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Testing the Spirits (1 John 4.1-12)

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Confessing Jesus (4.1-6)
We know that God lives in us (3.24). How can we gain such assurance? Where does such confidence come from? John asserts that this certainty comes “from (Greek ek = out from – the opposite of John’s favourite preposition eis = into) the Spirit he gave us” (3.24). Now 3.24 leads naturally to chapter 4 (the chapter and verse divisions are not part of the original biblical text and can some times hide the text’s sequence of thought). So John proceeds to warn that not all spirits stem from God and we need therefore to test them (4.1). Does a particular spirit or prophecy come from (ek/from) God? John warns his readers that many false prophets have come into (Greek eis) the world, so we need to be very careful to discern the true origin of a spirit.
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How then can we recognise God’s Spirit? John provides two clear tests: the confession of Jesus and our love together. Proper testing of the spirits starts with their confession of Jesus Christ. Does Jesus have his rightful place at the centre? The true Spirit of God always confesses that Jesus has come in flesh from the glory; he has come from above into this world. The truth about Jesus must always stand openly as our primary confession. Some years ago I realised that my primary emphasis in my preaching, teaching and writing was international mission rather than the glory of Jesus Christ. And the Lord was also useful in encouraging people to get involved in mission! Of course mission lies close to the heart of God and should motivate everything in our Christian life. But even mission can become an idol which replaces Jesus and his glory. So John reminds us that confession of Jesus Christ’s coming in the flesh shows that the spirit or prophecy does indeed come from God.
With this repeated emphasis of the preposition ‘from’ John reveals the necessity of discerning where the spirit comes from. Does it originate from God or just from some worldly human source? Have we mistaken the spirit as originating from God when actually it comes from our own intuitions, desires and thoughts? Or is the spirit from God but mixed with very human character or thoughts? As John so clearly advocates, we need constantly to “test the spirits”. To describe those spirits which do not come from God, John uses strong words – “false prophets” and even “the spirit of the antichrist” (4.3). Perhaps John had in his mind the declaration of the Lord in Jeremiah 23.30-40 that God stands against “the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘the Lord declares'”. God will punish such false prophets, casting them out of his presence (Jeremiah 23.39). Claiming something as the evident presence of God’s Spirit or giving a prophetic word is no light matter! And all of us are called to discern the spirits to check whether they indeed come ‘from God’ (ek tou theou) and should be received as “the Spirit of God”.

Love one another (4.7-12)

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In the context of discerning the spirits John returns to the principle theme of the letter. As God’s beloved children we should love one another. Surely John has it in his mind that such love is the necessary mark of the Spirit of God, so we may discern the genuineness of a spirit by whether it leads to greater love. Such love between believers comes “from/ek) God” and shows that we have been born of God and that we know God with the intimacy of personal relationship (4.7).
Sunday School teachers often ask small children to learn off by heart that “God is love” (4.8). It is short, deeply significant and easy to understand. But in its simplicity we can easily overlook its profound meaning. Love lies at the very heart of God’s fundamental nature. Because he islove, he cannot stop loving. We may reverently declare that he must love; he cannot avoid loving. And he has shown the reality of his love by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, in order that “we might live through him” (4.9). In these words John reaffirms his basic  Gospel message of new life, abundant life and eternal life. So love is another vital test for whether a spirit comes from God.
God sent his Son “as an atonement for our sins” (4.10). Whereas God’s gift of resurrection life comes again and again in his writings, the more Pauline message of atonement for our sins and redemption hardly features in John’s Gospel or in this letter. But this verse shows that John and Paul share the same faith in Jesus’ life-giving salvation through his death and resurrection. It reminds us, however, that their particular Gospel emphasis differs slightly. It is rare for John to write about sin and atonement.
John reiterates that God’s love for us should motivate us as Jesus’ followers to love one another. He has loved us long before we came to love him and our fellow believers. What an amazing privilege and comfort it is to know that we are loved! If we really follow him and love each other, it is evident that God (who is love) lives in us. By his Spirit his nature of love is being worked into our innermost being. Although nobody can see God (4.12) in his absolute glory, purity and holiness, people can see that God lives is us. His love is completed in us (4.12)  and the wonderful outworking of that divine love is manifest in our lives.
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In this passage John twice addresses his readers as “Beloved”, not just “dear friends” (4.7 and 11). Evidently John practises what he preaches – he loves his fellow-Christian readers. In the life and teaching of our churches let us give due importance to anything which fosters a growing love in our fellowship together. And surely our love together will be deeply attractive in our broken societies where loneliness can so easily prevail. What good news we bring: new life and love!
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Truth and Boldness (1 John 3.16-24)

Truth and Boldness (1 John 3.16-24)

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Thus far in looking at this passage in 1 John we have purposely not dealt with two significant words – truth and boldness. John uses both these words frequently and they are important in our understanding of his thinking and his message. John’s teaching relates particularly closely to today’s world and should form the basis for the Gospel/Good News in our 21st century. So it is specially important that we look carefully at the key words he uses to convey the heart of his beliefs concerning our relationship with God.

Truth (3.18/19)

