“Since you know that Christ is righteous, you should understand that everyone who lives that way is child of God” (1 John 2:29).
When we read in the New Testament that Christ is righteous, we should understand that he always does the right thing. People tend to think of righteousness as a personal quality rather than how it expresses itself in the moral choices of life. A righteous act is one in which a person chooses to do the right thing rather than the wrong thing. It describes what people does, not what they are. I am stressing this because I believe the Bible teaches that righteous people are recognized as such because they do right things, not because they have a lofty and cultured sense of bearing. How do we know if a person is righteous? The best way is to watch their acts over a period of time. How do they treat others? Are they quick to do what is right. In my book, Jesus, as Mentor I discussed the things that Jesus did as he passed through life rather than dwelling on what he taught. Since he lived among us as a man and was “tempted in every way, just as we are” (Heb. 4:15), we can watch him as a mentor and we will begin to act more like him. In time people will see Jesus in us in the same way that a boy begins to “look” like his father when time is spent together and life is shared at a deeper level. There seems to be two levels in life: what we think about and what we do. They are not are unrelated, in fact, the first finds expression in the second. Both levels need instruction from without. The secular mind draws on the world around it to determine how best to think and live. The spiritual mind (that is, the mind in which the Spirit dwells) is aware of the world in which it exists but belongs to eternity. The believer has been ”born again” into a spiritual world for which the present world is only preparatory. To put it in biblical language, we are “sojourners” from our real home in heaven, God is our Father, Christ is our brother and we are waiting to go home. According to John, the result of belonging to God is that we are to be recognized by the way we live – we make correct moral decisions and our life is characterized by good acts. That is how the world knows that we are children of the One who is “righteous” (read “always does the right thing”).
Whenever a Greek writer wanted to call attention to a certain point he would put it first in the sentence. We might translate these two verses something like, ”You people! You are to remain faithful to what you were taught in the beginning. If you do, you will always remain in fellowship with God and his son Jesus. After all, that’s what he promised – a life that will never end. One way to understand the section is a “Do this, but if you don’t, this is what will happen format. In other words, “Stay true to the gospel you heard (the gospel that gave you eternal life) and if you do you’ll live forever; that’s what God promised. But if you don’t do it, doesn’t that mean you won’t have it?” The NIV’s “if it does” opens the door for an “if it doesn’t,” and that infers the possibility of losing one’s eternal life. This, of course brings up the ageless question of whether believers can lose their salvation. Granted, John is not specifically saying that, but his words could be taken in a way that would support the idea. As in all flawed arguments, the truth is pushed aside so that the ideologically driven can win the argument. You see this writ large in every political season. I’d like to say a few words on the subject because I think every Christian wonders now and then whether they could lose their salvation. What looms large in my thinking is that there is absolutely nothing I could ever do to be worthy of a never-ending life of genuine joy. Even if we forgot all about my entire life up until this morning’s coffee and said all I had to do until evening was to live an absolutely perfect life, I’d be on the skids long before noon. God requires perfection and that perfection is in his Son alone. So I can’t earn salvation. No way! Someone has to give it to me, and that’s what Jesus did by becoming one of us, living a perfect life so he could be the ransom for the sins of the entire race. Now if a man like that tells me that if I believe in who he is and what he has done, then I will go to heaven, I’m going to take him at his word. So my salvation isn’t based on anything I have or can do. It’s all by grace, unmerited favor. The question is, how could I ever loose something I never earned. I’ve got some High School ribbons for pole vaulting, I won them and I can lose them. But in the case of my salvation all I ever “did” was to believe the promise of a man who claimed to be the Son of God and proved it by rising from the dead. It was he who gave me eternal life – all I did was to accept it. And there is no way for him to take it back because that would be to admit he was wrong in giving it. God makes no mistakes. And I can’t give back something that all I did was to accept. Looks like the future is pretty secure.
John has just warned his readers about the dire consequences of valuing the things of this world over God (1 John 2:2:18-19) and now in v. 20 stresses his point by declaring that “the end is near” (TEV). He writes that the strong opposition that has already risen against the church proves that it was “the last hour” (NIV). So a candid reading of these verses shows that from John’s point of view time had just about run out and the end was here. But John wrote that about 2,000 years ago and the “end” hasn’t as yet come. Shall we discredit John as a prophet, accept what seems to fit and forget the rest? There are several ways of explaining John’s “miscalculation” of the time of the end. Some simply say that he was wrong, others seek a way to explain the statement. For example, we moderns don’t understand the rhetorical nature of first century language. Others point out that with the coming of Christ the “end” did begin and will be complete only when he returns. This is the more common point of view among evangelicals. From an exegete’s point of view I prefer this last option. However, what I want to do here is to reflect on the fact that the “end” is always just around the corner. Life is a long series of moments, anyone of which could have been the last. The day will come in which one of those possible moments becomes the moment. That’s been the case ever since Adam and Even came into the picture. Each one of us will have our “moment” when we pass on from this life. Life is a precious gift. It makes fellowship with God possible. It provides the time necessary for dreaming up new worlds and how to live in the one we have. It is also the “moment” when each person decides where to spend eternity. May God help us to live with a vivid awareness of the passing nature of time and the endless nature of eternity.
