1 John 2:22-23 and Antichrist

Left_BehindAntichrist is a multi-million dollar enterprise.  There are countless books predicting the rise of the antichrist, showing (if not who specifically) exactly when and where and under what circumstances the person will appear.

According to John, however, there are lots of antichrists and they have always been around.  Here is what he says:

Who is the liar? Isn’t it the person who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This person is the antichrist: the one who denies the Father and the Son.  Everyone who denies the Son does not have the Father, but the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.

Anyone who denies God is antichrist.  Specifically, anyone who denies the Son is God does not have the Father, and therefore is antichrist.  This flows right out of the theology in the Gospel of John, where Jesus tells his disciples that if they have seen him they have seen the Father, Colossians 1:15-20,  and Hebrews 1:1-4.

This is why, contrary to some opinions, Islam cannot be counted in the same family tree as Christianity.  The Islamic faith does have a place for Jesus, but their Jesus is not the Jesus of the New Testament.  They deny that Jesus is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity–Light from Light, true God from true God, of one substance with the Father.  Their Jesus is a prophet who was mighty in word and deed, but paltry and weak compared to the Christian truth about him.

This also cuts to the heart of much liberal (Christian and otherwise) scholarship concerning Jesus, which feeds into the image of a holy person (perhaps a prophet) who was just more connected to God than other people.  This is antichrist, since it denies God the Son–and therefore those who hold to such interpretations do not even have the Father, according to John.

For an understanding of Jesus to be Christian, it has to know Jesus as God in the flesh.  Anything less than this understanding is antichrist.  And if Jesus is God, then those who would follow him have a duty and responsibility to obey him.  This is not always easy.  Just look at this write-up of one of his sermons.

2 Peter 1:3-4 and The Divine Nature

2-PeterAre you saved?

This is a question that implies a destination and an accomplishment.  Sure, it is not our own accomplishment, for we are saved by grace, but it is a finished act nonetheless.  And it is a wrong question.

Look at what Peter says here:

By his divine power the Lord has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of the one who called us by his own honor and glory.  Through his honor and glory he has given us his precious and wonderful promises, that you may share the divine nature and escape from the world’s immorality that sinful craving produces.

How can something be completed when we are talking about the divine nature–something that is infinite?  If our relationship with Christ is us “sharing the divine nature” then we are going to be ever-deepening and being transformed.  Peter says as much with the next three verses:

This is why you must make every effort to add moral excellence to your faith; and to moral excellence, knowledge;  and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, endurance; and to endurance, godliness;  and to godliness, affection for others; and to affection for others, love.

If something was completed, there would be no need to add to it.  But as it is, we are talking about God’s very presence in our lives transforming us into the likeness of Christ (sharing the divine nature), and there will always be room for addition and growth.  This is what Methodists call pressing on towards sanctification.  God continually transforms us more and more fully into his own likeness, and because he is infinite there will always be more room for growth.

It is as if we stand in a darkened room and light a candle.  We can now see in the room, but not completely.  There are still areas that are dark.  If we have more light than the candle, if we turn on a lamp, we will see even more of the room, but still not all of it because there will be shadows in the corners.  Finally, if we open the windows and let the sun shine in the room, we will be able to see all of the room.  As we experience more and more of God’s grace, of the divine nature in our lives, we will have more and more sin rooted out of our being.  And here is where the analogy breaks down.  There will come a point when an room is entirely lit because of the sun and everything is seen.  Not so with God’s grace.  Because God is infinite, there will never be a time in this life when we will be completely transformed so that no further growth can take place.

There is always more to the divine nature, and there is always room to grow.  In fact, if we are not growing in our likeness to Christ, if we have stagnated, if we rely on the fact that we “are saved,” then we are rejecting God’s grace and his divine nature in our lives.  We, in essence, say to God, “Thank you, but I am fine now.  I no longer need any more of your presence in my life.”  God forbid we should ever say such a thing!

Do not rest in “Are you saved?”  Grow in “I am being saved.”

1 Peter 2:9-10 and the Purpose of Christianity

st-peterIf you were to ask people what the purpose of Christianity is, you would probably get a puzzled look.  Then you might get answers such as “to get to heaven” or “to help the poor” or “to alleviate injustice” or “to spread the Good News.”  Peter actually gives us the purpose of Christianity in these verses:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light.  Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Peter obviously has in mind God’s words to the Israelites at the base of Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19.  It is there that God declares that they will be his chosen people, the royal priesthood, holy nation, provided they keep the covenant which he was about to give to them.  Here Peter applies the same terms to the New Covenant People and it is still in the form of a covenant.

