Giving Thanks to Jesus: Luke 17.11-19

This week we enter our celebration of a favorite holiday of mine. (Toss out a comment to guess my very favorite, if you want to …)

Thanksgiving has mostly defied commercialization. It’s subdued, understated, contemplative, and is basically a celebration about what we really need. And that’s where I, as a Jesus-follower, begin to think through my proper response to the holiday.

Luke 17.11-19 helps. In a holiday featuring turkey and sesame seed gravy, cranberries and my mother’s special pea-salad that I make each year, this passage is about leprosy.

Jesus met ten lepers in his travels toward Jerusalem. They recognized Jesus (:11-13) They hailed Him from a distance, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!

Why the distance? Under the Mosaic Covenant, the name “leprosy” served to described a whole host of skin diseases that included Hanson’s Disease (so-called in the 19th century), as well as ringworm and lupus. Some varieties were contagious, others not so much; some forms were temporary, others permanent. In the old covenant system of the nation of Israel, the priest (the religious figure!) was to examine anyone suspected of leprosy and prescribe a waiting period before the suspected would be permitted to re-enter society (Leviticus 13-14). The person might recover. But if the disease proved leprous, the person wold be pronounced unclean and removed from civil society, living perhaps in a leper colony outside the village. Skin would become infected. Nerves would die. Numb fingers would become burned or injured. Digits would fall off. The leper would die.

But, more than a dread physical disease, leprosy meant social isolation and separation from formal worship with God’s people in the temple. As such, leprosy became a picture of sin and its ravaging results—the numbness of the human heart as it dies to the things of God; separation from God, and, finally eternal death.

Happy Thanksgiving! … But, wait.

Despite the distance between them, these ten lepers received from Jesus (:14). Upon hearing them, Jesus shouted, Go and show yourselves to the priests. 

There’s an irregularity we can’t miss here. Jesus chooses to operate under the Mosaic Covenant. He’s following Leviticus 13-14 to perfection, in prescribing the cleansing ritual. But, the wrinkle is that the suspected leper would undergo cleansing after the skin had healed. And, the priest was to initiate the ritual. You didn’t just walk into the temple with leprosy.

Verse 14b tell us what happened. And as they went they were cleansed. Got that? While they were in the act of obeying Jesus, the ten lepers received not just healing but religious cleansing that made them right for full integration into society. They were cleaned without the ritual, without the ceremonial washings and sacrifices, without a priest even.

One changed man responds giving thanks to Jesus in faith (:15-19). Nine lepers gave thanks, I’m sure. They gave so much thanks that they ate turkey, took naps in their favorite recliners and then watched the Dallas Cowboys at 3:00 on CBS. They gave thanks, in general. But, did they give thanks to Jesus?

Verse 15-16a tells us: Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks …

Notice how the distance has collapsed. No more shouting from afar. No more social isolation, priests and religious rituals. This man has come to Jesus in thanks! And Jesus commends him: Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well (:19).

That’s my Thanksgiving Day message from this passage. I’m to go right to Jesus Himself with my thanks.

This Thanksgiving my proper response to God’s good gifts is thanksgiving directed to Jesus and offered in faith. 

How about you? What will be your response in faith to God’s good gifts this Thanksgiving?

Like the TEN, we’re all lepers and we need to be restored—to God and to one another. Like the TEN we’re distant from God, and we need to be brought near. Like the ONE we receive what we truly need only by faith and only in Jesus.

And then we need to run to Jesus! 

So, my suggestion. Do it up at Thanksgiving! … Family, friends, favorite fixings. Make Thanksgiving big. But, make Jesus bigger! If Jesus hadn’t made it to the cross, we’d still be in our leprosy. He went to the cross, so let’s focus our gratitude and give thanks, to Jesus and in faith!

 

Here’s a few questions to get you talking with others:

What about Thanksgiving do you just love? 