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Pontius Pilate’s desperate question at the trial of Jesus rings in our ears. “What is truth?” (John 18.38). In its definition of ‘truth’ the Oxford Dictionary not only refers to accuracy, but also uses such terms as honest, sincere and loyal. We may wish to add the concept of being absolutely real. So the word ‘truth’ covers a wide variety of meanings. It does signify factual accuracy, but it also touches on positive relationships. And because it denotes total reality it denies the emptiness of meaningless life, often expressed in superficial make-believe. For John, truth and reality stem from God himself, for truth reflects the very nature of God as the one who is true. As the perfect image and likeness of the Father, Jesus has no hesitation in affirming that he himself is the truth. John frequently also calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth”, for Jesus promises that the Spirit will lead us into all truth (John 16.33).  Likewise John assures us that God’s word is truth (John 17.17) and as Jesus’ followers we are called to “do truth” (John 3.21, 1 John 1.6), to worship in truth (John 4.23), to be sanctified by the truth (John 17.17), to witness to the truth (John 5.33) and indeed to love the Lord and our fellow Christians in truth (1 John 3.18). It is also by the Spirit of truth that we can gain true freedom, for he “will set you free” (John 8.32).
In John’s Gospel Jesus repeatedly asserts that he tells people the truth, that he says the truth (e.g. John 8.44/45 and 16.7). Through Jesus, by his Spirit and Word we can come into the fullness of truth, experiencing those honest, sincere and loyal relationships of which the Oxford Dictionary speaks. As Christians we are to be known as people who are totally trustworthy, whose words speak truth, whose lives consistently demonstrate meaningful reality.
John’s emphasis on truth strikes home as particularly relevant and needed by the church and our world today. Political double-talk and the common acceptance of deceptive untruth makes us doubt what people say or promise. How vital truth and therefore trustworthiness is for the well-being of society! Marriage and every other relationship depend on such truth. And we all long for that reality which makes our lives truly meaningful. What ‘good news’ we have in the ‘Gospel’ of Jesus!

Boldness (Greek parrhesia)

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In our blog on John 7 (to be found in the ‘Archives’ for September 2018) we noted John’s use of the Greek word ‘Parrhesia’/boldness. This word comes frequently both in John’s Gospel and in his first letter. It signifies such confidence in what one believes that boldness of speech and action ensues.
In his Gospel John refers to Jesus speaking ‘openly/boldly’ (7.26) and in 10.24 the Jewish people around him complain that Jesus is keeping them in suspense and demand that he tell them ‘plainly/boldly’ whether he is indeed the long-promised Messiah. Jesus himself assures his disciples that at some future stage he will “tell you plainly/boldly about my Father” (16.25). There are times when Jesus cannot walk ‘openly/boldly’ because of the fierce opposition of the leaders in Judea, knowing that the hour had not yet come for his death and resurrection (e.g. 11.54). On the other hand Jesus did some times speak boldly, as for example when he told his disciples ‘plainly/boldly’ that Lazarus was dead (11.14). Supremely at his trial he defends himself against the questioning of the high priest, declaring that “I have spoken openly/boldly to the world” (18.20). Jesus’ brothers had previously urged him not to do things in secret, but rather to live in openness/boldness (7.4).
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In John’s first letter too the word ‘parrhesia’ comes four times. In 1 John 5.13 the aim of this letter is declared “that you may know that you have eternal life”. In having eternal life we have ‘confidence/boldness’ in coming to God (1 John 5.14). Although the full perfection of eternal life lies in the future, we already have received its first fruits. The present tense of “you have eternal life” is matched by a further present tense “the confidence we have in coming to God”. We have such confident assurance of his gift to us of new life and eternal life that we can now come boldly to almighty God in all his glory and holiness. This is John’s emphasis each time he uses the word ‘Parrhesia’ in this letter. We have confidence/boldness before God as we follow Jesus in obedience to his command to “believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ” and “love one another” (1 John 3.21). These two fundamental elements in God’s command to us undergird the whole teaching of this letter and form the essential mark of the fact that we have eternal life as his children. So we are encouraged to continue and abide in him, “so that when he appears we may be confident/bold and unashamed at his coming” (2.28). In the context of God’s gracious love to us “we will have confidence/boldness on the day of judgment” (4.17). Indeed, we should have such definite assurance in Jesus Christ that as a result we have truly confident boldness in coming to him both now in this world and finally at the judgment when he comes again.
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The opposite of confidence/boldness is fear. So John continues by asserting that ‘perfect love drives out fear (4.18). Of course God’s love for us preceded our love for him and for our fellow believers (4.19). His love for us inspired the love we have for him and for each other. So our love for God must go hand in hand with love for each other (4.21). God not only loves, but he is in his very nature love. We may say therefore that God’s nature compels him to love. We can therefore have absolute confidence/boldness in his love for us through Jesus Christ and by his Spirit. Consequently we need have no fear of the final judgment because his perfect love does drive out fear (4.18). Love and confidence/boldness are happily married, but love and fear never sleep in the same bed.
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True love – 1 John 3.16-24

True love – 1 John 3.16-24

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John is writing this letter in order that his believing readers might know that they have eternal life (5.13). In 3.14 he makes it clear that such assurance of God’s gift of life comes to those who love their fellow Christians (3.14). Now in 3.16-24 he elaborates further on that love which lies at the heart of all true discipleship. The model of such true love stands before us in Jesus; John affirms that we know/recognise love in the historical fact that Jesus “laid down his life for us” (3.16). This may refer supremely to his death for our salvation, but it surely means all his sacrificial giving of himself for us in leaving the Father’s glory and descending to earth where he lived sacrificially in love amongst us. Now, John declares, we too ought to lay down our lives for our sisters and brothers in Christ. In 3.16 we note the emphatic “and we” in the second half of the verse. John’s use of “Beloved” in 3.21 shows that he himself follows the model of Jesus in love.

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Relating back to his reference to Cain (3.12), John states in strikingly emphatic and challenging words that whoever fails to love their fellow believers is a murderer (3.15). Through love comes life; lack of love robs people of life and steals life away from them. At first we may be shocked by the apparently exaggerated accusation of murder against those who fail to manifest love in the fellowship of the church of Christ. But the vital importance of such love cannot be ignored. Without it eternal life eludes us (3.15).
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Christian love is not just a romantic feeling; nor can we reduce it to an artificial smile or a hearty slap on the back. Jesus’ love demands practical service. If we have this world’s goods, we dare not fail to show our sympathy with a sister or brother in need. True love works itself out in very practical service and help for those who suffer. The 1st century church strongly emphasized loving care for the poor within the church. Deacons were appointed to make sure that widows, orphans and the needy were cared for. So John asserts that we are not to love just in word and in theory, but “in deed/action and in truth” (3.18). We may note too that charity begins at home within the borders of the Christian church.

