Friday, July 03, 2009

"Jesus and the Johannine Letters"

The Beloved John, The Loving Disciple

John's pastoral love for the believers is not sentimental self-seeking love, but a sincere concern for the children of God, whom he considers his own. John's love is demonstrated in his concern to correct errors that have come into the church.

The Heresy of Docetism
The teachers of this heresy had left the church, but their influence lingered. Docetism denies the reality of the incarnation and teaches that Christ only appeared to have a human body. John, probably the last living disciple, is in a unique position to refute this idea. He wastes no time, for in the first verse of the first epistle he states, "we have heard," "we have seen" and "our hands have handled." He establishes that he is a competent witness to the reality of Jesus Christ. Ellen White tells us John lived to be nearly one hundred years old (Selected Messages, book 2, p. 223). We can take comfort that God loves His faithful servants their entire lives, and uses them to share a special witness even when they are aged. We should not ignore them or their testimony.

The Heresy of Sinlessness
John uses three "If we say" hypotheticals to soften his warnings against what must have been folks in the church claiming they had stopped sinning. John calls them liars, but does not say they are sinning. There will come a time when there will be a people who stand fully cleansed and sealed, but that is not their message. They do not know their true condition, but are used by God to demonstrate to the universe that Satan is the liar when he claims God cannot dwell in His people to give them righteous characters.

"He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." This statement in 1 John 2:4 is similar to John 14:15: "If ye love Me, keep My commandments." In both, John is emphasizing that the actions stem from heartfelt love. It does not follow that if we outwardly keep His commandments, without surrendering the heart, that it will result in knowing or loving Him.

Warning of the Antichrist
The word "antichrist" is used only four times, all in John's epistles. Paul and Peter allude to apostasy or hypocrisy from within, which we understand to refer to antichrist (Acts 20:30; 2 Peter 2:1, 2; 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 3:1-8; 2 Thess. 2:3-4) Paul describes the "man of sin" as he "who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God. ... (2 Thess. 2:3-4). In his epistles, John adds that the antichrist denies that Christ came in the flesh (2 John 7).

While we use the term antichrist to describe individuals and organizations who are worthy of the term, it is also possible that we avoid personal responsibility by doing so. If we are depending on our own efforts rather than accepting the righteousness of God to be assured of salvation, we will never have the confidence to keep the sign of loyalty to God, His Sabbath, come what may. One who denies that Christ came in the flesh when He came to earth, may also deny that He can come into human flesh today. If we insist that we can contribute to our own righteousness, we are attempting to preempt the role that only God can fill through His Son. It is only by accepting the mind of Christ that we receive that robe "without a thread of human devising."How is this done?

"... in order to have the righteousness of God--which is the latter rain, which is the preparation for the loud cry--we must have the mind of Christ only; ... This is precisely the advice that is given to us in the Scriptures: 'Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.' Phil. 2:5, 6. ... Now what mind is in us to start with? The mind of self. What does that mind do? It exalts self. ... Therefore as we have a [self centered] mind to start with, and must have another than that, while that other empties of self the one in whom it is, does it not follow inevitably that that mind which we have to start with, is a mind only of self? (A. T. Jones, 1893 General Conference Bulletin, #12, p. 257).

Satan's difficulty began when he looked at himself and allowed pride to work its destructive process.

"... he began to give himself credit for what he was ... He would be in the place of Christ; and anyone who puts himself in the place of Christ puts himself in the place of God, because God is in Christ" (ibid.).

If we cannot have the righteousness of God without having the mind of Christ, we must replace the self-centered mind we have naturally with the mind of Christ. How can we accomplish this?

"The word of God must be interwoven with the living character of those who believe it. The only vital faith is that faith which receives and assimilates the truth till it is a part of the being, and the motive power of the life and action. ... The followers of Christ must be partakers of His experience. They must assimilate the word of God. They must be changed into its likeness by the power of Christ, and reflect the divine attributes. ... This is genuine sanctification" (Signs of the Times, April 13, 1888).

"By His perfect obedience He has made it possible for every human being to obey God's commandments. When we submit ourselves to Christ, the heart is united with His heart, the will is merged in His will, the mind becomes one with His mind, the thoughts are brought into captivity to Him; we live His life. This is what it means to be clothed with the garment of His righteousness. Then as the Lord looks upon us He sees, not the fig-leaf garment, not the nakedness and deformity of sin, but His own robe of righteousness, which is perfect obedience to the law of Jehovah" (Christ's Object Lessons, p. 312).

As we study this quarter's lessons based on John's epistles, may we all, like the noble Bereans, search the scriptures for ourselves, so we assimilate the truth till it is a part of our being. Only when we deny any confidence in self will we have the assurance that no one can take away our faith.
--Arlene Hill