The Not So New Commandment

The Not So New Commandment

Yesterday we continued our series through 1 John and I was privileged to preach from 1 John 2:7-11.  As previously stated in this series, John the apostle is passionate that his readers know some things about God, about themselves, and about their faith.  John does not focus on the “gray” areas or the “muddy middle”—he is interested in light or darkness.

The Light of the World

John begins this paragraph by pointing out an old command and then following it up by restating it as a new command.  John was not seeking ambiguity or self-contradiction.  Instead, he was pointing out that the Light of the world—Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the entire law and has certainly demonstrated light and love to a fallen world.

In addition, John points out that those who have been saved by Christ are also shining this light of the gospel into the world.  In verse 8, John writes, “At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.”  Notice the phrase, “in him and in you” in the middle of this verse. The new command was shining in Christ as he perfectly fulfilled God’s law.  In addition, John points to the fact that the gospel light is shining in the lives of those who follow Jesus.  This is essential to remember, just as we see in Matthew 5:14-16.

Last of all, it’s essential to notice that John claims that the Christians had been taught this truth from the beginning.  Apparently they were not accustomed to attracting unbelievers into their churches with gimmicks and trickery only to unveil the deeper doctrine later on in hopes that they would not be offended or leave.  Apparently the early church embraced an approach to preaching and teaching that insisted on people counting the cost up front before they commit to following Christ.

The Test of Light and Love

In verses 9-11, John alternates from negative to positive and back to negative again as he brings his thought to a close.  The statements are pointed, and intended for self examination.  John is not interested in allowing people to remain confused about the state of their own soul.  He desires for true believes to possess assurance of their salvation and he likewise desires for unbelievers to know they are in need of salvation.

John uses the contrast of light and darkness and love and hatred through these verses to reveal the lifestyle and pattern of a person’s life.  He insists that where there is hatred for brothers and sisters in Christ, such a person is living in darkness.  Darkness is a symbol for spiritual death.  It may be the opposite of the culture, but as John points out, Christians are to love one another.  Notice what John said in his Gospel:

John 12:46 – I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.

John insists that no true believer abide in darkness.  He goes on to explain the true Christian life as a life of light and love.  “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling” (1 John 2:10).  The person who claims to be a Christian but harbors hatred in his heart for others in the church (or outside the church) is a hypocrite who abides in spiritual death and will become a stumbling block—a hurdle for the gospel of Jesus.  The world has seen enough hypocrites, as John demands, it’s time for the world to see real Christianity on display.

John concludes with a terrifying statement about the one who lives in darkness and has been blinded spiritually.  John says that such a person “does not know where he is going” (1 John 2:11).  What a terrifying position for a person to abide in spiritually.  Such a person is on a broken road headed to an eternal hell and he has no idea where he is going because the god of this world has blinded his mind.  Spiritually, he cannot see (2 Cor. 4:4).

Such a person needs Jesus and John’s goal is for you to know if this is where you are today.  Do you stand in need of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ?  Are you full of religion, but lost and on a broken road to eternal destruction?  Keep in mind, no amount of religion is capable of saving your soul.  Only Jesus Christ can save a sinner.  Don’t be one of those described by Jesus who will try to offer up their spiritual resume on the day of judgment.  God isn’t impressed by anyone’s spiritual resume.  The only means whereby God will be satisfied is the substitutionary death of Jesus.

Matthew 7:21-23 – Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. [22] On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ [23] And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Propitiation for the Sins of the Whole World

Propitiation for the Sins of the Whole World

Yesterday morning, I preached from 1 John 2:1-6 in our series titled, “Know” which is a verse-by-verse exposition of John’s letter to the Christians throughout Asia minor.  The first half of my sermon was focused on the ministry of Jesus and the second half was centered on pursuing assurance of true saving grace.

In the first half of the sermon, one of the points of consideration was the atoning work of Jesus on behalf of sinners.  John calls Jesus the propitiation offered up to God the Father to save sinners.  The reality of salvation through Christ is a joyful truth to consider.  We are not left to find God or please God on our own.  However, the extent of the atonement is a bit more complicated and certainly controversial in evangelical circles.  I attempted to explain what John intended by the phrase in 1 John 2:2 and by doing so, I had to labor over several points to demonstrate what John was not intending to communicate.