The consequences of love

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If we love one another, we know with confident assurance that we have eternal life and that we “are of the truth” (3.19). Our faith and trust in Jesus is shown to be genuine. John then goes on to add that we are to “set our hearts at rest in his presence”. This NIV translation is attempting to translate a difficult Greek word (peitho); the old Authorised Version says we shall “assure our hearts”. The word implies a deep assurance based on being persuaded. So we come before the Lord with a confidence that is based on the fact of our love which shows us that our faith is true. Our love gives us the evidence that we can come before the holy God with genuine confidence. This confidence does not stem from pride and self-assurance, for all of us have to confess that some times “our heart condemns us” (3.20). Happily we can rest assured that God is greater than our doubting hearts. He knows us through and through, so we can come with assured faith into his presence. No wonder Paul declares with victorious joy that “death has been swallowed up in victory” and quotes Hosea 13.14 in asking “Death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15.54/55).
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Interestingly, the Greek word peitho is some times translated incorrectly as ‘obey’ (e.g. Hebrews 13.17) whereas it really signifies ‘yielding to persuasion’. Likewise two other Greek words, hupakouo (Eph. 6.5) and hupotasso (Eph. 5.22), are also translated incorrectly as ‘obey’ or ‘submit’ (e.g. Eph. 5.22).  When the suffix arch of authority (as in the English monarchy or oligarchy) is added, then peitharcheo does indeed mean ‘obey’ (e.g. Acts 5.29, 32), but it is only used of our response to God. Peitharcheois never used in relation to other human beings. Towards other human beings (children towards parents, slaves towards masters, all of us towards teaching concerning the Gospel) we are to yield to persuasion. Rebellious attitudes which will not listen humbly will spoil Christian relationships of love. Likewise unthinking obedience goes against the will of God. Some Christian leaders and bishops may demand obedience, but this is clearly unbiblical. Rather, we are called to weigh people’s words of instruction and yield humbly and lovingly to them if they seem true.
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Our confidence before God, which stems from our love for our sisters and brothers in Christ, produces such a confident relationship with our heavenly Father that “we receive from him anything we ask” (3.22). Keeping (not the unthinking word ‘obey’ as in NIV) his commands and doing what pleases God are the basis for effective intercessory prayer (3.22). What a privilege we have as Christians! We can have assurance that God answers prayers that are in line with his will. When we read that keeping his commands is an essential condition for effective prayer, inevitably we ask ourselves what his commands consist of. The answer is simple: believe in God’s son Jesus Christ and love one another (3.23). If we obey these two commands, John assures us that we shall abide in the Lord and he will abide in us (3.24). What an amazing relationship of love we are given! We are totally at one with almighty God through Jesus Christ.
Can this all be possible? It all sounds too idyllic! John affirms that confirmation comes from the Spirit whom God has given us. We so experience the working of the Holy Spirit in and through us that we gain confidence that the Lord does indeed dwell in us and we in him. God’s Spirit lives in us and brings growing Christ-like holiness into our lives. He enables us to love our fellow believers. He works through us to share his good news of new, abundant and eternal life with others.
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So, God’s command to us through the writings of John comes once again to us. Believe in Jesus, trust and follow him! Let love reign in the church of God!
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Children of God (1 John 3.1-15)

Children of God (1 John 3.1-15)
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God the Father’s love takes our breath away. He has actually chosen to call us his children. And somewhat amusingly John notes that we are not only called his children; he adds the words “and we are”! Let us all stop for a moment and marvel that ordinary people like us should be adopted by God the Father as his beloved children. I find it almost incredible that the almighty all-holy God should want me in his family as his son. That’s good news if ever there was!
But the good news is followed by a warning. We are still living within the context of the non-Christian world. God loves us perfectly, but the world doesn’t know us because they also don’t know the Lord (3.1). So don’t let us be so carried away by the sheer glory of our adoption as God’s children that we are taken by surprise when opposition hits us.
Wonderfully, however, God’s staggering grace in making us his children cannot be dimmed by mere worldly opposition. The warmth of his love shines through to move John to another question. As God’s children what lies in the future? What sort of people will we be (3.2)? John has no answer to such questions, but he moves on to our final ultimate destiny when Jesus appears, when he comes again at the end of human history (3.2). More glory is revealed! These brief verses leave us breathless with their brilliance. “We shall be like him” and “we shall see him as he is”. Is it really possible that sinful people like us will then be totally God-like? God’s answer through John comes with a resounding ‘Yes!’. We shall not only be “like him”, but we shall also see and know him perfectly. What a future! To be absolutely like the Lord and to have that intimate relationship with him!
Holy like God (3.3-10)
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Having this sure hope for our future, we are now called to a life of holiness and purity. In preparation for the day when we shall “be like him” we are to sanctify ourselves and begin the process of making ourselves as righteous and holy as God is. As God’s very own children we inherit from him God’s own nature and being. By his Spirit he now lives in us and forms within us his own character of righteousness. Before we came to faith in Jesus and were born again as God’s children, we may have followed lives of selfishness, pride and godless sin. But if we have indeed been “born of God” (3.9), we cannot “continue to sin” (3.6). John’s teaching in this passage cannot but strike us forcefully; anyone who is living a life of sin is of the Devil (3.8). But Jesus came to earth in order to remove and destroy the works of the Devil. In Jesus sin has no place and we dare not allow it a place  in our lives. He came to earth to take our sin away.

This passage with its call to ‘sanctify ourselves’ sounds quite extreme. Our modern ears are unaccustomed to such a challenge to a life of disciplined holiness and moral righteousness in our daily living. We may shudder at John’s words, “sanctify yourself” (3.3). We might expect him to say that God’s indwelling Holy Spirit will work in us and for us. Of course this is also true. But John’s emphasis is rather that with God’s ‘seed’ dwelling in us (3.9) we ourselves have the responsibility not to go on sinning.

