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Easter: Something Borrowed, Something New?

Every Easter those who oppose the Christian biblical faith surface the notion that Christians borrowed the celebration of Easter from pagan sources.  Accordingly, they say Christians developed their own traditions that buried the pagan sources and resurrected the story of Christ.  Consequently, the entire Christian religion, according to them, stands on pagan sources as a relatively new holiday for Christians to use for their claim of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  For pagans who deny the resurrection, they claim Christians raise up Easter from something borrowed and something new.  However, is this notion true?  Additionally, how does such a notion affect Christian faith in the claim that Jesus did rise from the dead that first Easter morning?

First, consider the origin of Easter.  Many have attributed Easter to the ancient English monk and historian, Bede (673-735 AD).  In identifying names to the months of the year ancient cultures assigned to them, Bede wrote the following in his work De temporum ratione,

“In olden time the English people — for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other people’s observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s — calculated their months according to the course of the moon.  Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans (the months) take their name from the Moon, for the Moon is called mona and the month monath.

The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath; May, Thrimilchi; June, Litha; July, also Litha; August, Weodmonath; September, Halegmonath; October, Winterfilleth; November, Blodmonath; December, Giuli, the same name by which January is called.  …

Nor is it irrelevant if we take the time to translate the names of the other months.  … Hrethmonath is named for their goddess Hretha, to whom they sacrificed at this time.  Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month.  Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.”

Bede points to a particular goddess for the month of Eosturmonath (April) as the origin for the name of Easter.  Those who wish to associate the Christian celebration of Easter seem to have a case for their claim that paganism is its source.  Such a claim, according to Anthony McRoy is suspect, speculation, and far from the truth (“Was Easter Borrowed from a Pagan Holiday?”  Christianity Today, http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2009/april/was-easter-borrowed-from-pagan-holiday.html).  He points out that Bede’s claim of Easter deriving from the goddess Eostre has no substantiation anywhere else in history.  He also points out a timeline conflict,

“The first question, therefore, is whether the actual Christian celebration of Easter is derived from a pagan festival.  This is easily answered.  The Nordic/Germanic peoples (including the Anglo-Saxons) were comparative latecomers to Christianity.  Pope Gregory I sent a missionary enterprise led by Augustine of Canterbury to the Anglo-Saxons in 596/7.  The forcible conversion of the Saxons in Europe began under Charlemagne in 772.  Hence, if “Easter” (i.e. the Christian Passover festival) was celebrated prior to those dates, any supposed pagan Anglo-Saxon festival of “Eostre” can have no significance.  And there is, in fact, clear evidence that Christians celebrated an Easter/Passover festival by the second century, if not earlier.  It follows that the Christian Easter/Passover celebration, which originated in the Mediterranean basin, was not influenced by any Germanic pagan festival.”

Not only did Augustine celebrate Easter in Britain, but earlier Christian authors also affirmed its celebration well before pagan stories surfaced, showing that Easter could not have arisen from pagan stories.  Gregory Naziansus (329-390 AD) gave an Easter homily (Second Oration 45.5, Thomas Oden, Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology, 132).  In the beginning of the 4th century, Christians sang an earlier Easter hymn (Oden, 273).  Cyril of Alexandria (378-444 AD) gave a sermon called On the Incarnation in his Easter Homily 1.6).  Even farther back, Chrysostom (349-407 AD) narrates Paul’s written account of Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3; Homily on Corinthians, 38.2, Oden, 479) on the first Easter.  Before him, Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339 AD) wrote “On the Celebration of the Pascha [Easter].”

The actual name of the event does not really rise to the level of significance as the event itself.  Words pass through many languages, alphabets, cultures, and time periods.  Some point to Bede as the source of the word Easter from pagan sources.  Yet others, including Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Luther in their translations brought the word for Easter from the word Pascha, signifying that Christ was the lamb sacrificed for all humanity.  While Bede speculated about the connection between Easter and the goddess Eostre, he associated the month named after Eostre as “Paschal month,” demonstrating that the earliest celebration of Easter dates to the original biblical truth and not to pagan sources.

