The Epistle of first John
Lesson Number 2
WHO ARE the
"1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. 3 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. 6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. 7 Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning. 8 Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. 9 He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. 10 He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 12 I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake. 13 I write to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, Because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you, little children, Because you have known the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one." (1 John 2:1-14, NKJV)
Hatred for Sin Expressed
With remarkable consistency God has expressed His absolute detestation of sin. That is precisely the cause for the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and Divine fellowship as well. It is what provoked Him to destroy the world in the Noahic flood. In faithfulness He warned ancient Israel not to imagine evil against their neighbor or to love a false oath, "for all these are things that I hate" (Zech 8:17). With unquestionable clarity David was inspired to write, "You hate all workers of iniquity," and "The LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man" (Psa 5:5-6). With a fervency of which only Deity is capable, the Lord pleaded with Israel to renounce its evil ways. "I have sent to you all My servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, saying, 'Oh, do not do this abominable thing that I hate!'" (Jer 44:4). Such expressions are found throughout Scripture, acquainting us with the character of our God-a character that cannot be altered, denied, or pushed into the background.
The Father and the Son
The Father said this of the Son: "Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows" (Heb 1:9). Although, in coming into the world, the Savior "emptied Himself" (Phil 2:7NASB), He maintained this Divine quality-a hatred for sin, iniquity, lawlessness, and transgression. It is inconceivable that He would be tolerant of any other frame of mind in those who have been joined to Him.
Experienced by the Spiritual
With a consistency that cannot be denied, those who drew close to the Lord developed a revulsion for sin. When they were acutely aware of Him, and were walking in the light, sin became repulsive to them. How frequently the man after God's own heart expressed this. "I hate the work of them that turn aside . . . I hate every false way . . . I hate vain thoughts . . . I hate every false way . . . I hate and abhor lying" (Psa 101:3; 119:104, 113, 128, 163).
Little wonder the Lord urges upon His people to develop and maintain an absolute hatred for sin-an intolerance for it. "You who love the LORD, hate evil! . . . Depart from evil . . . Abhor that which is evil" (Psa 97:10; 34:14; Rom 12:9).
These admonitions reflect the character of God and the nature of salvation. Salvation is extrication from enslavement to sin. It not only involves deliverance from the guilt and power of sin, but includes a hatred for it as well. Thus, when sinful notions rise in our minds, we confess with Paul, "For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do" (Rom 7:15). Sin has no part with God, and cannot remain in His presence. The justified soul knows this, and delights in it as well. Even the temptation to sin becomes abhorrent to those in Christ Jesus. In fact, that very circumstance is what keeps them from again becoming servants of sin. When that abhorrence diminishes, sin becomes proportionately more attractive, and access to God less desirable.
Connected With Our Text
All of this is, indeed, connected with our text. In identifying the real believers, the Spirit will point out the total unacceptability of sin. He will speak to us in order that we refrain ourselves from involvement in sin. He will also confirm to our hearts that those who continue to walk in sin do so because they are NOT in fellowship with the Father and the Son. Such are NOT in the light.
If this message was imperative for believers in the first century, it is certainly no less so for those of our day. A certain toleration for sin has arisen in the professed church that is most serious. It simply is not hated, and is too easily explained. We will find in this short, but pungent Epistle, that such attitudes are not acceptable to our Lord. They reveal an unlawful affiliation with, and love for, this present evil world. Conversely, they confirm that a distance has formed between those with a forbearing attitude toward sin, and the Lord, Who is intolerant with it. He simply will not allow iniquity in His presence.
SIN AND OUR ADVOCATE
In all of these things, there is no room for variant thinking-no possibility that what is said is not true, or that it is not applicable to us. This is not the presentation of a strain of theological thought that is open to human interpretation.
The Spirit moved John to write in order that men might join in fellowship with both the Father and the Son. He wrote that their joy might be made full, and that they might know they have eternal life. Now he will show that, within that context, men must come to grips with the issue of sin. Salvation has not brought us into a realm where iniquity may be ignored, or where we are not subject to the dangers of committing sin. As clear as this may seem, there are whole bodies of theological thought that deny this. Such teachings leave men imagining there is no jeopardy for the believer-no danger of falling once again into the very thing from which grace has delivered them. We will see, however, that God makes no provision where there is no need for that provision. He does not warn us where there is no need for warning. He declares provisions that are required, and seeks to convince us of both their reality and our need for them.
The term "little children" is an affectionate term, not one denoting childishness, smallness, or spiritual juvenileness. Apart from this Epistle, there is one other place it is used in Scripture. In His last evening with His Disciples, prior to His death, Jesus said to them: "Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer . . . " (John 13:33). John uses this expression no less than seven times in First John (2:1,12,28; 3:7,18; 4:4; 5:21). He is speaking to them as a father to his dear children. He may very well have been the spiritual father of those to whom he wrote.
At any rate, John does not write without involving his own person in the writing. While the Spirit moved holy men to write Scripture, he did not do so without the involvement of their hearts. They were endeared to the people to whom they wrote. In this regard, they participated in the Divine nature, for Christ "loved the church, and gave Himself for it" (Eph 5:25).
I have lived long enough to know Satan will tempt ministers of the Gospel to speak to people without having a personal affection for them. The enemy of our souls knows that addressing the people of God without possessing a deep love for them, will bring a certain crudeness to our speech. It also will tend to repulse the Holy Spirit, so that He will not work with the message, touching the hearts of the listeners or readers. Those who speak or write for God are not only His messengers, in Jesus they are also related to the ones to whom they speak.
If John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, spoke in this manner, how much more should we. Believe me, beholding the people of God as endeared children will have an impact on what we say and how we say it.
That You May NOT Sin
There is a remarkable consistency throughout the New Covenant writings on this matter. From one vantage point, almost the whole of sound doctrine is for us to depart from sin, leaving it far behind us. In our baptism into Christ, we died to sin, making it wholly unreasonable to live any longer in it (Rom 6:2). Our "old man" was then crucified-placed upon the cross by God Himself. This was done in order that we no longer "serve sin" (Rom 6:6). That is how every person began in the "newness of life" (Rom 6:4).
Living unto God necessitates being dead unto sin. Thus it is written, "Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 6:11). There simply is no room for sin in Jesus Christ. God has made no provision for even the smallest measure of it. If men choose to sin, it is not because Christ or the Gospel offered any encouragement to do so.
A Difficult Statement
For some, this is a difficult statement. First, the Spirit has warned us not to say we have no sin, or that we have not sinned (1:8,10). Now He makes no allowance for sin at all, even though He has made clear that we all struggle with it.
The difficulty of the statement is not found in the truth itself, but in man's ability to grasp it. Our spirits are, as it were, wrapped in a frail and vulnerable tent. We still carry about a fallen nature which is not only prone to sin, but can ONLY sin. Those remaining "in the body" (Heb 13:3), will find in themselves "another law . .warring against the law of [their] mind, and bringing [them] into captivity to the law of sin which is in [their] members" (Rom 7:23). While this offers no justification for sin, it does alert us to a very real tendency to sin. This is why the Spirit warns us not to say we have no sin, or that we have not sinned.
The nature of spiritual warfare demands that we be exhorted to extend ourselves in the good fight of faith. As we walk in the light, a settled determination NOT to sin is realized. In order to assist us in appropriating this mind-set, we are told, "these things write I unto you, that ye sin not." See, there is a mode of thought that imagines the grace of God provides a license to sin. Early believers confronted this imagination. "What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid" (Rom 6:1). In a moment of temptation, the mind will fancy sin can be committed with impunity. But this is an imagination to be cast down with spiritual violence (2 Cor 10:4-5).
