The Inward Teaching of the Holy Spirit

These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.  But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. 1 John 2:26-27

False teachers abound. There are cults today, just like there were in John’s day, teaching Me-ology instead of The-ology. They pretend that man is not truly in need of a Savior, that he just needs a little help from a friend named “Jesus.” You can be a better you, with a little help from your sky buddy, they seem to say. Whether they deny the Savior by denying his person, as ancient heretics did, or by denying the sufficiency of the salvation he wrought by his death and resurrection, they take glory that belongs to him and attempt to let people take it for themselves. They preach to tickle the itching ears of those who are still dead in their sin with self-flattering braggadocio. This is as true today as it was in the apostle’s day. But in this epistle he writes that he is not worried that God’s people would be caused to stray by these seductive teachers, but that they would maintain that gospel that they had heard from the beginning, because the Holy Spirit was teaching them with an inner teaching.

You have received the anointing, “chrisma”, which is the Holy Spirit. Anointing is a pouring or sprinkling of oil on the head. It is a symbol of the empowering work of the Holy Spirit on a person for a particular purpose. We read in the Old Testament about the anointing of kings and priests most frequently, and even of the anointing of Elisha to the office of prophet (1 Kings 19:16.) These three offices of prophet, priest, and king, converge in Jesus the Anointed One, the Christ. The oil of anointing is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. This is the third Person of the Trinity, God himself. It is not the Spirit that is referred to as “it” in these verses, but the oil of anointing, as a symbol of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a “He.” And this Person is God himself.

This Spirit is the same Spirit who descended upon our Lord Jesus Christ in the form of a dove, after he was baptized by John in the Jordan river. He was there formally set apart for the work of being Christ the Savior, the One who was Anointed to save his people from their sins, for the which reason he was come into the world. He did not need a ceremonial sprinkling of oil, for he had the reality of the Spirit who descended upon him. Likewise all those who are in Christ have the same “chrisma”, the same anointing, the same Spirit. You have been baptized with the same baptism with which the Lord Jesus Christ was baptized, on the bank of the Jordan river. Just as you were connected to him through baptism in a visible way, when the baptismal water was on you, but you are connected to him spiritually because you have received the same Spirit that he did.

There are false teachers all around, but the Holy Spirit that you received of the Father teaches you all things, so that you cannot be misled, so remain in that Spirit.

The Holy Spirit teaches with an internal teaching. He inwardly teaches all of God’s elect, who have been born again of the Holy Spirit. This is the means by which God’s people grow in faith and holiness, when the Holy Spirit applies the word to them in their hearts by a secret operation. This operation is often referred to as “Illumination.” If I were standing here in total darkness, I would not be able to read what is on the pages of this Bible on my lectern. But when someone flips on the lights, then I can see, read, and understand that which lies right under my eyes. This is similar to the way in which the Holy Spirit illuminates, enlightens all of those who are born of him. By a supernatural operation he makes them able to comprehend, receive and believe the word that is preached.

The Spirit’s work of Illumination is not a new word. It is not new revelation from God. Its content is the same as that found in your Bible, from Genesis through Revelation. But because we are sinners, we cannot understand and apply the word to ourselves. It is the work of the Spirit to induce and persuade us to believe it by imprinting it upon our hearts, so that we can learn and grow up in the image of God, and his Son Jesus Christ. In this way the Holy Spirit inwardly inculcates the word that is preached outwardly. We are the paper. The preacher is the pen. The ink is the content of God’s written word, the Holy Scriptures. The Spirit is the invisible hand that writes on the paper of our hearts, inscribing the content of God’s word, the Spirit’s word, (since he gave it in the first place) on and to us. In this way the Holy Spirit imprints the word of God, that is outwardly preached, inside us with pure content derived from God’s inerrant word.

Again, the Spirit is that flowing river the Psalmist mentions in Psalm 1, whose streams give life to a tree planted by the riverside, and its leaf never fades. In the same way those who are made alive by the Spirit continue to draw life from him so that they will never perish, just like the tree on the side of the river.

But what is this content that the Spirit teaches to the soul of the believer, that gives life, and never permits him to perish? It is the truth of Christ, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures: who he is, and what he has done. Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior of the world, the one who, being God from all eternity, took upon himself a full yet previously un-impersonated human nature, becoming the God-man, the Mediator between God and man. This is the only Savior. He is not merely divine, as the docetists imagined, or less than divine, as Arius dreamed up. He is fully God and fully man in one person forever, the true Savior of sinful mankind. He died, rose again on the third day, and ascended to heaven, sitting at the Father’s right hand, expecting until his enemies be made his footstool. This is the message of the Scriptures about the Lord Jesus Christ, and the most important content of the Spirit’s inner teaching of God’s elect. This is that teaching of the Spirit that the apostle is emphasizing in this passage.

And to what end does the Spirit inwardly inculcate the content of the word that is outwardly preached and heard with the physical ears? It is for the purpose of growing and keeping God’s people in faith in him, which is the purpose for which this letter was written to the churches in Asia Minor. The Spirit teaches God’s elect in order to preserve us from this evil world that encircles and threatens us, and from our own sin that bears us down and constrains us. He teaches us so that we may take up the armor of God, and not fall prey to the evil one. The Spirit teaches us inwardly, in short, to keep us and to make us to inherit the blessed promise of eternal life, which is mentioned in verse 25.

There are false teachers all around, but the Holy Spirit that you received of the Father teaches you all things, so that you cannot be misled, so remain in that Spirit.

We can make use of these verses to gain the knowledge that we cannot fall prey to false teaching. The apostle speaks with great confidence that it is not possible for God’s own to be deceived by the seducers which attempt to lead them down the wrong path. Their dastardly attempts will fail miserably. Of this we can be as sure as John was when he wrote these words.

Remain in the Holy Spirit, by using the tools that God has given us to remain in him. The Christian mantra is not “let go and let God”, but, “have faith and work.” We do not work to earn our salvation, but we work out of obedience to God’s commandments, and to keep ourselves from falling prey to the evil one. It is not enough for us to purposely avoid false teaching, and the works of the sin that it provokes and encourages, but we must replace bad deeds with good deeds. It’s human nature that we must be doing and thinking something, not as the Buddhists imagine, as if we could bring our minds to a blank, so that we would suffer no more. We must replace bad thoughts with good thoughts, and sinful acts with good works, keeping God’s commandments, in obedience to him. In this way we show that we are truly his children.

Let us be diligent to continue in prayer, as we are praying together in the congregation today. Let us pray, recognizing that we depend on God for our perseverance in believing in him. “O, Lord, keep me from sin. Keep me from falling. Keep me in faith in you,” should be our prayer daily, by ourselves and in our households at family worship. If God did not keep us, we would fall in an instant. And prayer is one means that God has given for us to keep ourselves faithful to him.

There are false teachers all around, but the Holy Spirit that you received of the Father teaches you all things, so that you cannot be misled, so remain in that Spirit. Amen.