In this way, John declares, we can know who are genuinely God’s children. Those who do not follow a life of sinning are evidently God’s children, while those who do not follow righteousness show that they are “children of the Devil” (3.10).

God’s revealed Scriptures do not mince their words! The challenge of God’s demands stands starkly before us.

Not like Cain (3.10-15)

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Once again the central feature in the life of holiness and righteousness is that as Christians “we love one another” (3.10/11). John underlines that this is the message which we have heard “from the beginning”. Throughout biblical history God’s command has always been that love should reign amongst his people. If we don’t love our Christian sisters and brothers, we “are not from God”. As followers of Jesus we are to be known as people of love.
Every Thursday morning our little village church has an informal coffee time at our local garden centre. Their staff once told me that they looked forward to serving on Thursday mornings because of our being there. They thought that we were all of one family because they noticed how we loved each other! What an opportunity to share the reality of new life through faith in Jesus!
John goes on to warn his readers against any failure to love our fellow believers. He cites the dire example of Cain who was “from the evil one” and actually murdered his brother. What led him to such hatred? “His works were evil, those of his brother were righteous” (3.12). Today too some non-Christians will strongly oppose us because Christians’ moral standards make them feel uncomfortable and grubby. I well remember that feeling of dislike of Christians when I was first at university as a non-Christian; their lives showed up my sin and my lack of moral uprightness.
How can we be sure of our salvation? How can we know that we have “passed from death into life” (3.14) – once again we may observe John’s emphasis on LIFE? Assurance of that life comes because we see that we now love our sisters and brothers in Christ. It has become a delight to us when we happen to meet a fellow believer on the train or bus. We love to gather with other Christians and share the joy of God’s amazing love with them. Let us pray and work to foster such love within our local churches and fellowships!
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Make your choice – love the Father or the world? (1 John 2.12-17)

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Young Adults
In our last blog we looked at John’s words concerning children and older people, so now we come to young adults and then all Christians of any age or background.
John writes now to young adults, acknowledging that they are in the prime of life. At this stage of life many are determined to make a success of everything. Ambition in their careers and whole-hearted enjoyment of their social life is matched for true Christians by dedicated commitment in their discipleship of Christ. So John twice observes that they “have overcome evil/the evil one” (2.13/14).
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At the outset of adulthood temptations to immorality and evil of every sort abound. Life-determining choices face them as they sort out what course they will follow for the rest of their life. Who will they marry? What circles will they adopt for their friendships and companionships? What studies and training will they work at? What career will they follow and how ambitious do they want to be in their work? Ethical and moral issues will also face them. The plethora of such battles all stand under the great choice of whether they will commit their lives to following the Lord or give way to the temptations of the world. Graciously John assumes that the young adults he is addressing have made the decision to follow the Lord whole-heartedly.
So John asserts that these young Christian adults have faced the question of whether to follow the Lord’s commands or to give way to sin and evil. Immorality and moral compromise will surely have tempted them, but they have won the battle and overcome evil. How much our society today needs such disciplined young adults! The pressures of so-called ‘freedom’ and ‘inclusivity’ can so easily undermine our obedience to Christ and God’s word in the Bible.
All sin and lack of moral purity stems ultimately from ‘the evil one’, Satan himself. So John’s word “evil” can also mean ‘the evil one’. It is Satan himself who seeks to undermine any consecrated discipleship of the Lord. He hates it when people earnestly follow the Lord’s will and commands. Total commitment to Christ and the Heavenly Father is anathema to Satan and he therefore makes it extremely difficult in our contemporary society with its lack of sure truth and definite moral standards.
In this present letter John merely states that these young adults “have overcome evil/the evil one”. But he goes on to elaborate on this statement in 2.14. In overcoming evil they show that they “are strong, and the word of God abides in you”. Facing all the temptations and pressures of the world around them, they needed to be strong. And such strength cannot be separated from the assurance that they have the biblical word of God living in them. In our day we note a fearful lack of disciplined reading and study of the Bible. But, if young adults today are to overcome evil and the evil one, they need their very mind and thinking to be formed by God’s word in the Bible. Only through good knowledge of the Bible can they make right decisions with godly moral standards. May it be true of the young adults in our churches today that they “have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor.2.16)!

The World or the Father?

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John presents us with a clear choice – to love the world or to love our heavenly Father. At first he relates this challenge to love the Father only to the young adults, but then this is quickly widened to include “if anyone . . .” (2.15). All of us need to ask ourselves what comes first in our lives and what therefore has priority. Many consider their careers and their financial position as more important than anything else. For the sake of success in their work and a rise in their salary they may not only neglect their families, but also sacrifice their commitment to God and his church. In today’s world John’s emphasis on “those things in the world” stands strongly against materialistic consumerism. How many gain their pleasure and self-esteem through owning smart cars or buying yet more of the latest fashion clothes! Even Christians can easily give way to the pressures of brilliant advertising which assures us that we ‘need’ and ‘deserve’ something. Contemporary insecurities can open the younger generations particularly to anything related to their image – cosmetics, hair sprays etc. John calls such things “the cravings of the flesh, the desire of the eyes and the boasting of our being” (2.16).
John sees the world and what is of the world through the grid of eternity. “The world and its desires pass away, but those who do the will of God abide into eternity” (2.17). Why give priority to what is ephemeral, when we have the possibility of eternity with the Father through Jesus Christ? So to us all today the choice stands starkly before us – does God have priority in all our choices, in our use of our time and money, in our choice of work and career, in our family life and relationships etc?
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John’s concern for young and old (1 John 2.12-14)?

John’s concern for young and old (1 John 2.12-14)?

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In these verses John starts by using the present tense “I am writing” to declare his purpose in addressing the three age groups of young people, parents (who are presumably older) and young adults (2.12/13). He then changes to the past tense as he further elaborates his aim in having formerly written to young adults, parents and youth (2.13/14). Finally he gives some fundamental teaching to us all, starting with the words “if anyone . . .” (2.15).

