John’s Emphasis on Truth and Action

We’ve had a short hiatus with posts to go along with our readings, but we are back. (And if you needed something to tide you over, we did have a couple worship services that, as always, draw from the readings in both the times of prayer and preaching.)

We’re finishing up the trio of Johannine letters this week with 3 John. While there is a great satisfaction with finishing a good, long book, finding a good, short book is wonderful, too. And John comes through for us three times. And his short books don’t make them insignificant.

There are issues behind all the letters of the New Testament, and we’re pretty certain one issue for John was something like a first century Christian conspiracy theory, Gnosticism. Gnosticism itself wasn’t new and it often would morph and latch on to different ideas of the day, and Christianity was just another target. John’s repeated insistence on Jesus coming in the flesh in 1 John was a direct challenge to gnostic beliefs that Jesus only appeared in the flesh.

Gnosticism appealed to a desire to know a secret truth behind the public truth. Something hidden and kept back, and that knowledge gives you power. If you know something that others don’t that gives you a leg up. A similar draw is found within conspiracy groups who claim to see what no one else can see.

Here in 3 John the author continues to drive home that truth is still very important. In verse four he says there is no greater joy for him than to hear that the church is walking in the truth. Walking and truth go together for him. Action and belief are linked. For them to waiver from the truth of Jesus will undoubtedly lead them astray in their walk. He even name drops an example of someone doing this, Diotrephes, who is a clear example of how closely tied a belief (I am first) goes with action (put myself first). And Dio is talking “wicked nonsense”—not harmless lies, but harmful—that leads him to harm some brothers.

Yet the truth of Jesus is in contrast to the gnostics. The wonderful news of Jesus is that he came to reveal the way, the truth, and the life. What was not known in full has been shared, and the fullness of God is seen in the face of Jesus! It isn’t to be kept back and made a secret so that only the few may know. Jesus did all he did for us so we can know and experience life with God. While yes, not everyone knows this and certainly not everyone believes it, the tone of the gospel message is out of step with the gnostics who seek to maintain some level of secrecy. Jesus came so that the whole world may know the truth and he invites us to walk in it.

John through his three letters shows that link between truth and action, and frequently truth and love. There is no expectation of one without the other. Hence, he’s not content to write about these issues. That’d make it too easy to lean upon truth alone. Rather John puts down the pen, intending to be with them soon, face to face, able then to join action to his words.

How is Christ Our Passover Lamb?


When Paul refers to Christ as our Passover Lamb, there is a wealth of Scripture that a Jewish audience would have flooding to mind. But the church, as it is now, is a place of great variety, and those who were familiar would have been expected to bring others along in their understanding. Here are two great passages to help make you more familiar with the Passover and further your understanding of how how Christ is our lamb.

Exodus 12

Here is where we learn of God’s instituting of the Passover. God’s people are in slavery in Egypt and God is in the process of bringing plagues upon the land as his means of deliverance. God then gives instructions for how to survive his final judgment on Egypt. It is a way for the Hebrews to be saved as death passes them over and this plague will be the catalyst for their deliverance from bondage.

1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. 4 And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, 6 and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.

7 “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. 10 And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.

John 1

Here in the New Testament in John, John the Baptist is identifying Jesus with the Passover Lamb, proclaiming that Jesus has come to take away our sins.

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.

Take note that here in the very beginning of John’s gospel, Jesus’ ministry is already directed to the cross, where he will make the ultimate sacrifice.

Christ in Psalm 118

We talked about this psalm briefly in one of the Reading Groups as a member brought our attention to it. It is hard not to see a picture of Jesus Christ in these words, words which are quoted in reference to him in the New Testament.

I love to see the way in which the whole of Scripture points us to Jesus. The Old points us ahead and the New Testament draws our attention back to him. As we celebrate Christmas it is also good to see such connections and remember that Jesus was no backup plan. Before the world was even created, the plan has been to save the world through him. Like we read in the beginning of John, Jesus may have entered the scene in one way when he was born to Mary, but Jesus has always been on the scene since the very beginning. Christmas is the beginning of a big reveal, but the suspense had been building for a long time.

Psalm 118

22 The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day;
    let us rejoice today and be glad.

25 Lord, save us!
    Lord, grant us success!

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
    From the house of the Lord we bless you.
27 The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
    up to the horns of the altar.

28 You are my God, and I will praise you;
    you are my God, and I will exalt you.

29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

Our Stunning Ability for Self-Deception

Our focus passage this week was a shorter selection with only a handful of verses from the end of chapter one. But in those few verses we see what I believe is a progression of deceit.