Hold On to What the Spirit Has Taught You, Because the Antichrist Is Come

Italy Pope Ash WednesdayThe apostle John writes to the Church in Ephesus and surrounding churches in 1 John 2:18-25, because he’s encouraging her members to remain steadfast in the faith they had once received. He says that they are in the last days, which is proven by the fact that there are many antichrists out and about spreading false teaching about Christ. He writes,

1 John 2:18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.

It is the last time. Ever since the Lord Jesus Christ died and rose again, ascended, and sat down at the Father’s right hand, his reign as Christ was inaugurated. He sent his Spirit to his disciples gathered at Pentecost, giving them their marching orders. His finished work on the cross, having been openly declared at the resurrection, was the last door to open in the hallway of God’s great plan of redemption. Ever since, and until this day, we’ve been in the last time, in the latter days. Do not let anyone fool you into thinking that there is any more revelation that is necessary. After Christ’s finished work of salvation was proclaimed by the apostles and written down in the New Testament, there is nothing left but to proclaim and obey this complete message until the Lord returns. We are indeed in the last time, and have been since Acts chapter 2.

There is one particular culminating office of Antichrist that will appear in the future, of which the Christians in Asia minor had already been taught by the apostles, certainly, and also from the prophecies of Daniel, which John refers to by the singular “antichrist.” This seems to me to be fulfilled by the pope of Rome, whose office seems to replace the power and Spirit of Christ in the Church, and who teaches another doctrine. (The Greek prefix anti- indicates something instead of or in place of, not simply opposed to.)  The doctrine of Rome is characterized by the marks that Paul writes to Timothy in 4:1-5.

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

It is the papacy that to this day prescribes rules for Lenten fasting, and forbids priests to marry. By these marks the Holy Spirit has taught us to watch out for the culminating Antichrist, whose reign of terror was already being set up in the apostle’s day in the form of many false teachers who had gone out of the Church. This spirit of antichrist, this Christ-denying, gospel-darkening activity which sets itself up in place of Christ and his true teaching was already making rounds even while the New Testament was still being written, particularly in the form of those who denied that Christ was fully human, but merely a divine spirit and apparition. This is a fatal error because without full humanity Christ could not be our Savior, since it was required for him to be fully man in order to represent us in God’s covenant and die in our place.

19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
20 But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.
21 I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.
22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.
23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.

The apostle is assured of the abiding and eternal salvation, and the true hope of the promise of eternal life, that those to whom he is writing possess. He is writing not out of worry, but in order that these words might be an instrument of God, through the Holy Spirit, to keep them in the faith, by allowing them to continue to distinguish truth from error. God keeps his own without fail, and he also uses the means of the reading and the preaching of the Scriptures to do it. It is one of the tools in his pocket that he makes use of to keep his own faithful to him, especially by warning them of the dangers of falling away. In this way the warnings in Scripture against falling away are in perfect harmony with the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, which says that no one who is born again can ever fall away, because God keeps him.

The Lord uses John’s words to encourage the Christians in Asia Minor to continue to distinguish truth from error. Those antichrists who were going about peddling lies about Christ, as they do to this day, who had gone out of the Church, were to be viewed as not having ever been true Christians. When people depart from the true doctrine of Christ and from the true Church, we can be sure that they never truly belonged to Christ, because God keeps all his own.

24 Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.
25 And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.

Those to whom John is writing are to hold on to eternal life by holding on to the doctrine of Christ, that is, to Christ. And holding on to him requires them to distinguish truth from error, contrasting that which the Holy Spirit had taught them from the beginning with the false doctrine of the antichrists. John’s message to them is:

Retain that which you have heard from the beginning, which the Holy Spirit has taught you, because the Antichrist will come, and many antichrists are in the world.

The prophecies of Scripture indicate that one pivotal figure or office would emerge to personify the spirit of Antichrist, noted by John’s singular use of the term “antichrist” while alluding, probably, to the prophet Daniel. The descriptions we find in 1 Timothy and elsewhere point to the pope of Rome as being the culminating Antichrist, and this has been the overwhelming majority opinion throughout the history of the Church. This application has fallen out of favor since the 19th century, when the papacy seemed to be waning in influence. But today we see that the papacy is gaining more power and influence than ever before over the minds of billions of people, and deceiving them with duplicitous doctrine that denies the finished work of Christ. And what influence it may yet have in turning more and more people away from the truth of God remains to be seen.  The papacy is on the ascendancy.

Yet, ever since the New Testament was written, there have been antichrists: from Marcion, who took scissors to the Scriptures and cut out mostly anything that he thought was overly Jewish and not in keeping with his idea of the gospel, to Arius, who taught that “in the beginning, the Son was not”, denying the full divinity of Christ. This teaching is represented today by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the 4th century Pelagius taught that man was born as a “blank slate”, able to save himself without needed any other “grace” than that which he had from creation, but just a firm resolve not to sin. This was in effect to deny the whole purpose for which Christ came to save sinners, and to make his office irrelevant, denying that it is Christ who saves us and not we ourselves. While not formally arguing against the personal nature of Christ, Pelagius denied his work and office in what he taught. Like Pelagius, the papacy wants to give man some part or credit for earning his salvation. It is according to Rome’s teaching that man is able to merit the merits of Christ by doing works of penance and attending to the sacraments. This is to deny the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrificial work on the cross, and take a bit of credit for themselves. This teaching denies the true way of salvation, which is in Christ by faith alone, because he is the only one who merits salvation, and Christians are united to him by faith. At every point in history, the Lord has not left the earth without a Church.

Those who stalwartly defended the person and work of Christ against such errors have been raised up time and time again, from Athanasius to Augustine to Luther and Zwingli. The true teaching has been codified in the historic creeds and confessions of the Church, from the Nicene Creed, to the Definition of Chalcedon, to the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Confession of Faith. This is a means that God has given for combating errors about who Christ is and what he came to do. It is by distinguishing between truth and error, as these creeds and confessions exemplify and help, that the people of God keep themselves in the faith and lay hold on the promise of eternal life.

Those to whom the apostle is writing have been reborn of the Holy Spirit and illuminated to receive the word. God works through the word preached ordinarily. When the gospel is preached faithfully, the Holy Spirit impresses its imprint on the soul and persuades the hearer of its truth and benefits for him. In this way he enables and draws the sinner to believe the good news of Jesus Christ which is preached. Those who have heard this teaching of the Spirit, with their physical ears as well as with the heart, do not need to receive a new doctrine. They already have believed that doctrine which is their salvation. What they need is to abide in what they have received. They can abide in the doctrine they have received by being diligent to guard the true doctrine of Christ, and contrast it with false doctrine.

It is not popular in today’s culture to point out errors in religious teaching. It is considered rude or offensive to “denigrate someones beliefs.” But this is just the thing that God has told us to do to keep ourselves faithful to him. This does not mean that we go around telling people how wrong they are about Christ in the most rude, offensive, and inappropriate way possible. (Although we should not be silent, this is a topic for another time.) The intention of this passage is to teach us to distinguish truth from error for ourselves, in order to keep hold on that promise of eternal life in Christ. Giving in or calling a truce with false teaching, lies about who Christ is and what he came to do, is gravely dangerous to the soul. It is a sure road to eternal perdition.