One of the primary purposes of Scripture is to encourage us to "sin not!" Sin is always out of order for the believer, and never to be excused or justified. It always impacts upon our fellowship with God, dulls our spiritual senses, and quenches the Spirit. O, that men were more aware of these stark realities!
We Have An Advocate
After solemnly informing us that He has written that we "sin not," the Spirit now declares a provision for sin has been granted by our God. All of this makes no sense to the flesh, or the natural part of us. The "old man" is wholly incapable of seeing the need for such an affirmation. However, the person who possesses a new heart and the indwelling Spirit is painfully aware of the need for such a marvelous provision.
Note with what care the gracious condition is announced. He does not say "WHEN any man sins," but "IF any man sin." The Spirit will not allow us to approach sin as though it was a necessity. Even though He will not permit us to say we have no sin, or that we have not sinned, the Spirit quickly announces the Gospel meets us where we are. Not only is the flesh "weak," profiting "nothing" (Matt 26:41; John 6:63), it remains influential, often dragging us into the quagmire of sin. The spiritually sensitive soul rejoices when this word pierces through guilt and sorrow: "And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
The Advocate Is in Place Now
When sin has snared us, we do not need some philosophical statement about what we should have done. We need to hear what has been provided for our situation. Right now, even with the shroud of guilt covering us,"WE have an Advocate with the Father." He is presently functioning in this capacity. "We HAVE an Advocate with the Father." He is NOW appearing "in the presence of God for us" (Heb 9:24). He is there, as an Advocate, because we NEED Him! It is not a mere formality, but something required for us to maintain fellowship with God. Should our minds ever be tempted to imagine our connection with God is mechanical, requiring no involvement on our part or the part of Jesus, we must take hold of this expression: "We have an Advocate with the Father."
What Is An Advocate?
Nearly every major translation of the Scripture uses this word: "Advocate." The NIV, using more freedom, says "One who speaks to the Father in our defense." The word "Advocate" comes from the Greek word para,klhton (par-ak'-lay-ton), which means one called along side to help (basic meaning), one who appears in another's behalf, defender, intercessor (legal), or one who gives protection, help, and securityThayer. In this case, the Advocate is "along side" the Living God. As a glorified "Man," He stands as our representative before the Majesty in the heavens. He is there to keep us alive, even when the deadly venom of sin is found in us.
The deadly nature of sin is thus confirmed to our hearts. When men are tempted to take sin casually, presuming that God remains the same toward them even when they fall, this word comes through with great strength: "We have an Advocate with the Father." God loves no man so strongly that He can overlook or wink at his sin, as though it did not occur. What is more, men sin grievously in imagining such is the case. Were it not for Jesus the Advocate, we would all have dropped into hell long ago. It does not take a large number of sins to separate us from God, as Adam and Eve can attest. It was a single transgression that introduced the need for a Savior. As it is written, "For if by the one man's offense [not offenses] death reigned through the one . . . Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation . . . For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners" (Rom 5:17-19. Who is the soul who dares to think their sin is minor, small, or inconsequential? Let them explain their view to Adam!
No matter what the sin may be, it absolutely requires an "Advocate with the Father." The confession of sin, although essential, would be of no effect whatsoever if we did not have an "Advocate with the Father."
A Means to Salvation
It is generally recognized that Christ's death and resurrection were necessary for us to be saved. As it is written, "Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification" (Rom 4:25). However, you will scarcely hear anyone declare His present intercession is also required for us to be saved. It is also written, "Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb 7:25). This is the Savior's present ministry, or work. It is His High Priestly ministry, which is indispensable to our salvation.
The truth of the matter is that God would not forgive our sins were it not for Jesus-initially, or after our translation into the Kingdom of His dear Son.
Examples of Christ's Intercession
If you wonder how Jesus pleads for us, the Spirit has given us glimpses of His intercession in the Gospels. The Savior once told Peter how He had interceded for him. "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail" (Lk 22:31-32).
Another example is found in our Lord's prayer on the eve of His betrayal. "Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me . . . keep them from the evil one . . . Sanctify them by Your truth . . . I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word that they all may be one . . . I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am . . . " (John 17:11,15,17,20-21,24).
What a marvelous revelation of the heart of the Savior! Who among us does not sense the need for that type of advocacy? And just as surely as God is, he has provided an Advocate with Himself-One who meets our need, and does so effectively.
The Righteous One
The One who represents us to the Father must Himself be righteous-righteous by nature, and not by imputation! Neither Moses, David, nor Paul can be our advocate. They need an Advocate themselves. We must be represented by someone with no flaw-One who is "separate from sinners," yet earnestly desiring to represent them.
See how particular our Father is! If anyone speaks effectively for us, he must do so as one in whom not a trace of sin can be found. That is a requirement of the Divine nature. That prerequisite is answered in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. No one who requires salvation himself, whether in the earth or in the presence of the Lord, can effectively plead for us. A forgiven person cannot be our advocate. This circumstance puts forgiveness within the reach of all who believe, bringing hope to them. This understanding is essential for recovery from sin and the resistance of temptation. We must not allow Satan to lure us away from a consciousness of this necessity.
THE PROPITIATION FOR SIN
Those imagining that dealing with issues among God's people has supplanted the proclamation of the Gospel do greatly err. The Gospel itself is the center of reasoning for the people of God. When immorality was found among believers, they were told of the Gospel, and how their conduct contradicted the declared accomplishments of Christ's death and resurrection (1 Cor 6:18-20). If the church began retrogressing to the Law, they were told of the Gospel (Gal 3:10-14). When religious novelties tempted people to observe days and seasons, and even worship angels-or when they imagined rules and regulations were the means of becoming stable, they were told the Gospel (Col 2:10-23). When the saints were fatigued by oppression, and weakened by persecution, they were reminded of the Gospel (Heb 12:1-4). If elders were dilatory in their responsibilities, they were reminded of the Gospel (Acts 20:28). If a young evangelist was being admonished, he was again subjected to the Gospel (1 Tim 3:15-16).
And now that believers are being brought into full joy and a persuasion that they have eternal life, the Gospel is again set before them. When men allow other things to take the place of the Gospel, however important they may appear, they have brought great disadvantage to the saints.
Here is a strong word, indeed: "Propitiation." Other versions read "expiation"RSV, "atoning sacrifice"NRSV, NIV). John uses this word twice in this book. The other place is in the fourth chapter. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (4:10). The word "propitiation" literally means "a means of forgiveness, a way of reconciling" Thayer. For those who are interested, this word comes from the Greek word i`lasmo,j ((hil-as-mos), which emphasizes the PLACE where, or means through which, satisfactory atonement is made. It is a pivotal word and concept.
The Mercy Seat
There is a sort of Kingdom logic behind the use of the word "Propitiation." The thought takes us back to the high priests of old. When they came into the presence of the Lord, a sacrifice and the blood of that sacrifice, was required. The Divine stipulation was that the high priest appear before God "not without blood" (Heb 9:7). While the blood was shed at the altar, in the outer court of the Tabernacle, it had to be presented within the veil--in the presence of the Lord (Lev 16:2-20).
The blood was sprinkled upon the "mercy seat" which covered the ark of the covenant (Lev 16:14-15). This was done while a cloud of sweet incense also covered the mercy seat (Lev 16:13). In this, there was an appeal to the mercy of God, teaching us there is no acceptance with God except through mercy. Here is a most vivid portrayal of the involvements of forgiveness.
The shedding of blood, while essential, was not the point at which satisfaction took place. It was the PRESENTATION of the blood that secured the atonement. When the blood of the innocent victim was sprinkled on the mercy seat, atonement was realized. That atonement was for "the holy place," the high priest "himself," the "household" of the high priest, and "all the congregation of Israel" (Lev 16:17). It portrayed a thorough cleansing that pleased the Lord.
