Everyone who believes that l Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (1 John 5:1).
In an earlier article, we discussed major waves and undercurrents that occur in John’s letter. One large wave that occurs regularly is the new birth. The new birth connects a number of major currents throughout his letter. The illustration below identifies these connections.
|New Birth Passage||Connecting Practice
|1 John 2:29||Righteous/Righteousness|
|1 John 3:9 (2 times)||Does not sin|
|1 John 4:7||Love|
|1 John 5:1||Believe|
|1 John 5:4||Overcomes|
|1 John 5:18||Does not sin|
Notice that the sum of the Christian life in the family of God arises from the new birth. Each time John begins a new line of thought, he starts out with the truth of the new birth. Upon viewing how he discusses and applies the new birth, a pattern emerges. The chiasmus defines this pattern. A chiasmus defines the structure of a written work. That written work can be in the form of a song or poem. In the case of John, it appears in this letter.
The chiasmus refers to an inversion structure as shown in the illustration below:
1 John 2:29 – Righteous
1 John 3:9 – Does not sin
1 John 4:7 – Love
1 John 5:1 – Believe
1 John 5:4 – Overcomes (Righteousness implied)
1 John 5:18 – Does not sin
Notice two structural elements about John’s letter. First, he reverses the beginning at the conclusion. When he first addresses the new birth at the beginning, he highlights “righteousness” followed by “does not sin.” At his conclusion, he reverses the order, placing “does not sin” at the conclusion at 1 John 5:18. In arranging his message in such a manner, John emphasizes that living life pleasing to God is one in which one does not practice sin. Not only does he make this statement twice but he also concludes his chiasmus with it for giving greater attention to the believer’s separation from sin.
In the middle of the chiasmus (1 John 4:7; 5:1) where he again refers to the new birth, John cites the two major themes in his letter: love and believe. Righteousness and not sinning, in essence, refer to the same practice of the Christian life. Love and the verb form of faith, believe, come as gifts from God through the new birth. Their close proximity to one another in the letter illustrate that Christians cannot truly love without faith. That faith gives evidence that one knows God (5:8-12). Since both love and faith derive from the new birth (4:7; 5:1), they work together in demonstrating that one truly knows God. That knowledge works its way out on the horizontal plane toward others.
We must realize that there were no chapter and verse divisions in the original letter. These divisions did not arise until the 15th century. Given this as the case, the flow of John’s thought process in his letter naturally followed from the various mentions of the new birth. In other words, statements about the new birth acted as lynchpins for connecting the practices of life before God. The new birth connects righteousness to love and love to faith. Together the life of God shines through in the believer through the expressions of God’s nature and character.
Notice how John treats each practice. They are always in reference to the character and nature of God. In his first mention, John states,
If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him” (1 John 2:29).
The reason we can practice righteousness in the first place is because God is righteous. He showed His righteousness to us in Christ. John just finished discussing another theme of abiding (2:24-28). Righteousness is the practice of abiding or not practicing sin. All three truths refer to the same way of living: abiding (2:24-28), righteousness (2:29), not continuing in sin (3:1-9). The practice of abiding flows naturally into John’s thought of righteousness. The practice of righteousness encompasses the practice of not continuing in sin. All three focus on horizontal relationships within God’s family, leading to the practice of love (3:11-4:12).
This practice of love also arises from the character and nature of God just as righteousness does. Notice how He points to God as the source of love. He must necessarily reveal His love to us for us to learn how to practice it (4:7). As creatures alienated from God, love is not natural to us nor do we truly know how to love. Rather, we pervert it and make it into something it is not – a romantic or emotional notion or something predominately sexual. Not only must He reveal love to us, He must teach us how to love. Jesus revealed God’s love (4:9), and the Holy Spirit teaches us how to love (4:14-17). For this reason, John makes love the core of the new birth. Love reveals the nature and character of God in the new life He gave us. It expresses itself in righteous living toward God and others. It gives us confidence before Him, because it reflects back to Him the essence of who He is.
Although God reveals both righteousness and love, they do not come to fruition until one believes. Knowing God’s righteousness and love arises from faith (5:1-3). However, even this faith has its source in the new birth (5:1). The grammatical tense John uses with his mention of the new birth is the same for every occurrence. He writes with the perfect tense each time he refers to the new birth. The perfect tense in both the Greek and English indicate a past action that continues into the present. John indicates that this action is the new birth. That is, the new birth gives rise not only to righteousness and love but also to faith. We believe as a result of the new birth. Therefore, all the expressions of living the Christian life come from God.
What we are and what we do must arise from God. We would never know how to live life the way God ordained it unless He revealed the characteristics of that life to us. The life of God in us through the provision of Christ’s death and the work of the Holy Spirit gives all we need to live righteously, to love God and others, and to have victory over the evil one. As it works its way from us, the Holy Spirit gives assurance that we belong to God (5:6-8) and grants confidence when we see Him face to face when He comes again. Think on these gifts of God and consider how they show up in your life.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:1-3).
I recently had two Jehovah Witnesses come to the door. After answering the door, one of the men immediately drew out a pamphlet and began handing it to me. I greeted them and then asked the question, “Do you believe in the Trinity?” The reason for this question was twofold: I knew their answer would be “no,” and the Bible raises the Trinity as the basis for the identity and nature of God. The man replied that the Bible does not mention the Trinity. This reply is the spirit of error. It is based on the logical fallacy of argument from absence. That is, just because the Bible does not mention the word “Trinity” does not mean that it does not teach it.
He then surfaced an argument that the Bible says that the Father is greater than the Son without giving reference to or providing any knowledge of context. This Jehovah Witness never even made an attempt to explain what he quoted out of context. It was a statement devoid of reason or thoughtfulness. If we were to arrange this man’s statement in an argument, we can see just how deceptive and unreasonable it is. The below is an example of the reasoning underlying this Jehovah Witness’ statement:
Premise: There is only one God
Premise: He is greater than everything that exists.
Premise: God is greater than the Son
Premise: The Son exists
Conclusion: Therefore, the Son could not be God since His Father, who is God, is greater than Him
Another argument shows how defective the above argument is:
Premise: All humans are of equal kind
Premise: A Catholic priest is human
Premise: A bishop is greater than a priest
Conclusion: Therefore, a bishop is not human
This argument turns on the use of the word “greater,” and assumes it has only a single meaning. Since neither argument defines the term “greater,” both use it to arrive at a false conclusion.
Let us add another premise to the one about the priest:
Premise: All humans are of equal kind
Premise: A Catholic priest is human
Premise: A bishop is greater than a priest
Premise: The pope is greater than a bishop
Conclusion: Therefore, a bishop is not human
Conclusion: Therefore, the pope is neither human nor not non-human (double negative used for showing the irrationality of this type of argument)
Of what kind of existence would that make the pope? A rock? No. Rocks are non-human. A plant? No. Plants are also non-human. This type of logic draws ridiculous and irrational conclusions. Such arguments do not stop the spirit of error from deception. The Jehovah Witnesses and other erroneous cults like them begin from a departure from the truth. From that point they introduce deception in attempts to counter the truth. They prepare their own sacred scriptures, indoctrinate initiates into these deceptions and fallacies, and place the fear of rejection on them if they depart from their teachings.
The spirit of error uses such tactics to draw unsuspecting people away from biblical faith by claiming they are Christian and believe the same Bible. These two tactics actually reduce to the following: the use of logical fallacies for raising deception and twisting the Scriptures. The Apostle John calls the spirit of error deception because it:
Those who hold to biblical faith must be aware of such tactics and be prepared to handle them. Fallacious arguments and simply quoting a passage, with or without citation, on the surface seem to offer sound replies. The spirit of error always attempts to make a lie sound reasonable. However, what seems reasonable coming from the spirit of error is far from truthful.
The Apostle John teaches believers how to discern between truth and error and how to counter the spirit of error. He called upon the believers in Ephesus in his letter of 1 John to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (4:1).
John then identifies the truth by which to test the words of the spirit of error: Jesus came in the flesh. The incarnation identifies the truth of Jesus coming in the flesh. The false teachers of John’s day did not believe He came in the flesh or rose bodily from the dead. The Jehovah Witnesses today hold to a similar belief. Rather, they believed He was an illusion and did not have a physical presence. Of course, this test was not the only one believers can use to test false teachers. They also separate Jesus from the Christ and view each as distinct entities. In doing this, they misuse and misapply the term “Christ” as an equal name like Jesus rather than recognizing it as an office or title. Consequently, they make Jesus an illusion and material being at the same time while identifying the “Christ” as a spiritual being separate and distinct from Jesus. John claims that this spirit of error comes from Satan himself (2:13-14; 3:8-12; 5:18).