More could be cited of early church Fathers who preached Easter sermons.  Suffice to say, these early Church Fathers give overwhelming evidence of Easter’s celebration and the event it commemorated – Christ’s resurrection.  Oral tradition of actual events precedes their written authorship showing that Christians of earlier centuries dating back to the Apostles passed on to the next generation what they learned from the original eyewitnesses through hymns and actual historical oral accounts.

What do we then learn from all of these authors dating to the earliest centuries after Christ?  Easter arose from the actual event, Christ’s resurrection, and not pagan sources. Easter signified the earliest remembrance of Jesus rising from the dead!  Eyewitnesses (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) recorded what they saw and heard from Jesus after His resurrection.  They passed this good news to their disciples in the gospels they wrote some 20-30 years later.  Paul also saw Jesus and recorded his encounter of Jesus even earlier (Galatians, 53-55 AD) than when the Apostles wrote their gospels.

Eyewitnesses and subsequent authors recorded actual historical events about Christ’s resurrection.  They put to rest any fictitious notion of pagan sources for it.  Speculations cannot overturn historical fact.  Rather, they highlighted that behind the myths lie actual events.  We only need to view contemporary celebrations of Christian remembrances to see how rapidly pagan innovations occurred.  The mind stirs up fanciful creations consisting of bunny rabbits hiding eggs for little children to find.  These mimic actual events with changes to align with fresh ways of expressing paganism.  They bring to mind celebration of the freshness of the earth’s resurrection from a wintery dead state and the correlation to Christ’s resurrection from death.

The truthful themes of the first resurrection surface in the fanciful pagan rites of the contemporary.  The wretchedness of the human condition splashes across theater screens.  One need only turn to Hollywood to view resurrection played out in one movie after another.  Deus ex-machina (God of the machine) descends from the heavens in the form of humanity (Superman).  Captain AmericaThe X-Men, and the salvation of Frodo and Sam on Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings provide one fictitious example after another of resurrection and redemption.  They supply deliverance from human tragedy.  In such cases, paganism depends on established Christian truth and its preservation and not the other way around.  The evidence for the foundational truth of Christ’s resurrection is overwhelming.  Paganism uses and twists historical truth for its own means and message.

Christians need not fear fables, fiction, and allegations of the pagan sources for Easter.  These pagan sources do not exists. Paganism rests on speculation and novelty resulting from becoming “futile in their thoughts” (Romans 1:21, NKJV).  Pagans borrow from the truth to create their own myths for their leap of faith.  Given the continuous line of written testimony from the first century forward, we can take heart and have hope in the resurrection of Christ as we also celebrate Easter.  Paganism cannot just brush aside truth having its foundation in history.  We can rest in Christ’s promise that as He rose from the dead and went to be with His Father, He will come again and take us with Him to be with His Father and ours (John 14:1-3).

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Delusional Philosophy

The atheist Richard Dawkins authored a book entitled “The God Delusion.”  In it, he ridicules Christians specifically for believing God’s existence.  While Dawkins travels through a litany of stories, anecdotes, and diatribes, he never really gives a defense for his own position and why it ranks superior than that which he pegs as a delusion.  He simply pokes fun at the Christian faith, his primary goal as he stated at the outset.  However, stories, anecdotes, and ridicule are not defenses of one’s position.  Rather, they are irrational.