Interestingly, the word used for "mercy seat" can be translated PROPITIATORY, and is so rendered in the Duoay Rheims and New American Bibles. The New Living translation reads "atonement cover" instead of "mercy seat." The Hebrew word translated "mercy seat" is tr,PoK;h; (kappret), and means "the place of atonement." The LXX (Septuagint, or Greek, version of the Old Testament) uses precisely the same word for "mercy seat" (Lev 16:14), that is used in our text (i`lasth,rio).
An Appeal To Divine Mercy
Why must there be an appeal to the mercy of God? It is because sin offends God, summoning up His wrath and indignation. It is contrary to His character and abrasive to His Person. He cannot overlook sin, or simply turn away from it as though it did not exist. This is the meaning of the expressions, "that will by no means clear the guilty" (Ex 34:7; Num 14:18), and "will not at all acquit the wicked" (Nah 1:3). It is not that remission is impossible with God, but that simply wiping the slate clean without a just cause is not possible.
In the forgiveness of sins, there must be a legal and pleasing appeal to Divine mercy, or grace. This is required now just as surely as it was under the Old Covenant, when the blood of an innocent victim was sprinkled on the "mercy seat," or "propitiatory." If this is not done, God cannot forgive, and will surely condemn the sinner.
The wonderful Proclamation
Now, full provision has been made for the justification of the ungodly. Jesus Christ is at once the Sacrifice, High Priest, and Mercy Seat. He, and He alone, is the means to the acceptance of sinners. He alone can obtain mercy for the fallen ones.
The imagery introduced under the Law is declared to be fulfilled in Christ. Notice the precision with which this is stated. "Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption" (Heb 9:12NKJV). And again, "Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate" (Heb 13:12). The "blood of His cross" became effective for our salvation when it was presented in heaven.
Jesus is "the Propitiation for our sins" in heaven, not upon earth. He is our appeal to the mercy of God. To put it another way, God's wrath against us is subdued because of the appeal of Christ's sacrifice. Even now, He is appearing in God's presence as "a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain" (Rev 5;6NIV). The meaning is that Jesus is appearing before the Father as a Lamb newly slain. The freshness of His atoning death still remains, opening the fountain of grace to fallen humanity.
Any time we confront sin, or choose to talk about it, it is imperative that we remember God's attitude toward it. It we are tempted to be tolerant of it, and excuse its presence in our own lives or the lives of others, we must recall that God cannot and will not excuse it. His wrath against the sinner is only subdued by "the Propitiation for our sins." Further, He is in heaven, in the presence of God, where an appeal to Divine mercy must be made.
For the Whole World
Lest we be tempted to think Jesus is the "mercy seat" only for our sins, the Spirit reminds us He is the place of atonement for "the sins of the whole world." Let there be no mistake about this. The death of Christ effectively dealt with the "sins of the whole world." The remedy for sin reached as far as sin itself reached. It is no wonder Jesus prayed so fervently, "That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me" (John 17:21).
Jesus took upon Himself the whole of sin-"the sins of the whole world." For this reason, the sacrifice of Christ is frequently said to be for "SIN" (singular)-that is, sin in its entirety. John the Baptist described Him as "the Lamb of God Who takes away the SIN of the world" (John 1:29NKJV). Again, it is written, "For He hath made Him to be SIN for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor 5:21). And again, "once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away SIN by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb 9:26).
The point the Spirit is making is that there is no excuse for sin. A thorough atonement has been made for it, and that atonement is available to all men. It can never be justified because of its nature. Further, victory over it and remission of it is found in Christ alone.
If this atonement does not effect the salvation of men, it is because it has been rejected. For this reason Jesus said, "And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved" (John 3:19).
That You Sin Not
It is no wonder the Spirit moved John to write that we "SIN NOT." What possible explanation can be offered for involvement in transgression? An atonement has been made for sin, and a Propitiation is presently found in Christ Jesus, who pleases the Father.
The very presence of these verses confirm that believers DO struggle with sin. They can still be drawn away by their own lusts, and enticed (James 1:14). The knowledge of access to Divine mercy, however, together with the effectiveness of it in the believer, will enable certain victory over sin. Therefore, the Spirit labors to convince us of the ministry of Jesus. How blessed to know these things, and more blessed still to embrace them. Let your heart take hold of the advocacy of Jesus, as well as His propitiation. He brings the mercy of God within your reach, and your faith is fully capable of appropriating it.
WHAT ABOUT HIS COMMANDMENTS?
Knowing that We Know Him
At first, this may appear to be mere oratory-knowing that we know. But it is not. He is speaking of the "full assurance of understanding," "hope," and "faith" (Col 2:2; Heb 6:11; 10:22). This is another way of saying confidence, certitude, or being "fully persuaded" (Rom 4:21).
The Spirit will not settle for believers living on the surface, never really probing into their own identity with the Lord. He will not permit us to take faith for granted, or assume that we know the Lord. Much religion of our time does, in fact, encourage such an attitude. Fearful of what they may find, many professed followers of Christ never really examine themselves, to see if they are in the faith (2 Cor 13:5). They know more about the theological positions of their church than they do of their personal association with the Living God.
Knowing that we know Him is perceiving that we know Him, and have constant and effective recourse to Him. The Amplified Bible emphasizes the continual nature of this perception. "And this is how we may discern [daily by experience] that we are coming to know Him-to perceive, recognize, and become better acquainted with Him." This is a heart-knowledge, a spiritual certitude of our reconciliation to God. It is a knowledge that includes, but passes beyond, the intellect. It genders a confidence that moves Moses to lift his rod over the Red Sea, David to face Goliath, and Elijah to confront 450 prophets of Baal. It is the kind of knowledge that is required to triumph over the devil and appropriate the things God has prepared for those who love Him. As one has well said, "It is not the trained and vigorous intellect that sees God, but the pure in heart" W. Jones, Pulpit Commentary. This is a knowledge that rises out of faith, which is associated with the heart. It yields a boldness that cannot grow out of mere intellectual apprehension.
This knowledge of God is particular. It is knowing God in His redemptive capacity: "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph 1:3; 1 Pet 1:3). It is knowing Him as the Father with Whom Christ is our "Advocate."
Spiritual life is exceedingly practical. It moves men beyond the realm of philosophy and mere speculation. Seven times in this Epistle, the Spirit will refer to "His commandments" (2:3,4; 3:22,24; 5:2,3). Here is an integral part of our relation to God-"His commandments." In this world, salvation never brings us so close to God that "His commandments" are no longer toward us. Here is a premier test of our love for God and Christ: Will we "keep His commandments?" That will tell the real story of our association with Him! Jesus said, "He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me" (John 14:21). The person who does not do what the Lord says, regardless of profession, does not love Him-and loving the Lord is the "first and great commandment" (Matt 22:37-38).
Just what is a "commandment?" Linguistically, it is defined as a precept, ordinance, edict, decree, or order. In Scripture, the commandments of the Lord assume His Lordship and our servitude. They also postulate human weakness and a need for Divine direction. The commandments are the point at which our discipleship and profession are put to the test. Since we are being led by Jesus to glory (John 10:3), the commandments confirm whether or not we CAN be led, for there is no other acceptable way of being brought "to glory" (Heb 2:10).
The summation of the commandments of God in Christ is this: "That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment" (1 John 3:23). Yet another summation of the commandments is given in Second John. It narrows the matter down to a single commandment. "This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it" (Verse 6). When love exudes from the heart, the commandments will be kept.
In these directives the nature of all of the commandments can be seen. If we view "His commandments" as direction concerning domestic and social relationships, we have missed the point. "His commandments" have immediately to do with our relationship to God and His people through Jesus Christ. All of the detailed commandments, whether concerning personal, domestic, or even church life, relate directly to those matters.