Retain that which you have heard from the beginning, which the Holy Spirit has taught you, because the Antichrist is come, and many antichrists are in the world.

The world would prefer to pretend that there is no truth at all than to think it might be important to know which it is, given conflicting teaching on a subject. As Pilate said, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) This is the attitude we most commonly run into today. But as Christians we know that it is absolutely vital for our own perseverance in the faith of Jesus Christ, that we learn to distinguish truth from error, and error from the truth. This is one of the reasons why church history is so important. Next to the Scriptures, and subordinate to it, church history is the best teacher to keep us from error in the important doctrines of the faith. Just as it is wrong to blindly follow tradition, it’s equally wrong to pretend as if the Christian faith were born yesterday, and we’re the first people to ever understand the Bible correctly. We must sift and interpret history by the Scriptures, and we must learn lessons from it to inform us in our Christian walk today, not blindly following the fathers of the past, but following Christ as they did. We benefit from the distinctions they made between truth and error, and validate them by the teaching of Scripture. In this way we keep ourselves in the true faith, and maintain the true doctrine of who Christ is and what he came to do.

“Bad company corrupts good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33) It is a known principle of psychology that behavior tends to impact attitudes, more than vice-versa. Let us take care that we stay in the true doctrine of Christ by continuing to gather together with like-minded brothers and sisters, at least weekly, and by avoiding company with those who deny Christ in his person or work. By having personal ties of fellowship with people who deny Christ, we may soon begin to doubt whether it is at all important to distinguish truth from error, and become susceptible to the lie and the doom that follows. Avoid those who claim to be Christians but deny the true and biblical doctrine of his person and the way of salvation that he accomplished.  So we lay hold on the way of salvation, and look forward to the promised eternal life to come, when we will enjoy fellowship with Christ forever.

Retain that which you have heard from the beginning, which the Holy Spirit has taught you, because the Antichrist is come, and many antichrists are in the world. Amen.

A New Commandment

from wikimedia commons

from wikimedia commons

Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. 1 John 2:8

John speaks of a “new commandment” in the second chapter of his first epistle, but what was new about it? It certainly was not the first time that the people of God had heard the commandment to love ones neighbor. Love had been commanded since way back in the time of Moses:

Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the LORD.  Leviticus 19:17-18 

So “love” itself was not a new commandment. But what was new about it this time? It was not the commandment to love itself that was new, it was the new context. The Christians in Ephesus and all over Asia Minor (Modern Day Turkey) had been gathered to the Savior, which produced a change in their lives. Just as God had drawn them to himself, he’d also drawn them to one another. In John’s gospel we find the “new commandment” stated by the Lord Jesus himself.

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. Buy this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. John 13:34 

Jesus Christ was not saying anything new that his disciples had never heard before, being Jewish men well schooled in the requirements of the Torah, the law of God, as written in Leviticus. The newness of the commandment was not what was required: love, but a new context: the Church of Jesus Christ. No longer was the nation of God to be defined along ethnic lines, but by faith in Jesus Christ. And this new body, this community of the redeemed, established at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, was to be marked apart from the rest of the world by the love that they had for one another. And so we learn in this passage:

Love one another, new people of God, because if you do, you walk in the light, but if you hate one another, you walk in darkness.

9 He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. 

There is a type of church member who has never personally experienced the grace of God in Jesus Christ, who does not know the love of God in Him, but who for various reasons decides to pretend to himself and others that he is a child of God. He goes to church religiously. He carries his Bible, joins in prayers and hymns, and engages in talk about God. But his religion is only external, and not a reality. These are known as false brethren or hypocrites, named after the actors on the Greek stage who played characters wearing masks. But the one thing that he can’t pretend consistently, is to love his fellow Christians. He backbites, criticizes, gossips, and complains, pointing the finger at others, and always to his own benefit. He insults people, whether to their faces or otherwise, and self-aggrandizes. This person is not a true Christian. He has never been born again. If he had ever personally experienced the love of God in Jesus Christ, applied by the Holy Spirit, he would also have that love for others who had been similarly saved. But he does not love them because he is not of them. He is as dead in his sins as the godless pagans whose lives are nowhere near as presentable as his. He is in darkness, blinded, since his life has never been illuminated by the Holy Spirit. He is like someone walking in a pitch black room without any ambient light or lamps to show where he is going, tripping and bumping into things, and falling so that he cannot even see where he is landing. So is the one who claims to be a Christian, who attempts to deceive himself and others, but who hates his brother or sister in his heart. That is the one mark of being a follower of God that is impossible for him to imitate consistently.

10 He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.

In contrast the one who is born again of the Holy Spirit, who has been adopted as a child of God, who has experienced the forgiveness of his sins in Jesus Christ, is equally diligent to do all that God has commanded. He attends church, supports it with his income and time, and engages in godly conversation. His faith is orthodox. He confesses one God in three Persons, Jesus Christ who is God and man in one Person forever as the only Savior, in whom alone he trusts for his salvation. So far he looks a lot like the hypocrite. But the one thing he has, that the other doesn’t, is that he loves all those who are loved by Christ, especially his brothers and sisters in him.

For all those who have experienced the grace of God in Jesus Christ, they show it by loving all the others who have likewise experienced the love of God in Jesus Christ. They love their Lord, and are washed in his precious blood. So they love all the others for whom he died. They find it easier to forgive, remembering what they’ve been forgiven of. Love covers a multitude of sins.

In Christ there is a new family. We who believe in him are all brothers and sisters. This family tie cuts across all distinctions of culture, language, race, and personality cliques. Yet we are still sinners. Though in the body of Christ we annoy one another, and sin against one another, yet love covers over sins, even your own. Others are in need of our grace, just as surely as we need God’s grace. Let us then be assured that we are forgiven of God, by forgiving others their sins against us, especially our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

11 But he that hateth his brother, Jesus said that he who says “you fool” to his brother is in danger of hellfire. Matthew 5:22 This type of hateful rancor is a sure sign of perdition, when one hates his brother or sister in Christ in his heart.

is in darkness, The one who does not love those whom Christ loved and died for, shows that he is still lost in sin. He has not received the Holy Spirit, but is as blind as ever before.

and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not wither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes. He who does not love other Christians shows by the evidence that he is still in darkness.

Love one another, new people of God, because if you do, you walk in the light, but if you hate one another, you walk in darkness.

This doctrine is useful to Beware of false brethren. There is no better way to distinguish the goats from the sheep in the fold, than by the test of love. Let us practice loving one another, that we may know ourselves to be the lambs of Christ. Otherwise, we are deceiving ourselves, though others probably are not as deceived as we think. Mark out those in the Church who are unloving, and beware of them. They are tares among the wheat.

Having examined ourselves, let us repent of a lack of love toward our brothers and sisters, and diligently apply ourselves to loving them by the things we do and say, whether to their face or away from it.

This doctrine is useful to inspire us to love all who are Christ’s, despite all.

