Keys to Reading 1 John

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.

Exposing False Teachings

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:

  1. Knowledge/knowing
  2. Spirit/physical dualism
  3. Light/darkness
  4. Truth/lie
  5. Love/hate
  6. Christ followers/anti-Christ
  7. Jesus the Christ vs. Jesus and the Christ
  8. Righteousness/unrighteousness
  9. Fellowship/separation

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:

  1. False Christ – False teachers denied that Jesus came in the flesh, because to them the material was evil. They denied the Incarnation and Jesus’ physical resurrection.  Jesus was an illusion.  They divided Jesus from Christ.  According to these teachers, this Christ came upon Jesus when John (Jesus’ cousin) baptized Him and left Him when Jesus went to the cross.  The Christ remained a pure Spirit untouched by evil.
  2. False knowledge – Secret knowledge based on self or the subjective rather than true knowledge; that is, knowledge of the one true God (objective) and His Son, Jesus Christ.
  3. False spirituality – These false teachers believed in an ethereal spiritual existence based on secret knowledge that gave them an awareness of their heavenly origins and blissful destiny through an internal (subjective) divine spark. They simply had to be in touch (i.e., get in touch with your inner child) with it to gain true spirituality through secret knowledge.
  4. False light – There exist a divine spark (light) in each of us we must come to understand (secret knowledge). This opposed the true Light (Jesus, objective).
  5. False righteousness – People came into righteousness through self-knowledge and a movement away from material evil. Since evil dwelled in sinful matter, one becomes righteous by attaining a higher consciousness of the spiritual as an initiate, perfection of self-knowledge, and escape from intellectual error and ignorance.  It is not a matter of sin but knowledge and escape from ignorance.
  6. False morality – Self-knowledge informed initiates of their spiritual pure state. The physical body held them in slavery.  Once they come to self-knowledge of their perfect and pure spirituality untouched by the material world, they can then think on a higher plane and ignore the restraint of the material world.  That is, they can live as libertines (amoral), because their spirits are untouched by the material existence.

John’s Counterarguments to False Teachings

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.

Contemporary Elements of Gnosticism

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.”[1]

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.[2]  Both the New Age and Gnosticism holds to mysteries, hidden knowledge, and “enlightened minds.”[3]  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.[4]

Warnings!

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).

[1] (Chapter 5: The Grand Destiny of the Faithful: Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, 2011, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, http://bit.ly/1kH4fIU).

[2] 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.

[3] Ibid, 76.

[4] http://www.pcusa.org/news/2012/7/7/voices-sophia-breakfast-thorson-smith-reflects-bac.

Jesus: Life in Himself

The life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—” (1 John 1:3).

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John takes us to his next thought after introducing us to his eyewitness account of Jesus. This next thought is the revelation of God’s Son come in the flesh or the incarnation. This revelation is the life of all things. John speaks of life in a special way – eternal life. In His gospel, John informed his readers and us that Jesus is unique in the possession of life. He has life in Himself (John 5:26). Nothing in all creation possesses this attribute. All that exists in creation dies or decays. Plants and animals die. Humans have a lifespan. All other things deteriorate. They do not possess life in themselves. Rather, they depend on that which is external to them to give them life and to sustain them. God gives to them.

One exception exists – God. In the same place where John points to Jesus as having life in Himself, he also says that the Father also has life in Himself. He states, “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself” (John 5:26). John expands his claim to the Father, affirming the divinity of the Father and the Son. Now, since the Bible (and John) claims there is one God, we come to understand from him that the Father and Son share in that divinity (John 1:1). They are two of the three persons of the divine essence, that is, God.

Jesus manifested His divinity to His disciples when he lived with them and also when He rose from the dead. His resurrection demonstrated that He has life in Himself. All others who lived also died, even those whom Jesus called back from death to life, such as Lazarus. Lazarus finally died permanently. Jesus rose from the dead and lives today in the presence of His Father.

John declared the eternal life of the Son of God, Jesus. He also announced that Jesus was with the Father prior to His incarnation. In stating this, John informed us that Jesus existed before His birth as the baby of Joseph and Mary. He took on human flesh at a point in time and became like one of us so that He might bridge the gap between God and humanity. He became “God with us.” The Creator of all things took on the form of the created to bring those who believe Him back to the Father. This is the good news and the hope all have who placing their faith in Him.

Nothing but the Gospel: What is it?

When you hear the word gospel, what comes to mind?  It is a word somewhat alien to our postmodern world as so many other biblical terms.  Why is this?  We are 2,000 years removed from the writers of the Gospels found in the Bible.  We are also centuries removed from the origination of the word itself.  Therefore, it would be helpful to trace the roots of the word, not only of its origination but also its original meaning found in the language of the original writers.