Keeping "His commandments" has to do with these broader and more concise commandments. If these are kept, we will have no difficulty with the more detailed commandments. It is necessary for the Spirit to speak in this manner in order to develop strong confidence in the saints. The certainty of your life with God will never be established by viewing life on the lowest level: i.e., marriage, neighborliness, morality, etc. Let no soul imagine this provides for the smallest degree of neglect or disobedience at these levels. The Lord makes no such allowances.
Keeping "His commandments" is more an attitude than an act. That attitude, to be sure, compels the most detailed obedience. Keeping is the root from which obedience springs. Keeping "His commandments" involves paying attention to, keeping in custody, and holding with preference and zeal. It is hiding the Word in our hearts, that we might not sin against Him (Psa 119:11). This is a condition where the Word is found "abiding" in us-a distinguishing mark of the elect of God (John 5:38; Col 3:16). It is when the Word is "engrafted" in us, becoming a part of our persons (James 1:21). This marvelous circumstance commenced when we were born again.
The New Covenant, you will recall, involves God putting His laws into our mind and writing them upon our heart (Heb 8:10). Keeping "His commandments" is nurturing and enlarging upon that glorious reality.
Thus, those who have a hearty love for, and affinity with, "His commandments" carry within themselves the proof that they know God. This is an experiential knowledge that yields boldness, confidence, and assurance to its possessor. It is the type of knowledge depicted in a person who knows he can swim, as compared with one grasping the theory of swimming. The former can stay on top of the water, while the latter will sink. Thus it is in spiritual life, confidence is what enables the believer to stay on top of life, and not be overwhelmed by it.
"4He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." The Spirit goes straight to the heart of the matter. Even in the first century, many had placed too much emphasis on mere profession. It is one thing to SAY you know the Lord. It is entirely another thing to actually know, or have intimate acquaintance with, Him.
The person who affirms the knowledge of God, yet does not keep and delight in the commandments of the Lord, has simply not told the truth. He is "a liar," and a most serious one at that. Keep in mind that God will ultimately destroy all those who do NOT know Him. This is not a theological conclusion, but a Divine affirmation. "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (2 Thess 1:7-9).
Here the Holy Spirit violently dashes false theology to the ground. Satan has seduced some into thinking people are saved with no possibility of revocation. They imagine the Lord will bring them to glory with them kicking all of the way, resisting Him, and refusing the Word entrance into their hearts (Psa 119:130). But this will not happen! Those who profess identity with the Lord, and access to Him, yet who do not retain His commandments, have not told the truth. They have lied, and thus are liars, in every sense of the word.
God will not allow people to maintain fellowship with Him while rejecting His Leadership. We see, therefore, that "His commandments" are the point at which the validity of profession is tested.
"5aBut whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him." Notice what appears to be a transition in thought. The Spirit does not say "whoever keeps His commandments," but "whoever keeps His WORD." Whereas He spoke before in summary, now the Spirit takes us to the detailed level-"the Word." Thus He is showing us that the summary makes no provision for the rejection of anything God has said. If there is any Word from God that chaffs against the human spirit, and which cannot be joyfully retained, the love of the individual is, at best, in an imperfect state. The person is spiritually immature and childish that balks at any Word of God.
Confirming the complexity of this verse, the Amplified Bible reads, "But he who keeps [treasures] His Word-who bears in mind His precepts, who observes His message in its entirety-truly in him has the love of and for God been perfected (completed and reached maturity). The "love of God," in this case, includes both God's love for us, and our love for God. The reason for this is that our love for God springs out of our perception of His love for us. As it is written, "We love him, because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19). When that love-His love for us-fills our hearts, they respond with a fervent love for Him. It is further the unique ministry of the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with God's love for us-that is, to make us more fully aware of the greatness of His love toward us. It is a love filled with glorious provision and preference. A wonderful statement of this is found in Romans 5:5. "Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out ('shed abroad' KJV) in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (NKJV). Once poured into our hearts, that love begins to work, molding our affection, appetite, and anticipation. That work comes to maturity when we find great joy in appropriating and retaining in our hearts every Word of God. A preference for what the Lord has said powerfully supercedes the quest for all merely human expressions.
While it is not unlawful to become familiar with what godly men have said, that must never become disproportionate to our desire to appropriate the word of our God. When and if that condition ever occurs, it belies our profession of knowing God.
When the love of God is perfected in us, fellowship with God is sought and preferred above all other associations. Acquaintance with His Word becomes a compelling drive that makes the acquisition of all other forms of knowledge secondary, at the very best. O, that this were more readily apparent among professed believers.
Knowing We Are In Him
"5bBy this we know that we are in Him." Here again, the Spirit moves to another perspective-still speaking about the same thing. Now we read of being "in Him." He has thus far equated these six things (Verses 3-5).
Salvation, or our relationship to the Lord, is thus seen as a multifaceted jewel. It is not a simplistic association, but involves many different sides. We should expect that a costly redemption would not yield simplistic results. It is a tragedy beyond description that Satan has deluded many into viewing salvation from the standpoint of simplism-ignoring the complicating factors that are addressed and satisfied in it. These childish views allow for wrong conclusions and a false confidence. Those embracing these views will be tempted to think their conduct has nothing whatsoever to do with their profession of faith. Too, they will be provoked to consider themselves acceptable to God, while possessing little or no evidence of such acceptance.
The Spirit is showing us that the vehicle of delusion is entirely unsuitable to bring us to glory. Knowing that we are "IN HIM" is not simply a luxury for a select few. It is spiritual understanding required to avail ourselves of the "treasures of wisdom and knowledge" that are hidden in Christ (Col 2:3). To run the race set before us, and fight the good fight of faith "uncertainly," is to waste our time. Elsewhere the Spirit calls it "beating the air" (1 Cor 9:26). Knowing we are "in Him" is the opposite of running uncertainly and flaying the air with harmless punches. If you personally do not know you are "in Him," you must make it your business to know, doing so without delay.
And how do we know we are "in Him?" When we keep His word, allowing it to dwell richly within us, then we know "that we are in Him." That means keeping, or retaining a hold upon His Word cannot be accomplished outside of Christ. That is why it is proof that the love of God has been matured within us by the Holy Spirit, and our lives are "hid with Christ in God."
It should be apparent to you that maintaining a grasp on the Word of God does not rank high on the institutional agenda. It is by no means a mark of distinction among those enamored with religious appearance. It does, however, blend perfectly with the Divine agenda, and thus yields a degree of confidence and assurance to the believer that is not otherwise attainable. What a rich treasure we have in this "great salvation!" Full provision has been made for us to progress to heaven with all joy and confidence.
ABIDING AND WALKING
The word "abide" means to continue, dwell, or remain. It is based upon preceding Divine activity. It is God Himself Who put us into Christ. As it is written, "But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor 1:30NASNB). He is the One who raised us when we were buried by baptism into Christ's death (Rom 6:4). From another perspective, God is the One who quickened, or made us alive (Eph 2:1). As it is written, "But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:4-6NKJV).
Abiding in Him is remaining where God has put us, by his grace. It is maintaining the position afforded to us when we were taken out of the world for Christ (Acts 15:14). God gave us to Christ (John 6:37,39; 17:9,11,24), and "hid" our lives in Him (Col 3:4). Abiding in Him is maintaining that vital and essential association. It will require all of your effort, yet will be undergirded by God Himself.
Let it be clear that abiding in Him is our responsibility. It is not to be taken for granted, nor are we to approach life as though remaining in the Son required no effort on our part. God is "able to keep us from falling," to be sure (Jude 24-25). However, anyone imagining this will be accomplished independently of hearty and sustained personal effort is simply deceived. God will NOT maintain the position of those who insist on walking contrary to Him. There is no question about this. Adam and Eve lost their Divinely appointed position when they sinned. Israel was expelled from the very land God gave them because they sinned. Judas lost the Apostleship to which he was appointed by Jesus, when he sinned. Holy angels were expelled from the very heaven to which they had been appointed. In all of these cases, the individuals involved did NOT abide. The habitation to which they had been appointed was forfeited when other interests constrained them to sin.