Let us love as we have been loved. By this, Jesus said, the world will know that we are his disciples. And if the world knows it, how much more shall we?

This doctrine is useful to be faithful disciples of our Lord.

Let us be diligent to keep all of his commandments, especially loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. This commandment is made hard by other Christians who try and exasperate us, but remember what you’ve been forgiven of. Remember the love of Jesus Christ who died for you, and love all of those for whom he also died. In this way we will know that we are truly children of our loving heavenly Father, when we love those whom he loves.

Love one another, new people of God, because if you do, you walk in the light, but if you hate one another, you walk in darkness.

How Do We Know That We Know Him?

Did you know that God has given two books in order for us to know him? The second is the one that you might have in your hand. The first book is the book of creation, or natural revelation. God makes himself known to all people in that his glory and attributes are reflected in everything that he has made, even in man himself. But because of the effect of sin on our perception, man turns, twists, confuses, contorts, and obfuscates this knowledge of God which is written in his creation into silly things like gods with animal-like heads and feet, or gods who look and act just like humans, like the Greek and Roman pantheon. God in his mercy did not leave all mankind groping and grasping in the dark, without any hope of finding him. He sent his Son, at just the right time, to become human, by being born of a woman, who is Jesus Christ our Savior. In him the Father is revealed to us. Jesus Christ revealed the Father when he preached and performed miracles during his earthly ministry and he sent his chosen messengers to bear this knowledge of God by proclaiming it around the world, the apostles. During the same time that the apostles preached, after the Lord had ascended to heaven, he sent his Spirit to finish the work of inspiring the work of writing down the Holy Scriptures. For although it’s possible we might have been able to learn something about the Father by oral tradition handed down to us from those who had seen and heard Jesus and his apostles, even though many obscurities and falsehoods would have been created as well in the process of handing it down, if God had not given the Scriptures, yet he gave us his written word so that we might be assured, so that we could be certain of the promises contained in it, and certain of our own eternal life. And this great purpose of the Scriptures is something that the apostle John highlights in the second chapter of his first epistle as the reason why he wrote this letter to the church in Ephesus and surrounding churches:

1 John 2:1a My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.

John highlights the two great ways or means in which Christians may be assured, that is, have a sure confidence that they know the Father, and the Son whom he has sent. The first he notes is “that ye sin not.” Sin, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism defines it, is “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” The law of God that David so eloquently extols in the Psalms, is a reflection of his nature, his righteous character. It has been given to us in detail in the law as expressed all over the Bible from Genesis through Revelation, and summarized in the ten commandments, and in our Lord’s two great commandments. Anything in us, even our own sinful nature, but also all the sins we commit that flow from it, is sin. Shunning sin, that is repenting of our sin, turning away from it, and refusing to live in it, is one great way that we can be sure that we truly know God and belong to him. If a farmer owns a plot of land, he might tell us that he owns it, but we can be pretty sure he really does own it if we see him out in that field plowing, planting, irrigating, fertilizing, and harvesting. In the same way, when we see the work of grace in our lives, when God’s love exudes from us so that we love God first of all, and love our neighbor as ourselves, we can be assured that we truly know God. Just as it is not the farmer planting, fertilizing, and harvesting that actually makes that field his, it is not our keeping of God’s commandments that makes us his. It is merely evidence that we are his already, that his love has been experienced by us, that we show by loving him and other human beings when we keep his commandments.

1b: And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:

In a court of law there is a judge, there is a defendant, and there is a lawyer who advocates for him, also called “counsellor.” We are those who stand accused in our own sin before the tribunal of God the Father. We have nothing to plead of our own works, for they are all tainted by sin. In ourselves we are guilty as charged, deserving the highest penalty that God’s infinite justice can mete out, because by our sin we have offended him who is infinitely worthy of obedience. But we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is our lawyer, our counsellor. He stands up for us and declares to the Father that just as he lived a righteous human life and laid down his life in our place, so we are clothed covered with his righteousness. We are to be not only declared “not guilty”, but “righteous”, based on nothing that we have done, but only what our Counsellor has done for us. He is our assurance that all of our sins are forgiven before the tribunal of God.

2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

In the temple there was one day in the year when the high priest would offer animal sacrifices, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people, and enter into the holy of holies, past the holy place. In this place was the ilasterion, in Greek, or mercy-seat, alluded to in this verse by the word “propitiation”, ilasmos in the original Greek. This was the place where God’s mercy, the forgiveness of sins, was received for his people, and his wrath assuaged and erased. Jesus Christ the righteous is our propitiation. He is our mercy-seat. In him, the wrath of God against our sin is taken away; we receive mercy, grace, forgiveness, and the love of God. It is all in him. He is the place of God’s blessed and merciful presence among us. And he’s not only our Savior. He’s the Savior of the entire world. Anyone who believes in him will receive this mercy, this forgiveness. Anyone who receives him by faith will know the love of God. The Lord has his elect in every nation, who one day will receive Christ their Savior and be saved, according to God’s merciful plan made before he created the world. We do not know who they are, but we know they are numerous. Let us love all people, knowing that this love of God in Christ is offered to all who will believe, and that God has his elect everywhere, sinners dead in their sins who will one day be made new by the Holy Spirit, and embrace Jesus Christ their propitiation. This grace will be theirs based upon his death for them.

3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.

If I gave you a can with a label on it that said, “Green Beans”, and I told you it was tomato soup, you’d either think that I were stupid, or a liar. So is every one who claims to know God, but who does not do what he said. All those who know his love have it working in their lives by the Holy Spirit. We are not perfect in the sense of being without sin. We still sin in many ways, and will never be entirely without sin in this live, until we die or the Lord returns. But the love of God achieves its purpose in us, in this sense being “perfected” when we love God and others, in other words keeping his commandments given in Scripture which teach us how we ought to love God and keep his commandments. God’s grace has its fruition in us when a change is shown in our lives, in that we begin to put God first above everything else. We begin to prefer others before ourselves, and seek their good as well as our own. The farmer who owns a field does good work in it, plowing, planting, irrigating, and fertilizing, but it’s not productive, it doesn’t reach his intention in buying it, until the harvest. In the same way God’s work of grace in forgiving us of all our sin is perfected in us when we love him and keep his commandments. It then achieves its purpose in us.

These two great means or ways that we can know that we know God are laid out for us in this passage: of Jesus Christ our propitiation, and by keeping God’s commandments. When we’ve stumbled into grievous sin like David, who committed adultery and murder, to where he was at the point of praying “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me,” (Psalm 51:11) he was not losing his salvation, but he was losing his assurance. He was beginning to doubt whether he truly belonged to God. This is something experienced by Christians when they have grievously sinned against God. He removed their assurance. They are not producing the fruits of repentance anymore, or showing God’s work in them, so it is right for them to begin to doubt whether they are in grace. But in this situation it is necessary to look to Jesus Christ the righteous, our advocate with the Father, who is the propitiation, the mercy-seat, our forgiveness of sins, so that we can once again be assured of our state of grace, that we are God’s beloved children. On the other hand, in those high times in the Christian life, when we feel assured of our standing, (and just feeling good about ourselves is never a valid ground of assurance, but rather deceptive), that is the time for us to “making our calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10) by being diligent to keep God’s commandments, but working up our love to God and neighbor by studying and practicing everything God has commanded us in his word to do, say, and keep. In this way we can validate and become assured, certain, that we truly know him, and have experienced his love.