This error received the name of Docetism, which derives from the Greek word “dokien,” which means to appear or to seem. The early representation of Gnosticism taught that Jesus did not have a real body, but He was a phantom or illusion. He seemed to be real. They held this position because they believed matter was evil, and Jesus could not have inhabited an evil substance as flesh. Given this conclusion, there was no incarnation or bodily resurrection of Jesus. For this reason, John continued to focus forcefully on the historical bodily appearance of Jesus (1 John 1:1; 2:28; 3:2, 8, 4:1-6) and His physical second coming (2:28; 3:2). Yes, John does teach the second coming of Jesus Christ.
We must be careful when hearing people discuss God, Jesus, the human condition and its remedy. If they raise teachings contrary to the Bible, they are of the evil one and antichrist. If they deny the Trinity and do not hold the final authority of the Scriptures, they are of the evil one and antichrist. If they deny Jesus came in the flesh (incarnation), they are antichrist. If they deny Jesus died for our sins and rose bodily from the grave, they are antichrist. Many from the cults or even among Evangelicals may sound biblical. However, if they use strange or deceptive arguments and misuse the Scriptures to teach what the Bible does not claim, they are antichrist. If they generalize with the Scriptures or engage in Scripture hopping (going from one passage to another without regard for context to prove their position), they are antichrist. If they quote or cite the Scriptures to create new teachings, be careful and listen well.
People use the Scriptures to justify their way of life, behaviors, belief system, and for gaining a following for themselves. The early Gnostics during John’s time did this. Cults today also do this. The best way to counter false teachers is to be knowledgeable of the Scriptures and grounded in sound doctrine. If you hear strange teachings, seek out the view of another you trust and whom you believe knows the Scriptures well. Knowing the Scriptures act as a sound protection against false teachers.
Copyright 2016 Action Faith Books Press
The Apostle John’s writing style presents a number of difficulties for the modern reader. The primary audience knew what he sought to convey due to immediate conflict they had with false teachers in their midst and the cultural setting. These false teachers plagued the church in Ephesus for decades since the Apostle Paul warned the elders prior boarding a ship to leave them for the last time (Acts 20:17-38). Paul informed these elders,
“I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (20:29-30).
These false teachers had a very different message, one that rejected the righteousness of God and depended on self-reliance. They twisted the knowledge and nature of God and sought to stir up dissension with members of the Christian fellowship in Ephesus.
With this history in before them, the audience of 1 John recollected both Paul and John’s teachings on righteous living, brotherly love, and caring oversight both exhibited during their times in Ephesus. When John recalls these teachings in his letter, they connected them to the time he dwelled with them. John appealed to his interaction with them while with them. He wanted to remind them that they knew the truth (1 John 2:13-14, 18, 21), and the Holy Spirit imprinted that knowledge in them (2:20). Although John’s writing style appears meandering to us, it did not appear that way to his original audience because they knew John’s teachings.
However, a closer look of the flow of John’s writing reveals more than a meandering style. An analogy can assist in our understanding of the flow of his message in 1 John 3 as well as with the entire letter. The strong waves seen on the surface of the ocean represent his message. The water through these waves appears powerful and overwhelming as we see each wave strongly reaching their peaks and then gushing robustly toward the shore. However, beneath that surface exists a number of unseen undercurrents that drive the waves. Some undercurrents flow strongly and appear periodically on the surface of the waters, acting as large cresting waves. Other undercurrents flow more subtly. One may not see their strength when viewing the surface from a distance. However, to one in the water, they brush strongly against the body and act like unseen undertows attempting to sweep the person to the bottom. John’s writing style resemble this ocean. His dominant message appears like the strong waves on the surface of the sweeping ocean. The corresponding themes show up like undercurrents, sometimes subtly and sometimes forcefully, as they support the primary message.
In the case of 1 John 3, John stresses righteous living as his primary message. Living righteously is the message of power much like the ocean waves. Several corresponding themes appear like undercurrents in support of this message. They consist of the following:
He connects these themes into a single forceful message through a series of comparisons and contrasts. He also uses them as counterarguments against the false teachers who disturbed these believers. For example, when John writes of the two appearances of Christ (His birth and second coming), John counters the false teaching that Jesus was simply an illusion and not real. John replies with a NO! That is, Jesus did appear physically, and He will appear once again at His second coming. The theme of the appearance of Christ represents John’s counterattack toward the false teachers.
As a thematic undercurrent for his message, John bring up appearance three times, once referring to believers and twice to Jesus. His first use speaks of His second coming (2:28; 3:2-3). With his second use, he refers to the historical event of His first coming or the incarnation (3:5). These two events act as two anchors for hope, faith, the new birth, and loving God and others. The third time John uses the word “appear” he speaks of the believer’s new unknown state when Jesus comes again (2:28). Although the future of our state of being when Jesus returns is unknown, we do know that we will be like Him (3:2).
In his typical style, he reverses the historical order for emphasizing that the motivation for the life of righteousness has its grounds in the hope of Christ’s second coming. For this reason, his writing style appears somewhat meandering. The connections of these themes are subtle in support of his message. Notice how he connects the two. He first states,
“…what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure” (3:2-3).
The false teachers (the early stages of Gnosticism) could not comprehend this physical appearance, because their philosophy of matter as evil and impure caused them to reject the incarnation and the second coming of Christ. The appearance of Jesus, to them, was an illusion. Jesus could not inhabit evil flesh. John emphatically counters their false beliefs about Jesus. Their idea of purity/impurity rested on materialism and not on God’s declaration. God created everything and pronounced them good. Evil entered the picture with humanity’s willful rebellion against and rejection of God.
The false teachers failed to distinguish between the good God created and the act of human rebellion. Rather than seeing the individuals created in the image of God as good, they saw this material creature as evil. Furthermore, rather than recognizing rebellion against God as evil, they rejected such rebellion and consequent sin. Purification according to John is not about the false teaching of separation between the body and spirit but the distinction between living righteously (purity) and living lawlessly (3:3-6), which is the true biblical category. The life of righteousness solidifies hope (3:3). This hope is the anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6:19).
John uses the undercurrent themes to reinforce living between the two comings of Christ – the incarnation as the first coming and Christ’s return to claim all who believe in Him as the second coming. Righteous living occurs between the two appearances of Christ as shown in the following illustration. The events that occur after Christ’s first coming find their source in the work of the Holy Spirit. John earlier wrote,
“But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie— just as it has taught you, abide in him” (2:27).
He affirms this truth later when speaking directly of the Holy Spirit,
“By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit” (4:13)
As the Holy Spirit directs our lives through the process of living for God, we exhibit confidence and assurance (2:28; 3:21; 4:17) so that we will not show shame when Jesus returns the second time to claim all believers. The events between the first and second appearance of Christ lead to righteous living. Righteous living is the primary message John conveys in John 3 and that he threads throughout the letter. It is the mighty and majestic display of the God who gave us birth to His dear children. The events John discusses to support this message are the undercurrents that support and strengthen righteous living. They demonstrate to the world the difference between the children of darkness and the children of God.
Future articles will explore the undercurrents shown in the illustration:
Recently, I had someone ask the question,
By what process do I discern God’s message?”
This question arose from the context of a discussion on a Christian website (The Gospel Coalition, (http://bit.ly/25BQ00I) about transgenderism and God’s acceptance of people regardless of their false beliefs about themselves and God. One person actually commented earlier in the discussion,
Christ accepts us in our current state (which includes any categories mentioned in regards to gender and gender change) because of grace and love. We as ministers of reconciliation are to treat all equally, offering Christs love to believers and non believers alike. Their current state is not as relevant as you might think when it comes to knowing Christ.”
Afterwards, a person needs to devote oneself to the reading and study of God’s word. That is a discovery process, a discovery of the mind of God through the agency of the authors. That is, we must always seek the author’s intent within the contexts in which he speaks. Scripture hoping and proof texting are not valid approaches to the Bible. Those ways are not the ways we read a regular book. We do not isolate a sentence or paragraph from a book’s context and then claim, “To me, in means…”
Devotion to the Scriptures does not simply mean reading and studying the Scriptures, but also applying and obeying them. When we hold to the Bible as nothing more than a “conversation,” we devalue it for our lives and fail to understand how it applies to us. We cannot really know God’s will, though we can understand His message, unless we live faithfully in obedience to him. Obedience by faith gives way to true knowledge (Romans 1:5; 6:16; 16:26). One cannot really know the things and will of God without obedience by faith. One thing neglected in this discussion around “transgenderism” is it ignores God’s will and word, because it rejects it. It also overlooks faithful obedience to God’s will for our identity in favor of one looking inward for a fictitious identity. It does not seek to discover the identity God gave us but rather seeks to establish one’s own. The entire message of 1 Corinthians 2:14 elude those who follow this path. All the arguments in the world for attempting to justify one’s self-identity and lifestyle are arguments that reject God. In essence, they are atheistic. Arguments are not application or living by faith. Arguments over the Bible, lifestyles, and philosophical speculations amount to resistance to God.