Thus the Spirit comes to the matter of abiding in Him. He will make no allowances for those who fail to remain in the Son. Those who are captured by a desire for other things-things that do not require Jesus-will lose their identity with Christ. It makes no difference whatsoever what seemingly logical doctrines are presented to the contrary.
Profession and Walking
Our text is clear, leaving no question or room for any doubt. "The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked" NASB. There is a direct correlation between the manner in which we live and our relationship to Jesus Christ. Let it be clear, it is NOT possible to be in fellowship with Christ and live in contradiction of that fellowship. For this reason, the person claiming to know Christ, who is not keeping His commandments, has lied, and the truth is not in him (Verse 4). Also, the one who says he is in fellowship with Christ, yet walks in darkness, is lying and not doing the truth (1:6). This is not a matter open for discussion or theorizing.
The spirit has already told us that fellowship with one another and being cleansed from all sin are contingent upon walking "in the light as He is in the light" (1 John 1:7).
The word "ought" means is under obligation to. That is, this is the nature of life in Christ. If the life of Christ is not lived through us, it is only because we have refused to abide in Him. It is only reasonable for us to walk like Christ if we have been placed in Him. How is it possible to be "in Christ" yet NOT partake of His nature? As it is written, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor 5:17NIV). There simply is no way for this to be contradicted. If a person is "in Christ," he IS a new creation. Old manners have passed, and new ones have come. Just as a walk in the light, or living as Christ lived, confirms we are abiding in Him, so a failure to do so verifies we are NOT abiding in Him-profession notwithstanding.
In order to fix this truth in our hearts and minds, the Spirit reminds us we are under a moral obligation to live in harmony with Jesus. It is understood that we will not do this in our own strength. Elsewhere, we are exhorted to enter into the godly life with zeal, knowing we are supported in our efforts. "So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil 2:12-13NASB).
While the church is to be forbearing of one another in love, tenderhearted and forgiving (Eph 4:2-3; Col 3:13-14), there is to be no toleration whatsoever of individuals who profess identity with Jesus, yet refuse to live in accord with that profession. Where there is no hunger and thirst for righteousness, there will be no filling. Where men are not engaged in a quest to know Christ, they will not come to know Him. It is the solemn obligation of all spiritual leaders to acquaint people with "how" we are to "conduct" ourselves "in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (3 Tim 3:15).
How Did Jesus Walk?
If we are to walk as Jesus walked, just how did He walk? How did He live His life? What was His manner of conduct? It is said of our Lord, that during His formative years He "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Lk 2:52), and was "about" His "Father's business" (Lk 2:49). His eye was set toward heaven, and He lived with an acute awareness of His Father and His Father's desires. He even "learned obedience by the things that He suffered" (Heb 5:7). In times of deep need, He poured out His heart to the Father with "strong crying and tears" (Heb 5:7).
In His life, our Lord spoke and acted within the framework of His perception of the Father. He never acted on His own, or with His own interests being dominant (John 5:19,30; 8:28; 9:4; 12:49; 14:10). The standard, or norm, for spiritual life was established in the Lord Jesus Christ. He lived in total reliance upon the Father, and with His Father's objectives in mind.
The requirement for living in this manner is not to be understood within the framework of legalism. We have already been apprized that none of us can claim exemption from sin, or the lack of need for a Savior and forgiveness. Yet, we can live as Jesus did in the matter of focus and preference. The Apostle Paul stated it well. "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me" (Gal 2:20NASB).
We should exercise care not to expect too much from our brethren. They still need a Savior, forgiveness, and access to the throne of grace. Too, we must equally be careful not to expect too little of them-nor, indeed, or ourselves. At no time should we teach or live in such a manner as to make any professed believer comfortable in spiritual darkness. As great as salvation is, there is no provision in it for living in contradiction of the life of Jesus Christ. There is nothing about redemption that encourages such a wayward life, and we must be sure we do not either. The Spirit always leads us away from sin.
AN OLD COMMANDMENT
From the Beginning
"The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning." God has not changed His requirements. The necessity for loving God and keeping His commandments has not been removed. The grace of God does not remove obligations. Rather, it empowers us to fulfill them.
Here is a vitally important aspect of truth. There is a perfect harmony between the basic requirements of the Law and the life that is lived in Christ Jesus. This harmony is to be seen, lest we be tempted to imagine we are at liberty to live in the flesh. In a poignant statement of the case, the Spirit takes up this matter with great power. "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom 8:3-4).
In the strictest sense of the word, the Gospel of Christ does not present a new set of guidelines for life. Rather, it announcements that a means has been provided whereby men may live toward God, and in fellowship with Him-something the Lord has always sought. Those requirements were found in the Garden of Eden, when Noah built the ark, and at the giving of the Law. They were also announced at the beginning of the Gospel. Every person that has been born again started the newness of life loving God and desirous to keep His commandments.
Thus, in every sense of the word, loving God and keeping His commandments have been required from the beginning. They were mandatory in Eden and at Sinai-and they are still necessary. The Lord Jesus has done nothing that removes the necessity of these things. Rather, He has inducted a means whereby they can be fulfilled in us.
A NEW COMMANDMENT
And why did such a circumstance exist. To be sure, it was because they were "a stiffnecked people" (Ex 32:9). It was also because "the flesh profiteth nothing" (John 6:63). Whatever you may think about human abilities, they are wholly inadequate to empower men to love God and keep His commandments. Unless a man is born again, he can neither see nor enter "the kingdom of God" (John 3:3-5).
The commandment is "new" in the sense of perspective and power. It is seen in a larger sense, and with more appreciation. Both the Object of the commandment (God), and the intent of it (expression) are seen more fully and with greater desire. This is also experienced on an ongoing basis. It is part of the "renewing of the Holy Spirit" that occurs in salvation (Tit 3:5). It is as though the commandment is always fresh and precious, never diminishing with age. In all of our doing, the Spirit urges us to become more proficient in loving God and keeping His commandments. He will work with us to accomplish this as we live by faith.
True In Him AND In You
" . . . which thing is true in Him and in you . . . " This is a most marvelous and intriguing expression! To conceive of something being true in Jesus AND in us is most refreshing. The commandment to love God and keep His commandments was found in Christ-i.e., in His thinking and in His heart. Because we have been made "partakers of Christ" and of the "Divine nature" (Heb 3:14; 2 Pet 1:4), it is also found in us. By saying it is "true," the Spirit means it is real, or is actually a part of us. To assure our hearts, the text says the truth is realized in Christ Jesus AND in us-a most marvelous consideration. What could not be fulfilled under the Law is fulfilled in Christ. What is more, it is also fulfilled in those who are in Him.
Notice one further thing. The text does NOT say "which thing CAN be true in Him and in you," or "which thing MUST be true in Him and in you." Rather, it affirms, "which thing IS true in Him and in you." Thus, the marvelous unity between Jesus and His brethren is confirmed, making a way for the realization of Divine fellowship, the fulness of joy, and the confidence that we have eternal life. These are things that can be experienced in growing measures.
The Darkness Is Passing
The KJV reads, "the darkness is past," emphasizing that God has decreed such to happen in Christ Jesus. Other versions use the active voice-"the darkness is PASSING, placing the accent on the experiential aspect of it. Both views are correct. The former is a foundation for faith, while the later is a basis for confidence.