While Dawkins does refer to arguments of evidence, proof, and science, he provides little to defend his position of atheism from those arguments.  All he concludes in his reference to them is that they offer no reason to believe in God without providing syllogistic arguments in support from them.  His arguments are not from syllogistic reasoning but based on speculation and ridicule without support. Additionally, he spends an extensive amount of print on defining delusion while referencing other people’s claims and then making his own claim. He then meanders into a defense of his own claim by stating his book is “less shrill” and “tame” compared to other published works.  However, “less shrill” and ridicule remain shrill and irrational.  Shrill and ridicule are traits of intolerance and irrationalism.  Such traits not only show opposition to different ideas, philosophy, and religion, but they also engage in intentional acts to destroy these ideas, philosophy, and religious beliefs.  Today’s atheism delivers such actions by pursuing court actions, demonstrations, and in some cases violence against religious activity, specifically Christian beliefs.

Delusion consists of not only actions but thoughts.  A belief system and worldview guides thinking and behavior.  Consider the atheistic belief system.  It is the belief in the non-existence of God and regularly rails against God and those who believe Him.  How rational is it to believe in what a person alleges does not exist?  That equates to believing in magic and pixie dust.  In doing so, atheism affirms what it denies – God.  For one could not know what does not exists, for there is no knowledge in non-existence.  One cannot conjure up in one’s mind that which does not exist.  Try thinking of non-existence.  What would non-existence look like?  Can a person entertain non-existence in one’s mind if there is no knowledge of that which does not exist? If one thinks or speaks of God, that person affirms knowledge of God.  That is, one imagines what God or some god looks like and formulates it into a straw man when associating it with a particular religion or specifically biblical faith.  That straw man is formulating an argument based on what one believes another holds.

One cannot escape this logic by claiming that superman, trolls, or fairies do not exist, and one can imagine them.  These fictitious characters are extrapolations of what exist in the real world.  Someone simply imagined a man who could fly or a flying tiny human-like creature with wings one calls a fairy sprinkling pixie dust everywhere.  We witness wings on birds and imagine them attached to a small human form.  Humans are creative in their imaginations.  Movies and television exhibit this creativity.  However, creating out of imagination and believing that such created objects are actually real or that they become real when we imagine them is fantasy, child-like, or delusional.

Many have created gods in their imagination.  However, they have done so as extrapolations from what exist in the real world.  Virtually all of the Greek and Roman gods possess features of humans or animals.  One cannot find a god or gods in the world religions, except the Christian faith, not extrapolated from the real world and imposed on some god or gods.

Such a stance is a belief in alleged non-existence and non-knowledge.  Such thinking and actions are delusional and irrational.  It is a true leap of faith, because no basis exists at all for such belief.

The psalmist affirms the irrationality and delusion of those who refuse to accept God,

How long will you people turn my glory into shame?

How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?” (Psalm 4:2)

 The psalmist claims in rhetorical questions that seeking after that which does not exist is delusional.  Religious leaders in the nations surrounding Israel created gods extrapolated from the created order.  The Greeks did that as did the Romans in elevating gods they created from their imaginations after observing objects in the created order.  They glorified non-existence and non-knowledge.  It is one thing to create fiction by extrapolating characteristics of that which exist in the real world and admitting that it is fiction, but it is quite another to claim that such created fiction is real and then worship this fiction.

Atheism follows the same pattern as polytheism by continually thinking about and speaking of that which they claim does not exist.  Such thinking and acts are just as delusional as creating gods in one’s mind, which atheists must do to speak of them.  Atheism must imagine some sort of god to speak of the Christian biblical God, for it cannot think or speak from non-knowledge.  Atheism cannot speak of the biblical God without having read or studied God from the source – the Bible.  Quite frequently, atheists ignore the Bible in talking about the biblical God and thereby create a straw man god, and not the biblical God and ridicule it.  That is tantamount to a person continuously having a conversation with oneself as though that person’s other self actually existed or thinking of or speaking with an imaginary friend created in one’s mind.  Atheism creates in their own mind some god it believes Christians believe.  That is also a delusion.  The psalmist had such delusion in mind when he wrote his words.  A delusion is claiming that which is false true and that a person can think of or have a conversation with what one created in one’s own imagination, that is non-knowledge.

