first place, so he works to keep us from being effective witnesses for Christ in an attempt to keep us from leading others to the Lord. One of the methods he uses is false doctrine spread by false teachers who twist the gospel message just enough to confuse and deceive people into taking a soft attitude toward sin. The Apostle Paul warned his young protege Timothy to recognize spiritual warfare for what it is and to reject false teaching, saying, "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived." (2 Timothy 3:12-13)

False teachers can be very effective speakers. They can deliver messages as impressive as any apostle ever delivered, but that doesn't mean their messages are true. Their speeches are often accompanied by high emotions that mimic those experienced at times by people who are genuinely praising the Lord or who are sincerely repenting to the Lord. A person who is unschooled in the word of God may fall for the shows these teachers put on, which is why it's so important for us to know what the word of God actually says. John is about to tell us how to determine whether a teacher is the real deal or not. "This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world." (1 John 4:2-3)

To acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is to accept that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah). It means to believe that Jesus is God, and that He came to the earth as fully man and fully God at the same time. It means believing that He came to save us from our sins and that the only way to be saved from our sins is through Him. Any doctrine that denies any of these things is a lie. Any doctrine that denies any of these things has failed the test, and we are to reject it.

Although the devil, the other fallen angels, and false teachers who do the devil's bidding are working overtime to deceive as many people as possible, we don't have to live in fear. We shouldn't spend our time thinking about demons. We don't have to walk through this world in thinking that we're going to be tempted and tried at every turn. We have the Lord living within us in the person of the Holy Spirit. No wicked teacher, no demon---not even Satan himself---can successfully make war with the Holy Spirit. We are aware that the devil would love to derail our lives, but we don't combat him by being afraid of him. Instead we must fix our minds on what is good and true and holy, not on evil entities in the spiritual realm. "You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." (1 John 4:4)

The Lord Jesus referred to Satan as "the prince of this world". (John 14:30) This is because the world (those who are living in rebellion to the Lord, those who reject the idea of bowing their knees to the Lord, those who reject the idea of a God at all) wants to hear what the devil has to say. The devil speaks to the world through false teachers who say the words that the world wants to hear---words that assure them they are okay just as they are, words that back up their own opinion that no one has the right to judge their lives, words that comfort them by promising that there is no place of eternal separation from God (or that, even if there is, God would never send anybody there). This is why the world has made Satan their "prince", even though they may not realize it, because they are listening to what he has to say. This is why the Apostle John says of the false teachers who are speaking the smooth words of the devil, "They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them." (1 John 4:5)

But then there are those who want fellowship with their Creator. There are those whose hearts long to be right with Him. These are the people who eagerly listen to and accept the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. "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 4:6)