In this text, "darkness" equates to an ignorance of God-a lack of familiarity with the Divine nature. The immediate result of spiritual light is the dissipation of an ignorance of God. As it is written, "For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 4:6NKJV). Salvation, from this viewpoint, is being made capable of knowing and understanding the Almighty God (John 17:3; 1 John 5:20). What a marvelous change!
A remnant of darkness, or spiritual ignorance. does remain with us. That is, the fulness of God is not known. To put it another way, "we see through a glass darkly" (1 Cor 13:12). Yet there is sufficient acquaintance with the Lord to draw near and find grace to help in the time of need (Heb 4:16). Darkness no longer dominates us, but is passing away.
As we abide in Christ, there is a continual reduction of our ignorance of God. "The darkness is passing." He is becoming more precious, and the world is correspondingly becoming more repulsive.
This is the same language used to describe the displacement of the Old Covenant with the New one. "Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away" (Heb 8:13). It is a real confidence-builder to know there is a continual diminishment of spiritual darkness.
The Light Is Already Shining
While the fulness of light is not yet realized, it has already begun to shine in our hearts, illuminating the Person and purpose of our Father which is in heaven. As we behold the Gospel message, pondering and meditating upon it, the light shines more brightly. That is, our understanding of God and salvation increases. The Spirit states it this way. "We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts" (2 Pet 1:19).
Thus, when we come into Christ, the light begins to shine as the rising of the sun on a new day. As we walk in the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, our path grows "brighter and brighter unto the perfect day" (Prov 4:18). What God has revealed becomes clearer and clearer, and the path to glory less obscure.
It is necessary for the people of God to know the darkness is passing, and the light is shining. In Christ, they have come into the realm of insight and advantage. But if they do not know this, Satan will gain an advantage of them. This is a sphere of ever-broadening knowledge-spiritual knowledge. It yields the rich harvest of assurance, confidence, and strong faith and hope to all who avail themselves of it.
LIGHT AND LOVE
In each of the instances, the Spirit makes no allowance for living in contradiction of the profession. The individual claiming to KNOW Him, yet failing to retain His commandments, has lied, and the truth is not in him. The one who claims to be abiding in Christ is to live in this world as the Lord did. Now, the matter of walking in the light is addressed with the same certitude.
Remember, the Spirit earlier affirmed, "if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1:7). We will now see that He will not permit men to casually make this profession without evidencing the fruitage of it. There can be no discord between what we say and what we do.
In the Light
Being "in the light" involves living in an acute awareness of the Person and pleasure of the Lord. "Light" is the spiritual environment in which the Savior is the principal Objective of life. It involves both seeking and following the Lord, and maintaining a grasp of what He gives us to see. The scriptures are prominent in life, for God's Word "is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Psa 119:105).
Notice, the text does not say, He that says he WAS in the light, or WAS enlightened. Rather, this refers to the profession of present experience. Rarely will the average churchman speak of salvation in this manner-the present state. Spiritually lifeless men love to speak of the past when referring to their salvation. However, if being saved and in Christ is not in place right now, the profession is only a delusion. I want to again emphasize this pivotal reality. There simply is no place in Christ Jesus for profession without possession, or identity without fellowship. If the individual is NOT in the light, he is alienated from God. If life is not lived within the illumination of Christ Jesus and His Word, there is no life at all. The profession, in such a case, is a lie. The Spirit will now confirm this to our hearts.
Hating Our Brother
We will soon see that reconciliation to God involves reconciliation to His people as well. Those who have been joined to the Lord have also been added to His people. These are two sides of the same coin. There is no such thing as union with God while being estranged from His people. "The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now."
He does not say the person is backslidden, or has lost ground. That is not strong enough. Rather, the one who "hates" his brother is living in darkness, and there is not a shred of hope for such an individual. One version reads, "is in THE darkness STILL" RSV. This strongly suggests nothing of significance has really occurred in the individual at all. I realize this will not be acceptable to those who try and justify a lack of love among brethren. Notwithstanding, that is what the text says, and we do well to believe and embrace it.
There is no such thing as connection with God while being disconnected from His people. It is not possible to have a preference for the Lord, yet be able to do without His people. If this seems too strong, then we must allow the word of the Spirit to penetrate our hearts. "And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also" (1 John 4:21).
What does it mean to "hate" ones spiritual brother? It is the opposite of being attracted to and caring for him. It is failing to consider him in our words and actions. The brethren are "hated" when they are ignored, or even detested. Those gripped by such hatred have no care for the people of God. They are closer to their own friends and earthly families, and think nothing of disregarding, and even harming, those in Christ Jesus.
Such deplorable conduct may take the form of drawing away from those who have an obvious preference for the things of God. It may show itself as a preacher who bludgeons, exploits, or entertains the sheep, without feeding and nourishing them. Hatred is sometimes revealed by professed leaders of a congregation siding against, and even persecuting, those who preach the Word of God. Diotrephes was of this class of haters (3 John 9-10).
The profession of all such people is disregarded by the Lord. Their lives have contradicted any claim they make to affiliation with the living God. They are abiding in darkness-"still," or "even until now." The REAL people of God do NOT despise, malign, persecute, or make sorrowful, the saints of the most high God.
Loving Our Brother
" The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him" NASB. Remaining in the illuminating presence of God is attended by certain evidence. Those in fellowship with the Lord are, in this way, predictable. Such have a love and preference for the people of God-those who are not of this world.
These days, there is a strong emphasis on family relationships-domestic life. From one standpoint, this is commendable. But it is not to be equated with the relationship of the people of God with one another. There is such a thing as spiritual life driving a wedge between earthly family members. Thus Jesus said, "For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be those of his own household." (Matt 10:35-36NKJV). This is not a state to be coveted, nor do these words justify the neglect of one's family. Notwithstanding, they do confirm the existence of relationships superior to that of our earthly families.
Jesus declared the identifying mark of His disciples. It was NOT the closeness of their earthly families. "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). This is not a mere profession of love, but love itself. It is not a love for the world-not even a concern for the lost. It is a love, affection, and determination to do good to, the saints of the Most High God. The attitude one has toward the people of God is a revelation of being either a child of the devil or a child of God. As it is written, "In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother" (1 John 3:10). This, then, is undeniable evidence.
The person remaining "in the light" has a care and preference for the brethren of Jesus "and there is no cause for stumbling in him." Such do not make life more difficult for the people of God, but bring spiritual advantages to them. It is true of them, even as it was with David. "Those who fear You will be glad when they see me, Because I have hoped in Your word" (Psa 119:74).
"Stumbling" is a vivid word covering an exceedingly broad spectrum. It speaks of creating an occasion that displeases, causes to offend, and encourages drawing back from the Lord. The person who "stumbles" is himself lured into darkness, and does not see the Lord as clearly as he once did. Those who cause their brethren to "stumble" have not considered them as Jesus did. They refuse to forfeit their own preferences in interest of their betterment and edification. Rather than pleasing "his neighbor for his good, leading to edification" (Rom 15:2), the one who does not love his brother chooses to please himself.
I am compelled to say a word about a very prominent stumbling factor in the church-discouragement. Many a godly soul has stooped beneath the weight of discouragement produced by professed brethren. I have known of proficient preachers and teachers of the Word who have given up declaring the Word because of discouragement. One can scarcely number men and women in such a state that live in this very vicinity. Such things are not taken lightly by the Lord, and they ought not to be taken casually by us.
Jesus has affirmed that inheriting the Kingdom depends upon our response to His people. "Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matt 25:34-40). Thus, no occasion of stumbling was found n those loving the brethren.
The Powerful Impact of Darkness
"But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes." This is an unusually strong statement, making absolutely no allowance whatsoever for a disdain of the people of God. The person who disregards the saints of God is thus described as being in spiritual darkness. He is walking, or living out his life, in separation from God, and does not know where he is going. He has been blinded by the very darkness from which he was once delivered.