In the context of our sinfulness and subsequent confession, John looks at three lies and their implications.

Verse 6
If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

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

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

The first is an example of someone who is sinning yet claiming such sinful behavior is good. They walk in the darkness, but call the darkness light. In a somewhat similar vein the second example is an equally foolish position, claiming to have no sin. Since all of us have sinned and no one is righteous, the only way to claim to have no sin is to again call good what is truly evil. The third example again claims that we have no sin, and this gets to the implication that if we have no sin, we need to savior. If we have no need for Christ then we have made him and God out to be liars.

I don’t think John is going through an abstract hypothetical here. I think he brings these points up because he has come up against similar claims. So he lays it out plainly, showing the reader the ability sinful humanity has for deception. In verse six “we lie”, verse eight “we deceive ourselves”, and in verse ten we go so far as to “make him a liar.” We lie to others, lie to ourselves, and portray God as a liar.

The second one really struck me when I studied this before. Our lies will carry us to the point of even lying to ourselves. One translation renders it that “we fool ourselves” and another that “we lead ourselves astray.” We repeat a lie so often that we begin to take it as truth. What an indication of the effects of sin in our own lives and our inability to judge what is right. We can fooled with no one to thank but ourself. It is one thing for someone else to try to deceive us, but we easily go along with our own lies.

Really think about that phrase: deceive ourselves. What is key to being able to deceive someone else? You know something that they do not. You are aware of the lie, but they are ignorant. If the other person knows the lie, your chance to deceive vanishes. So how in the world could we play both parts? How can we taken in by deceit in such a way!? How can I both know the lie and believe it? But again, I think this is revealing of our fallen nature and how we are in such dire straits thanks to sin. We are enticed to believe just what we want to believe and in pursuit of that, we’ll swallow just about anything.

Perhaps this could get too detached from reality, but John gives us great examples. If not self-deception what is it when we claim to be in the light or to love God yet we hate our brother? (1 John 2:9 and 1 John 4:20) To love God is to love our neighbor and follow his commands, so how can we claim to be loving him and following him while at the same time hating the ones he came to save?

Let’s not let that last question be rhetorical. How? Because we feed ourselves lies. We deceive ourselves into thinking we can do whatever it is we’d like to do. We believe all that we do is good, and even the sin we commit is thought of as walking in the light.

We need to be reminded by books like 1 John of what is true. We need to be reminded of what is in the light and not to do so by following some inner light found within me. To seek truth and not some knock-off, second rate, unsatisfying counterfeit, we need to steep ourselves in the Bible, surround ourselves with wise sisters and brothers, and desperately and humbly seek God in prayer. If we acknowledge that we, like anyone else, can fall victim to such self-destructive self-deception, then we know we need others. I can’t do this on my own, and left to my own devices I’ll be so much more likely to weave my own truth. I need and we all need to submit ourselves to God’s Word, and seek to test ourselves according to it.

Hebrews 6, Can We Fall Away?

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
Hebrews 6:1-4

REM – Losing Religion back in the 90s

I must confess I have slowed in my readings (and writings) of Hebrews this week for two reasons. One – because I was away on study leave enjoying teachings of NT Wright and the beauty of fall in Princeton, NJ. Two – because we began with this extremely troubling passage. I wanted to find some more time this week to study it, but here we are on the eve of week six and I wanted to say something.

It appears as though this passage is saying that someone can come to Christ, be “saved”, and then fall away. If this were to happen, there’s no turning back. Almost like saying you can come and be forgiven for any sin, but only once.

So this is troubling for all the worry it would cause if we can lose our salvation. It would change where I stand before God from solid rock to shifting sand. These verses are also troubling because we read elsewhere passages like (and this is just a small sampling):

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish;no one will snatch them out of my hand.
John 10:27-28

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 1:6

So how do we reconcile these passages? Some of the ways I’ve seen this described go like this:

This hypothetical person can’t be forgiven because they do not want it. They have turned their back and it isn’t so much that they can’t, but that they won’t be forgiven. This still has the issue of the possibility of falling away, but the argument can then continue by proposing that no one who would turn their back on Christ would have been a true Christian in the first place. The description of being enlightened, tasting heavenly gifts, and so on are descriptions of enjoying certain corporate benefits of the church. Or maybe it is some individual understanding, but it is not the same as being gifted the saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Quick review: So far the possible readings are that you can’t be forgiven because you don’t want it, or (with some possible overlap) that this hypothetical person hasn’t truly fallen away because that’s impossible and they were not a Christian to begin with.