The Word World Is Used Differently throughout the New Testament

Before taking time to consider the way the word world is used throughout the New Testament, many evangelicals run for the hills when people start discussing the extent of the atonement because of faulty methods, poor teaching on this subject, or both.  How does Jesus use the word world?

John 17:9 – I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

In this passage, world is in reference to unbelievers among the total human population.  Jesus makes a distinction between his people and the people of the world.

John 17:16-19 – They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. [17] Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. [18] As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. [19] And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

In this passage, world is used to reference the pagan worldly system.  Jesus is said to consecrate himself for the people of God—not for the whole world.

The Extent of the Atonement in Various Other Passages

In various different places, we see the death of Jesus being offered up on behalf of a specific group of people as opposed to the entire world without distinction.  John uses the word, “ἱλασμός” which is translated propitiation in our text.  The word means, “appeasement necessitated by sin, expiation [1]

Isaiah 53:10-12 – Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. [11] Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. [12] Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Certainly the prophet could have used the Hebrew word for world, but he did not do so. Instead, he pointed out on a couple of occasions in the suffering servant passage (Is. 53) that Jesus’ death was offered up for many.  This is a clear distinction that limits the atonement.

Mark 10:45 – For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Mark 14:24 – And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.

In Mark’s Gospel, we find two passages that seem to make it obvious that Jesus’ death was offered up for the sins of many people in the world, but not the whole world without exception.

Matthew 1:21 – She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

When Jesus’ birth was prophesied by the angel to Joseph, the angel touched on the extent of Jesus’ atoning death.  According to the angel, Jesus came to save his people from their sins.  Do you see the clear distinction?

John 10:11 – I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10:15 – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is pictured as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.  There is always a clear distinction between the sheep and goats in the New Testament (see Matt. 25:32-33).

Ephesians 5:25 – Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, [26] that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, [27] so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Jesus is pictured in Ephesians as giving his life for the church—not the entire world without exception.  Therefore, it must be said that Jesus’ death was not a generic death, for a generic population in hopes that a generic people would come to Him by the power of their faith.  Jesus’ death was substitutionary and had a specific design that would bring about definite results.

Was the atonement accomplished by the death of Jesus limited in any way?  Yes, but that should do two very specific things in the hearts of all Christians.  First it should humble every Christian knowing that God had no obligation to save anyone and he chose to send his Son to die in the place of sinners.  Secondly, nobody knows who Jesus died for as we glance over our town, our city, the local high school, and our place of employment.  We must go and share the good news of Jesus Christ indiscriminately and trust the sovereign grace of God for the results.  One day, around the throne of God above, there will be a people from the whole world who were saved by the atoning death of Jesus—praising him and worshipping him (Rev. 5).

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;

  1. William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 474.
Your Walk Should Match Your Talk

Your Walk Should Match Your Talk

Yesterday we continued our journey through 1 John as a church family.  I was privileged to preach from 1 John 1:5-10 and the main idea of the passage was focused on evaluating your walk to make sure it aligns with your talk.  In other words, your profession of faith should match your life of faith.  John is interested in pushing his readers to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith or merely in religion.

The way John begins this section of verses is by pointing out some important realities about God’s nature and character.  John speaks with a measure of authority as an apostle who spent much time with Jesus as one of his inner circle.  John points out that he has a message that was given to him directly by Jesus.  He then moves on to state two important realities about God:

  1. God is light
  2. There is no darkness in God

This is an important theme of John through his Gospel and this epistle—light and darkness.  His statement about God’s nature is that God is pure, radiant, and holy and his character is true and trustworthy with no darkness in him at all.  This is essential for every person to know because it separates our God from the myriads of false gods that litter the hallway of history.

John then moves to examine the lifestyle of his readers.  John made a very important statement and then contrasted it with a follow-up statement.

