Friday, August 24, 2018

Reading Through First John

Letters WrightI am continuing through the general epistles in this year’s devotional read through of the New Testament, in the First Letter of John, accompanied by The Early Christian Letters For Everyone by N.T. Wright. In this letter John is concerned that his readers share in the intimacy of the love within the Trinity. Jesus came to bring us into the life, light (relational knowledge) and love of the Father and to share that with the people around us. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

John sums up the theme of his letter in the first 4 verses. God has provided the way to deeper fellowship with him through Jesus Christ. He is the pattern and the power for us to experience eternal life – growing, deep, intimate relationship with God. Just as John, and the other apostles, experienced Jesus face to face and in the flesh leading to fellowship with Christ, so the goal of John's message is deeper fellowship with God which leads to deeper fellowship with each other. This  deeper fellowship happens as we live our daily lives (walk) openly and responsively with God (in the light). This starts when we admit our sin and expose ourselves to the light of relationship with Christ. Because of Christ God fully forgives our sin and then gives us the ability to gain freedom from it and live in His light, truth, freedom, and love.

The secret at the heart of the early Christian movement was that the age to come had already been revealed. The future had burst into the present, even though the present time wasn’t ready for it. The word for that future was Life, life as it was meant to be, life in its full, vibrant meaning, a life which death tried to corrupt, thwart and kill but a life which had overcome death itself and was now on offer to anyone who wanted to come and take it. 130, 1 John 1.1-4

Jesus’ sacrifice atones for our sins, ‘and not ours only, but those of the whole world’. Just as God didn’t remain content to be in fellowship only with his own son, but wanted to extend that fellowship to all those who met and followed Jesus; and just as John is writing this letter so that its readers may come to share in that same divine fellowship; so now all who know themselves to be forgiven through Jesus’ death must look, not at their own privilege, but at the wider task. God intends to call more and more people into this ‘fellowship’. 137, 1 John 1.5-2.2

We can see that deeper fellowship with Christ and be assured that we are moving in the right direction (toward God), when we are obeying His Word, imitating His life and loving His people. Then we will grow in intimate relationship with God as we realize who we are in Christ and make a daily decision to seek God and reject the world system. This world system denies that Jesus, the Son of God, came in the flesh (and often creates their own versions of "Jesus") and rejects his call to follow him in a self-sacrificial loving lifestyle. Believers must recognize truth and error correctly (walk in truth) as they build their lives around the word of God and listen to His Spirit. Then we will know that we have relationship with the 'right' Jesus.

For John, as for Paul, and above all as for Jesus, the commandments are all summed up in one word: Love. The Life of God’s New Age is revealed as the Love of God’s New Age. All other commandments – the detail of what to do and not to do – are the outflowing of this love, the love which has been newly revealed in Jesus, the love which God now intends should be revealed in and through all those who follow Jesus. 141, 1 John 2.3-14

The true follower of Jesus the Messiah has been ‘anointed’ by his holy spirit (verse 20), so that a real change of heart and character has happened. One of the key symptoms of that change is precisely the recognition that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. He truly is the son of God. The ‘Antimessianic’ movements are bound to deny this. If they don’t, they have no reason to set up a new movement in the first place! And this is what ties them in to the idea of ‘people of the lie’. 145-146, 1 John 2.15-29

It is of critical importance that believers continue and persevere to develop deeper fellowship with Christ. Jesus has already won the victory over evil and he will return to complete it so that we will have the full experience of his presence. Some day  the image of God will be fully restored in us. Our job is to grow into this now. Growth in relationship is evidence that we have been born-again into this life. We show that we belong to Jesus by living out his sacrificial love, practically, right now in our relationships with his people. This is how we can know that we belong to God and reassure ourselves when doubting, by trusting God and His promises and seeing His work in our lives. This results in greater confidence and more evidence of God's working in our lives. We develop a deeper relationship with Jesus by having a right relationship to the truth of the Word of God that applies it to daily life.

What will we be like? Perhaps we should say: like we are, only much more so. More gloriously physical, not less. Embodied but not subject to sickness or death. Able to celebrate the joys of God’s world but no longer lured or seduced into abusing them, into lusting after them, into worshipping them as though they were divine. All that is, I believe, true. But far more important is to say: we will be like Jesus. 149-150, 1 John 3.1-10

If the true God is indeed the source of our life, then you have already won the victory! The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. It may not look or feel like that. But that’s where faith comes in. Faith that the living God did indeed take flesh, our flesh, in Jesus. When that message is coming across, the spirit of truth is at work. 157, 1 John 3.11-4.6

John closes his letter with a final encouragement to deepen fellowship with Jesus by letting His love flow through them to others resulting in maturity, confidence, victory and answered prayer. Jesus has won the victory over evil, not by use of political, military or any other power the world would expect, but by a self-sacrificial love which died for the sins of the world. True spiritual power to overcome evil and be what God wants you to be comes from loving the way Christ loved, enabled by the Holy Spirit inside you. Thus, true believers have victory over sin and death and can experience it in the present as they trust, love and obey God. Anyone who has put their trust in Jesus can be sure they the life of the "age to come" now because God's testimony about Jesus is certain. The certainty of this life and power, answered prayer, victory over sin and death, and intimacy with Christ should lead every Christian to single-minded commitment to Christ and a life that brings the blessings of the coming kingdom to fellow believers and to the world.

The Christian faith grows directly out of, and must directly express, the belief that in Jesus the Messiah the one true God has revealed himself to be – love incarnate. And those who hold this faith, and embrace it as the means of their own hope and life, must themselves reveal the self-same fact before the watching world. Love incarnate must be the badge that the Christian community wears, the sign not only of who they are but of who their God is. 158, 1 John 4.7-21

God has given this witness, by his spirit, to make the point that the world has indeed been overcome. No other god, no other power, no other being in all the world loves like this, gives like this, dies like this. All others win victories by fighting; this one, by suffering. All other gods exercise power by killing; this one, by dying. 165, 1 John 5.1-12

Those who believe in Jesus, who abide in God, can pray with a new, bold confidence. They stand at the place where heaven and earth meet, and are encouraged to draw down the blessings of heaven into the life of earth, and to know as they make their requests that they have already been granted – even though, as scripture itself and Christian experience both teach, they may be granted in ways one had not expected. 168, 1 John 5.13-21

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