Young people/youth

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In addressing the younger generation John uses two separate words. In verse 12 he calls them “children”, a word which embraces all our pre-adult childhood, while in verse 13 the word also includes unmarried young adults. Young people may lack the wisdom and experience of more mature Christians, but they often have the advantage of confident strength and dynamic. John notes that their Christian life is marked by a victorious struggle against evil. As young Christians they have the challenging experience of passing through the difficult and some times rebellious teen-age years of puberty, so the reality of sin and guilt may cloud their consciences. What good news therefore that their sins have been removed through the name of Jesus! Of course this fundamental truth of the Gospel rejoices all our hearts, but for young people it may have special importance. Those of us who have been believers for many years should have frequently heard the good news of our sins being forgiven and cleansed, but for younger Christians this message may come with fresh and exciting relevance. This glorious message of sins wiped clean often inspires a new life-changing experience which opens the door to a life of commitment to loving and serving the Lord.
No wonder John starts this passage with the assertion that he is writing to young people because their sins have been removed through Jesus.
As he remembers his previous letters’ purpose, he declares that he wrote to young people “because you have known the Father” (2.13). In his writings John frequently asserts that Jesus came to reveal the Father and open the door to knowledge of the Father. Just as the Holy Spirit has come in order to make Jesus real to us, so likewise Jesus brings us into the very presence of the all-glorious Father. In our sinful weakness we could not possibly have the right to approach the burning purity of Almighty God, the heavenly Father. It doesn’t surprise us that non-Christians find it impossible to reach into any sort of experience of relationship with God. They some times say that their prayers only seem to bounce back without any sense of being heard or received by God. God appears so unknowable and remote!
But through the cross and resurrection of Jesus our sinful nature is covered and washed clean. Jesus takes our sin upon his shoulders as he dies in our place on the cross. In exchange for our sins he graciously covers us with his righteousness, so in him and in his sinless holiness we can approach the throne of God. It is sad when Christians some times fail to get beyond faith in Jesus and experience of the Holy Spirit. Jesus sees that the goal of his life and work is that we might know the Father through him. What glory and sheer privilege! So John writes to young Christians because they have (as a new experience?) come to know the Father.

“Fathers”/Parents

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Being personally now in my mid-80s, I rejoice that John still considers it worthwhile to write also for older people like me! But we may notice that his brief reason for writing to “the fathers” (doubtless used in these verses as a general term for older people of both genders) remains the same both in 2.13 and 2.14 – “because you have known him who is from the beginning”.
The Greek verb tense means that these older Christians have had a life-changing experience of coming to know the Lord and that this relationship is still present and alive. The same tense is also used of the youth who have come to know and still know the Father (2.13). In our new birth we come into such a knowledge of the Lord that we form a living relationship of love with him. And this relationship must continue and grow right through the following years. It is some times said that babies are beautiful, but twenty year old babies are a tragedy. So likewise we rejoice when someone first comes to faith, but it is a spiritual catastrophe if they do not continue in faith and grow in their knowledge of the Lord.
We may wonder why John, for older people, merely repeats the same somewhat basic assertion that they “have known him who is from the beginning”, whereas with the young people he talks of knowing the Father. Unlike younger people, of course John himself writes as an older person and may perhaps be very aware that other older people could also have actually known Jesus when he was incarnate on earth. Jesus himself often declared that he had come from above and that he was with the Father from the beginning. John is therefore just using the sort of words that Jesus used of himself.
What more could anyone want than to have known Jesus personally and walked with him through all the activities of each day? We may imagine the enormous privilege of having sat at his feet when he shared his teaching and to have witnessed his miracles as they happened – just to think of it sends a tingle down the spine! No wonder John doesn’t add anything more to his spine-tingling words “because you have known him who is from the beginning”!

Next week.


Next week our blog will look at what John has to say to young adults and then to us all – so we can look forward to the next instalment!

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Happy Birthday, Martin – 85 on 12 June!

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No more sinning! (1 John 2.1-11)

No more sinning! (1 John 2.1-11)
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In Jesus Christ

How can we know that we are safely “in him” (2.5)? How can God’s love be fully experienced and evident in our lives (2.5)?
How can we be sure that we really do “know him” in genuine personal relationship (2.3)?
John addresses his letter to people who claim to be believers in Jesus. And he is concerned that their lives should match their profession of faith. How vitally important it is that we too should demonstrate the reality of our faith in lives of true holiness! John states this quite baldly, “I am writing these things to you in order that you may not sin” (2.1).  He goes on to explain what he has in mind when he talks of “sin”. He means that we must obey the commands of God which come to us by means of God’s Word (2.3-5) – how vital it is therefore that we soak ourselves in the Bible, so that we can live our lives in accordance with his Word! Those who claim to “abide in him” should follow Jesus, modelling our lives on his life. Just as he is loving and holy, so we too are called to mirror his sinless perfection in our daily lives (2.6).
John even says that our Christian assurance rests on the fact of our obedience to God’s commands (2.3). We recognise that we “know” the Lord and so have come into a living relationship with him if we “obey his commands”. If we don’t obey his Word and his truth does not live in us (truth/truly comes four times in these few verses. In John’s Gospel too he strongly stresses truth), then we are liars when we claim to know the Lord (2.4). We may note again the tremendous importance of obedience to God’s commands in his Word.
But what if . . . ?
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Having boldly declared that we should not sin any more (2.1), John realises immediately that actually none of us live perfectly without sin. So he straight away gives us the remedy, “If anyone does sin . . . “. The glorious truth shines out to warm and comfort our hearts, “We have an advocate to approach (pros/towards) the Father” (2.1). Before his cross, resurrection and ascension Jesus had promised that he would not desert them or leave them without his presence. He assured them that he would send them “another advocate/paraclete” (John 14.16). Now John reminds his readers that, like the Holy Spirit, Jesus himself is our advocate to bring us into the very glory of the Father despite our sin. The word ‘paraclete’ was normally used for an ‘advocate’ in legal court cases, not just a ‘comforter’ or ‘counsellor’ as in some translations of John 14.16.  So, Jesus represents us and pleads for our acceptance on the basis of his sacrificial death on the cross. John then uses a technical term which refers back to the old sacrificial system and which NIV rightly translates as “the atoning sacrifice” (2.2). Likewise KJV translates it as ‘propitiation’ which correctly carries the idea of placating the righteous anger of our holy God against sin. Both these translations convey the true sense of this word. In this context John points out that Jesus is “the Righteous One”, the perfect sacrifice without spot or blemish.
The fundamental nature of Jesus’ work on our behalf lies in his revelation of the Father to us. And he not only reveals the Father, but also covers our sin with his righteousness and prays for us. As we think of Jesus interceding for us, we can be confident that Martha was right in her faith-filled word to Jesus, “God will give you whatever you ask” (John 11.22). In our sin we cannot hope to stand before the all-holy God, but in and through the all-righteous Jesus’ prayers on our behalf we gain acceptance into relationship with the ever gracious almighty Father.