What follows the engagement of Scripture is then living by faith. As I mentioned before, faith subscribes repentance. If there is no repentance, there is no faith. They are inseparable. The faith that sets one’s sights on God involves repentance that turns to Him. Arguing over God’s word does not lead to a life of faith but rather to a life of speculative darkness.
The gospel is clear. Christ died and rose again on our behalf to bring about faith in Him and remission of sins. Believing the gospel (good news) leads one from the bad news, the result of rejecting it – eternal death. Read carefully through 1 John, and you will learn how to know God and His will: a) the new birth, b) living by faith (repentance), c) practicing righteousness, and d) loving God and others.
Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you…If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure, that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:24, 29).
One of the major themes in 1 John consists of “abiding.” John’s qualifies his use of the word “abiding” by its fruit, and that fruit rests in the new birth. John wrote to the Church and individuals in it. He addressed false teachers who disturbed the fellowship of community. Along with their false teachings, they saw no use for remaining in fellowship. John set the stage for his discussion on abiding in God by showing the unrighteousness and unfaithfulness of these false teachers,
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).
They left because they were false confessors. Those who fail to confess Jesus do not remain in the fellowship of believers. They stay as long as they get something out of it. They have nothing to keep them committed, because their focus is on themselves and not on Jesus and His Father. Therefore, once people rejected their false teachings, they had no use for the fellowship.
The following chart shows John’s teaching of abiding as opposed to what the false teachers taught.
|ABIDING (2:24)||LEAVING (2:19)|
|Believing truth (2:21)||Believing a lie (2:22)|
|Objective witness of the Holy Spirit (2:20)||Reliance on subjectivism, inner enlightenment|
|Believing Jesus’ incarnation (2:22-23)||Rejecting Jesus – Jesus and the Christ|
|Eternal life (2:25)||Eternal death|
|Christ’s appearance (2:28)||No bodily appearance, an illusion, spiritual|
|Following the new birth (2:29)||Following the flesh|
The expressions of faith in community could not exist if those in it did not abide together. Abiding constituted both a community and an individual application given his focus on those who left (2:19). Abiding together strengthened the bonds of fellowship in community. They all held to common faith and teaching.
For these reasons, John highlighted that these false brethren and teaches left because, as he declared,
“…they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (2:19).
They were unrighteous, not only denying Christ but also rejecting that they were sinners. John gave an earlier counter argument to their dim view of sin (1:8-10). The word “righteousness” carries a sense of both living right and being faithful (1 John 2:29). Righteousness assumes its opposite of living unrighteously or in the presence of sin. These false brethren were neither righteous or faithful.
Abiding in God was crucial for corporate fellowship. Those who adopted a false view of God by denying the Son and the Father placed a dagger in the heart of fellowship. They stirred up controversial teachings and presented a false God and spurious Jesus. Abiding fellowship was not possible with such false teachings.
While John stresses personal abiding, that abiding hinged on God’s work in the person for producing a new birth from which life (2:25; 3:14; 5:11-13), righteousness (2:29; 3:7), and love (3:1, 10) emanate. These three words thread their way through this letter. They express the life of abiding in God. That is, the weight of the abiding life begins with and rests with God. He gives birth, and from birth arises the knowledge of the Father and the Son (2:23-24) with the assurance of eternal life (2:25). Abiding, then, is a fruit of the new birth.
John introduces the theme of abiding prior to his phrase “born of God.” This later introduction of the new birth is a conclusive statement that summarizes the nature and source of abiding in God. Righteousness signifies abiding,
Believers who act righteously in word and deed proclaim their righteous Lord and show the error of the false teachers” (Peter Toon, “Righteousness” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Books, 1996), p. 689).
He intersperses the word “born of God” throughout this letter and associates it with righteousness and love. In doing so, he wants to conclude that the new birth is their source.
His first use of “abide” is in 1 John 2:24,
“Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you” (2:24).
He associates it with his introduction of this letter, “That which was from the beginning” (1:1). What did they hear from the beginning? The message about the real presence of Jesus, the Word of life or the eternal life. Notice how John uses “eternal life” in his introduction of Jesus (1:2) and in this passage (2:25). Because Jesus is the eternal life, we have assurance of eternal life through Him.
In this introduction, John counters the counterfeit doctrine of an illusion of Jesus or at best a simple man and not God. At the beginning of this section (2:18-19), John again raises the folly of the false teachers. They left the community of faith to show that their temporary presence did not reflect abiding in God. Since they did not believe that Jesus actually came in the flesh, they undercut the foundation for the life of faith. Abiding needed something of more substance – the new birth. He concludes this section with the necessity of the new birth,
“If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure, that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him” (2:29).
The new birth is the staying power of faith. Upon first glance, it seems that the practice of righteous gives way to the new birth. Nothing could be further from John’s thoughts. The verb John uses means just the opposite. John uses the perfect tense to express “born of Him.” The perfect tense indicates the continuation and present state of a completed past action. What this means is that this past action was the new birth. This new birth results in continuing to practice righteousness. Practice suggests progress and not perfection. John countered the false teaching of being without sin in the beginning of his letter (1:8-10). In the same way, abiding has its strength in the new birth God gives to us.
Those who deny Jesus is the Christ and came in the flesh lie and do not know or practice the truth (2:21-23). Because they rejected Jesus, they left the fellowship of believers (2:19). They did not know His righteousness, because they did not know Him. They were antichrist (2:18-22), because they held a different view of Him, one contrary to what the Apostles taught, especially John. They did not know birth from God but speculated about the divine spark within. These false teachers focused inward for self- knowledge rather than upward for the knowledge of God found in Christ. Getting in touch with their spiritual origins and destiny through self-knowledge and escape from intellectual error and ignorance was their spiritual birth in a new spiritual body.
Such a philosophy led to the rejection of the true meaning of righteousness, Christ as its source, and the need for abiding in God. John refuted these teachers and claimed they sought to deceive (2:26). He affirmed that those who believed the Son had the anointing, the Holy Spirit, the source of true knowledge. The Spirit will be with them until the final appearance of Jesus (2:28). Abiding in Christ gives assurance and confidence when believers see Him. By stressing Jesus’ physical return (appearance), John jabs at the false spirituality of one’s ultimate destiny in a spiritual divine body. Abiding in God is a vastly different process than these false teachers taught. Theirs focused inward in search of enlightenment through self-knowledge. John taught a focus upward toward the knowledge of God and the practice of God’s righteousness.
As we see from John, his conclusion really gives the anchor for abiding in God,
“…everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him” (2:29).
That is, righteousness comes to fruition through the new birth. In discussing this first instance of the new birth, the first thought that comes to his mind is the knowledge of Jesus. His righteousness stands as the source of the new birth. We understand God’s righteousness through the revelation of Christ. The new birth God brings about in us bears witness to Christ’s righteousness, the faithful Son over the house of God, whose house we are as the author of Hebrews claims (Hebrews 3:2). We would not know righteousness apart from Christ. We would not know Christ apart from the new birth. We could not practice righteousness without being born again. The new birth brings us to its fruit: faith, knowing and practicing righteousness, and love.
These outcomes are impossible within knowing God through the new birth. We express them in community as we show goodness, faithfulness, and love to one another. When we do, we express our commitment to build one another up in faith. The false teachers left, showing their lack of commitment to sound teaching that promoted commitment to loving those in fellowship. Those whom God gives spiritual birth engage in this practice of righteousness, a practice that strengthens fellowship and those in it.
1 John Study Notes“And by this we know we have come to know Him…” (1 John 2:3)
False teachers during John’s time placed knowledge as a high priority in their philosophical worldview. Today, knowledge also rates very high in our contemporary world. In both of these cases, knowledge is superficial with a focus on self-advancement. In John’s time, knowledge emphasized self, mystery, secrets, and initiations into a special group. It placed theory and speculation above the truth of God. Today, knowledge assumes similar qualities. God takes a back seat to secular philosophy, theory, speculation, and self-knowledge.