Psalm 4 brings us back to reality by having the psalmist’s words correspond with reality, not gods that are false but the God of all existence, not gods created from the created order but the one true God separate and distinct from it and over it.

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Bloviating from Irrationalism

When in an irrational state of mind, one cannot discern irrational thoughts and words. Such a stance makes it difficult to distinguish between truth and a lie.  A person suppresses such a means of making a distinction when one divorces the foundation of one’s thinking from the Creator.  We call speech from that foundation ranting or bloviating.  These expressions arise from irrationalism.  In the world of critical thinking, such irrationalism arises from logical fallacies or defective machinations based on falsehood.

Psalm 2 provides a perfect example of those who engage in bloviating from irrationalism.  Let us listen in on a conversation with such people,

The kings of the earth set themselves,

And the rulers take counsel together,

Against the LORD and against His

Anointed, saying,

“Let us break Their bonds in pieces

And cast away Their cords from us.” (NKJV)

Is there something wrong with this scene?  The irony is laughable.  In this scene these monarchs, powerful in their own defective thinking and self-aggrandizement, brandish arrogant words in their chains.  They spew out audacious curses toward the One who holds them captive with heavy chains [cords] while in complete denial of their imprisonment and the One who holds them.  They engage in futile conspiracy [counsel] in an attempt to strategize to break free.

While they recognize God’s personal name (Yahweh, [LORD]), they refuse to subject themselves to Him.  In their derangement and insanity, they believe in their own strength to free themselves.  They look at the cords wrapped tightly around them and lash out toward the LORD of all, thinking that they can break free from their bondage.  However, their strategy and counsel is futile, defective, and delirious while they believe they think from a sound mind.

The scene pivots from them to the LORD of hosts:

He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;

The LORD shall hold them in derision.

Then He shall speak to them in His wrath,

And distress them in His deep displeasure:

“Yet I have set My King

On My holy hill of Zion.”

Their Creator and Sovereign laughs at them derisively.   He dictates to them and not they to Him.  He holds them in contempt because of their rebellion and arrogance, and informs them that their kingships were temporary fantasies based on their foolish pronouncements and not His.  The LORD then, distresses them by pointing to His Son and declares Him as King.  This act is indeed distressful for these self-appointed kings, because God’s King usurped their thrones.

Today, many make self-declarations concerning their rule.  History demonstrates that such dictators and tyrants eventually fall.  They fade into infamy after the sword or a bullet lands a fatal blow.  Individuals believe they rule their own lives and determine their fate.  They adopt the philosophy of Frank Sinatra,

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain

I’ve lived a life that’s full
I’ve traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this
I did it my way.” [From “My Way” by Frank Sinatra]

Those who deny God fail to recognize that He alone appoints leaders throughout history.  These deniers who refuse to even admit God’s existence return to the dust of the earth and await judgment from the righteous God.  Individuals who also deny God, want to live their lives like Frank Sinatra, that is, “my way.”  Regardless of their ideology or belief systems, those who oppose God and refuse to acknowledge His Son will face the same fate as the kings depicted in Psalm 2.

This psalm offers a way out from judgment.  It declares that those who serve the LORD will find hope.  Atheists, agnostics, and polytheists alike can find that same hope by turning from their futile faith in themselves and materialism to faith in God the Deliverer.

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Taking Counsel

Family, friends, political leaders, and professors all have counsel to give to us.  Much is wise learned from experience and wisdom gathered over the years.  We do well to listen to such tested counsel.  However, some counsel is just plain wrong and foolish.  If a person took you to the edge of the Grand Canyon and suggested that you jump, informing you that you would fly.  Would you do it?  Would you invest in a risky business enterprise without performing due diligence?