Then we are not liars, when we display his work of grace in our lives by loving him and others, in the ways that he has instructed us in his law given in Holy Scripture. Let us be assured of that we know God and are his, by relying on Jesus Christ our propitiation, through whom we have obtained mercy and forgiveness of sins, and by keeping his commandments. In these two ways we know that we belong to him. Amen.

God is Light

In the first four verses John’s first epistle, we saw that the Word of Life which was manifested of the Father is not a thing, but a Person. It is the Son of God himself. He who was in the bosom of the Father “with him” from the beginning, that is, from all eternity, was made known to us in the person of Jesus Christ. This is that life-giving Savior of the word, the one who gives eternal life to all those under the threat and curse of death, who receive him by faith. He is that word of life which the apostle John with the twelve has seen, heard, and touched. He bears to us his eye-witness testimony, a credible evidence to be received with absolute confidence that everything that Christ’s own chosen messengers, the apostles, preached about the Lord Jesus Christ, and has been written down for our benefit in the words of the New Testament, is a credible record. We know who Jesus is and what he did for us based on the testimony of these men, which is worthy of belief.

John proceeds to teach his readers in detail about the message of him, that is of him who is the Word of Life. He came, bringing a message about the Father, to teach us who he is and what he has in store for us. This message is now elaborated by the apostle. It is a message from him who is the Word, the sermon of God himself, what he came to say, when he came as one of us, before he laid down his life for all of us. This message is one that we need to know. It’s the gospel itself, the good news about Jesus Christ, preached by Jesus Christ.

This message is not popular with mankind, in its natural condition. Ever since man fell into sin, he would rather not admit it. He tells himself that he is a good person, and judges by any standard but by God’s holy standard. He excuses himself, and justifies himself, and this is consistent. Find anyone in this world, apart from God’s grace, and scarcely can you get one who will admit to being anything other than a good person. Even incarcerated offenders justify themselves in comparison to others, thinking, “I’m a pretty good person, not like some of the thugs in here,” or “not like the sex offenders.” It is human nature to justify and excuse oneself, not to admit to being a sinner. John’s message, which is not his, but the message from him who is the Word, that is the Son of God, is that of the light that shines into this darkness of mankind’s perverse attempt to cover his own sinful nature, his own human reality, by tons of excuses and ill-intended comparisons to others. It is a message about who God is, that obliterates all the comparative excuses and self-justifying that anyone attempts, because no one can live up to God’s holy standard. By his standard, we all all counted an unclean thing, unworthy even of this life.

In a nutshell, John’s message is this:

God is light, so let us who are his be truthful about ourselves, and confess our sins to him.

1 John 1:5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

Light enables us to see. It reflects or refracts off of objects, hitting our retinas, and in this way we perceive what is in front of us. Darkness hidden and conceals what is there. We can’t see in perfect darkness. The darker it is, the more hidden, concealed, and distorted our vision becomes. The Holy Spirit, speaking through the apostle, makes clear that God is light. He shines, and the lie disappears. In him is no lie, no contradiction. His righteous character is the objective standard of ethics for the universe, and everyone who inhabits his universe. Though there are plenty of people who do not acknowledge him, they show his law written on their hearts, through their conscience, and by crying out for justice, although they tend to excuse themselves and only want justice to be exacted against the crimes that others commit. In this their minds have been darkened by the sin of self-love. The law was given as a concrete expression of God’s own character in written form. It is as unchangeable as God is. And one day the entire world will be judged by that unchanging standard, that is, God himself.

6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:

Now there is a way that this sinful nature of man expresses itself among hypocrites, not only out there in the world, but inside the church. These are those who claim to be Christians, but who do not do as the Lord commanded. They live and wallow in sin as if they had never been born again at all. Some cover their sin under the mantle of Anti-nomianism, the idea that the law no longer binds Christians because they are under grace. This doctrine misses the whole point of God’s grace. He has recreated us “unto good works” (Ephesians 2:10) and chosen us to be “holy and blameless before him in love” (Ephesians 1:4) God’s grace is intended to separate, to make holy a people for himself, to make us sons and daughters of his indeed and not only by category, who do the will of our loving heavenly Father and reflect his character. There are those, many more than who would actually profess this “Antinomian” doctrine, who simply lie to themselves and others, who claim to have the root, but bear not the fruit, who do not do works worthy of repentance. They are of their father the devil, Jesus says, and so they lie, as the devil was a liar from the beginning. They lie to themselves and others about being born again, about being a child of God, about having fellowship with the light, while they are yet in darkness.

7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

Walking in the light means holding ourselves up to God’s holy standard, confessing our sins to God as individuals, and as one body in fellowship, the body of Christ. Walking in the light means having our deeds exposed to ourselves, and then admitting who we really are, sinners saved by grace alone, not hypocrites like actors on the Greek stage in ancient times, who wore masks as they played a character different from who they actually were. And it is easy for Christians to fall into the same practice, of wearing a mask to church, pretending like they’re not sinners. In contrast true Christians encourage one another to admit that they are sinners, and to walk humbly before God relying only on his mercy. I do not mean that we should all be getting in circles and sharing each of our sins in particular with people that have nothing to do with them, that neither knew about them nor were affected by them, because that just leads to a perverse curiosity and a kind of reveling in the sins of others.

8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

If we say that we have no sin, we lie to ourselves. What a strange thing it is for a person to lie to himself. What good could it do? Yet millions of people are doing this. It must be an act of desperation. Who would rather lie to himself than profess the truth? Only someone who is afraid of the truth would do this. But if we are in the light, we know that the God who is true is also gracious, that he will forgive us, and that we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by admitting our true condition, by letting the light shine in our hearts and on our deeds, and coming to him for mercy.

9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

If we walk in the light, we must let the light shine on our deeds, by self-consciously confessing our sins to God in prayer. This is a critical part of prayer that is often lost today. When we come to God, we come to the light. And when the light shines on us, we see who we truly are, sinners in his presence, tainted by pride, greed, lust, hatred, and hypocrisy, and we don’t try to hide it anymore. Walking in the light, we confess our sins to the Father. And we receive his forgiveness, in and through Christ, and are wiped clean. This does not mean that as Christians who have placed our faith in Christ, that our slate has the handwriting of the law written to condemn us once again until we wipe it clean by confessing our sins to God in prayer? No, for then we would live in fear that we might forget to pray at the last moment of our lives, whenever that might happen in this accident-prone world, and then we would be lost forever. Justification is a once-for all act of God, who declares righteous the ungodly sinner, when he or she first places faith in Jesus Christ the Savior. At that moment, he is once and for all forgiven of every sin that he ever has or will commit, and of the sin of his inherited sinful nature itself. But by continually confessing his sins to God, the justified sinner shows that he has this forgiveness. The evidence of having been forgiven is to continually confess ones need for God’s forgiveness for ones sin. In this way we know that we are forgiven.