“For the whole world” (2.2)

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As Christians we always face the danger of becoming very self-centred – our faith, our salvation, our discipleship, our filling with the Spirit, our eternal life. And as Christian churches we can easily become ethnically narrow and inward-looking. So it was also for the 1st century church which John was relating to. Throughout the Old Testament times Israel had been uniquely ‘God’s people’. Now Jesus the Messiah with his disciples and followers were all Jews. How easy therefore to feel that Jesus had come only for his own Jewish people! Was Jesus’ atoning death only for Jews?
By the time John wrote his letters large numbers of Gentiles had also come to faith in Jesus and been joined to the fundamentally Jewish church. But it was still a debatable issue whether Gentiles should be accepted as equal members of Jesus’ church. Should the church remain a Jewish institution with a few Gentile proselytes and God-fearers grudgingly accepted on the fringes? Or should the church become an international movement, although its roots should of course always remain firmly Jewish?
It is in the context of this sort of debate that John affirms that the sacrificial death of Jesus as an atonement for sin was valid not just for our sins as Jews, “but also for the sins of the whole world” (2.2). Today too we need to be reminded that the message of Jesus’ cross should be proclaimed to Jew and Gentile, to all people and all nations everywhere. What a call to world mission! Does this world vision lie at the heart of our Christian life and as the fundamental purpose of our church?
The old commandment
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Following on from 2.1-6, Jesus told his disciples that he was giving them a new commandment (John 13.34). Actually it had its roots in the very beginning of human existence (2.7). Adam and Eve already at the outset of human history seem to have lived together in mutual love and harmony. So John declares that the command he is giving his readers originated “since the beginning” (2.7). As fellow disciples of Jesus and thus as sisters and brothers of each other, we are commanded to love one another. This command for Christians to love one another follows naturally from John’s emphasis on joyful fellowship in 1.3/4. Of course righteousness in obedience to God’s commands must include much more than just our love and fellowship as Christians together. But such love forms the foundation and lies at the heart of our life as Christians in his church. Loving our fellow believers is at the heart of what it means to ‘walk in the light’ (2.9-11).
How encouraging that John confidently asserts that the old loveless darkness “is passing and the true light is already shining” (2.8). The fulfilment of the commandment to love our fellow believers has begun to be evident not only in the life of Jesus himself, but also in the inter-relationship of the Christians John is writing for, “in him and you” (2.8). Failure to obey this command to love our fellow believers shows that we are still walking in darkness with the inevitable consequence that we will “stumble”. Because we are then walking in the dark, we will not know where our lives are heading (2.10/11). How common this is today – people eat in order to work and work in order to eat. Life can become terribly aimless, living only for the occasional intermittent pleasure activities. As is commonly said in our world today, “there must be more to life than what we’ve got”.
May we and our church show in our lives and by our loving fellowship that the true light is indeed already shining!
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P.S. For further Bible study I hope many of you will get hold of my books “Matthew and Mission: the Gospel through Jewish eyes” (available through Jews for Jesus in London) and “Any Complaints? Blame God: God’s Message for today – Habakkuk the Prophet Speaks” (Authentic Media).(click on pics to purchase for 1p!)
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Fellowship and Joy – 1 John 1.1-4

Fellowship and Joy – 1 John 1.1-4
John wrote his three letters later in the first century when he was an old man. He may well have felt that he was now one of the very few who had actually known Jesus in the flesh. He had lived with Jesus day by day, walking with him, eating with him, listening to him. So he emphasizes that he had seen Jesus “with our eyes” and “our hands have touched”. Amazing! What a tremendous privilege John had! 
With doubting Thomas Jesus had invited him to use his eyes to see the holes in his hands and to reach out his hand to touch the wound in his side. But then Jesus had told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20.29). John himself must have witnessed this exchange between Jesus and Thomas. Although therefore he marvels at his awesome privilege of having seen, heard, touched Jesus in the flesh, he knows well that God’s rich blessing fills all who relate intimately with Jesus by faith. We too rejoice in all that we have ‘seen’ and ‘heard’ of Jesus. And John’s repetition of the reality of this personal experience of Jesus underlines its vital central importance in our life and witness as Christians. Our message is true!

Proclaim (1.2)
John not only repeats the fact that we have ‘seen’ and ‘heard’, but two other words stand out in this passage because they are repeated – “proclaim” and “in order that”.
As we have learned to expect from John, the primary emphasis in our witness is “concerning the word of life” (1.1). In John 1 God’s word is in fact Jesus himself and Jesus is also not only the source of life, but is actually himself “the life” (e.g. John 14.6). So John tells his readers that this life has appeared on earth and “we have seen it and testify to it” (1.2). Having declared that the heart of our witness lies in this life, he then proceeds to add that we proclaim theeternal life which we have in “what we have seen and heard”. And this eternal life was “pros/towards the Father”, using the same preposition that comes in the first verse of his Gospel. As Christians we have received new life in Jesus which transforms our life on earth; and we also enjoy his gift of eternal life with continual movement towards the Father. Even Jesus, who is one with the Father, moves eternally closer and closer to his Father. How much more do we need to relate ever more closely through Jesus with the Father!