False teachers then and those of today turn knowledge upside down, placing the knowledge of God lower than alleged knowledge of ourselves. Consequently, a large gap exists between the knowledge of our world (and ourselves in it) and God. This gap has led to the rejection of God and His relationship with the world. The speculations of atheism and evolution express this divide. Both reject God as the source of the world and its moral structures. Therefore, knowledge according to the world has little if anything to do with God and relating to Him. For this reason, John writes,
And by this we know we have come to know Him…” (1 John 2:3)
John saw through the false teachers’ erroneous view of knowledge and sought to correct it. His corrections also apply to the present time. John’s correction of knowledge took a 180-degree turn from the false teachers. The Gnostic philosophy began with self and self-knowledge. John said that there is a great divide between the claim of knowledge of false teachers and the knowledge of God. John turned from the inward (subjective) to God (outward/objective). He declared the knowledge of God has greater importance.
Gnosticism, on the other hand, focused on experience and the spiritual. However, the spirit had a very different meaning than the biblical one. It referred to the deeper level of an individual: the intuitive and unconscious. It was highly subjective, non-specific, and vague. It was within this subjective deeper level one connected with the incomprehensible and undefinable God. Gnostics believed one cannot make the journey toward knowing God until one became an initiate or those spiritually ready to listen to the masters who knew the mysteries or secret traditions. Knowledge consisted of coming to terms with the divine spark within and the escape from ignorance and intellectual error. Knowledge is coming to terms with our origins (true spiritual nature) and destiny. However, we cannot know God and ourselves completely while we dwell in the present material world. He is inaccessible to us in our present material state. According to one view of Gnosticism (Valentinian),
“…God is incomprehensible and cannot be known directly. Therefore he defies accurate description. He is infinite, without beginning or end and is the ultimate origin of all things. He encompasses all things without being encompassed. Everything including the world lies within the deity and continues to be part of it. The Godhead manifests itself through a process of self-unfolding in the subsequent multiplicity of being while maintaining its unity” (“A Brief Summary of Valentinian Theology,” The Gnostic Society Library, http://bit.ly/22jEBk5).
One can see the vagueness of knowledge, because it dwells in the mysterious and in secrecy.
John says NO to this type of knowledge. He claims that knowledge is not vague or secret at all. Rather, God is accessible and knowable while we live in the world. Knowledge does not consist of an inward journey but faith in specific and clear evidences. There is no divine spark within. Knowledge does not begin with the subjective self but it beings with God’s objective revelation and His work in us through the new birth (1 John 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18).
John associates knowledge with several other key truths. These key truths act as John’s rebuttal toward false teachers. The table below shows these truths and the assertions they refute:
John’s Key Truths
Claims of False Teachers (Gnostics)
|Keeping God’s Commands||Seeking the divine inner spark|
|Love God||Self-love; self-awareness; self-knowledge|
|Abiding in Christ||Becoming an initiate into secret knowledge|
|Truth||Intuition and consciousness|
|Light||Enlightenment from inward divine spark|
|External objective knowledge||Internal subjective knowledge|
|God is accessible and knowable||God is inaccessible and unknowable|
|Knowledge is concrete, specific, and clear||Knowledge is vague, non-specific, and secretive|
These key truths give evidence of knowledge. When we think of evidence, we associate it with specific observable data, such as evidence in a court of law or for scientific theory. We view it as that which supports a claim or argument for events. For example, the evidence for gravity is the event of dropping a heavy object, and it drops to the ground (unless it is a helium balloon).
Although John does not use evidence in exactly the same way, it is analogous. The evidence for knowing God is keeping His commandments. When people see that we live by what God says in the Bible, they say, “That person must know God. He gives evidence by following God.” The same holds true with evidence of love, truth, and light. Enlightenment comes from following the light, which is the nature of God. When we walk into the light, it shines all around us, and we are walking in it. That light makes our way clear, and we do not want to go off the path into the darkness. We know what is true when we follow it. Truth, light, and love are objective qualities found in God. Those who keep God’s commandments show they know the truth and that it dwells in them. Those who love God and others give evidence that they know God’s love:
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
God’s love shines from them. We do not fall in love. God’s love is no romantic notion that makes us swoon. Love is not a feeling we learn, simply words on a Valentine card, ecstasy, an inspiration, or a poem as Plato claimed. There is no vagueness or mystery about love. John makes clear about love and brings it out of the realm of some mystery into the light where we can know it. Since God is love, the new birth grants us knowledge of His love so that we may share it with others (1 John 4:7).
After correcting the teaching of false teachers, John turns to its dimensions in the lives of those to whom he writes. He recognized that those in his audience were at different stages of their Christian lives. He wanted to address all of them in a way that highlighted what they knew, what was important in their knowledge, and that knowledge leads to spiritual progress. He also wanted them to understand the primary reason for him writing them: their progress rested on clear knowledge at all stages of their lives. According to John, knowledge and it practice were inseparable. It found its source in God’s commandment of loving one’s brother (1 John 2:7-11). Such love is true enlightenment as opposed to the elusive and mysterious false enlightenment of seeking the divine spark within. Self-seeking rather than loving another motivated this false enlightenment. It was an “all about me” philosophy. John claimed emphatically that love was all about God and others. It did not begin from within. Rather, it began with God loving us, showing that love committed oneself to God and others.
Those he wrote were real people at various stages of spiritual growth. He wanted to address how knowledge of God expressed itself in various stages of their lives. Within his audience were fathers, young men, and children. The fathers were those who had known God for a number of years and they had well established faith. These young men knew the Scriptures well and applied them in becoming strong in faith. These children had come to know God as their Father and His loving forgiveness. He wrote to them as one congregation with one message: Knowing and loving God is the highest pursuit for believers for all ages and stages of spiritual maturity. To both the fathers and children John points to God the Father. To the young men, he stresses the practice of biblical faith and its results: strength in God’s Word and overcoming “the evil one” (2:13-14).
What do we learn from John’s teaching? The knowledge of God depends on truth. This means rejecting false teachers, and embracing and growing in the knowledge of God. This growth involves focusing on God the Father and the word of God. A sixteenth theologian wrote the following:
“…no one can look upon himself without immediately turning his thoughts to the contemplation of God…it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating Him to scrutinize himself” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, McNeill Edition, pp. 35, 37).
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Today, as in times past, biblical Christians face an onslaught of false teachings from those who claim to teach the Word of God. There are numerous gospels within mainline denominations and cults. Many whole denominations have followed the way of the world and adopted beliefs, lifestyles, and behaviors contrary to biblical faith. They have followed the siren sound of worldly philosophies brought forward from centuries and millenniums before. For this reason, Christians must keep their ears and eyes open for distinguishing between falsehood and truth. The Apostle John gives bold warning in his letter of 1 John concerning those who seek to bring their false teachings within churches,
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1, ESV).
An insidious philosophy had taken hold in the time of Jesus and the Apostles brought in from Greek philosophy (Plato) that proposed a dualistic way of viewing existence. Jews and Christians alike were not immune to its lure. It espoused philosophical beliefs foreign to Judaism and biblical faith. This dualism identified a spiritual side and a material side, hence dualism. The spiritual was perfect and pure while the material was corrupt and evil. False teaches came into Christian fellowships and disrupted them with this dualism.
The Apostles John and Paul wrote letters warning their congregations of the deception of this sinister Greek false teaching. John devoted the entire letter of 1 John tearing down the walls of its deception and exposing its philosophical errors. He leaves us with some very important keys for alerting us of modern day religious philosophies that operate under the cloak of deceptions. These keys enable us to gain greater understanding of 1 John. This letter shows us how John engages in corrective teachings that preserve the gospel’s message. He brings these corrective teachings to application in our relationship with God and other Christians. These keys for understanding John’s letter consist of the following:
This Greek philosophy was the early stages of Gnosticism. This Gnosticism held to a secret knowledge (Sophia) meant only for the initiates whom its teachers guided into a process of self-knowledge. This secret knowledge was associated with an inward divine spark that led to one understanding one’s spiritual origins. Light constituted this divine spark, and darkness was simply intellectual error and not really sin. John fought back against six major errors Gnosticism brought into the early Church related to this secret knowledge. All of them related to a subjective way of truth as opposed to objective truth found in Jesus. They consisted of the following:
John not only wants believers to recognize the false claims from false teachers but also desires us to counter and refute them through acknowledgement, practice, and defense of the truth in our own community of faith. That is the reason he begins this letter as he does. Therefore, from the beginning words of his letter to the conclusion John’s defense of the truth about Jesus is of the highest importance because of its consequence on relationships with God and others. Who and what these first century believers believed influenced the way they lived their lives. His counterarguments to the six false doctrines of Gnosticism consisted of the following:
JESUS – John stressed that the real Jesus dwelled among humanity in flesh and blood (Incarnate) (1 John 1:1-2. Jesus was not an illusion but a real person. No cosmic spiritual “Christ” existed. Jesus came as Christ (Messiah). To believe otherwise denied the Incarnation, resurrection, the eternal life, redemption and mediation, and fellowship with the Father, five foundational truths of faith.