There is no need to speculate about whether or not such a soul is saved. Such idle speculations are foolish to the extreme. If any person imagines that those who choose to remain and live in the darkness will dwell forever with the Lord, they have been deceived by the devil. You simply cannot go to heaven by way of spiritual ignorance and blindness. Such ignorance alienates the soul from God, severing the cord of life.
Jesus will NOT tolerate the abuse of His people! In one of His matchless words, He declared eternal life would hinge upon how His brethren were treated. "Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungered, and ye gave Me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me not in: naked, and ye clothed Me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited Me not . . . Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal" (Matt 25:40-46).
Our spiritual lives began with us being added to the church (Acts 2:47). We were placed "in the body" (1 Cor 12:18), and made members of the saints themselves (1 Cor 12:12; Eph 4:25). There was a joyful association with the saints, as we became of one heart and soul with them (Acts 4:32). Yet all of that is effectively negated when a person walks in darkness-when they live out their lives just as though there was no God. That is the "power of darkness." It is the power that crucified the Son of God in utter disregard of His good words and works (Lk 22:53). It is also the power from which God delivered us when we came into Christ (Col 1:13).
Do not imagine for a moment that the darkness has lost its power. Should a person choose to return to that darkness, the latter state will be worse than it was in the beginning (2 Pet 2:20). For such a person, "it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them" (2 Pet 2:21). There is, in my judgment, a great need for this to be seen more clearly by the professed church. This awareness would resolve many problems.
YOUR SINS ARE FORGIVEN
" 12 I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake." You sense the heart of the
Apostle here, as well as His inspiration. He has a concern for the people of God, and lives out the very love he has just
In this verse, John uses the expression "little children" to denote believers of all ages. Later, in verses thirteen and fourteen, he will speak to different age groups. There, he will use a different word for "children." In this text, the word used is taken from tekni,a,, which is a term of affection, not classification. Spiritually, it refers to those who are especially precious to the writer-probably some of his own converts.
The reason for this Epistle is again stated. Already several reasons for the writing have been adduced. All of them are weighty.
Your Sins Are Forgiven How important is it that we know our "sins are forgiven for His name's sake"? Note, he does not say our sins CAN BE forgiven, but that they "ARE forgiven." It reminds me of the word of our Lord to the paralytic. "Man, your sins are forgiven you" (Lk 5:20). He said the same thing of the woman who anointed His head with oil and His feet with ointment: "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven" (Lk 7:47). The Scriptures also pronounce a blessing upon such an individual. "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered" (Rom 4:7). The Spirit does not say our sins WERE forgiven, but that they "ARE forgiven." Those in Christ Jesus are in a state of Divine acceptance. Their sins are not imputed to them, and the blood of Jesus Christ is cleansing them from all sin. It is vital that the saints realize this to the fullest extent possible.
Surely you have lived long enough to know Satan will dredge up your past, and haunt you with your past sins. How blessed to hear the words: "Your sins are forgiven you!" But lest we become complacent in our knowledge of this, the Spirit adds, "for his name's sake." This refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. Elsewhere it is affirmed this way, "God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" (Eph 4:32). Were it not for Jesus, God would not have forgiven us. It is just that simple. God loves and cares for you, but it is His love for His Son that moved Him to forgive you! Our identity with Christ has placed us within the range of forgiveness. That forgiveness, however, is because of Christ. No person is forgiven by God merely because they have met some of His conditions. The faithful Israelites met Divine conditions in offering sacrifices to God. Yet, they left the sacrifice with a goading consciousness of sin and guilt (Heb 10:3-4). God will forgive no person because they deserve forgiveness, or have earned it by strict adherence to a Divinely authored code!
The phrase "for His name's sake" is frequently used in Scripture. It traces the cause described back to the Person of Deity-to God Himself and His Son. Thus, the Lord "will not forsake His people, for His great name's sake" (1 Sam 12:22). As a Shepherd, He leads His people "in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake" (Psa 23:3). David pled for forgiveness on this basis. "For Your name's sake, O LORD, Pardon my iniquity, for it is great" (Psa 25:11). The idea is that the name of Christ is at stake in our forgiveness. If God were to refuse to forgive those in His Son, Christ's work would be for nothing, and both He and His Father would be reproached. If God is "just" in forgiving those with faith in Christ, He would be unjust in failing to do so.
For some, this is almost blasphemous. Yet, this is the solemn declaration of the Spirit, and we do well to heartily embrace it. "To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Rom 3:26). And again, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). The Father is glorified and the Son honored in the forgiveness of those in Christ. Let every soul needed forgiveness press toward the Throne and appropriate it!
See what privileges belong to those in Christ Jesus-whose sins "are forgiven!" This precious Epistle is vouchsafed to those who are forgiven. They are given the honor of having their fellowship with the Father and the Son enhanced, and their joy made full. They also will have confirmed to their hearts that they have eternal life. Wise, indeed, is the person availing himself of salvation! Great benefits come to them.
KNOWING HIM WHO IS FROM THE BEGINNING
" 13a I write to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning . . . " 14a I have written to you,
fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning." The Spirit now addresses different categories of
believers. We must remember there are no fleshly distinctions in Christ. As it is written,
"For as many of you as were baptized
into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for
you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:27-28). Therefore, because of the nature of the message, our text is not written to national
groups, social classes, or men or women. Rather, there is a focus on spiritual maturity. While there are varying degrees of it,
they are all recognized.
I Write - I Have Written
In verses thirteen and fourteen, the Apostle uses the expression "I write" three times. He also says "I have written" two times. This does not refer to separate writings. Rather, the first expression, "I write," is from John's perspective-what he is presently doing. The second, "I have written," is from the readers' perspective, after they have received the Epistle.
"Fathers," in this case, is not used in the domestic sense, as in Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21. There are two ways in which "fathers" is used here. First, of those who are older in years-we would say seniors. Second, and more importantly, of those who are spiritually mature. From the natural viewpoint, older believers can be tempted to excuse themselves from learning because they imagine themselves to be too old. From the spiritual viewpoint, seasoned saints are addressed as those who also need to extend their fellowship with God, enhance their joy, and be assured they have eternal life.
There is no separate message for the older brethren, or those who are more mature in Christ. The same message is written to all of the brethren. Too, they are not neglected as though they had no need. Without extended comment, this approach conflicts with many contemporary trends in teaching. The more teaching is divided, the less powerful it becomes.
You Have Known Him
The commendation of the older in Christ is not their age. Nor, indeed, is it their acquaintance with various aspects of Apostolic doctrine. He does not even commend them because of the diversity and extensiveness of their earthly experiences. Rather, their acquaintance with the Savior is the point: "You have known Him that is from the beginning." This I understand to refer to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our only way to the Father. He is described at the beginning of this Epistle as "That which was from the beginning . . . the Word of life . . . the Life . . . "that eternal life" and "His Son Jesus Christ" (1:1-3). What marvelous descriptions of our Lord and savior!
That Jesus Christ is the object of a true quest for knowledge is confirmed in Philippians 3:7-10. "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ . . . That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death." This pursuit is to be common in the household of faith.
"Fathers" are thus described as having known the Lord-being acquainted with Him and His ways. Let every mature person, whether in earthly years or spiritual development, determine to be recognized as one who "knows Him who is from the beginning." This goes beyond knowing the historical information about Jesus and being acquainted with His teachings. It is a familiarity with His Person that is founded upon Scripture, yet yields a greater understanding of both the Scriptures and life. That is how they are to be known, and wherein they will be of the greatest benefit to the household of faith. All other distinctions of the mature are secondary to this characteristic. Their intimacy with the Savior, knowing Him as coming from eternity, qualifies them to receive this Epistle. This word is for them-a word that is needed and will refresh them.