How do those things that you love about Thanksgiving point you to Jesus’ work on the cross? (For example, I love family which involves belonging and togetherness. Jesus’ work at the cross brought me together with God and other people who love Him. I need to give thanks to Jesus by faith to Jesus for family that is from Him.)

How will you go about sharing your thanksgiving to Jesus with those who don’t yet “get” the significance of Jesus’ work and are only giving thanks in general?

Have a blessed Thanksgiving, in Jesus and by faith …

 

Overcoming the World: 1 John 4.1-6

Have you ever been in a group and heard someone say something that you know can’t be right? Like: …

“… I know I can’t afford the payments on this truck, but I think God wants me to have it; so, I’ll buy it.” Or …

“I know God wants me to stay in this marriage, but I believe He wants me to be happy too; so, I’m getting out.” Or …

“I know God doesn’t heal everybody, but I’ve had a dream that He’s going to take my cancer away; so, I’m trusting in that promise.”

How do we know that what we’re hearing and thinking and believing and basing our decision-making on comes from God?

In his first epistle, Apostle John has been giving us tests for our assurance that we belong to God. First John 4.1-6 includes another of the Tests of Right Belief about Jesus. And while we need to tie into what was going on in first century Christianity to understand the passage, John’s idea is immediately relevant to us every day. It involves decision-making that is dependent on Jesus, not on the world’s way of thinking.

Make Jesus big in my decision-making (:1-3). John’s instruction starts with a command: … test the spirits to see whether they are from God (:1). This is a picture of early church worship that would involve singing from the Psalms, reading in and instruction from what we call the Old Testament, readings form the Apostles (what became the New Testament) and a time of prophecy and testimony where believers could spontaneously and under the direction of the Spirit give testimony to what God was doing. Imagine now, if someone were to stand up and say, “The Spirit has revealed to me that Jesus was only a man who became the Christ, and we can become christs like Jesus, if we …” (fill in your blank).

Here’s the test for such an occasion, John says: By this you will know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of antichrist … (:2-3)

The critical message, as we might translate it, is: “Jesus has come from God as the Christ”.  Jesus is God who took on flesh. Jesus is not flesh who took on God. Every teaching that misses Jesus as God and teaches you to depend on something else is not from God!

This is much more than a history lesson for us. There are two world and life views at work here. The World System says, “We need to do something to perfect ourselves so that we will get God’s blessing. The Jesus-Centered, Overcoming-the-World System says, “We are blessed because of Jesus and what God has done and is doing through Him, and we depend on Him.”

Jesus said that we’d be able to identify the true Spirit of God because the Spirit would point to the Son: But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, he will bear witness about me (Jn 15.26).

So, just like the Spirit of God, we’re to magnify Jesus. We’re to make Jesus big in all our listening and learning and thinking and decision-making. In so doing, we (along with Jesus, Jn 16.33) overcome the world and its thought systems. This is practical stuff. It will involve believing things like:

“I know there a good reasons to buy a truck, but debt makes me a slave, and I already have a Master in Jesus; so, believing in Jesus as the Christ matters in my finances.” Or, …

“I know marriage can be hard, but we learn to depend on God through hard times; so, believing in Jesus as the Christ matters in my marriage.” Or, …

“I know God heals, but He hasn’t promised physical healing in this life; so, believing in Jesus as the Christ matters as I endure suffering without losing my faith.”

Decision-making that overcomes the world magnifies Jesus as the Christ.

What decisions are you making right now?

How would you make these decisions according to the World System that values the world’s economy in this passing-away now-time? 

Now, how would you make these decisions in a way that agrees with the Spirit of God and magnifies Jesus? 

Have a talk with somebody about your decisions. And have a great week in the Lord.

Sacrificial Love: 1 John 3.11-24

Recently, our Woodland youth received a chance to serve. When a prominent community member was diagnosed with cancer, our kids (with adult supervision) turned up to cut, split and stack a pulp load of firewood. (That’s 12 face cords, also called “ricks” here in the Midwest). The turnout so impressed our neighbor that he called the local paper which ran a story. “A Great Place to Live,” the caption read.