KNOWLEDGE – Knowledge was NOT some internal secret self-knowledge, self-actualization (Sophia), or enlightenment through an initiation (subjectivism). It is not the means of getting in touch with the divine spark (light) within for discovering our spiritual origins and destiny. Rather, true knowledge is the knowledge of the personal God (objective) with whom we have fellowship and whom Jesus came to reveal (1 John 1:3; 2:3-4, 13; 4:7; 5:20).
SPIRITUALITY – True spirituality is not something we strive to attain through escape from material evil and secret knowledge (subjective) but a result of the new birth from God (objective) leading to faith, obedience, and righteousness (1 John 2:29; 3:9; 5:4).
LIGHT – Light is not some internal divine spark of higher consciousness meant for select initiates through which we attain when we escape ignorance. It is not some sense of the mysterious destiny of ultimate purity and perfection when we come into complete self-knowledge of pure mind once one escapes the material world. John declares God is light; it is His very nature where no darkness at all dwells (1 John 1:5) in which He has called us to walk in obedience (1:7) in love of God and fellow believers (1 John 3:1). There is nothing mysterious about walking in light, because it is summed up in the New Commandment of love toward God and others (1:7; 2:9-10).
RIGHTEOUSNESS – Righteousness is not reaching some higher consciousness and perfection through self-knowledge. Rather, it is a practice of life resulting from the new birth (1 John 2:29; 3:7, 10). This righteousness exhibits itself in love for fellow believers and being faithful to God (3:9-10).
MORALITY – Morality is not casting off the restraints of the material world and rising to a higher consciousness. It is not being in touch with our spirit selves and denying sin as that which is associated with the material world. Rather, morality is living righteously (faithfully) toward God.
As we can determine in our reading through 1 John, John’s response is hard hitting and specific against the treacherous and cryptic teachings of the false teachers. These false teachers are attractive because they cloak their teachings in enigma. Their teachings are all about the inward and subjective while they ignore objective truth and clarity. Secrecy, the intellect, escapism from reality, and the higher consciousness are the essence of their philosophy. The elements of Gnosticism have made their inroads into philosophy, religions, and psychology.
Cults as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, and the New Age movement have adopted many of Gnosticism’s beliefs and teachings. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe Jesus was God, but rather view Him as a lesser god much like the demiurge of Gnosticism. It also denies Jesus’ physical resurrection. Rather, He rose spiritually, a Gnostic belief. Mormons deify humans and make God human according to one of their prophets who claimed, “As man is now, God once was; as God is now, man may be.”
The New Age movement harbors all sorts of cult and occult beliefs and doctrines. One of the underpinnings of the New Age movement is Gnosticism’s strands of beliefs. Both the New Age and Gnosticism holds to mysteries, hidden knowledge, and “enlightened minds.” It encompasses the psychological philosophy of psychologist Carl Jung and the metaphysics of Theosophy, Scientology, and Christian Scientists. It encompasses astrology and numerous pagan practices. It has captured whole denominations, such as the Presbyterian Church USA and its Re-Imagining Conference in 1993 with its symbol of Sophia. While the denomination rejected the Conference then, it continued to hold to the Sophia symbol as one of worship in its continuing “Voices of Sophia Breakfast” in the denomination’s General Assembly.
Such inroads into mainstream denominations and Christian fellowships should alert us to the dangers of ancient religious philosophies posing as Christian and secretly coming into Christian congregations, disrupting and dividing believers. We must read John’s letter carefully to become aware of these dangers and guard ourselves against them. John informs us,
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
Not much in philosophy has changed over the millenniums. The same false teachings continue to rear their ugly heads in different ways. Beware of them! Hold tightly to John’s warning, listen closely to similar sounding ideas that resemble Christian theology, search the Scriptures, and ask questions. Many who come in the name of Christ raise false imitations and counterfeits, which sound like Christian teaching. They offer things like higher consciousness, the higher life, deeper spirituality, inner enlightenment, secret knowledge, divine spark, entry into mysteries, self-actualization, and inward-focus. They imitate, impersonate, mimic, and copy biblical faith. In the end, these false prophets give a foreign Jesus and lead astray into false teachings of demons (1 Timothy 4:1).
 Phil Johnson, “What’s New with the New Age? Why Christians Need to Remain on Guard Against the Threats of New Age Spirituality,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 10:4 (Winter 2006), pp. 76-78.
 Ibid, 76.
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, concerning the Word of life—” (1 John 1:1, NKJV)
If Jesus appeared to the world today, would he be whom people imagined Him?
The Apostle John begins this letter of 1 John in a rather strange way that most people today do not do when writing to someone. However, he had a purpose for this beginning. Philosophers of his time began teaching a very different Jesus than He whom the disciples knew. A substantial amount of time had passed, substantial in terms of John’s life but seemingly short considering the brief amount of time it took for these philosophies about Jesus to take hold. Their underlying tenets survived for a couple of centuries since their formulation.
John gives insight into the basis for these philosophies. A battle ground existed that dates back the Greek philosopher Plato. Plato taught a metaphysical dualism that subscribed to the physical or seen and the intellectual or unseen. The physical dealt with the senses and material objects. The intellectual dealt with knowledge and the mind. Many variations of Platonism arose over the centuries up to the time of the Apostle John and beyond. These variations never really disappeared, but they lay dormant until another religious variation adopted them and brought them up to date in current religious practices. These variations exist today in a number of forms and practices, such as with different philosophies of the New Age movement.
One major practice that arose during the first century and continues today is Gnosticism. It integrated one of the major tenets of Platonism, dualism, and posed a major threat to the faith Jesus and His disciples taught. This dualism saw spirit and the material world as incompatible. Spirit is pure while the material world is corrupt. Jesus could not have come in the flesh without becoming tainted and corrupted. Therefore, He remain a spirit and never came in a human body.
John took up his apologetic arguments against this strain of Gnosticism. He exposed how it committed theft of Jesus and incorporated Him into its religious philosophy through splitting Him apart by denying His physical appearance and accepting Him only as a spirit. This threatened the gospel and its central truth of the incarnation. That is, Jesus came among humanity in human flesh, a body like ours. He knew and experienced suffering and pain. People saw and touched Him. He enjoyed a good meal with His friends and family. His own race of people condemned Him, and the Romans executed Him, hanging His tangible body on the cross to bleed and die. Men placed His body in the grave, but He physically rose from it to life once again. Gnosticism denied this Jesus.
The errors that crept into this infant church sought to undermine the gospel. These errors encompassed the following:
The dangers of these beliefs are the denial of the deity of Jesus, the incarnation, the resurrection of Jesus for victory over sin and death, and the practice of self-righteousness. This self-righteousness expresses itself in the pride of life (1 John 2:16), a condescension toward others that shows through a lack of love (1 John 3:1-10), and unrighteousness, leading to the denial of sin among the initiates or disciples of Gnosticism (1 John 1-10; 3:4-10). These insidious errors in theology and practice lead one away from God and his beloved children who know Him through faith (1 John 2:18-19). Those who deny Jesus is the Christ, without splitting Him into two parts, separate themselves from those whom these initiates consider uninformed and unenlightened.
Therefore, the initiates will have nothing to do with them (believers in the gospel John taught) because they remain in their evil of a lack of self-knowledge. Self-love becomes a substitute for divine love so that the commandment of love reduces love to the condition of enlightenment on a higher plane of knowledge that separates the spiritual from the material. This love is pure spiritual love based on separation from the material. Those who have not reached this higher plane have not arrived at this distinctive love with its basis in secret self-knowledge and self-righteousness. This kind of knowledge and righteousness reduces love to a feeling and mysticism that romanticizes it through the inner divine spark and an internal focus. It is not a love found in the rough and tumble of the physical world but on a higher plane of the spirit, the ideal, separate from evil material. This love (Akhana) is connected more to some sort of ethereal (other worldly) wisdom (Sophia) born out of eroticism rather than the biblical sacrificial love of agape or philos. It focuses on self rather than others and eventually becomes destruction and alienating. Those who follow this kind of love walk away from other Christians and subsequently biblical faith altogether. Because biblical Christians do not participate with the more enlightened, they deserve to be left.