1 John 1:6-7 — 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.

Fellowship (κοινωνία) with God means that we share life with him and walk in intimacy with him.  John points out that this is impossible if a person walks in darkness.  If an individual professes to have fellowship with God but the person has a lifestyle of sin and depravity, that individual lies and does not practice a life of truthfulness.

However, on the flip side of that same coin, John points out that the person who walks in the light (which is pointing back to the reality that God is light), enjoys fellowship with God and as a result—the church.  True Christian κοινωνία is a life of genuine friendship, accountability, worship, study, prayer, and pursuit of holiness.  This should be the ongoing reality of the entire church family.

The life of depravity and deceit is then pointed out by John whereby he warns of the hardened heart that refuses to confess sin.  Such an individual has been blinded by the devil (2 Cor. 4:4) and cannot see that he has sinned against God.  Donald Grey Barnhouse writes:

It is only stubborn self-pride that keeps man from the confession to God that would bring release, but that way he refuses to take. Man stands before God today like a little boy who swears with crying and tears that he has not been anywhere near the jam jar, and who with an air of outraged innocence, pleads the justice of his position, in total ignorance of the fact that a good spoonful of the jam has fallen on his shirt under his chin and is plainly visible to all but himself. [1]

The point that John labors at the end is that there is hope in God through Christ.  God is faithful and just to forgive sinners, but to the one who rejects and refuses to confess—there will be no forgiveness.

What about you?  In a world of religious confusion, it would be a good and profitable exercise for you to pause briefly today and ask yourself an eternally significant question.  How do you know that you have eternal life?

  1. Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans: Expositions of Bible Doctrines Taking the Epistle to the Romans as a Point of Departure, Vol. 1.,God’s Wrath: Romans 2-3:1-20,” (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1953), 191)



Paul’s Big Ambition for the Church

Paul’s Big Ambition for the Church

Yesterday, we finished our series through the book of Ephesians.  It was bittersweet.  To come to the end of a lengthy study is a good thing, but it also makes you realize that it will likely be many years before you return to this great book that Ruth Paxson once called “the Grand Canyon of Scripture.”  As Paul came to the end of his letter, he ended with a big ambitious goal for the church at Ephesus and the churches in the surrounding cities.  We should ask ourselves if we have similar goals four local churches?

Paul’s Desire to Encourage

Paul ended with a desire to encourage the church.  In fact, that was one of the great purposes of the entire letter.  Paul was writing from prison, but had a desire to encourage the people.  Paul’s affection for the church in Ephesus and their affection for him is clearly seen in Acts 20:36-38.  Paul sent Tychicus to encourage the church, and they could find encouragement in the wellbeing of Paul (although he was in prison, he was well), and they could find encouragement in the grand truths of Christianity that were communicated to them through this letter.

Tychicus was a dearly beloved individual who was one of Paul’s faithful helpers and assistants.  In Acts 20:4 Tychicus was mentioned as a native of Asia and was with Paul in Greece.  Tychicus traveled with Paul as he took the collection from the Gentile churches to their needy Jewish brethren in Jerusalem.  In 2 Timothy 4:12 we find some additional information about Tychicus who was sent on some undesignated mission to Ephesus and was also intended to take Titus’ place at some point according to Titus 3:12.  The point is clear—Paul found a close connection to Tychicus who was a man he could trust.  Every minister needs close friends and associates that can be trusted.

Paul’s Doctrinal Ambition

Paul finished his letter with a blessed saying known to us as a benediction.  This was a typical manner of closing a letter.  However, Paul doesn’t just provide a shallow benediction.  He provides them with some doctrinal depth as he communicates some doctrinal desires for the church.