There is good and wise counsel and evil and foolish counsel.  Sometimes, it is difficult to separate them out due to circumstances, cultural setting, and many other variables.  The laws of many lands have good counsel and foolish counsel integrated.  One question we must asked to know the difference between the good and bad and wise and foolish is, “What is the basis or source?”  Is the source limited to culture or circumstance?  Or can it be applied universally with all cultures and peoples without exception?

The psalmist who penned Psalm 1 is very straight forward with absolute statements with counsel and the person giving and taking it.  He does not not mince words about what is wise and foolish, good or evil, or the nature of individuals giving counsel.  He identifies the blessings that come to people who take counsel he defines as godly, upright, or sound words by stating it in a negative,

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly

Nor stands in the path of sinners

Nor sits in the seat of the scornful”


Psalm 1

At the very beginning he speaks of the ungodly, sinners, and scornful intimating that the godly, upright, and people with sound words exist.  In doing so, he offers a polemic for the presence of God, the recognition of sin and sinners, and evil speech.  By giving attention to the ungodly, the psalmist immediately renounces atheism and its foolish philosophy or counsel.  Atheists, agnostics, and polytheists have written and published hundreds of thousands of books giving people the advice of their philosophy.  At the basis of this advice is to ignore God and His existence.  Live as though God does not exist and that all that exist is material.  Scorn those who believe in Him.  Stay away from God’s word but rather call it dangerous.  The psalmist has a message for such people.  They are like chaff without power, taken up by the winds, and scattered across the landscape.  They and their words do not last.

However, those who worship God, listen to Him, associate with His people, and speak words of wisdom receive blessings from God.  They find their place in the presence of God and prosper.  This psalm is an apologetic worthy of continued thoughtfulness over the span of a lifetime for gathering from it eternal wisdom that dwells with God and applies universally to all peoples for all times to eternity.  Its reading is a great way to begin a new year.

 

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IS THE BASIS FOR OUR FAITH JUST A LEAP?

For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.  If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God y that he has borne concerning his Son” (1 John 5:9).

Many years ago, a Christian told me,

Even if God and Christ never existed, we come out ahead by believing anyway.  We end up living a good life and doing what was right.  The important thing is that we believe.”

Those statements amount to no more than what many of us have heard as a leap of faith.  That is, the basis of true Christian living is a leap of faith.  There is no rationality for believing.  In fact, according to Soren Kierkegaard, faith and rationality are not on the same side of the ledger.  Rather they are distinct.  Reason requires evidence or empiricism.  With faith, no evidence or warrant for God needs to exist.  We just believe God without the requirements of clear evidence for His existence.  This is known as fideism: believing in God without the need for evidence.  We simply accept it.  With this in mind, we return to Kierkegaard and William Lane Craig’s assessment of his leap:

Kierkegaard believed that there is ultimately no warrant for Christian belief and you simply take a leap of faith to believe.  What he tried to do is to motivate this leap by showing how life lived apart from God ultimately degenerates into despair, boringness, and languishing in absurdity.  He tried to motivate the person to make the leap.  But ultimately for Kierkegaard it is a criterion-less leap of faith.  He thought that Christianity was indeed absurd because it says that God, who is timeless, entered into time in the Incarnation and that this is absurd – the presence of the eternal in the temporal.”[1]

The key to what Craig states is that a leap of faith requires “no warrant [evidence] for Christian belief.”

What does the discussion of a leap of faith have to do with what John claims about Jesus coming in the flesh in the passage we are studying?  It is easy to conclude that faith in God does not require evidence.  Where is He?  How do we really know He exists?  The Gnostics during John’s time took a similar rationality.  Jesus did not really exist.  Rather, He was a mirage, a ghost, an illusion, and not part of reality.  They rejected all evidence of Jesus’ actual existence in the flesh because of their false philosophy that God could not inhabit matter, and Jesus claimed to be the Son of God.  The Gnostics then concluded that Jesus and the Christ were separate entities.  The Christ came upon Jesus at His baptism and left Him before His crucifixion.  Therefore, they denied both the divinity of Christ and the historical reality of His physical death and resurrection.  They then held to a form of leap of faith for their religious and philosophical beliefs.  Their faith had no basis in historical reality.