Have you ever been reading the Word and suddenly a phrase or a clause will jump right out of the text for you? I’m sure it happens on a regular basis for those who read and meditate on scripture. I was reading in 1 John where the apostle is addressing himself to various groups within the Christian community (1 John 2:12-14). In the last verse he lists three reasons why he is writing to them: they are strong, God’s word lives in them and they have overcome the evil one. It is the second that caught my eye, “the word of God lives in you.” God speaks and we are to listen. If a notable person in the field of athletics, higher education or politics were to announce an important occasion for Anacortes this evening, I would be there. I would want to learn what it was that brought him to our island. We tend to pay attention or not to a speaker on the basis of their understanding in areas of interest to us. Their “word” is important for us. We want to know what they have to say. But what if the speaker were God himself? Right! We would all be there scrambling for the best seats. Well, God is speaking this evening, in fact, he has a matinee this afternoon. Even better than that, he is available for a private interview right now. Why is it that all too often we post-pone certain scheduled events, not an appointment with the doctor or a lunch with a friend, but those times we’ve set up to talk with God? The answer, of course, is that we are still burdened with an old man, a fallen human nature. Interestingly enough, that is precisely why we need to spend time with our Lord! John says that God’s word “was living” among that group of believers in the Roman province of Asia, probably meeting in one another’s homes. But the Word was not living with them geographically but personal – he was in the heart of each believer. In his gospel John tells us that Jesus is that Word and that he came to dwell among us. Who Jesus is and what he taught can be said to be one, so for the Word to “live with us” is to say that in addition to his presence in the heart, what he taught has taken precedence in our life. It is central. It calls to be properly honored. Believers are people of Word; they read it, they live it. It is the dynamic that shapes their life in every area. A number of years ago, Dr. Ockenga of Park Street Church in Boston challenged a group of seminary students (I was there) to take a few minutes every day to meditate on a specific verse of Scripture. He said not to be worried about making it “through the bible in year” but simply to let God speak. A remarkable thing. God seemed always to be right there. In fact, I can never remember an occasion when he wasn’t. The purpose was to let biblical truth take control of life. It was so his Word could “live” in us. We are mentored by those people with whom we provide time. If Christ actually lives in us there is no one or no thing that will have a greater formative influence on our life.
John is very clear about it – if you love your fellow believer you are living in the light. There is nothing in your live-style that will make them stumble. However, if you hate them you are walking in darkness and have no idea where you are going. The talk and the walk must say the same thing or you are blind and can’t see the problem. This analysis is as old as time itself. While the ancient adage is true (“Speak that I may know thee”), John would have it, “Walk that I may know if what you say is true.” In the long run what we do tells the story, not what we say. On more than one occasion I have written something about man’s unique ability to communicate verbally. Language is the vehicle that allows me transfer an idea from my world to yours. It’s true that when the dog wags his tail or the cat purrs they are “saying” something, but that is a long way from a college professor explaining to a class how a cochlear implant stimulates the nerve endings of a profoundly deaf person’s inner ear. The transfer of an idea from one brain to another is the unique privilege given us in the gift of language. But it has a downside as well; it allows me the opportunity to misrepresent and create a “reality” that doesn’t exist. So should I choose to do something but not want you to understand I can use the same words to create a different world of understanding. This is what provides the duplicitous soul the freedom to do one thing but present it in a totally different light. What John is saying is simply that your life-style is the true measure of who you are, not your verbal claims. Unfortunately this kind of person is blind toward reality. They walk in the darkness and “the darkness has made them blind.” The question arises, How are we to react to people who cannot see? When we think about it in a physical sense we quickly answer that we need to come to their help wherever possible. We might offer an arm where appropriate, explain a scene on TV, etc. It is the right thing to do. But what if we move this concern for the “blind” into a higher realm, say “spiritual?” Do we exercise a matching concern? We are sad that a neighbor is unable to see the startling sunsets that we enjoy so many summer evenings. We may describe to our disadvantaged neighbor the beauty of tonight’s sunset. It’s important to us to help somehow to counter, at least to some degree, their inability to join us in enjoying the magnificent sight. So what about the spiritually blind? I leave the question with you.