The Apostle John’s warnings throughout this short letter of 1 John should give us pause concerning the errors that creep into our lives. They lead us away from Jesus Christ to another gospel and cause us to separate ourselves from other believers. Many in churches and Christian fellowships throughout history have adopted the errors of Gnosticism without realizing it. They believe in some sort of higher plane of secret knowledge that causes a separation of spirit from the physical world, relegating the entire physical world to evil and prizing a romantic type of secret knowledge. They attain this secret knowledge only through some sort of initiation of ecstatic feeling, higher wisdom, deeper knowledge or similar means. These who have not reached this higher plane have not attained a true spirituality that results in living apart from all known sin.
This describes a modern rendition of Gnosticism, one that also needs confronting with the same truths John used to refute and renounce the errors of his day. We do this through acknowledging our sinful condition and our confession of it while recognizing that Christ alone is our focus and source of forgiveness. We also do this by faith and fellowship, two central truths the Apostle John clearly teaches. This faith is in the clear teaching of Scripture and not in secret wisdom on some spiritual higher plane meant only for those who attain a higher level of spiritual knowledge (gnosis), abstinence, and separation based on self-love and self-righteousness.
This fellowship means commitment to love others, to participate in their lives, and to contribute to their spiritual growth. This fellowship is not “what I can get from the church or small group” but rather how can I give myself to others in an exchange of open and transparent knowledge of Jesus and His word. In this fellowship, there is no secret knowledge of dreams, vision, or other revelations meant only for a few initiates. There is not cliquishness that causes separation.
These philosophical strains of Gnosticism are dangerous to the Church and the fellowship and love we share with one another that raises some above others. Rather we follow the real Jesus and not some imaginary philosophical one that departs from what the Scriptures clearly teach of Him. This real Jesus leads to a true bond of fellowship around clearly communicated Scripture that reveals a transparent Savior who came in the flesh, participated in our humanity, was executed, rose from the dead, and remains our living Advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1-2). Through Him, we have genuine and transparent fellowship that leads to a life of joy (1 John 1:4).
Yesterday many worldwide commemorated Maunday Thursday. Many others pass over it and set their sites on Good Friday and Easter Sunday on which children run around in parks and back yards to locate colored eggs an Easter bunny hides. The days that precede Easter are those for shopping for new colorful clothes, eggs to paint, and delicacies for a gourmet lunch or dinner. The meanings and messages of Maunday Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter become lost in the frenzy.
Just before His crucifixion and before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus gathered His disciples together for His last devotional with them. Judas prepared to betray Him. Peter exhibited pride when Jesus came to wash his feet. Jesus agonizingly shared about the imminent betrayal, and His disciples acted stunned. Who? Judas rose and left with more love for money than His Lord. After Judas left, Jesus gave His mandatum (Latin for commandment from which comes Maunday) with the remaining eleven disciples,
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Prior to giving them this command, Jesus informed them, “Where I am going, you cannot come” (13:33). It seemed that they were not listening to the command. Peter’s focus was on what Jesus said about leaving, and He spoke for the rest of them, “Lord, where are you going?”
What grabs my attention when Jesus speaks, when I read His words in this passage and in others? Initially, it is the theological, the scenery, what happens in the passage, little tidbits. At times, I do not stop to ponder the primary thing, and it passes right by me.
Whole churches place the feet above the will and what the day represents. They make feet washing a ceremony and ritual while ranking the mandatum or commandment of lesser importance. Others assign “holy” to it and refer to Thursday as Holy Thursday, while rituals surround this naming. Still others (Czech Republic and Slovakia) call it Green Thursday as symbolic of the meal eaten of fresh green vegetables. In other nations (Netherlands and Belgium) it is White Thursday representing the liturgical color of the day. Sweden associates it with witchcraft on which children dress up as witches, knock on doors and exchange eggs for coins or candy. In Great Britain, the Queen hands out 90 coins to women and 90 to men. The day becomes a religious holiday for a number of churches. Consequently, for many, ritual and religious ceremony take higher importance than the name signifies. Jesus’ commandment gets passed over in favor of myth, ritual, or unrelated activities.
I hope it does not get lost with me. How about you?
More often than not, Easter messages focus on the gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, and rightly so. These are historical accounts narrating the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Less frequently do messages arise from the various New Testament letters and the Acts of the Apostles. Luke, Paul, Peter, James, and John take up the historical event of the resurrection and bring its significance to bear on the life of faith.
One cannot read these letters without recognizing the resurrection’s strong strand. It weaves through the message of the authors as they show how this historical event proclaims liberty to the captives and “the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isaiah 61:1) as Jesus announced (Luke 4:18).
One of the great truths of the resurrection is freedom. Before the resurrection of Jesus, His disciples failed to understand such freedom. They viewed it in terms of a material kingdom rather than spiritual life. Tradition dictated their view of the external rather than the internal. However, afterwards, they could not hold back this lofty truth.
A walk through the New Testament reveals narration of the historic event of the resurrection and its application to a life of faith. Truth stands on history and not fiction. History builds a mountain of evidence on which biblical faith rests. Without historical evidence, faith would be futile and freedom would be a mirage or relative to how one defines it. Biblical faith leads to freedom because God intervened in history, interacted with humanity through Jesus, and brought Jesus from death to life through His unsurpassed power. Freedom stands on this mountain of evidence.
What then is this freedom? The gospels narrate the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Jesus also left traces of the meaning of freedom through His sermons (Luke 4:18-19). However, the apostles expanded at length on this freedom arising from Jesus’ resurrection. Throughout their letters, resurrection dominates. It is the center of their messages. However, how does resurrection link to and bring freedom?
In the middle of presenting the gospel to the Church at Rome, Paul gives a sublime example. He takes the reader from an intentional self focused to a resurrection focused excursion. This self focus serves to make a point at the conclusion of the chapter,
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
What death? The death to which Paul refers is that which prevents him from living upright, good, and pleasing to God. This body of death is that which sin rules. Notice the number of times Paul uses “I” and “me” prior to crying out this statement and question. Immediately following these, he pivots from the “I” and “me” to gratitude for the resurrection. He boldly pens,
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4).
He crowns his declaration of freedom with the following statement,
If the Spirit of a him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (8:11).
Resurrection is the pinnacle of the argument Paul applies and the foundational doctrine for living the Christian life. The resurrection means no longer being in debt to the flesh but living by the teaching and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Resurrection life now is a mere taste of the glory reserved for us when we meet our Savior face to face. The song “Blessed Assurance” highlights this taste in its lyrics:
“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh what a foretaste of glory divine!
The resurrected Jesus imparts to us the resurrected life to whet our appetite for all God has prepared for us in His presence.
Resurrection brings life and liberty. Easter is an everyday occurrence and not just once yearly. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead brings about a different life than the self-focused one. The old life bound us to the disdainful beatings we may give ourselves of hopelessness, despair, shame, dread, and trash talk under which we bury others and ourselves. At times, the old life also attempts to elevate us above our peers through boasting, smugness, strife, anger, envy, greed, and division. This, too, is bondage to fantasy and self. However, Paul claims that the same power that raised Jesus from death enables us to be free from those things that hold us in bondage.
When we cry out like Paul, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” the answer immediately registers, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ out Lord!” (7:25). The answer does not stop there, just as the Easter message does not stop with one day,
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do” (8:1-3).
How often do we live under self-condemnation, ripping others and ourselves apart when others or we fail, fall, or falter? Christ’s resurrection took care of this condemnation and corresponding way of life. While in this present body, we continue to struggle with these burdens of our existence. However, hope in the Easter message illustrates faith in Him for continued deliverance and assurance that Christ paid the price for all our sin. The Easter message proclaims that through the new birth we possess resurrected spiritual life from God. Consequently, the power of resurrection and its corresponding new life increasingly energizes and spurs us to live for Him. “Increasingly” suggests missteps along the way, but these missteps do not stop God from conforming us to the image of His resurrected Son.
Freedom begins with salvation. Salvation is almost a lost word, because many have lost sight of what precedes it: the gravity of the human condition. Humanity is in bondage. We understand bondage from looking out on our world. It exists visibly in human slavery that still prevails in many nations. People take others into captivity and strip them of everything they have.
A more insidious bondage survives that of human slavery: bondage to internal evil we afflict on ourselves and others resulting from spiritual death due to natural rebellion against God. This natural rebellion results in known and seen characteristics in everyone throughout the world: hatred, greed, rebellion, immorality, murder, strife, deceit, and maliciousness. The Bible calls this sin. It all begins from within us.
