Wednesday, March 20, 2019

1st John: God as Light, Holiness, and Love


We’re going to be looking at the themes of 1st John, and we’ll see various themes woven throughout the five chapters of first John. The chief theme that we’ll consider throughout 1st John is the theme of the love of God (1 John 1:3, 2:1, 5:13 NIV). We’ll also consider the themes of God’s light and the darkness, as well as freedom from sin and holy living.

First of all, we consider the theme of “God is light.” John himself encountered and witnessed Christ. It says that John walked and talked with Him. John heard it himself when Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12 NIV). He knew of God as one who was light, and there was no darkness in Him. In fact, John wrote in his gospel account: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (John 3:19-21 NIV). In other words, those who desire to distinguish themselves as Christians should recognize that God is light, and they need to walk in the light. And it doesn’t say that they walk in the light showing they’ve lived perfectly, instead it says they walk in the light to show that they’re willing to be honest about their deeds and life before God. They walk in the light. To me 1st John 1:5-7 expounds on this truth, making it more clear how it works, when one walks in the light. 1 John 1:5-7 says, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” So if we walk in the darkness, it’s like saying we don’t sin (v.8-10) and make God out to be a liar, but if we walk in the light and do sin, which does happen, we can confess those sins before God, in the light, and repent, and God’s light purifies us from all sin. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915) puts it quite well when it says, “The first fact upon which the light of God impinges in human life is sin; and the first test of walking in the light is the recognition and confession of this fact. Such confession is the first step into fellowship with God, because it brings us under the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus...”

This theme of light and darkness was very much a present part of my life as an early Christian. I walked in the light sometimes, and I walked in the dark sometimes. I sinned a lot as an early Christian. Many times the Holy Spirit was grieved within me and I could tell it. The Spirit led me many times to go on my knees before God and ask for forgiveness with tears in my eyes for the things I’d done. I engaged in lust and sinned in many ways, walking in the darkness. But I always came back into the light and asked for God’s forgiveness. God had become the ‘light of the world’ in my life, but I kept sneaking back into the darkness and sinning whenever I could. I wanted to fulfill the desires of my flesh. In fact, I was at a Christian concert once, and a charismatic woman turned to me during the service and said, “Justin, I saw a vision in which you were standing halfway in the light and halfway in the darkness, and you came all the way into the light of God. I don’t know if that means anything to you.” And it certainly did at the time. I’ve always remembered what she said. I was slowly learning in my early Christian life that I needed to walk in God’s light, confessing sin, and repenting, instead of walking in darkness.

Second we consider the theme of freedom from sin and holy living. 1st John 2:3 (NIV) says, “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands.” To know God through Christ is to keep the commands of God, and John continues by saying that we show our love for Jesus by living as Jesus lived in the world. 1st John 2:29 (NIV) says, “If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.” It is evidenced by our freedom from sin and our right living that shows that we as believers are born of God, meaning that we are true Christians, and truly born again believers. 1st John 3:4-6 (NIV) says, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” Once again we see a necessity for freedom from sin in our lives. The idea of continuing in sin seems to be on a long term basis, indicating that in the long run, those who continue in sin are showing they never really knew God, but those who live holy lives are showing they belong to God.

In my own life I’ve seen God strip away sin after sin from my life. And it all begin with God removing my addictions to alcohol, prescription pills, and illegal drugs. A year later, he removed cigarettes, a bit later he removed several forms of lust and sexual immorality. He has continued to slowly remove evil from my life, including things like gossip, more forms of lust, divisive attitudes, ungodly passions, lying, stealing, and many other sinful desires of the flesh. One of the most difficult sins to break free from was jumping into relationships that I knew God wasn’t wanting me to be in. But for all these things it’s been a progressive journey. It hasn’t often happened all at once. And that’s the context that these scriptures from John have to be taken. We as humans think in days, weeks, and months. God’s view is from the perspective of years, decades, centuries, and further. Sanctification is a slow process of growth out of sin. But if we aren’t conforming to God, and cooperating with the Spirit in freedom from sin, we’re showing that we don’t really belong to God at all.