The first thing we see is the word peace – “εἰρήνη” – a state of concord, peace, harmony.  Paul desired the church at Ephesus to walk in the peace of God. Before anyone can enjoy the peace of God, first and foremost, they must be at peace with God.  That’s the purpose of Jesus’ birth, sinless life, and substitutionary death (Luke 1:79; 2:14; John 14:27; 16:33).   Before salvation you are pictured as a:

  • Transgressor
  • Law breaker
  • Sinner
  • Infidel
  • Rebel
  • Unclean
  • Evil
  • Filthy
  • Depraved
  • Lustful
  • Trespasser
  • Wanderer
  • Enemy of God
  • Wicked
  • Disobedient
  • Child of the devil
  • Child of wrath
  • Scoffer
  • Spiritually blind
  • Spiritually dead
  • Fleshly rather than spiritual
  • Double-minded
  • Unrighteous

It’s only through the blood of Jesus Christ that takes away our sin (Rom. 5:8) and serves as a propitiation to God the Father (1 John 2:1-2) that enables us to stand at peace before God (Rom. 8:1).  This truth produces peace among the church as we live in God’s peace that translates out to a peaceful church life among fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (see Eph. 4:3).

Paul continues by speaking of “love with faith from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The Christians would have experienced the love of God through faith that comes from God. How did these Christians receive the love of God? It was by faith? How did they exercise faith? It was a gift of God (see Eph. 2:8-9).  Since we are his workmanship (Eph. 1:15), we should walk in the love of God and demonstrate love for one another.

Paul finishes by talking about grace “χάρις”—God’s gift of unmerited mercy and salvation to fallen sinners.  Paul makes his point clear.  The only hope for final and eternal grace is by an incorruptible love.  Incorruptible – “ἀφθαρσία” – the state of not being subject to decay/dissolution/interruption, incorruptibility, immortality.  R.C. Sproul writes, “The love of Christ that is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit is not a passing fad or a romantic infatuation, but it is an enduring and abiding love that perseveres.” [1]

Can that be said about you?  Do you have a love that is incorruptible for Jesus or is it merely a passing fad?  If reading or studying through the book of Ephesians did not change your life—go back and start over at the beginning.

  1. R. C. Sproul, The Purpose of God: Ephesians (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 155.

The Christian’s Call to Prayer

The Christian’s Call to Prayer

Yesterday morning, I had the privilege to complete the section on the armor of God as we’re nearing the end of our series through Ephesians.  What better way could Paul have ended that particular section than by focusing on prayer?  In Ephesians 6:18-20, after calling the Christians in Ephesus to put on the full armor of God, they were then called to prayer.

It is essential for every follower of Christ to know that the Christian life is not a cake walk.  The path to the Celestial City is a hard path.  James Montgomery Boice once said:

Many Christians today would judge the teaching of these verses unimportant. They would encourage us to think positively and peacefully, as if there were no spiritual battles at all. They see Christianity not as an entrance into warfare but as an exit from it. They see it as the solution to our problems. If you are sick, Jesus will make you well. If you are discouraged, Jesus will make you happy. You get the impression from those who talk like this that to believe in Jesus is to enter upon a smooth path and to enjoy smooth sailing. [1]

It’s more like a war, but the war is not a conventional type of war between flesh and blood.  The war that the Christian is engaged in is spiritual in nature.  We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood but against spiritual beings, and Paul has made that point abundantly clear in his letter (Eph. 2:1-3; 6:11-12).  The devil is not an impersonal force of evil.  The devil and all demonic beings are real personal spiritual beings that oppose the people of God.

After being clothed with the whole armor of God, the very next thing the Christian is called to do is to pray.  Paul points out the need to pray in the Spirit and to pray at all times for all believers (within the context of your local church), and to engage in both intercessory prayer and prayers of petition before God.  In other words, we’re not alone in this spiritual war.  God never intended us to go to war alone.  We need to rely upon the strength of God and to pray for one another as we work together in the advancement of the gospel.

Paul makes the point that Christians need to be alert and exercise perseverance in their prayers.  Rather than being sloppy and lazy in their approach to prayer, it needs to be carried out with perseverance.  In Matthew 26:41, Jesus told his disciples to “watch and pray.”  Paul told the Colossian Christians to “devote themselves to prayer” in Colossians 4:2.  Likewise, Peter encouraged the persecuted Christians to “be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” in 1 Peter 4:7.  Peter O’Brien in his commentary writes, “The apostle wants them to realize that a life of dependence on God in prayer is essential if they are to engage successfully in their warfare with the powers of darkness.” [2]

Last of all, Paul requested prayer for himself.  In fact, he asked the Christians to pray for his words to be clear as he articulated and proclaimed the gospel boldly.  Paul didn’t want to speak with ambiguity and he didn’t want to become soft under the heavy hand of persecution.  While in chains, he was reminded of his need to be bold for Christ.  If Paul, an apostle, needed prayer for his words to be clear and his faith to be strong, every preacher under the sun needs that same prayer offered up for them today.  Rather than complaining about your pastor’s sermons and critiquing him as if you’re the Christian version of an American Idol judge, consider the great value of praying for his preaching and his faith as a leader.

