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Today’s post continues with St John’s epistles, most of which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary.

As such, they are ideal for my ongoing Forbidden Bible Verses series, exploring other Scripture passages equally essential to our Christian walk.

The reading is from the King James Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (sermons from 2002, as cited in the post).

1 John 2:12-17

12I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.

13I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.

14I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.

15Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

 17And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

——————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post, which introduced this current series, examined John’s warning that those who called themselves Christian yet ignored Christ’s commandments to love were liars still walking in the darkness of sin.

This continuation of 1 John 2 shows that John addresses Christians at whatever level of their sanctification. Hence, he addresses children, young men and fathers. He does not mean this chronologically but by spiritual development in Christ. As Matthew Henry explains:

All Christians are not of the same standing and stature; there are babes in Christ, there are grown men, and old disciples. As these have their peculiar states, so they have their peculiar duties; but there are precepts and a correspondent obedience common to them all, as particularly mutual love and contempt of the world.

This is not necessarily as obvious as it seems. In ‘The Stages of Spiritual Growth’, John MacArthur explains that an unlearned layperson can be further along the road to sanctification than a clergyman with multiple degrees, a younger person might be more advanced than an elderly person and so forth. I would also venture that it is gender neutral, in that many women are further along the path than men. So, sanctification has little to do with age, education, social status or sex.

St John structures his letter such that he begins with a universal truth for those new to the faith (verse 12). They are the most recent Christians; regardless of age, they are spiritual ‘children’ in their development. Therefore, he begins by citing the fundamental of Christ’s forgiveness of their sins.

He addresses each type of Christian with a different message, not unrelated, but appropriate for their level of sanctification. In verses 13 and 14, he explains why. To those who have been Christians for a long time and have immersed themselves in the faith — ‘fathers’ — he says that he includes them because they have known Christ the longest. To the ‘young men’ — still remembering their conversion yet now immersed in knowing more about Christ’s and the Apostles’ teachings — because they know how to avoid temptation. And to the newest members because they now know God the Father through a belief in Christ.

In verses 15 and 16, he exhorts all believers to turn away from the ‘world’ — Satan’s domain — meaning temptation to break the Commandments. We are hard-wired to sin, to fall prey — with Satan’s help — to greed, sensuality, envy, violence and excess.  This recalls verses from John’s Gospel, among them:

– Christ speaking in John 7:7: ‘The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil’.

– Christ in John 8:23-24: And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.  I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.’

John 8:34: ‘Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.’

– Christ to the Pharisees in John 8:44 and John 8:47: ‘Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.’ And: ‘He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.’

– Christ in John 8:51: ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.’

Henry explains John’s focus on this theme:

The world draws down the heart from God; and so the more the love of the world prevails the more the love of God dwindles and decays.

Some readers might say, ‘But if Christians, as John tells the “children”, are saved, why worry?’

MacArthur says of sanctification:

Now there are a number of ways in which the Bible defines spiritual growth. It calls it “following after righteousness,” 1 Timothy 6:11. It calls it “being transformed by the renewing of your mind,” Romans 12:2. It calls it “perfecting holiness in the fear of God,” 2 Corinthians 7:1. As we noted earlier, it calls it “pressing toward the mark,” Philippians 3:14. Colossians 2:7 says, “It’s being built up in the faith.” This is spiritual growth. It’s not mystical. It’s not sentimental. It’s not devotional. It’s not psychological. It’s not due to an experience. It’s not due to an event. It’s not due to a decision. It’s not due to a rededication. It’s not due to a secret insight any more than your growth is due to any of those. Your growth as a living human being is not due to anything mystical, sentimental, devotional, psychological, it’s not due to any event, it’s not due to any commitment or decision, it is a process…it’s a process of feeding your body so that it can develop. And that’s the same in the spiritual dimension, it is a process of taking in the truth of God and growing on the basis of believing and responding to that truth. To put it simply, you cannot grow spiritually unless you grow in your understanding of God’s truth. That’s the only way to get there. “Man doesn’t live by bread alone, but he lives by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God,” Jesus said. Life is growth and growth comes by eating and the food that you have is not bread, but it is every word that comes out of the mouth of God. Spiritual growth is directly related to an increase in your understanding of God’s revelation.

Now in our text in 1 John, this is wonderfully instructive treatment of the three stages of spiritual growth. Obviously there are a whole continuum in between, but there are sort of three categories that you grow in that are named here. Children, young men and fathers…obviously that’s how it is in the human realm, using a man as an illustration, provides a very instructive framework for us to understand spiritual growth.

The better we understand the Bible, Church doctrine and our denomination’s confessions of faith, the better we are able to resist the temptations of the world.  Yes, earlier I said that degrees in theology were no indicator of sanctification. However, if we spend time as often as we can exploring them — alone or in a class offered at church — we shall find the answers to many of our ‘unanswerable’ questions. Our love for Christ is bound to increase. As such, our resistance to worldly lures also be buoyed. We also become better at discerning right from wrong, truth from falsehood.  We can apply this to the secular world as well.

Whilst it is fine to have our favourite Christian authors and Bible verses — most often those which make us feel good — it’s also useful to find out what God dislikes and how He would like us to approach Jesus.

Another benefit of pursuing sanctification is that we avoid slipping into Gnosticism, Pantheism, Pelagianism and other heresies and syncretic forms of Christianity which can draw us away from the true Church. There are a number of so-called churches today which are based on syncretism, racial lines or pastor-mandated methods of legalistic personal conduct and aberrant family life.  These do just as much to destroy the Church’s reputation — not to mention drive families apart — as do other serious sins by Her members which make the headlines.