Another take on this passage that tries to hold on to the witness of other parts of Scripture is that this passage is describing a non-sensical if-then statement. If a person were to fall away then for them to repent and come back would mean Christ is recrucified. But Christ can’t be recrucified. Hebrews itself has already talked of Christ’s once for all sacrifice and how his death on the cross was completely sufficient. If that is the case, and he’s now been raised from the dead, how could he and why would he be crucified again? So if Christ can’t be recrucified, such as it is an impossibility, then the circumstances that would lead to it are also an impossibility. If Christ has died for your sins then you would never have need for him to return to the cross again. If you’ve been redeemed, then you can’t reverse the process and this is in fact an argument against the mere possibility of falling away.

Those are some of the interpretations out there. Again, some just read it as though you can lose your salvation. But I don’t believe that God’s plans can be foiled. If he has chosen you and me, then he has the power keep us in his grasp. I wish I had a plainly obvious way of reading this that would just click. We must read Scripture in light of other scripture which can make things complicated But I believe the greater theme is that of God’s sovereignty.

What I do try to take away is a challenge to remain vigilant. We ought to keep ourselves committed to Christ and to following after his call. We need to be ever vigilant, while also resting confidently in the security that the work of our salvation is thankfully a work wholly of God.

Abundant Life is Not Abundant Possessions

The section we read this week from Luke dealt with possessions in a few different ways. Jesus asks his twelve to go out to proclaim the kingdom of God and tells them to leave behind your possessions–no staff, no bag, no money. When later in chapter ten Jesus sends out seventy-two, his instructions are very similar. He sends them out carrying no stuff.

The Rich Fool thinks swimming in solid gold is a pleasurable experience.

Chapter twelve has the parable of the rich fool, who puts so much stock in what he has today, but forgets that he has no guarantee of his future. The fool puts his present day in order neglecting the eternal and is called out as God says, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

This goes along with the sentiment, “you can’t take it with you.” Why invest so much in what cannot last? Why worry yourselves about things that will perish, while all the while neglecting what will last forever?

The warning is against those who lay up treasure for themselves and are not rich toward God. Being rich toward God matters far more than any other so-called riches, for as it says earlier in the chapter, “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Instead we have life and abundance in Jesus Christ. He says in John 10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

If abundant life is what we seek, we are better to look beyond our stuff. We should look to Christ and set our minds on things that are above, where Christ is, and not to things on earth (Col 3:1-2). Only in that relationship will we be satisfied. That relationship is what lasts and is of eternal value.

The Rock Was Christ

Follow the cross references in your Bibles and see just how Jesus fulfills the story.

Exodus 17:5-6

And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.

1 Corinthians 10:1-4

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

John 4:7-15

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” ( For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

The Story So Far, Week 4

This week we made it through some of the most monumental events in the history of God’s people: their captivity in Egypt, the Passover, and the Exodus. It was a lot to cover in only sixteen chapters. In Luke we see the birth of Jesus and John foretold, people recognize Jesus’ for who he is, whether it is Simeon or shepherds, and Jesus initiates his public ministry with fasting and teaching in the synagogue. We also read the first four of the psalms.

Like in the beginning of the Gospel of John, John the Baptist plays a large part in the opening chapters of Luke. What I love about him is his amazing humility. The people around him see his boldness and how he speaks with authority, and his followers don’t want anyone to detract from his notoriety, but John recognizes that he is only to prepare a way for Jesus. He is unworthy to untie Jesus’ sandals. John’s job, and a job he is delighted to do, is to point others away from himself and to Jesus.

It’s a humility that recognizes that we shouldn’t seek out glory for ourselves or try to claim credit for work that only God can do. God is the center of this whole story.

We see God as the main player in our Old Testament readings. Looking back to Joseph, we saw how only God could bring him from slavery into the courts of Pharaoh, and only God is able to do it again with Moses. Because of the persecution of the people of Israel, when he is just a baby, Moses is set adrift and found in a river. It is the daughter of Pharaoh who finds him, has him cared for, and makes him her son. Joseph and Moses have two very different ways to be brought into Pharaoh’s courts, but God is there in both.

When Moses is called by God to return to Pharaoh’s courts, to the very person who had sought to kill him, again it is only achieved because God is with him. God gives him words, God reveals his name to Moses, he promises he’ll work signs and wonders through Moses, and he even provides Aaron. Moses is a great character from our history, but like John the Baptist, his greatness is only in that he points others to God. There is no way Moses is taking credit for parting the Red Sea. His job is to make sure the world knows that it is our God who has done such a marvelous work.

That is our job as well. We don’t broadcast how great we are or what great things we have done. We just point others to our God and give him credit for all the good things that he has done.