  1. Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 484.
  2. James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library, 1988), 224.


Take Your Helmet and Sword

Take Your Helmet and Sword

Yesterday I had the privilege to preach Ephesians 6:17 as we continued our series through Ephesians.  As we’re nearing the end of this rich letter penned by the apostle Paul, we have engaged in a mini-series on the armor of God and the necessity of being ready for war.  As previously stated, the Christian life is not a picnic.  It’s a war.  We are to approach the Christian life as if we’re in a war rather than a dodge ball tournament.  The stakes are high and our enemy is serious.

Paul has been describing the different pieces of the armor and weaponry necessary for the Christian.  As Paul most likely looks back to Isaiah 59 and other passages in the prophecy of Isaiah, he sees there the depiction of Yahweh clothed for war.  That image along with Paul’s knowledge of the Roman soldier’s weaponry formed the background whereby the apostle concluded his letter with a wartime mentality for the church in Ephesus (and the churches of the surrounding areas).

The final two pieces of armor and weaponry include perhaps the most critical part of the soldier’s attire—the helmet and the sword.  First, the helmet would have been made of bronze and leather and would have always been worn by the soldier in battle.  As stated earlier, Paul looked back to Isaiah 59:17 to see God clothed for war complete with a helmet of salvation.  Therefore, here in this text it’s as if Paul is saying that God himself provides his own helmet to his children as they are sent out into the war of the Christian life.  The Christian must possess salvation given by God (true saving grace) in order to be a Christian, and that helmet of salvation serves as protection to deflect the attacks of the evil spirits.

In like manner, the soldier would be sent out into battle with a sword.  The sword pictured here would not be the long sword often depicted in movies.  Instead, it would have been the shorter sword worn on the belt or armor of the soldier.  As Paul describes it, he calls it the sword of the Spirit—the Word of God.  It is indeed the Spirit of God who wrote the Bible.  It is the Word of God, and the choice of vocabulary here points to the idea of the gospel proclaimed as opposed to a mere possession of a Bible.  The devil laughs at a Christian who walks around with his sword in the sheath.

The sword of the Spirit (God’s gospel) serves to protect us from temptations to sin, doubts of our salvation, weaknesses in the faith, and attacks upon the validity of God’s Word.  Not only does the sword serves as a defensive weapon, but it also serves as an offensive weapon.  The Christian is to press forward in battle using the sword of the Spirit—the gospel of Christ.  As Christians are sent out into the world of darkness, we are to open our mouths and proclaim the gospel.  Inviting people to our church service, sending them an encouraging message, or living a Christian life before their eyes is not enough.  We must share the gospel verbally with a desire to persuade them to believe.  This is exactly what Paul did in his ministry (see Acts 26:18).

As the church of Jesus Christ marches onward for Christ with the whole armor of God, each Christian can take the sword of the Spirit with confidence knowing that it’s God through His Word that brings a hard heart to repentance.  Faith comes by hearing the message of Christ (Rom. 10:17).  How will unbelievers call on the Lord of salvation if they have not heard (Rom. 10:14-15)?

Hebrews 4:12 – For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. [13] And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

How unsuccessful would an army of soldiers be on the battlefield if they had their entire armor on, but kept their sword in their sheath?  The devil laughs at such tactics.  How strange would it be if the entire army marched across the battlefield in hopes that by their synchronized marching and efficiency they would cause the opposing enemy to surrender?  We must do more than live out our faith before others.  We must take our sword from the sheath and explain the good news of the gospel with unbelievers.