Covenants are conditional relationships.  They can be broken.  When we enter into a covenant with someone, there are benefits of being in the covenant, but there are responsibilities as well.  In the case of Israel, they were to be God’s chosen people provided that they uphold the covenant.  In this case, the Church will be the new covenant people of God provided that they “speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light.”

There it is.  The purpose of Christianity is to tell people how we have been delivered out of darkness.  Getting to heaven is not the purpose (especially since heaven will come down to earth in the end anyway).  Working out the faith by helping those who cannot help themselves (the widow and orphan in biblical language) is part of the life of a Christian.  The purpose of being delivered from sin and death is to tell other people how God did it so they can experience it themselves.

Of course this presupposes something–that we have been called out of darkness and that we do now live in his amazing light.  If that is not a reality in our own lives, no one will ever believe us as we share what God can do.  The question, then, is what that kind of life looks like in a person.  Peter shares that just prior to these verses in 2:1-3–

Therefore, get rid of all ill will and all deceit, pretense, envy, and slander. Instead, like a newborn baby, desire the pure milk of the word. Nourished by it, you will grow into salvation,  since you have tasted that the Lord is good.

It is a holy life.  And it is a holy life that grows as we continue to keep up the struggle against evil and temptation around us.  As we are nourished in Christ, we grow in our strength and maturity of faith.  As we grow in our faith, as our lives continue to mature in Christ, we show the world that we are no longer in darkness but in his amazing light.  When we willfully and continually sin without struggling against that sin or trying to repent of that sin in our lives, we show the world that we still have at least one foot in darkness.

It is absolutely necessary to keep up the good fight against sin in our lives.  We may fail at times, but if we truly struggle and if we have other Christians who will pray with us and encourage us, we will continue to move from darkness to light.  And when we finally have victory over that sin, we can then “speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light.”

That is our purpose.

James 2:26 and Dead Faith

2013_08_FaithI have lived in many places over the years and every once in a while I end up in a community that is adamant that Christians can’t have “works” because we are saved by faith alone.  Apparently those Christians have never read James.  It would not be surprising.  Martin Luther, that venerable reformer, wanted to remove James from the Bible (why not, he got rid of several Old Testament books!) but was prevented from doing so by others.  James didn’t fit his theology of sola fides or faith alone for salvation.  Here’s why:

As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead.

That is pretty clear and straight to the point.  If you want to read it in context, here is a link.  In fact, the only place the phrase faith alone occur in the Bible are in James 2:24:

So you see that a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone.

Luther was fighting against a corrupted system in the Roman Catholic Church of his time in which there was no discussion of faith, but only a system in which people worked for God to work off their sins.  His message of salvation by faith alone was a radical return to the idea that God saves us by grace so that we can live a Christian life.

Christians today who say there is no place for works in their lives take Luther’s statements (consciously or unconsciously) and try to apply them to a radically different situation.  They would do well to reexamine James, because James has the antidote to much of what is wrong in many Churches in the West today.

Faith is not really faith if it is not strong enough to lead to a transformed life.  This is because faith is not an agreement to a group of ideas about God.  It is a relationship with the Living God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–that leads us to be transformed step by step, grace by grace, and glory by glory, into the likeness of Jesus Christ.  If there is no transformation, if there is no changed life, if our lives do not increasingly look like Jesus, there is no faith.

John Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement, said that we are not saved by works, but neither can we be saved without them.  If we say we believe in Jesus Christ, but our lives do not show that belief, what does it say about our profession of faith?

Does this mean that in order to say we have faith we must be perfect?  Absolutely not!  If we have faith we must struggle against sin and seek to do God’s will, obeying Christ’s commands–for if we believe in him we acknowledge him not only as our Savior, but also our Lord.  We obey our Lord or we are unfaithful.  As we try to live the life Christ calls us to live we seek his help in fulfilling his calling upon our lives.  God gives even more grace to those who pray for it so they can live the Christian life.  This transformation occurs over time, as our relationship with God grows deeper.

Do not be drawn away by the idea that we are saved by saying we have faith alone.  Faith is not faith unless it results in a transformed life.