OVERCOMING THE WICKED ONE
The term "young men" refers to those in the flower, or vitality, of their age. In the world, this time of life is fraught with temptations to be immersed in this present evil world. Satan sorely tempts the "young men" to waste their energies, and squander their lives on things that jeopardize, and even destroy, their faith. If we view "young men" from a spiritual perspective, those capable of, and inclined to, energetic Kingdom enterprises are meant. How will the Spirit speak to such souls?
Overcoming the Wicked One
The "young men" are not commended for their evangelistic fervor, or their creative skills. There is certainly nothing wrong with these things. In fact, there is everything right about them. However, the spirit is not speaking of things that are merely good. He is focusing on spiritual traits that distinguish "young men" before God.
It is of interest to me that John does not exhort the "young men" to overcome the wicked one, but commends them because they have triumphed over him. He does not mean that all "young men" have done this. Rather, this is what can be expected when we are in the vigor of spiritual life. This very thought is strange to those who are casual in their lives toward God.
What does it mean to "overcome the wicked one?" The expression postulates an aggressive adversary. Satan is like a prowling lion, roaming to and fro to consume lethargic Christians. As it is written, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet 5:8). The devil does not ignore believers. He is not repulsed by their profession, nor intimidated by their persons. If he attacked the Lord Jesus Himself, you may be sure he will not draw back from assaulting His brethren!
Satan is called "the wicked ONE" because he is the source of all evil. Ultimately, his purpose is to involve the saints in wickedness. His intentions are described in the book of Revelation. "So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood" (Rev 12:15). With unfathomable anger, he has declared war against those "who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev 12:17).
This is the adversary that has been "overcome" by the "young men." By this, the Spirit means the energies of the young have been given to Jesus. They have become involved with Him, refusing to become entangled in the affairs of this world. Satan has been frustrated in his attempts to lure them with "youthful lusts" (2 Tim 2:22).
Overcoming the wicked one postulates an acute awareness of his activity, as well as a profound preference for the things of God. Where these traits are not found in "young men," they have failed to measure up to the Kingdom standard for them. Let all "young men" be noted for this singular achievement. They "have overcome the wicked one." He has not been able to make inroads into their lives, but has been defeated by them.
YOU HAVE KNOWN THE FATHER
In our text, "little children" refers to those who are in Christ, yet are immature. They are newly born, having "begun in the Spirit" (Gal 3:3). Because of their spiritual age, they are "children in understanding" (1 Cor 14:20). Their understanding is not like that of the Fathers, who know Him who is "from the beginning." Notwithstanding, they are not without Kingdom qualities. No matter how young a person is in Christ, there is a level of knowledge in which they can find delight and spiritual sustenance.
Knowing the Father
Newborn babes receive this Epistle because they "have known the Father." In the newness of life there is an awareness of Divine provision and care. A lack of comprehension concerning the extent of God's Fatherhood does not exclude one from the persuasion and benefit of it. Inb Christ, things can be known, even though they are not fully known. From the very first, the indwelling Spirit cries out "Abba Father" from within the believer (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). Faith immediately shows us we are not orphans, but have recourse to the One who beget us through the Word of truth (James 1:18). A joyful sense of dependency grips the heart of the young in Christ Jesus. This is recognized by the Holy Spirit. He moves John to write to them in order that they also may have fellowship with the Father and Son, have their joy made full, and know they have eternal life.
STRENGTH, THE ABIDING WORD, AND OVERCOMING
"14b I have written to you, young men, Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have
overcome the wicked one." Again, the "young men" are mentioned, as though to challenge them to spiritual excellence. What
confidence it will produce in these "young men" to identify the qualities heaven recognizes in them. Let it be the aim of every
young and growing believer to have this said of them.
You Are Strong
Spiritual strength is a consistent objective held before believers. "Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong . . . be strong in the Lord . . . be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor 16:13; Eph 6:10; 2 Tim 2:1). Moses exhorted the Israelites, "Be strong and of a good courage" (Deut 31:6). The Lord urged Joshua, "Be strong and of a good courage" (Josh 1:6). David gave the same challenge to Solomon (1 Chron 28:20). When confronted with Sennacherib, Hezekiah was admonished, "Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria" (2 Chron 32:7).
Spiritual strength is not only an objective, it is a necessity. It is an aspect of faith that causes the individual to face adversity with confidence and boldness. Strength enables the soul to "stand against the wiles of the devil," and remain faithful in the "evil day" (Eph 6:11,13).
Here is a trait that is to be found in our young people. Surely you are aware that an inordinate amount of moral and spiritual weakness characterizes the younger generation. Even within the church, there is a lamentable absence of spiritual strength among the younger men. However, this does not need to be the case. Youth can be characterized by spiritual strength. Great spiritual battles can be fought by young men, and the church should expect it to be done. Miriam cared for the infant Moses (Ex 2:4-7). David defeated Goliath (1 Sam 17). Amaziah became a productive king when he was sixteen, as well as his son Uzziah (2 Kgs 14:21-22; 2 Chron 26:1-2). At a young age, Timothy was identified as the only person naturally caring for the state of God's people (Phil 2:19-20).
The strength of the young men was confirmed in their triumph over Satan. The kingdom of darkness suffered defeat because of them. May there be a resurgence of such strength among Christ's "young men" today.
The Word of God Abides In You
What a marvelous thing to be said of young men! "The Word of God abides in you." They did not have a casual acquaintance with God's Word, but a working knowledge of it. They could move about in the Word of God with spiritual dexterity and profit. Like the Psalmist, they hid the Word in their hearts, that they might not sin against God (Psa 119:11). Not only had the laws of God been put into their minds and written upon their hearts, they had developed a profitable acquaintance with the Scriptures.
It is exceedingly rare in our time to find anyone with a good understanding of the Word of God. This is largely owing to the propagation of religious systems that do not require an understanding of Scripture, or the proper handling of it (2 Tim 2:15). Such systems are not from God, do not honor Him, and do not profit His people.
We are admonished to "let the Word of Christ dwell" in us "richly," or in a manner that yields abundant and copious fruit (Col 3:16). Some may imagine this to be a state achieved only by the "fathers," or more seasoned among us. However, our text shows this is a condition that can be-yea, must be-realized by "young men."
Should we be tempted to think this is not possible or practical, the Spirit has provided a single incident in the life of youthful Jesus that confirms it to be true. It is a well known, but little emulated, occasion. When Jesus was but twelve years of age, He had a preference for, and a good working knowledge, of the Scriptures. At that time, He went up with his parents to Jerusalem to observe "the feast." It is written that when all others left, "the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem." Three days later, when Joseph and Mary found Him, He was in the temple "sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions." What is more, these experts in the Law, and teachers of the people, "were astonished at His understanding and answers." Of the incident, Jesus told Mary He had been about His "Father's business" (Lk 2:42-49). Such activity is still the "Father's business."
We may be tempted to think this was a miracle, and not intended to be the experience of others. But this is not the case at all. David, when but a young man, was acquainted with the Word of the Lord. Timothy is said to have "known the Scriptures" from his youth (2 Tim 3:15). Young men CAN experience the Word of God ABIDING in them. It CAN be the center of their thinking, and the point of reference from which their decisions are made. There simply is no substitute for a love for and working knowledge of the Word of the living God.
It is our business to encourage "young men" to possess the qualities mentioned in this text. Youth is not an end of itself, but the soul can, at that time, become anchored in Christ. Spiritual strength can be developed, and God's Word find a abiding place in them.
Certain affirmations are made concerning those who LACK these qualities.
It is apparent that a profession of faith is taken quite seriously in heaven. Salvation makes no provision for profession without possession.