I like that.  But I hope there’s a little more going on here. Far from a place where people just serve each other randomly, there is sacrificial love taking place up here in the woods. And, it turns out, sacrificial love is one of Apostle John’s tests of assurance we read about in 1 John 3.11-24.

According to the old apostle, sacrificial love issuing from our relationship with God is critical for our assurance that we belong to God.

Sacrificial love assures (:11-18). This is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. John is certainly thinking about Jesus’ teaching on love in John 13.34. In that passage, Jesus is teaching His disciples at the end of His ministry and just before His death. He’s speaking as one who has kept the Old Testament law perfectly and will now credit His perfect law-keeping to those who depend on Him. And more, Jesus will enable His followers to love with the same kind of love with which He loved them. That’s us today! When we love like Jesus we demonstrate that the content of the Gospel has moved from our minds to our inner persons.

John wants us to know more about this heart-change and what sacrificial love looks like, so he lists five things about sacrificial love in this section:

  1. Sacrificial love will be opposed by the world (:12-13). Cain, in the true account from Genesis 4, proves to be the original example. He murdered his brother because he was angry with God for rejecting his sacrifice.  Abel, his brother, had brought his own sacrifice “in faith” (Hebrews 11). So goes the world. We’ll be opposed, if we love like Jesus, because Jesus is opposed (Jn 15.18).
  2. Sacrificial love evidences life (:14-15). We evidence life when we sacrifice, because this is the oppose of hate, which Jesus compares to murder (Matt 5.21-22). Love embraces our brother; hatred involves wishing our brother weren’t present.
  3. Sacrificial love originates with Jesus (:16). By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. This is the heroic sacrifice of Jesus, the most important event ever, and it is a kind of sacrifice that reoccurs through His people through the ordinary business of Christian service.
  4. Sacrificial love looks like practical kindness (:17). But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? These verses don’t say that we give in the same way to everybody. They don’t say we do only one kind of ministry. They do say we don’t “close our hearts” toward anybody.
  5. Sacrificial love is revealed not through talk but action (:18).

Easy, right? Let’s all go out and sacrifice for each other! But, it doesn’t work that way, does it? It so happens that my heart, yet in process as it is, sometimes doesn’t want to give up my time, money, hobbies and energy. Sometimes, I think people should do more for themselves. I might be right about that, but I’m not to “close” my heart.

Sacrificial love overcomes my reluctant heart and gives me confidence before God (:19-24). The rest of the passage tells me how God helps me when my heart is weak.

God helps me when I don’t want to love (:19-20). By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 

These verses make more sense when we understand that “reassure” (ESV) or “set to rest” (NIV) might better be translated “persuade or convince”. This is the reading of both the New English Translation and Holman Standard. Basically, this is describing what it looks like when I’m trying to serve but I don’t really want to. The language is probably from Deuteronomy 15.7-12 where the Israelites were told not to be stingy with their brothers. There’s going to be times when I need God to overcome my heart that, sometimes, opposes His work. God proves greater than my doubts and knows my struggles.

God blesses me when I do love (:21-22). When our hearts come clean with God, we have confidence before God. We receive what we ask of Him, because we ask according to His will, because we’re living in it by obedience.

God grows my confidence when I obey (:23-24). The benefits of of obedience are abiding in God and being assured that we belong to God by the Spirit He has given us. In other words, growing in assurance.

Loving sacrificially like Jesus grows our assurance that we belong to God. 

How about you? Is there somebody in your life God is asking you to love in a sacrificial way? When you do, you’ll participate in the life of God and see your assurance grow as your love increases.

Take a minute to answer a few questions:

How is the sacrifice of the world different from the sacrifice of God’s people?

What are some excuses that we sometimes use not to love each other sacrificially? How many of these excuses are particularly American? 

Was there ever a time when you hesitated to sacrifice for another believer but then finally did? What happened? How did you change? 