10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Let us not be like those living in darkness, who habitually and compulsively lie to themselves and others, but walk in light, and admit that God’s word about us is true, when his law condemns us as sinners. God is not a liar. We are liars. His word about us is true in condemning us to hell forever for our sin. Let us freely confess it, in reliance upon his grace, and so show the work of his law written on our hearts.

God is light, so let us who are his be truthful about ourselves, and confess our sins to him.  If you are a follower of God, confess your sins to him daily through Christ. We have to confess our sins every day because we are still sinners, prone to think that we are good people, proud and self-justifying. Confessing our sin reorients our minds, puts down our pride, and let us rely on God alone. It keeps us on our knees, relying on him, walking in the light. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness. What greater motivation could there be?

Forgiveness and justification in Scripture are tied to confessing our sins in prayer. This is one important reason why all of the historic orders for worship of the Christian Church have always included a prayer of confession of sin. Corporate confession of our sin as the church is as important for the health of the church as individual confession of sin to God in secret is required for the spiritual health of the individual Christian.

There are several examples of prayers of confession of sin in Scripture. They demonstrate for us its part in prayer, and also provide helpful guide to teach us how to confess our sins to God.

Nehemiah’s prayer of confession of sin in Nehemiah chapter 1:5-11 is a helpful example teaching us that we ought to confess our sins as a body to God, those things which we have failed to do, or have done amiss, as a body, as the church. From this prayer we learn that we as a people deserve his wrath, and rely only on his grace, that he would keep his covenant with us despite our sin. It is appropriate to confess the sins of the church when God puts his fatherly hand upon us to lovingly chastise us for sin, to bring us back to repentance to him. When he sends hardship our way, whether persecution, or the threat of financial insolvency, or anything else, let us come to our knees in prayer and confess our sins as Nehemiah did, relying only on his grace to help us and sustain us.

Isaiah teaches us that it is important to confess our sin whenever we enter God’s presence. “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” 6:5 This confession of his own sin is an example for us that we should emulate whenever we come together to worship the LORD of hosts. The prayer of confession of sin has always been an important part of the order of worship, because from the moment that we get a glimpse of who God is, as he has spoken to us in his word, we are immediately convicted of our own unworthiness to enter his presence. The proper response is to confess our sin to him, before doing anything else. That is why we confess our sin in prayer to God as the Church every Lord’s Day in our Order of Worship.

David, in Psalm 51, gives us the prayer of an individual Christian who has fallen into gross sin, and stubbornly clung to it without repentance for some period of time. He makes reference to original sin, noting “Behold, I was shaken in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” v. 5, which is a part of our sin that we ought to confess to God. He reminds us in this prayer that all sin is against God, first and foremost, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.” v. 4 God is deeply offended at sin. All sin is against him. Though we have sinned against many people in our lives, all of our sins were against God most of all. He is the one with whom we must come clean and to whom we must confess our sin, before anyone else, since he is infinitely worthy of obedience.

Finally, in the Lord’s prayer, with the words, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”, the Lord Jesus, giving us this formula or outline for all prayer, lets us know what an indispensable part of prayer it is to confess our sin to God. This prayer is a guide for all prayer, and prayer of confession of sin is included in it. So we can be sure that confession of sin is a part of prayer that we must not do without. By connecting our asking for forgiveness with the way in which we forgive others, we learn one important purpose of prayers of confession of sin, that they humble us to acknowledge our need for God’s grace, in order that we may reflect it to others by forgiving them just as our loving heavenly Father has forgiven us of our sin. Let us continue to include confession of sin in our prayers, even as we forgive others who have wronged us, for in doing so, we show that we are truly children of our beloved heavenly Father, and we walk in his light.

God is light, so let us who are his be truthful about ourselves, and confess our sins to him.

The Apostle John’s Answer to Skeptics

Skeptics and naysayers love to do their best to poke holes in the Bible. They were attempting it even before it was completed, and they’re still at it. What little has changed! The apostle John responds to detractors in the introduction to his first epistle. He states with unvarnished credibility that the things that he and the other apostles had declared of the Lord Jesus Christ were based upon eye-witness testimony. He writes,

1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;

In a court of law the testimony of a credible eyewitness is received as evidence. In the same way we who believe are not following myths, fables, or wishful thinking, but established truth from credible eyewitness testimony. The Lord Jesus had personally chosen messengers to carry his good news to the entire world. These are known as the apostles or “sent ones”, similar to the role of ambassador. Their ministry was to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to the entire world. We do not have apostles today, although they still minister to us through the writings they left behind in the form of the Holy Scriptures. They had a unique ministry intended for the formative and foundational age of the Church of Jesus Christ. While they were walking with Jesus, they heard him preach of who he was, and saw him prove that it was true by performing miracles to validate what he had said about himself, like the time Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, in order that “you may know that the Son of Man has power to forgive sins”, a thing that only God can do. This proved to the apostles that Jesus was God, as he said he was many times in different ways. Our faith in Jesus Christ the Savior is based on the reliable testimony of these chosen men.

John calls the Lord Jesus by the name of “the Word of Life.” This name is packed with meaning. In Greek thought “word” or logos was that rational principle which controlled and upheld the universe. John is saying that he who is the Word is the Creator in the beginning. In this passage we find an echo of the opening verses of John’s gospel. This Word is the Creator. He is the “Word of Life” in that he has life in himself. We have life that depends on God. We are created beings, but not he. He is the Creator, the one who has life in himself, “I AM THAT I AM.” This is what the covenant name of God: “YHWH”, pronounced Yahweh or Jehovah means at its root. He is the self-existent one. He has life in himself, and gives it to others. He is our Creator. Jesus said,

John 5:26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;

The Son has life in himself just as the Father has life in himself. He had no beginning. He was not born. He is eternally preexistent, eternally-begotten, as in the language of the fathers in the Nicene Creed, he is “begotten of the Father before all worlds.” He who gave us life at creation is the same One who gives new life to those who are spiritually dead in trespasses and sins. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. If any man believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” John 11:25

1 John 1:2 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)

This life is the Son of God, who was manifested in that he became a true human being and walked among John and his other disciples. The love of God the Father was made known to the world in his Son, who is the Word of Life. That Word of Life was seen on earth by thousands of people, and is the same Christ who was proclaimed in the first century A. D. by his chosen messengers, the apostles.

He who was “with the Father”, compare to “with God” John 1:2, was in the bosom of the Father from all eternity. He loved us so much that he became one of us, when he was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, remaining fully God and fully man forever in one person, the God-man that is Christ Jesus.

3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

One of God’s great purposes in this plan of redemption is to bring a people together. The children of God are not just a collection of individuals. We are one family in him. We belong together just as we belong to him. Through Christ, we have fellowship with the Father, just as the Son had fellowship with him since before creation. And having fellowship with the Father and the Son, we also have fellowship, communion with one another in the Church of Jesus Christ.