In ‘The Love God Hates’, John MacArthur preached:

The only way you can be saved is to affirm the gospel of Christ and when you affirmed that the gospel of Christ in its fullness was true and you believed it and you embraced it and you confessed Jesus as Lord, at that moment you were dead to the world because the world is a system that opposes that reality. That’s why we can say as Christians that we do not love that system. We hate that system. It doesn’t mean I hate the creation. It doesn’t mean I hate people. It doesn’t mean that my fallenness is not sometimes allured toward the things that make up the world, but down in the depths of my being, the truest and purest expression of my redeemed soul is that I hate what opposes my Lord. Is that not true? I hate it. And sometimes I want to make a whip and clean out the places, and so do you. And sometimes you want to take the books that deny the deity of Christ and throw them against the wall because they anger your soul, because you hate that which misrepresents God and misrepresents the Lord Jesus Christ. If you’re a true Christian, that’s how you feel. And if you don’t feel that way, then you love the world and the love of the Father is not in you.

What is the dominant spirit of the world? I don’t care what religious form it comes in or irreligious form it comes in, I don’t care whether it’s agnosticism, atheism, or whether it’s the most sophisticated kind of religion, the common denominator in the entire system is anti-Christ. That’s why in chapter 4 verse 3 the spirit of Anti-Christ is already operative in the system. This prevailing anti-Christ mentality, whether it’s Islam or Buddhism, or Atheism, or whatever it is, cultism, schisms, whatever, eastern religions, any other kind of religion, aberrant forms of Christianity, you name it, whatever it is, the common denominator is that it contains a misrepresentation of Jesus Christ and the glories of salvation and it is purveyed by an endless line of false prophets. And it hates us. The line was drawn when you became a believer. The world and the family of God are opposites.

Satan tempts us subtly, by appealing to our senses and minds.  In ‘The Cardiology of Worldliness’, MacArthur preached on this letter of John and illustrated it with the temptation of Eve in Genesis 3:

She was gone in her mind. She had fallen but she hadn’t yet sinned. She was in a fallen condition. She hadn’t yet sinned. What is the matrix in her fallenness that’s going to literally cause her to sin? Verse 6 tells you, follow this, “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food,” what’s that? Stomach, bodily appetite, lust of the flesh, it isn’t related to hunger, she had all kinds of things to eat. It was the idea that there was some satisfaction being withheld from her. It was good for food, the lust of the flesh, fulfill some desire, some appetite.

Secondly, she saw also that it was a delight to the eyes. That’s the lust of the eyes. It not only excited her…her sort of basic desire for the sensual joy of food, it excited her otherwise noble appreciation of beauty so it went from her physicality, to her emotion. And she saw that it was a beautiful tree and that made it desirable. She could appreciate beauty. And so she was seduced by her hunger and she was seduced by her vision.

And then she also saw that the tree was desirable to make one…what?…wise. What was that? Pride of life. That’s the matrix that sin works on, the baser desires and appetites of the body, the nobler visions of beauty and form and the highest of all, the ability to know wisdom because you’re made in the image of God, comes the point of pride.

In verse 17, St John tells his followers — and us — that the world and people’s love of it will die one day. However, those who obey the Lord will enjoy eternal life. Henry remarks:

From the whole of these verses we should observe the purity and spirituality of the apostolical doctrine. The animal life must be subjected to the divine; the body with its affections should be swayed by religion, or the victorious love of God.

Christianity isn’t enough for many people today. One of the things I noticed since I have been researching pietism in pre-Reformation and Reformation Europe is that people fought tooth and nail for their faith in that era. We could debate the details, political motives and the doctrines endlessly, but the point is that that Europeans felt passionately about Christ only six or seven centuries ago. Catholics and Protestants went to war for their beliefs.  I’m not advocating war but rather indicating the intensity they had for Christ.

It wasn’t like today, when hardly anyone in Europe believes in Christ. Recall Christ’s words in John 3:18:

He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Nearly everyone is wrapped up in materialism, climbing the greasy pole and personal ‘needs’. I know a few people who no sooner return home from holiday and start planning the next six. Others are preoccupied by house prices and real estate; they have to know the layout of other people’s homes to make themselves feel better.  Or there’s the contest to see what schools they can get their children into.

However, the lower classes are hardly blameless. The animalistic behaviour on display during the riots in England in August 2011 was a case in point. Sin doesn’t discriminate on grounds of social class. It affects everyone: the so-called ‘99%’ as well as the ‘1%’.

In ‘Why Christians Don’t Love the World’, MacArthur said:

You say things have never been this bad in my life. Well that’s right, they’ve never been this bad in anybody’s life because it’s getting worse and worse and worse. We can assume it’s going to be worse in the next generation and worse in the generation after that and the generation after that until Jesus comes. Sin is destroying the system it thrives on. It’s like cancer, it’s eating itself. Is that a threat to us? No. Because verse 17 says the one who does the will of God abides how long? Forever…forever. Who is the one who does the will of God? Believers…believers. We are defined as the ones who do the will of God. What is the will of God? “This is My beloved Son, hear Him,” that’s the will of God. We did that. It is the will of God that we believe the gospel. We’ve done that. It is the will of God that we embrace Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we’ve done that. That’s the will of God. It is the will of God that we love the Son, we obey the Father. “This is the will of My Father,” John 6:40, “that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life.” That’s the will of the Father. Just another way to talk about believers, we’re believers. We’re those who do the will of God. The will of God is that this is My Son, believe in Him, John 6:40. Christians have done that and we live forever.

We’re not going where the system is going. The system is going into death and we’re going into life. So we can’t love the world because of what it is, the system of Satan. Who we are, the children of God. What it does, it incites the sin, and we resist that and long for righteousness.

Next week: 1 John 2:18-29

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