Hebrews 10:39 and Christian Courage

faithsignI really don’t like the image of Jesus that some people have of a meek, mild man (who tends to look like a woman with a beard in paintings) and went around just talking about love.  Its an image of a hippie Jesus I would expect sitting around a campfire singing kum ba ya with flowers in his hair.  That is not the image of the Jesus who made whips and beat the people in the Temple as he overturned the tables and chased everyone and everything out of it.  Nor is it the Jesus who confronted hypocrisy with harsh words and stern rebukes.

I also don’t like the image of the Church as a fortress of saints huddling together for protection from the evils of the outside world.  Its an image of a weak group of people whose purpose is to watch out for each other and separate from the rest of the world.  If someone else happens to hear of the Church and what she believes, that person may join, but the bulk of the Church’s efforts is on keeping evil out and protecting who it has.

This image of the Church does not line up with Scripture.  Take this verse from Hebrews as a prime example:

But we aren’t the sort of people who timidly draw back and end up being destroyed. We’re the sort of people who have faith so that our whole beings are preserved.

Christians are on the move, not timidly retreating from the world as it gets darker around us.  Paul writes about the armor of God and in it the main protection we have is a shield and breastplate–neither of which protect when armor-of-godsomeone turns around to retreat or run away.  They only protect the front of the body as the person is moving forward.  Jesus said as well that the Church would be so strong the gates of hell will not be able to withstand it.  This is an image of the Church marching against the strongholds of evil in the world.

If our understanding of the Church is meek and loving–and ultimately helpless in the face of evil in the world, this is not the biblical understanding of the Church.

Whether it is social issues or terrorism, the Church is not helpless, nor should it be afraid.  We have the presence of the Living God with us and nothing can change that fact.  Actually, that is not entirely true.  We can leave God’s presence when we do not live into the reality of the Church that God has created.  When we shrink back from our faithful witness in the world, we leave the power of God and we will be overcome.  Short of that, though, nothing can inhibit God’s power among us.

What is it that we are afraid of, then?  My suspicion is that we are afraid of losing the comfort and security we have.  It is a dangerous thing to stand up for Jesus in the face of a hostile world, but the only weapon the world has against us is fear.  To that we have a ready answer from Paul (Romans 8:35-39):

Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, We are being put to death all day long for your sake.  We are treated like sheep for slaughter.  But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us.  I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.

Do not be afraid.  Do not timidly draw back and be destroyed.  Stand fast.  Christ is with us and no one can change that fact.  Thanks be to God!

Philemon and Public Honor in the Church

philemon1Jesus said his followers ought to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.  I always thought that was five parts serpent to one part dove.  The letter of Philemon is perfect proof of this concept.  Paul’s subject in this letter is a runaway slave named Onesimus.  He converted to the faith while in prison with Paul, and now has an opportunity to return to his owner, Philemon.  Philemon happens to be a Christian, converted under Paul’s ministry as well.

Paul writes this letter to try and convince Philemon to free Onesimus and treat him as a brother in Christ rather than as a slave.

Here is where the wise as serpents is applied to this letter.  The letter is not sent directly to Philemon.  Look at to whom this letter is addressed:

 From Paul, who is a prisoner for the cause of Christ Jesus, and our brother Timothy. To Philemon our dearly loved coworker,  Apphia our sister, Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church that meets in your house.  May the grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

This letter was sent to specific people and the entire congregation that meets in their house, of which Philemon was a member.  Paul takes this issue of a runaway slave, something that was personal property, and throws it out into the public realm of congregational life.

Now, instead of this being an issue that Philemon can decide in the privacy of his own home, this becomes a an issue of Philemon’s public honor.  Will he claim his rights under Roman Law as a dishonored owner of a slave, or will he show his honor as a Christian to the congregation?  Everyone now knows this is the choice Philemon now has.

We surmise that Philemon did free Onesimus because his name shows up in two other places.  Colossians 4:9 has Onesimus as one of the deliverers of the letter.  And in Ignatius’ letter to the Church in Ephesus in around 108 AD Onesimus is identified as the bishop of that congregation.

Paul was wise in having this become an issue for the entire congregation, not just one person.  After all, Christian behavior and ethics are not personal.  When we are Christians, we are all a part of the same body.  When one of us suffers, we all suffer.  When one of us has suffering relieved, we all rejoice.

We would do well to remember this as we look at the suffering of our brothers and sisters around the world.