Saturday, February 11, 2012

First John Chapter Two, Part Thirteen

2:28 And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. A little while later in this epistle the topic of having confidence before God comes up again. “For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight,” 1st John 3:20-22.

In both chapters John is attempting to impress one thing that reflects upon two aspects of a Christian’s life: our prayer life and rewards or loss thereof at Christ’s coming. John wants us to possess a confidence at Christ’s sudden appearing, ensured by what he refers to as “abiding in Him.” Likewise, the apostle commands that a Christian keep Christ’s commandments to love one another and believe on the Savior (1st John 3:23-24); such things are pleasing in His sight. If we wish to have power in prayer we must abide in Him. We do this by keeping our first love alive, Revelation 2:4. Our first love is Christ Himself, and being active and fervent in doing the things that please Him will result in the natural outcome of possessing a potent prayer life and not having to worry about being ashamed at His coming. The church of Sardis was in danger of suffering the very thing John was presently warning Christians of, Revelation 3:3. Jesus was mercifully warning them (and through them, us) that their conduct was unbecoming of saints, and they would not presently want to be openly found by their Lord.

When our Lord appears, that is when we see Him face to face either in death or Rapture, we shall be made like Him, 1st John 3:2. Apparently the visible appearance of God is the final touch that expels all deficiency left in His maturing saints. Someone once said “the closer to God one gets the less inclined one is to desire to sin.” Take that statement to its logical conclusion and when faith gives way to sight sin will no longer be recalled. Until then John exhorts us to walk in a manner worthy of God’s saints so that we have confidence whether or not Christ appears today, tomorrow, or in another lifetime.

The Greek word for “appear” in this verse is “phaneroo” and can mean “to reveal, make known or show.” So we know that John is not writing about something abstruse and abstract, he is using a term that denotes an actual appearance. When Jesus is revealed or shows up, John says, abiding in Him through faith is the antidote to suffering shame or living our Christian life in constant fear rather than anticipating the blessed hope of our new life, 1st John 3:3.

2:29 If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.
This is a blanket statement that needs to be kept in context. Wrenched from John’s epistle this proclamation by the apostle could be misused to affirm that anyone humanitarian, benevolent or charitable is born of God. Rewind again to verse 28 where we are told that abiding in Christ produces a confidence at His coming so we need not be ashamed when He appears or manifests. The Christian then abiding in Christ produces righteous works, or the fruit of the Spirit, or in John’s words: [he] doeth righteousness.

Righteous deeds that God truly finds acceptable always follow salvation; the cart never comes before the horse, as the saying goes. The Apostle Paul is careful to differentiate. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them,” Ephesians 2:8-10. A man or woman must first be saved by grace alone apart from works of merit; Paul is clear and blunt in his explanation that faith in Christ alone is the vehicle that saves a repentant sinner. Only after such a conversion takes place and new life is born can a saint perform the works God has prepared for them, verse 10.

Paul has something of the same idea in mind when writing to his disciple, Titus: “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate,” Titus 1:15-16. The NKJV translates the latter portion of verse 16 as “disqualified for every good work.” One must first be purified in the blood of Christ (Ephesians 1:7; Revelation 1:5) before good works can be performed; otherwise our good works are an abomination to God, Isaiah 64:6. There was a vast difference between the pure whose works were likewise clean and the unpure whose mind and conscience were defiled, thus defiling their works. It might well have been this: the saints produced works befitting salvation while the unsaved produce works in an effort to gain salvation. But as Paul said in Ephesians, salvation is not of works, but of grace.

To clarify further, the apostle makes two clear declarations about the nature of the salvation offered to mankind. “[God] hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,” 2nd Timothy 1:9. So the saints are called and saved by God’s prerogative, not man’s initiative or effort. “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost,” Titus 3:4-5. Again Paul confirms that salvation has nothing to do with our works but with God’s mercy (aka grace). Note that Paul refers to salvation or justification in the past tense, including himself in the context with the usage of the word “we.” Salvation from sin’s penalty is not a future state to be enjoyed after suffering and working for one’s salvation; it is an immediate and permanent gift from God bestowed upon those who trust in Jesus Christ alone for it. “God hath saved (past tense) us.”

This verse then teaches that a saint practices righteousness as manifest evidence that we have been born again by God’s grace and quickened with the Holy Spirit. Because Christ our Lord is righteous, we seek to emulate Him in all of our doings. This implies that our “religion” must not be constrained to the church house or to Sundays. We are a Christian before we are a husband, father, businessman, etc. the whole sphere of our life should be a practice in righteousness since Christ has entrusted us as ambassadors and stewards while He is away, so to speak. The saint who is only Christian when it is convenient for them will have much to be ashamed of when Christ appears.

John is attempting to give us consolation regarding our future state. If we wish to please our Lord now and receive His blessing later at His judgment seat then we had best decide to take up our cross and follow Him and become more than believers: we must become disciples. Although I fail to find anything in this passage intimating that Christians who fail to practice righteousness will in the end be cast into the Lake of Fire. One’s eternal security is not in question and it never is in Scripture. A lack of interest in Jesus Christ and His appearing can quickly make a Christian carnal in thought and deed. We quickly turn to do things that would make us ashamed at His coming because we are no longer looking for Him. To motivate spiritual living, John will proceed to address the Christian’s role in his new life and what Christ ought to mean to him, and how this knowledge should transform us from the inside out.

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