Salvation is deliverance from all this sin and the power to live right with God. This is a liberty greater than freedom from human slavery, because it is spiritual freedom exceeding the material and lasts for an eternity. The power God gives to live in freedom is the same power God exercised for raising Jesus from death. When God imparts a new spiritual life (resurrection) from spiritual death within us, He gives the power to live that new life. Freedom begins for us with that power.
Good Friday precedes the resurrection, just as our good God existed from eternity before He pronounced His created works good. Goodness in God precedes the greatness of His works, especially the grand finale of the resurrection. The Apostle Paul declared this resurrection arrived at the proper time, in the proper place, and through the proper Person – Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5-6). Goodness does not stand alone, but it is bound to our good God.
On that first Good Friday, the tragic circumstances of the death of Jesus left the disciples in deep despair. All they could think about immediately following Jesus’ death was themselves, their predicament of being a dead man’s disciples, and their own prospects of death. That despair festered like an ulcer. They initially saw no good in Jesus’ death but certain bondage to chains and ultimately the grave. They forgot their good God and His sovereign hand. They cast aside all they heard from Jesus. Fear ransacked their spirits. They could not fathom how Jesus’ words could ring true: His return, His Father’s house, His kingdom. Good Friday was not good for them. They later discovered the truth of resurrection.
God’s goodness transcends despair, tragedy, hopelessness, weakness, tears, fear, failure, and frailty. Just as God raised Jesus from the dead the third day, His power also raises us up from the bondage of emotional turmoil, doubt, dismay, and unbelief. Liberty means God refocusing our eyes off ourselves and on the resurrected life He gives when He raises us from spiritual death to new life He promised in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Easter celebrates the resurrection life and turns despair and dismay into hope and joy:
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5)
Easter is that morning that took the disciples ( and us with them) from mourning to joy. God wakes us up through a new life to smell the freedom air of the resurrection.
While some assert that Christianity stole the idea of resurrection from various mystery religions featuring a dying and rising figure, the Gospel accounts breathe a far different air – the air of factual actuality, of datable, verifiable history” (Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics).
Consider the claim of theft. Someone in the distant past develops a religious teaching about people coming back to life. Another religious teacher elsewhere at a different time or concurrently speaks of people returning to life. Still another guru or religious master passes on what he heard from another about a cycle of death and life then death again and life in another form. Today, we refer to this type of teaching as reincarnation. As oral traditions arise from the past from a number of sources, the stories in those traditions change through secondary and tertiary retelling of the stories.
While these secondary sources arise from an original, the primary thought of someone returning to life is a common theme. Is the theme just as false as the stories surrounding the theme? Is there any evidence for the original claim although details change over time through a variety of sources? Was there an actual event that gave rise to the various stories? If not, how did the idea of someone returning to life enter individual thoughts?
These questions about resurrection from death is similar to the question, “If God did not exist, would we have to invent Him?” That is, if the idea of resurrection did not have its source in reality or history, would someone have to imagine it and spin it into a legend, fable, or myth? If nothing existed to give rise to the idea of resurrection, how could one spin a legend, fable, or myth around non-existence? The same thinking arises concerning God. If someone invented God, as atheists claim, how did the notion of God even arise in our thoughts if He were simply an invention and not part of existence? The parallel between an actual resurrection and the existence of God are worth exploring for arriving at the truth about them, especially the resurrection of Jesus. They are two indispensable claims underlying the Christian faith.
If they can be shown to be valid, then such faith has solid and sure support. If no evidence exists for either, then the Christian faith would be vain as Paul noted (1 Corinthians 15:13-17). Both claims depend on history and not imagination or fiction. Truth cannot arise from fiction. Such foundations are unlike other world religions because historicity is not so instrumental to them. One could remove the idea of reincarnation (fiction) from the religions that claim it, and those religions would not necessarily fall. They would simply revise their teachings to accommodate another idea and integrate this idea with existing beliefs. That occurs frequently in religions over the span of time as religious teaching change over time. Their tenets change to integrate current philosophies.
On the other hand, the teachings of God and resurrection have never departed from biblical faith. Granted, many who bear the name Christian have ceased to believe in the historical resurrection (i.e., Paul Tillich (1886-1965, John Hick (1922-2012), John Shelby Spong (1931-)). However, it does not depart altogether. Resurrection echoes from the beginning of time. This article will later explore this fact. In many Christian segments that reject the historical resurrection, it still remains as a symbol and attaches to a belief system within those Christian segments. However, does such symbolic attachment discount or rule out God’s existence and the resurrection?
Let us consider these two claims. One, the resurrection, depends on the other, God’s existence. According to naturalists, both seemingly defy the way the natural world works. Notice the disclaimer in the previous statement: “seemingly.” Does the material order refute God and the resurrection? Do the laws of the natural order rule out God and resurrection? Douglas Groothuis does not believe the natural order rules them out. He makes the following statement:
But miracles do not break natural laws. The day Christ raised Lazarus, people all over the world were still dying and staying dead. The law of nature had not changed. But natural laws speak only to natural events. Supernatural events are outside of their purview” (Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, IVP Academic, 1988, Kindle, Location 5764-5765).
C. S. Lewis expands on the issue of miracles of which the resurrection of Jesus is one,
“The divine art of miracles is not an art of suspending the pattern to which events conform but of feeding new events into the patterns” (C. S. Lewis, Miracles, Harper, 1974, Kindle, p. 95).
Lewis provides the example of natural law’s pattern of cause and effect to support his claim. That is, one of the laws of nature is cause and effect (If A then B). He claims that a miracle does not suspend this law but rather has a cause with a corresponding effect and therefore abides by it. The “new event” is not A in this case but A2, that is God as the cause with the corresponding event as the miracle (B2). This miracle occurs “according to Natural law,” Lewis claimed. However, he goes on to say,
Its peculiarity is that it is not in that way interlocked backwards, interlocked with the previous history of Nature” (p. 95).
He adds that naturalists have a problem with and cannot tolerate such logic. The reason why is that they begin with rejecting God as the Creator and believe that Nature is the sum of existence. In rejecting His existence, they refuse to accept that this God they consider non-existent could intervene in Nature with an event consistent with Nature (birth, death, and life). Consequently, they lock themselves into a closed system that excludes anything that does not fit their materialist worldview. That is, material is the sum of all existence, and there is nothing beyond the material. That means the supernatural.
Let us consider the question, “How did the idea of someone returning to life enter individual thoughts?” We know that ideas of resurrection came about prior to Jesus. Religious leaders (Pharisees) of His time believed in it. Did the resurrection of Jesus arise from myth or was it a true historical event given the preexistence of the idea of resurrection? We need only return to the beginning of creation to discover seeds of resurrection. Consider the creation. God created life from nothing (lifelessness) by speaking (Genesis 1-2). We read of a parallel when Jesus spoke and raised Lazarus from death (John 11). Abel presents a motif of resurrection. The letter of Hebrews reads,
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4).
We also discover the theme of resurrection in the historical account of Abraham of which the letter of Hebrews also testifies,
Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore” (Hebrews 11:12).
Again, the author writes of Abraham,
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead” (Hebrews 11:17-19).
Elijah brought a widow’s son back to life (1 Kings 17:17-24). The creation was not myth. Abel, Abraham, and Elijah were not myths. History left traces of resurrection that all pointed to the single historic event of Jesus rising from death. Individuals embraced the resurrection because God Himself left traces of it in His own works and through actual events. Creation, Abel, and Abraham represent God’s works while Elijah exhibits an actual ancient biblical event. Jesus’ resurrection did not depend on myths, fables, or legends. God intervened in events prior to Jesus’ resurrection. The history of the resurrection of Jesus rested on God and His intervention in historical events. This intervention confirms that God works in history to demonstrate His power not only in events that preceded Jesus but also with the resurrection of Jesus..
We may ask those who reject God to explain chance and accidents and how the principle of these events is any different from explaining miracles. Are “accidents of nature” and chance just as inexplicable as a miracle from their perspective? Many new occurrences today baffle scientists and doctors just as others did centuries ago. However, new discoveries explain the inexplicable of a century or two ago, but today’s undiscovered or unknowns remain just as puzzling as unknowns did to those in the past. However, one variable could always exist: there may never be a discovery that explains all unknowns due to the temporal restraints of our finite being and the limitations of the tools available now or in the future. Speculation rules over unknowns among the finite. Just because the resurrection cannot be explained today by known natural laws does not mean that it can never be explained by any existing laws. God’s laws of all existence exceed natural laws. If scientists cannot explain chance and accidents they consider within the the natural world, how then can they explain laws beyond the natural existence? To reject God is just as irrational as believing in chance or accidents.