The apostles declared to us what they had heard, seen, and touched: The Word of Life, that we may have fellowship with one another, through the Father and the Son, and that our joy may be full.

The apostles were those chosen men who had been with Jesus when he was transfigured before them, who had heard the voice of the Father from heaven declaring, “This is my beloved Son, hear him.” They had seen him die. They saw him after he had risen from the dead. Thomas then touched his hands and his side to verify the wounds of his crucifixion. (John 20:27) The testimony of the apostles is worthy to be believed. It is eyewitness testimony. In their message, we have certainty of the truth of those things they spoke to us about the Lord Jesus, that he is the Son of God come to save us sinners. This is our eternal hope. It rests upon sure evidence.

In Christ, the Word of Life was manifested to us. This Word is not a thing, but a Person.  He became known to us by becoming one of us. Without losing any of his former glory or power that he had with the Father form the beginning, albeit disguising it, he came so that we would know him. What love is this that the Father has shown us, by sending his own Son to carry the message of his grace to us! Let us receive it and believe.

There is fellowship in the world based on commonality. Sometimes it’s relatively innocent, like clubs based upon ethnicity, or activities like baseball or hunting. At other times, the world has fellowship in sin, like drunkenness or other revelings. But in Christ, we who have been made alive by him have a fellowship, a “koinonia” or communion, that the world can never know. We have been brought from death to life, from darkness to life. We have experienced the grace of God, the peace that passes understanding, and joy in the Holy Spirit. This brings with it a bond of love between us, among all of God’s children, that the world of sin can never know. This is one reason why it is necessary for us to gather weekly (at a minimum) to pray together and sing God’s praises. There are no “lone ranger” Christians. If we have fellowship with the Father and the Son, we have fellowship with one another. Though some may pretend that they can be Christians just by praying and having devotions on their own at home, to forsake the assembling of ourselves together is not a reflection of that fellowship with one another to which the Lord has brought us.

This fellowship that we have with one another shows itself in many ways. We help each other when we need it. If we’ve experienced the love of God in Christ, how can we not also love those others who have received the same love that we have? We forgive one another, as the Lord has forgiven us our sins, without holding grudges against one another when we sin against each other. We pray together, bearing one another’s burdens and lifting each other up before the mercy seat of the Father. We share a common purpose in life, to glorify God by advancing the kingdom of Jesus Christ, by being his witnesses. We show this when we work together to make his name known, to build his church, and to bring others along too to worship him.

The apostles declared to us what they had heard, seen, and touched: The Word of Life, that we may have fellowship with one another, through the Father and the Son, and that our joy may be full.

If you have never embraced this Word of Life, if you have not yet received the hope of eternal life by taking hold of Christ through faith, he is freely offered to you today. Come to him and be saved. The whole world is going to die. If things continue as they are now, there is not one person who will not be dead in the future. But Jesus Christ offers everlasting life to whoever will believe in him. Do not let anything you love in this world hold you back from receiving that free gift. Leave everything if necessary to get it.

If you’ve received the love of God in Christ by faith, if you have the hope of eternal life, do not let the cares or enjoyments of this world entangle you. Guard your heart, so that nothing, whether love of family members, or friends, or reputation, or money, or influence, draw your heart away from your Lord and Savior. Let him be your hope, now and forever.
Let us have fellowship with one another. Ours is that blessed communion of the saints. We have Christ, and so we have each other. In one love, with one heart, one in prayer, let us help one another, forgive one another, and pray with and for one another. This is one of the greatest blessings of being a child of God.

Finally, let us rejoice in our Savior. For us who have experienced that hope of eternal life, nothing can ever take it away from us. We may have hardships and suffering in this world. But it cannot take away our joy. They may take away our houses, our family, our possessions, our income, or even our liberty by putting us in jail. But they can never take away the joy that we have by being God’s children, our hope of eternal life in Christ. Let us rejoice in him in this world, in all circumstances. Remind yourself to think about the hope that you have in Christ, especially when the world has got you down. It is important for us to remind ourselves to think about the joy that we have because of the grace that we have received in him. Let us rejoice in him now and forever.

The apostles declared to us what they had heard, seen, and touched: The Word of Life, that we may have fellowship with one another, through the Father and the Son, and that our joy may be full.  Amen.

“I’ve Been Down That Road Before.”

God’s Grace Has Appeared to Us, In Jesus Christ

“I’ve been down that road before.” said Hank Williams Sr., under the alias of Luke the Drifter. And so we have all been down that road before. What road is it that I’m talking about? It’s the road of foolishness. It’s the road of disobedience. It’s the road of letting ourselves be deceived by various lusts and pleasures It’s the road of living in malice and envy, and hating one another. But, what happened? The kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, in a little toddler on his mother’s knee, to whom the nations gathered to present gifts: of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were gifts fit for a King: gold, a priest: frankincense, that spice used in the incense of the temple, and myrrh, foreshadowing his sacrificial death that that boy would one day die for the sins of the world. For that boy was no ordinary boy, but the Lord of Glory himself, him who is from the beginning, who was eternally pre-existent with the Father. And how did he make this grace that appeared in Christ the Savior active in our lives? He applied it to us, by the Holy Spirit, who, renewing our will, made us able and willing to embrace Christ the savior by faith, as he was presented to us, in the gospel, that we have heard. Thus, God’s grace was poured out generously upon us, in our hearts and in our lives. We became the righteous ones in God’s sight. Not by works which we had done, but by the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. That same Holy Spirit who made us new, worked in our lives, making us heirs of the promise, true children of our heavenly Father, and is even now making us fit to receive that inheritance by his work in our lives, making us more like our heavenly Father, remolding us in his likeness. So then, knowing what road we’ve been down, and what we’ve been saved from, how ought we to act in the midst of this fallen world towards those who are what we once were, who are like us, except that they have not received the same grace that we have, prior to this point. It is this application that the apostle Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, takes as an opportunity to expound upon the grace of God that appeared to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Titus 3:1 KJV Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work,
2 To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.
3 For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.
4 But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,
5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

The grace of God has appeared to us in our Savior Jesus Christ, through whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated us, so that we have been justified and made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life.

The kindness and love of God appeared to us in the person of Christ our Savior.  The word translated “appeared” here is the Greek, epephane, which is where the word, “Epiphany”, comes from, a traditional feast on January 6th celebrating the appearance of Christ as the Son of God and Savior. While in the East the traditional topic of preaching has been on the baptism of Christ in the river Jordan, in the West it is the wise men bringing gifts to the boy Jesus. We can think of a connection between these two passages of Scripture, in that both reveal Christ to be the Savior of the World, the one who is both God and man, the Prophet, Priest, and King, who came to redeem Israel, and the nations.

