Learning from John

Truth and Love

A big movement has arisen that declares that we can walk in love and grace, but ignore truth. The “hyper-grace movement”, as it has been termed. Yes, we must walk in love and grace towards one another, but part of love is holding one another to the truth.

Enter John. John ended his life known as “the Apostle of Love“. It is a name that, today, might bring forth images of dope-smoking hippies, but such an image couldn’t be further from the truth. Jesus originally gave John, with his brother James, the name: “sons of thunder”. John was an emotive character and this didn’t simmer down as he aged. There is a tale of him jumping out of a public bath (streaking) when a known heretic entered it, because he would not share bath water with a false teacher. He remained passionate, but his passion became founded on the love of God.

John challenges me because he never compromised the truth to remain popular. He was known as the Apostle of Love by the body of Christ, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be caught in sin by him.  One only needs to read through 1 John to hear his fierce love for God’s people, and yet equal fire for the truth to remain unsoiled. I want to cut and paste the entire first epistle of John here, but I’ll content myself with a small passage with the hope that you will read through it yourself today (it’s only 5 chapters).

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:4-6)

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:7-10)

Pursing His truth and love

The prayer on my heart these past few months is that I would be known for love. Yet I know that this will only come to pass if I am also known for standing on the truth. God’s love and truth go together. The love of God is not a soft, wishy-washy love. God’s love is a fierce, jealous, consuming fire. God cannot abide sin, and those in Him will also be unable to continue in wilful sin (we all sin, but those in Christ should not make a knowing habit of any sin).

Our love for one another must also be fierce and protective. If we love one another, we will help keep one another from stumbling. When we read the epistles of Scripture they are commanding and corrective. The apostles guarded their flocks with a fierce love that called believers constantly back to the truth that they learnt in Christ.

Today we see a hyper-grace movement taking over the church. It falls under the same title as the gnostics of Apostle John’s ministry – libertarianism (from the gnostic belief that the body was evil and the soul good, so what one did with the body didn’t matter). Many churches today says that grace covers a multitude of sin and we must just “love one another”, but they ignore the fact that those who are in Christ have been made dead to sin! The love that is of God abhors sin. Those in Christ cannot keep making a habit of sin.

I feel like Paul’s argument in Romans makes it one hundred percent clear how we are to live (read Romans, or at least Romans 6-8!):

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:1-3)

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Romans 6:11-13)

Grace is not an excuse to sin and those who preach such are not standing on the truth of the Gospel! The good news is that we have been set free! We are no longer compelled by our sinful flesh!

Are you dead or alive?

Christ was humble and meek, yet He intentionally took the time to sit and weave a whip of cords and then go clear the temple out of those who had turned the court of Gentiles (where the Gentiles who loved God were meant to be allowed to worship) into a place of trade.

And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. (John 2:15)

Jesus never condoned sin in all His ministry. He loved those in sin, offered them healing and forgiveness, and then called them to leave their lives of sin.

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:10-12)

Those who are in Christ must turn away from the darkness and walk in the light – and who is the light? Jesus! He is the way, the truth and the life. Recently I was heard someone share that they were once told: “Stop being nicer than Jesus”. How appropriate. Jesus is love. Yet Jesus was direct and corrective. Remember His words to Peter?

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21-23)

Walk in His light

The New Testament is full of passages that push us towards living out the truth in love and I’ll list just a few at the end of this post. Not one of these passages, however, allow us to compromise the way of God for the ways of the world! Yet the church has washed out the truth to make way for the world’s understanding of love.

God loves all people, but few of them are His. Those who are saved are those who accept Christ Jesus as Lord. Full stop. God will not save everyone, but only those who believe on Christ’s name. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; all need God’s salvation. When did the church stop preaching this foundational message? We are all sinners in need of God’s love, grace, mercy and forgiveness.If we tell people that they are “good people” and “God loves them”, but do not tell them of their desperate need for God’s healing mercy and forgiveness then we have failed in our God-given commission. Accepting Christ means dying to our old self that was enslaved to sin and being set free to live righteously! 

The Gospel message is offensive to the world. We are not meant to be loved by the world. The New Testament is overflowing with the promise of persecution; Jesus Himself promised it (John 15:20, John 16:33)! If you are a Christian offended by this post then I challenge you to open the New Testament and read it from start to finish. What do you see of Christ? Who is He? What is His attitude to sin and compromise? And if this doesn’t convince you, go and reread Revelation and soak in the two camps – we are either in God’s camp, or we are in the world’s camp. There is no middle ground. And Christ’s camp is righteousness. 

So let us challenge ourselves to walk in truth with love. Let us challenge ourselves and our faith communities to walk in step with the teachings of the Bible. Let us ask God to reveal the true expression of love to us. Let our hearts be transformed into the image of Christ. Let us love sinners, and disciple believers. Let us no longer be conformed to the image of this world, but be transformed by the Spirit into the glorious likeness of Christ.

Light or dark?

Here are those Scriptures I promised (that are very far from a complete list!):

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” (Luke 11:33 36).

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 5:1-6)

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice 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 cleanses us from all sin.If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10)

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” . . . Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; (1Pe 1:14 -16, 22-23).

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. . . But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:15-17, 20-25)

Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:21-22)

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