His intervening acts with us are of a supernatural sort that requires a different kind of explanation, the supernatural, just as those beyond our grasp as so-called accidents or chance does to the naturalist. By the very definition of accident and chance, naturalists seem to suspend cause and effect, whereas miracles do not. Chance cannot cause anything unless it has intelligence to give direction and will things to happen. An accident is its corollary. Neither can cause anything. Yet naturalists want us to believe that chance prompted (caused) an evolutionary outburst (effect).
All the while, they reject the source (God) that gives way to the natural law of cause and effect. They reject Him while calling Him to mind and making mention of him. One cannot think or speak of that which does not exist. Thinking assumes knowledge. There is no knowledge in non-existence. However, when those who reject God think of Him, they affirm what they deny.
The rejection of God in favor of chance places those who reject Him in the precarious position of also rejecting and suspending the laws of nature (that is, cause and effect). God does not suspend the laws of nature with the resurrection of Christ from death. Rather, He worked within those laws. Douglas Groothuis asserts that people still die. That law remains the same. God (the supernatural Cause) intervened to raise Jesus from death. On the other hand, chance remains chance regardless what naturalists desire to impute to it – some sort of causal agent. We must ask ourselves which is the most rational, the causal agent of God or an event lacking cause and effect – chance.
Since God is the Creator, He is beyond the entire created order. As the Creator, He then holds sway over the created (natural) order and its corresponding laws. He created those laws. Therefore, the natural order and the supernatural order both exist. God consists of the supernatural order . With such a scenario, chance and accidents are not options. Cause assumes a determinant, which is an agent that places something in motion for the desired effect. God has not endowed some event called chance with directional capacity. Accidents do not just happen, because all things are within God’s purview and control.
God is not only the Creator but also the Redeemer. What is a Redeemer? Redeem means to purchase back. The Law of Moses revealed the meaning of this kind of purchase (Exodus 13:13; 34:20; Leviticus 25:25-26; Numbers 18:15). Why redemption? The human condition called for it. All chose to go their own way, away from God. God took the initiative to intervene and revealed His redemptive hand in the Law of Moses. He also revealed the way through a Redeemer, His only Son, whom He sent into the world to purchase back those sold to slavery to rebellion and their waywardness. Their penchant for rebellion and condition prevented them from coming to God on their own. They needed a Redeemer. Jesus came and lived in the form of man, was executed, and came back to life.
The resurrection affirms two truths for those who believe in Jesus. First, death has died. Jesus showed He had life in Himself by rising from death (John 5:26). Death had no hold on Him. This truth is a “far different air,” as Groothuis claims, than mythical stories of resurrection. No material being has life in itself. All life derives from God. All other so-called stories of resurrections were myth while having their roots in historical reality. There was no theft from other religions. Rather other religions distorted the truth and created fiction. That truth resided in historical events with the grandest truth being Jesus’ resurrection.
Second, Jesus’ resurrection was the true life from death, the historical event that changed all history. Given His resurrection as a true historical event God determined from all eternity, what weight does that carry with us? Faith in Jesus means all the world and eternity for us, for that faith also transports us to new life from spiritual death and after death. Chance has no basis in history. There would be no history by chance. The living God controls history and set the course of redemption in motion with its fulfillment in Jesus’ resurrection. The living God and the resurrection are inseparable essentials. Are you willing to bet the rest of your life and eternity on chance? Paul wrote,
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
Paul discusses two outcomes resulting from the resurrection of Jesus: judgment for those who reject Him and assurance of life for those who believe Him. Place your wager.
Rabbi Breitowitz, former professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, recently gave a speech about the difference between religion and science. In it, he attempted to distinguish between two types of realities as explained from two perspectives: religion and science. However, he begins with a faulty premise by claiming that religion and science address two different types of realities: one the “what” (science) and one the “why” (religion). These types are vague claims and not knew. What is “type”? Those who believe in evolution as the explanation of origins also make such a claim while using the claims of science. This claim creates a bifurcation with reality – that is what exists, and runs in conflict with Torah itself.
Here is the link to Rabbi Breitowitz’s speech video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hvrv94sl-Lw
At the beginning of Torah, its reads,
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
This claim is not a type of reality separate and distinct from the “type of reality” of science. Rather it is a true explanation of reality and does not run counter to science. It affirms:
Science does not have its own reality nor addresses a particular type of reality. Science does not have the thinking capacity or will to address anything let alone reality. People think and will. Second, it is a false comparison to posit religion against science or more specifically Torah against science. God created both, not as two separate sources or explanations of two separate realities but as affirming one another.
Science cannot affirm or dis-affirm any reality, because science (or a better term “the sciences”) consists of mechanisms or tools man created to examine the material world and to make sense of it through interpretation. There are many sciences (meteorology, archaeology, anatomy, biology, etc.). Each deals with a segment of existence.
A large part of science is the human mind, because without it there would be no means for developing the tools, mechanisms, and methods used as science to explore and interpret what exist. That is, science would not exist apart from the living being known as man or woman. Science is often used in a vague manner as THE way individuals explain what exist. However, the explanation and interpretation of data does not come from science but from individuals. Therefore, science (or the sciences) does not explain anything or interpret data. People do. However, frequently, pseudo-scientists or even scientists misleadingly conflate the mechanism and the interpreter, making them one and the same. This is a false approach.
Second, it is false to set up religion versus science and then claim they address two realities. There is only one reality – that which exists. Religion and science are not true opposites addressing two realities. To make them so is a logical fallacy. Just as science does not address a reality, in that it cannot think, religion cannot do this either. Religion, just like science, is not a living and thinking being but simply a metaphor known as a metonymy. That is, it represents that which it describes.
For example, people often speak of a head of a nation as the “crown.” The head of a nation is not a crown, but the crown is a representative symbol for that person – a metonymy. However, those who refer to science or religion as being able to do this or that or give evidence or claim certain things as true naively fail to distinguish the thing from the symbol (metonymy) that represents it. In doing so, they raise a deception and a logical fallacy while misleading people into accepting the thing itself as an authoritative living entity (that is, science is the living authority). The deception is that the one who commits this fallacy is setting himself up as the unquestioned authority. In doing so, there are no hypotheses, theories, speculations, or guesses but simply unquestioned fact.
Third, religion and science both have their origins in and through the minds of individuals. People examine specific areas of what exist and give that discipline a name, such as anatomy, biology, astronomy, and so on. Those names did not exist prior to the minds of individuals. It is false to claim that because the material world existed before humanity, that the sciences that described it existed in tandem. Individuals created the mechanisms and methods of discovery.
They did not suddenly appear with the material world. Therefore, to make the claim that science proves something or that science proves God does not exist or cannot prove God exist is conflating a metaphor and the individual interpreter and in essence makes
the individual an impersonal metaphor.
Rabbi Breitowitz commits this fallacy by positing religion and science as opposites and as describing two separate realities. In doing so, he makes two separate claims, one a false opposite fallacy (religion versus science) and the other a false view of what exists. If there are two realities and we live in one, where and what is the other? There is no other if the Rabbi holds to Torah’s beginning and the claims this beginning statement makes,
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
Many atheistic scientists reject God and retreat to evolution.
However, evolution is not another reality but a separate explanation of origins. It is no more than a symbolic name associated with origins. It is an explanation that rejects God as the originator of all that exists in the material world. Two explanations actually pose true opposites – that which is true and that which is false or reality and non-reality or fact and fiction. That which is true and that which is false cannot both exist as true, because that would violate the law of non-contradiction, that is, A does not equal non-A.
The difference between the explanations from Torah and a scientific textbook is really that of genre and not different realities. Learned critics often confuse (falsify) or conflate opposites. Genre is the type or form of literary work appropriated. Torah’s genre is narrative and story of historical reality while scientific textbooks are descriptive interpretation of observable historical data. They have one thing in common: historical fact. These approaches are very different but are not in conflict as some theological or scientific critics who reject the Bible wish to lead people to believe. These genres can support one another, such as in anthropological science: relics supporting history. They have indeed done so in biblical archaeology and anthropology.
When reading or listening to a critic of religion or science, such as Rabbi Breitowitz, examine his or her premises and the language used. Are the premises sound? Do they use metaphor or plain speech? Remember, even seemingly plain speech is metaphor, because it seeks to explain something through representation. For example. the crown is only a symbol for the authority it represents. It is also a name given to a combination of metal and jewels, and that name represents that combination. Is the user of specific words applying them correctly or falsifying reality by these words? Deception can arise from falsification. Do not be deceived. The Apostle John wrote,
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
False prophets do not have to be religious. They can also pose as scientists, psychologists, or philosophers bringing a false perspective of reality and attempt to falsify truth.