Thirdly, we consider the love of God. One could say that the chief theme of 1st John is the love of God. 1st John is where we see the phrase, “God is love.” John as a writer focused on the love of God so much in his writings that the gospel of John is sometimes referred to as “the love gospel.” 1st John 4:7-8 (NIV) says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” We see that the source of love is God, and He is the one who provides for the ability of Christians to love one another. If a Christian is loving toward his neighbors, he has shown he has been born of God. If someone is not loving, they don’t know God, because God is literally described as the word “love.” God showed his love for his people by sending his only son Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for sin (1 John 4:9-10). According to the Reformation Study Bible (2015), “By giving us His Son, the Father introduced us to the perfect love and eternal life that the Father and the Son have always enjoyed.” This means that we as Christians have been granted access to the love of God found in the fellowship of the trinity, as the body of Christ and co-heirs with Christ, awaiting the hope of eternal life. Truly in Christ we have received great riches of love and eternal glory. Indeed, there are endless references to the love of God and love for neighbor in the epistle of 1st John including 1 John 2:5, 2:15, 3:1, 3:10-11, 3:14-18, 3:23, 4:16-21, and 5:2-3. The love of God is a chief motivator for all we do as Christians, and should be reflected back to God as love for Him, and reflected toward our neighbors as love for all people.

The love of God has been a constant in my Christian walk since I first got saved. The love of God and the power of the gospel of grace are what drew me to become a Christian. I was attending a small Baptist church that met in a junior high school auditorium in 2012. And I was taught a great deal about the love of God, and how much God wants us to come to Jesus Christ for salvation. So very simply I listened, and one service I received the gospel and the Holy Spirit. I gave my testimony and was baptized later. I wrestled with sins in my life and slowly learned how to love God and love my neighbor. Love was a difficult thing for me to learn. I’m not prone to be particularly loving. Actually, I can quite often be rather cold, distant, and disconnected from those around me. I can tend to have a rather negative outlook, and I tend toward seclusion much of the time. But I’ve slowly been learning over the past few years to slow down, and be vulnerable enough to love people. It’s been difficult and awkward, and often times when I pray I have to simply ask God to teach me how to love Him and love people. Sometimes I wonder if I even love God much or love others that much either! But slowly and surely I’ve seen love begin to develop in my heart and life. It’s not a particularly strong or deep love, but it’s growing. And I consistently ask God to give me a heart of holy love that pours out to others. Love is not as easy as it seems, it’s actually quite difficult. But I can safely say that I’m learning to love my family, my neighbors, my colleagues, and even my enemies. God is doing this entirely of himself. I simply invite him to soften my heart, and make me able to love. When I was in the world I accumulated a great deal of brokenness from my lifestyle of sexual immorality and drug/alcohol addiction. My heart grew harder and harder, and the broken wreckage in my soul got worse and worse. My heart seemed impassible by the currents and streams of love. I didn’t even love my own family or friends. Only burnt ashes seemed to remain where my heart once was. But God has slowly given me a new soft heart of love. Sometimes I feel like I can’t love very well. But then I realize I do have a new heart of love, and the love of God pours out threw it toward others, when I least expect it.

1st John reflects a great overarching theme of God’s light as the light in which Christians walk; in holy living and growing freedom from sin, always experiencing the love of God, which pours out from us back toward God, and toward our neighbors, as we trudge the road of glory, awaiting the hope of our inheritance in eternal life. This great theme is reflected in my life through my own journey in breaking free from sins in the Spirit, learning to love holiness in The Salvation Army, and being taught by God to love Him and love others with all my heart, which is a new heart of Holy love.

References
Intro to 1 John. (2016, October 24). Retrieved March 1, 2019, from https://www.biblica.com/resources/scholar-notes/niv-study-bible/intro-to-1-john/
Law, R., & Orr, J. (1915). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Chicago, IL: Chicago: Howard-Severance.
Sproul, R. C., & Mathison, K. A. (2015). The Reformation Study Bible. Orlando, FL: Ligonier Ministries.
Swindoll, C. (n.d.). First John. Retrieved March 1, 2019, from https://www.insight.org/resources/bible/the-general-epistles/first-john
Walton, John H., & Keener, Craig S. (2016). Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Harpercollins Christian Pub.


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