The word itself derives from early Anglo-Saxon “God-spell” or God’s story.  The early Englishman, William Tyndale noted the gospel as “joyfull tydinge” or the good news.  It is actually the English translation of euangelion from which we receive our English word “evangel” and its derivatives “evangelism” and “evangelist.”  Later it became associated with the Gospels or the first four books of the New Testament.

The Apostle Paul took it up as he received it as the commission from Jesus Himself to preach to the entire world.  Paul makes it clear that the gospel pointed to the death and bodily resurrection of Jesus.  He also emphasized that not believing in the historical significance of Christ resurrection amounts to vanity.  As historical reality, He was God incarnate piercing the created order, growing up from infancy, declaring Himself to the world, dying on the cross, and rising from the dead as promised (1 Timothy 3:16).  Then Paul declared the fundamental basis for this gospel of which Christ is the center: the righteousness of God (Romans 1:16-17).  In His letter to the Church in Rome, Paul employees this phrase as one of his favorites.  At the beginning of this letter, Paul declares,

For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).

Paul sets out that Jesus is the expression of God’s righteousness. As stated in the upcoming book, Nothing but the Gospel,

…God is righteous in all His works and judgments, because it surfaces from His very nature.  Additionally, because He is righteous, His grace reaches into all humanity through the mediation of the Incarnation of Christ and provides redemption to those who by faith believe the proclaimed gospel” [Nothing but the Gospel by Floyd Talbot, Action Faith Books Press, 2014, 20 (to be released September 20140].

Elsewhere the book highlights the association of the righteousness of God with the specifics of the gospel,

The claim that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God carries the highest weight because it reveals the core character of God – His faithfulness to all generations. That righteousness, according to Paul finds its way to the cross as the righteous died for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18) that we might stand as righteous before God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). (p. 68).

Jesus is the center and complete revelation of God’s righteousness.  No other message from any other source than the gospel reveals God’s righteousness.  Pluralism (many ways to God) believes that a person can receive salvation through other means.  However, these means have their source in the created order (for example, idols crafted from creation, human philosophy and wisdom, humanity itself, or some sort of self-oriented mystical experience).  The gospel is the only revelation from God.  It finds its source from God alone through Christ alone, and by faith alone in His sacrifice on the cross.  Christ is the center of the gospel and the expression of God’s righteousness.  By faith in the historical reality of the incarnation, we find the only source of our hope in being with God.  Christ died for the sins that separate humanity from God and reconciles us to Him.  Have you believed in Him?

Copyright (c) 2014, Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  Not to be used without expressed written permission.

Nothing but the Gospel: Our Only Hope

Nothing but the gospel gives us hope.  Upon reading Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church, that hope stands strong, because it resides in Jesus.  Here is what Paul writes,

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence.  For it is all for your sake, so that as the grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God.  2 Corinthians 4:13-15

Notice several truths Paul highlights in this very compact declaration of the gospel:

  1. His faith rests on the word of God.  He notes, “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what is written…”  Nothing but the gospel offers hope because that hope finds its source in the One who revealed Himself to us in Jesus.  Faith looks to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and nowhere else.  Many claim that faith can claim presence with God with other means (pluralism).  However, that claim surfaces from and rests with man and not with God.  As such, it offers not hope.
  2. Faith gives motivation to boldly declare the gospel of hope.  Paul says, “I believed and so I spoke…”  Spoke what?  The gospel of salvation!  Our faith rests in historical reality.  That is, God actually did come in the form of the man Jesus as God promised.  We trust in a righteous God who keeps His promises, and this gives us assurance and boldness to speak the gospel.
  3. Not only did Jesus come in the form of a baby and interacted with His fellow men and women, but He died, was buried, and rose from the death.  Overwhelming testimony shows this to be historical fact.  Some try to separate history from faith by claiming that truth does not need to rely on fact.  This is post-modern wishful thinking.  Truth not supported by fact is faith in a lie and fiction.  Since Jesus really did rise from the dead, our faith gives us the hope of being with God when we also die.

Such wonderful truths enable us to live confidently and hopefully in the return of Jesus.  Review 4:14 again.  Paul declares that God will keep His promise of a resurrection for us, also.  He says Jesus will “bring us with you in His presence.”  Our faith rests in real hope and not in one that aspirates, “I hope so.”  That is not hope but wishful thinking.  Stand firm.

Copyright (c) 2014, Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  Not to be used without expressed written permission.