The Apostle John refuted their claim.  He insisted on the physical presence of Jesus Christ in the world and on His physical resurrection.  He claimed that to deny this historical reality made God a liar (5:10).  He pointed to two key evidences for faith in Jesus: His baptism (water) and His physical death (blood) and resurrection from the dead (5:6).  John also pointed to God Himself, the Triune God, as the strongest evidence.  These sets of evidence coincide with one another.  If Jesus was the Son of God and came in the flesh as the word of God (John 1:1), then the evidence was very clear.  Jesus the Word took on human flesh and existed among men.  The Holy Spirit also gives evidence internally as the witness to the historical reality that Jesus came in the flesh.  In citing the Holy Spirit, John returns to the event of the new birth.  He gave us new birth and through it gives witness to us of the reality of the living Christ.  He writes,

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God…By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:2, 13).

In the above, John essentially makes the same claim as he does in the current passage: Jesus came in the flesh!  Why is this truth so important?  It is important for two reasons:

  1. Not believing this historical reality makes God a liar
  2. Eternal life depends on it

John ties the trustworthiness of God to the historical reality of Jesus coming in the flesh.  God sent Jesus to take on human flesh.  To deny what God did is to make Him a liar.  It is not circular to claim that if God said something, it must be true and fact.  Historical reality supports His word.  One can deny a claim all one wishes, but such a person cannot deny reality.  Many have attempted to deny that Jesus ever existed, but they supply no evidence to support their claim.  If a person makes a claim, that person must support it.

The Apostle John uses his evidential claims of Jesus’ historical existence, death, resurrection, and the testimony of God Himself to segue into the assurance of eternal life for those who believe Him.  Just as God gave testimony of His own Son coming in the flesh, He also gives firm testimony that He gives eternal life to those who believe Him.  We have no greater assurance of eternal life than the word of God Himself.  The basis of this eternal life is the new birth God created in us.  Earlier John connects the new birth to this eternal life when he states,

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”  (5:4)

John picks up this truth again in discussing the witness of the Holy Spirit within us,

Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself” (5:10).

The same faith that arises from the new birth is the faith the Holy Spirit implanted in us for believing the reality and saving activity of Jesus Christ when He came in the flesh.  This new birth and corresponding faith grounds our assurance of salvation.  That is what God accomplished in us through the new birth can never be reversed.  God proclaimed and gave witness to it.  Jesus provided for it.  The Holy Spirit administered it through the new birth or internal regeneration.  If God did it all, nothing apart from Him can reverse it.  We have assurance of salvation because of God.

Is the basis of our faith just a leap?  No!  Enormous amount of evidence exists for the historical reality of Jesus and His resurrection, the two strongest platforms for our faith.  Faith is not a leap into some dark unknown chasm where no knowledge exists.  Knowledge and truth have their basis in reality.  John teaches us that Jesus did exist, died, and rose from the grave.  We do not rest our faith on something that may or may not have happened as a Christian once claimed many years ago when making the statement,

Even if God and Christ never existed, we come out ahead by believing anyway.  We end up living a good life and doing what was right.  The important thing is that we believe.”

That statement is a leap of faith in that it has no basis or evidence for it.  That is presumptuous faith; that is faith without anything on which to base it.  There are two types of hope.  One hope says, “I hope so.”  The other hope says, “I know and believe that knowledge to be true.”  The first hope is tenuous, vague, and unsubstantiated.  It draws from thin air.  The second hope has evidence from existence.  John teaches evidential faith substantiated by history and God’s word.  This means that every believer has utmost security in God’s hands.

[1] William Lane Craig, “Existence of God: Properly Basic Belief in God,” Reasonable Faith, Lecture 4, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s4-29.

Revisiting the New Birth

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.

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