In Christ, the kindness of the Father has appeared to us. Because of Jesus Christ, it is explained to us. It is set forth. When the Lord Jesus came into this world, and began his ministry in Judea, what was the first thing he began to do? He began to preach. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15 He let us know that the Father loved us, and had sent his only begotten son to save us, not from bondage in Egypt or captivity in Babylon, but from slavery to our own sin, and subjection to death and the devil. If the Lord Jesus had not proclaimed this good news. That was news bout himself, about what he came to do. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”, Jesus said (Luke 4:24). In him the love of our heavenly Father was made known. It appeared. It epephane.

It appeared not only to his disciples, but to the whole world, when he died on the cross. Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” John 12:32 In him the kind of loving intention of the Father toward us was made known, in that he did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for us, to make u s his sons and daughters. The Lord Jesus appeared to be who he said he was, at his resurrection, and when this message was preached to the whole world, like by Paul in Athens, that Christ is risen from the dead. In this way the kindness and love of God to all men appeared, in that Christ Jesus is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe. And whoever calls upon his name will be saved.

Through Christ, the Holy Spirit has regenerated us.  He has effected a change in our orientation, that manifests itself in our lives. This work of regeneration is the new birth. It is a new beginning, at true change. It translates into faith where there was once skepticism or apathy, and holiness, “set-apart” -ness for God, where there was once only rebellion and indulgence in the sinful flesh. And, although the change is gradual, and holiness is not perfect in an instant, nor, truthfully, at any time in this life for any Christian this side of glory, yet it is a real change, that begins at the moment that the dead sinner is born again of the grace of God, by the powerful act of the Holy Spirit upon the soul, by a miracle of love. It is a washing that makes the dirty clean, and sprinkles the conscience from adherence to dead works of sin or hypocrisy, to serve the living God.  This washing is the reason why the Lord saw fit to give us the sacrament that symbolizes it that uses water, that is, baptism.  Because this regeneration which is signified in baptism is a washing and a cleansing, just like you use water to wash your face.

This work is through Christ, in his redemption accomplished for us, and applied to us. Just as law enforcement officers carry out a court order that the judge makes, so the Holy Spirit applies to the dead sinner the redemption bought for him by Christ on the cross, in the effectual call that produces a new birth in the sinner. This work is in and through Christ from start to finish, so it is all of those for whom Christ gave his precious life, and those only, who receive this grace of regeneration that is explained in this passage. It is not as some have imagined, that there is a disconnect between the father’s electing love from before the foundation of the world, by which he chose some to be saved, and passed by the rest, and the love of God manifest in Christ on the cross. Both are in agreement, in respect to their object, that is, we who are chosen by God. And such that the Father planned, and the Son accomplished, the Spirit applies. So our faith is genuinely a trinitarian faith. Each person of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, works in concert, co-laboring in the blessed divine work of the redemption of sinners.

We have been justified by grace, and made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  This faith is a gift of God to us. “This [faith] is not of ourselves. It is the gift of God,” says the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:8. It is by faith that we receive Christ as our Savior. And based on this union that we have with him, the Father has declared us righteous in him. Just as Israel, according to the language of Scripture, was declared to be the “Son” of God in power (Exodus 2:22), in the day that God brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and drown all of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, just as Christ was declared to be the Son of God in power to all the universe, on the day that he rose again from the dead, having left his grave clothes lying there in the stone cold sepulcher, so God has declared us righteous in Christ. Though we are sinners, yet when God sees us, he does not see our sins. No, he sees the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with which he kept the law his entire life, before laying down his life for our sins. He is the One who is called, “the LORD our righteousness.” Jeremiah 23:6 This righteousness of his becomes ours, by means of faith, that is our believing in him, which God has enabled us to do. And this state of being declared righteous the Scriptures refer to as the act of “justification.” It is something that all true believers in Christ have already experienced. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” declares the Holy Spirit in Romans 5:1.

The grace of God has appeared to us in our Savior Jesus Christ, through whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated us, so that we have been justified and made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life.

Becoming an heir is not something that one earns. It is bequeathed by a will and testament. If you are blessed enough to inherit property or some other right, you didn’t do any work for it. You get it regardless of your personal character or worthiness. So it is with the hope of eternal life, that we have received through Jesus Christ, who died for us, the Testator of the eternal Testament and covenant that he made with us and for us. This gives us a blessed and indefatigable hope, that we who were his enemies have been made heirs of God, and will receive this blessing one day, and be happy with him forever.

However, just as an heir received something he didn’t earn, he may require some preparation to get ready to receive it. He’s got to get his thoughts and plans in order, and maybe even learn a thing or two about property management, personal finance, real estate, business, even agriculture, how to manage a rental property, or simply individual responsibility, so that he can make good use of the property that he is going to inherit. So it is with the heirs of eternal life. It would not do for someone who is to be made an heir of eternal life, who will enjoy God for eternity, to find his pleasure here on earth in the filthy pursuits of this world. If your heart is in the sins of the flesh, and of the eyes, what makes you think that you will enjoy God forever in heaven? Those whom God has justified by grace alone in Christ, he makes ready to receive the kingdom. He does this by progressively altering their desires and pleasures, so that they take delight in him and not in greed, malice, hatred, envy, lust, or those other things with which the world sullies itself, like a pig in the mud who just can’t get dirty enough.

The grace of God has appeared to us in our Savior Jesus Christ, through whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated us, so that we have been justified and made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life.  

Therefore, let us be submissive to the authorities that God has established over us in this world.  It is simply a part of being winsome. Some champions of various causes in the modern world have not learned this lesson, becoming activists to the extreme. This is not a way to win people over to your message. We who have the most gracious message of all, that is reconciliation with the Creator, offered to all people without distinction, through Christ whom he has given to be the Savior of the World, ought to be the most submissive of all to the authorities that God has established in this world: to local governments, and the laws of the land, and law enforcement, and tax officials. For we have a hope that the world does not know. How could we let the petty concerns of this world, because the justice of this world is far less than perfect, to override our concern of the souls of dead sinners, so that we will waste our time fighting the powers that be in this world? Let us practice living peaceful lives, respecting all authorities, knowing that God is working everything for his good pleasure.

Therefore, let us be kind and gracious to all men. If we know the grace of God in Christ to us, which passes understanding, how can we not be gracious to others? It’s logical, but how quickly to we begin acting like somehow we deserve God’s grace? If the Scriptures teach us anything, it’s that we in no way deserve to be God’s chosen people. We didn’t earn it, and so how can we look down upon others who have no received the same grace as we have, when we were once just like they are, and when it is only God’s intervening grace that has made the difference in our lives? Let us not be haughty, walking around with our noses in the air, as if somehow our status of as heirs of eternal life is something that we have earned. For we did not. Even the faith that we have in Christ is a gift of God. So let us be loving and gracious to all people, not matter how annoying and unreasonable they might be. Because we were once exactly the same. Let us show love to them in the way that we act around them, and speak to them, and pray that God would give them the same gift of faith that he has given you. Otherwise, you’re acting as if you’ve never experienced God’s grace in Christ at all. Let us be loving and kind to all people.

The grace of God has appeared to us in our Savior Jesus Christ, through whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated us, so that we have been justified and made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life.  Amen.