ίνα

Hina/In order that (1.3/4)
What then is the goal and purpose of our proclamation and witness? Whole books have been written to teach us the goal of Christian witness and mission. But John gives us an astonishing answer to our question. The goal of Christian witness, he says, is “so that you may have fellowship with us” and thus he says he is writing “in order that our/your joy may be filled”.
John implies that our Christian fellowship is so loving, rich and heart-warming that we long for others to come by faith into our fellowship to share the glory we so much enjoy. In our world today loneliness has become a heart-rending problem, so the reality of close Christian fellowship becomes specially attractive. As Christians we need to pay particular attention to developing ever more loving fellowship in our church and among us all as followers of Jesus. John then explains that our fellowship is quite different from the sort of bond that can develop between football supporters or in other secular contexts. He states that “our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ”. As we come closer to the Father and the Son, God’s love grows increasingly in our Christian fellowship.
As new people come to faith in Jesus and bring their gift of new and eternal life into our fellowship, this will of course enrich both them and us. It is hardly surprising then that we have here alternative textual readings. Is it “our joy” or “your joy” that will be completed? It is of course both! If they join us, then ‘we’ and ‘you’ are one together, so “our joy” is identical with “your joy”.
So, for John, the great goal of our witness and mission lies in the beauty of loving relationship. The Father and the Son; Christian believers with the Father and the Son; the children of God in loving fellowship together; new believers added to our fellowship; all of us together glorying in the joyful beauty of this fellowship. And thus our/your joy together is filled full.

Coffee or tea
It seems that the Holy Spirit has raised up coffee and tea as a key factor for our witness and the growth of the church! He uses our times of sharing coffee and tea to deepen our love and fellowship with each other. Coffee and tea after Sunday Services and other meetings; small mid-week or Saturday morning gatherings; visiting each other in our homes. How vitally important it is to spend time together and have the opportunity of really sharing together! 
Our little village church enjoys a Thursday morning totally informal coffee morning at a local garden centre. We have no agenda and never know from one week to the next who will be free to join us. These regular coffee mornings have played a significant part in fostering a deeper and more personal fellowship amongst us. The garden centre staff actually noticed us coming each week and thought we must be a family. I was able to tell them that they were quite right! We are a family – not by blood, but as God’s children and therefore as sisters and brothers together in the love of Christ.
Lonely people today will surely be attracted by the warmth of Christian fellowship. Such fellowship can also form the answer to the needs of a broken society.

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Assurance of eternal life – 1 John 5.13

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The purpose of John’s letter
Whereas John wrote his Gospel ‘in order that you might believe’, his three letters relate to people who are already believing. His first letter is written with the aim that believers in Jesus might know with assurance that they have eternal life. We may notice immediately that John’s letters follow his Gospel in emphasizing life. The first verses in this first letter already underline the  centrality of “the word of life” and eternal life in John’s proclamation and teaching.
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In John 20.31 John affirms that he has written his Gospel in order that his readers might believe and thus have life en/in Jesus’ name. In his Gospel John  longs for them to have such faith in Jesus that they might live in Christ, in that glorious relationship with Jesus. Here John is thinking of their position in Christ. But we may also observe in John’s first letter (5.13/14) his use of the two significant prepositions eis/into and pros/towards. We noted the importance of these two prepositions of movement in John’s Gospel. In 1 John their position in Christ is already assured because they are already believers; but now he wants them to move increasingly eis/into the name, the personal character of the Son of God. In order to grow more and more like Jesus it is essential that they move ever closer to Jesus. So in 1 John 5.14 their confidence is found pros/towards the Lord. This reminds us of John 1.1 where it states that the Word was ‘pros/towards God’. Just as Jesus, the Word of God, expresses his love in constant movement towards the Father, so we as believers are called so to love Jesus that we are always coming closer and closer to him in an ever more intimate and confident personal relationship with him. And as the people of God, John’s first letter is calling us to demonstrate increasingly the nature and character of Jesus in our life together as his church.
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Assurance and Boldness


How counter-cultural! Normally people say “I hope all will be o.k. when I die”, but they may feel assurance of salvation can only indicate spiritual pride. And this confidence cannot be found in any other religion. Other faiths and often even secular culture assume that our eternal future depends on our own good or bad deeds, so our future and God’s judgment are determined by what we are and what we do. With the background of that sort of understanding, assurance of eternal life would seem to be boasting of our worthiness and merit. In the biblical Christian faith, however, the cross of Jesus carries all the penalty of our sin and we are granted eternal life entirely by his grace, his totally undeserved love. Our part is merely to accept this free gift as we come to believe in him and enter into union with him in his cross, resurrection and ascension.
For many people dying and death are unmentionable subjects, for death remains the ultimate calamity. But for Christians with our certainty of belief, death opens the door to the fullness of life in the glorious presence of the Lord we love and who loves us. Heaven indeed! We shall relate to Jesus and our heavenly Father face to face in the perfection of love and worship. The biblical word ‘eternal’ not only means unending time, but it also implies a sense of heavenly glory as we partake of the life of God himself. Wow! How wonderful that we can know that as believers in Jesus we can know that we have eternal life!
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When talking about our assurance of eternal life, I often look back with repentance to an occasion when I preached on this subject in a small village church in Indonesia. Unknown to me, a leading young lady was excited to hear what was for her a totally new teaching. She went  back to her home and read the whole of the Bible without stopping to eat or sleep. She needed to check whether my sermon was indeed true. If she died, could she really be assured of being eternally with her beloved Jesus? Finding the Bible confirmed that for a believer death leads to true glory of life with Jesus, she took poison and committed suicide! She so longed to be with Jesus in glory. The poison took four hours to work and during that time she went round the whole community, telling everyone that she was on her way to heaven. “Three more hours and I shall be with Jesus face to face”; “Two more hours and I shall be in glory”; “One more hour and I shall be in heaven” – and then she died. As a result of her assured witness concerning eternal life, about a thousand people came to believe in Jesus and were baptised.

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When I heard what had happened after my visit to Seberaya, I had to repent – but also praise God for using my failure to bring multitudes to new and eternal life in Jesus. I realised that I had not adapted my European Christian approach to our Indonesian situation. In Europe people are generally not in a hurry to get to heaven and to be with Jesus eternally! So in Britain we can preach about the sure certainty of eternal life for believers without teaching that we all need to be patient and wait for God’s perfect time. In that sermon therefore I had failed to say that assurance of eternal life should not move us to commit suicide.
At the end of a Christian conference someone said to me, “I hope we may meet again. But if we don’t see each other again here on earth, we shall surely do so in heaven”. I replied, “Yes, we shall certainly meet again in glory – hasten the day!” He looked shocked as if he didn’t want the day to come quickly. Let us rejoice in the certainty of being with Jesus eternally in his glory – but without poison and suicide!

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John’s Goal and Purpose (John 20.31)

John’s Goal and Purpose (John 20.31)
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We come now to our final blog on John’s Gospel before moving on to look at his three letters. So it seems appropriate to remind ourselves of John’s great purpose in writing his Gospel. He himself makes it clear: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20.31). In his Gospel John is declaring the good news of Jesus so that people may believe in Jesus and receive life in his name. His Gospel is evangelistic in its purpose. As we shall see, John’s letters aim at the next stage where his readers/hearers already believe,  but need to gain true assurance that they have eternal life.

“That you may believe”

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Everything in the Christian faith depends on this one simple fact. We need to come to Jesus in faith, believing in him and trusting him with our whole being. John writes with the aim that we may understand just who Jesus is, so that we can believe in him and commit ourselves to him. As we believe in him, we can trust him entirely because he is utterly trustworthy and true. In order to encourage such committed faith, John has written his account of some of Jesus’ miraculous signs – although he points out that Jesus did many other such signs that he has not described (20.30). Jesus performed so many marvellous miracles of healing, exorcism, feeding of crowds, stilling storms, helping fishermen catch fish etc. that it would be impossible to describe all his miracles in one short book. But the signs John does include in his Gospel fully suffice to induce our faith.

“Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”

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In order to believe in Jesus and follow him, we all need to learn who Jesus really is. He is not just a great man, an outstanding teacher, a miracle worker, a prophet, a poet and a man of love and humility. He is God incarnate (John 1) and he is Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, the one who would come from God to liberate and save his people. His very name ‘Jesus/Yeshua’ was God-given and signifies that through him ‘Yhwh/the Lord saves’. As Messiah Jesus follows on from God’s great act of liberation in Israel’s exodus from Egypt. God delivered his people from slavery and oppression, giving them a new Law and covenant, bringing them into the promised land of milk and honey. So Jesus has come to deliver us from slavery to evil and sin; he has revealed to us a new Law of love and introduced a new covenant with us through his cross and resurrection; and he offers us a new life with him which is abundant and eternal.
Jesus comes to us also as the very Son of God. In our notes we have seen how this title ‘Son of God’ signifies his calling to be like his Father in holiness and moral righteousness. It also means that he was called to bring honour to his Father, so that the people around him might come to believe in his Father and praise him. John also makes it abundantly clear through his Gospel that Jesus was actually himself God, living with the Father in glory from all eternity. He was sent by the Father to this world with the purpose of imparting life to his people. And he was raised from the dead and then he ascended back to the Father in glory. Having fulfilled his God-given task on earth, Jesus sent his Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to be with his followers and lead them into all truth.
So Jesus really is more than worthy of our faith and believing trust!

“You may have life in his name”

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 Beginning already in John 1.4, we have noted how John’s Gospel strongly emphasizes ‘life’. Jesus came in order that those who believe in him may have life, life abundant and life eternal. His gift of the fullness of life both here in this world through his resurrection, and then also everlasting life in eternity, occupies a central place in John’s Gospel.
I believe that in this 21st century we shall be wise to adjust the content of our ‘gospel’ in our witness and evangelistic preaching. As we have suggested in previous blogs, Paul’s emphasis on sin and redemption will find its place after people have become believers and so begin to relate to the all-holy God. Then they will feel the fearful reality of their sin and their desperate need of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. As we move on to John’s letters, we shall see this change. Writing now for believers, John will begin to emphasize the message of the cross. But in his Gospel John is writing in order to generate belief in Jesus with the highly relevant ‘good news’ of new life. Until people come to faith the message of sin and redemption usually fails to scratch where they itch.

John underlines the fact that we can only have true life ‘in Jesus’ name’. True life and the gift of eternal life stem from the Father. We can only approach the glory and burning purity of the Father through Jesus as his Son. Jesus is the way to the Father (14.6) and no-one can come to the Father except through him. He reveals the Father to us and introduces us to the Father. As believers in Jesus we are joined in unity to Jesus and we come to the Father with his righteousness covering us. In ourselves we have no right to come into the presence of the Father, but in Jesus’ name we are wonderfully accepted.

In biblical thought people’s name was thought to reflect their character and nature. So Jesus’ ‘name’ means his total holiness, power, love and obedient meekness. Of course the Father knows us through and through, so he knows just how sinful we are, but he chooses to look on us only in the light of Jesus’ perfection. As Psalm 32.1 and Romans 4.7 point out, “Blessed are they . . .  whose sins are covered” – blessed indeed! In Jesus’ name our sin is covered and we can have life. Although John’s Gospel does not talk about our sin as a hindrance to gaining true life, as people who are already believing in Jesus we know something of what it means to have life “in his name”. And we rejoice!

Conclusion

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Noting John’s aim in his Gospel that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”, we face the challenge that our witness and evangelism should follow in the footsteps outlined in John’s Gospel. Let us constantly check our message in the light of this wonderful Gospel!

 

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