How has God used your own works of sacrificial love to increase your assurance of your own salvation? 

 

Righteous Children of God: 1 John 2.28-3.10

It’s wood stacking time in the Northwoods. Actually, it’s always wood stacking time, but with our first snow dusting behind us and more snow in the distant forecast, time for easy outside work is short.

And this sets me to thinking about wood piles. And to asking this question: what does a wood pile have to do with God’s character, and ours? 

Much, actually. In 1 John old Apostle John writes to the churches under his care to assure those who believe in Jesus that they belong to God. John poses three cycles of three tests each: the Test of Obedience, the Test of Love, the Test of Right Belief about Jesus. Moving in to the second cycle in 2.28-3.10, John’s Test of Obedience is all about righteous living. Righteous living shows our family resemblance to Jesus and results in confidence before God. 

And that’s where the wood pile comes in. “Righteousness” is a hefty theological term that means “just”, “upright”, “right standing”, or my favorite gloss from the world of carpentry, “squared up”. A good wood pile is “righteous” in that it’s squared up to gravity and the earth’s core. A really good wood stands up all by itself. This gives us a start at understanding something important about God. He is righteous to Himself, requiring no other justification. Jesus is righteous with the perfect righteousness of the Father. And (praise God!) we take on the family trait of righteousness when we believe in Jesus, because we receive Jesus’ righteousness.  And, it turns out, the increasing practice of righteousness becomes the family trait that identifies us, to ourself and others, as those who belong to God.

John’s discourse in 2.28-3.10 ties this family resemblance of rightness to Jesus’ two comings. Christ’s second coming will make complete our family resemblance as righteous children of God (2.28-3.3). As it turns out, this doesn’t take place all at once, but my righteousness will be complete at Jesus’ return. Look at the sequence in 3.1-3:

The world rejected Jesus when He died for us because sinful humanity (including us) didn’t recognize the family resemblance of God’s righteousness in Jesus.

We believed in Jesus and took on the family resemblance.

Like imagining the emerging features of a baby, we can only imagine what it will be like to be fully complete in righteousness at Jesus’ coming.

We will be changed at Christ’s coming to be fully and morally righteous, like Jesus.

Now, we hope in Christ and are made pure as we grow in assurance.

At the same time, Christ’s first coming made certain our family resemblance as righteous children of God (3.4-10). These verses include a double pattern that emphasizes the seriousness of sin (:4, 8a), the purpose of Christ’s appearing (:5, 8b) and the moral conclusion. Essentially, sin is rebellion against God. And, it’s serious. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil … But, Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil with the result that, increasingly, if we’re believing in Jesus, we will not sin but be squared up with God. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God (:9).

So, if you and I belong to God, we’re righteous—with the righteousness of Christ that is God’s rightness. And, we will be growing in obedience to God in a way that will culminate at Christ’s return.

Righteous living shows our family resemblance to Jesus and results in confidence before God. 

Take a minute to answer some questions from this passage.

The most obvious concern many people have from reading this passage is about whether we should expect to reach a state of sinless perfection in this life. What do you think John means in verse 6 when (twice) he says “keeps on sinning”? And in verse 9 when he talks about “make a practice of sin”? (This is the ESV translation).

What kind of sin is John talking about in this passage? Is John, in these verses from the last question, talking about habitual sin without repentance? How would that be different than occasional sins for which believer’s seek forgiveness? (1 John 1.8, 10; 2.1).

Martin Luther talked about “sinning boldly”. He was referring to the way true believer’s in Jesus have confidence in God, despite their imperfect practical righteousness. What do you think this looks like for the growing Christian? 

How does our growth in righteousness cause us to look forward to Jesus’ return? And, what does it mean when, in 2.29, the text says, ” … we … may not shrink from him in shame at his coming”? 

Right Belief About Jesus: 1 John 2.15-27

In his first epistle old Apostle John is giving us tests for our assurance. These tests allow us to proof whether we belong to God.

These include the Test of Obedience (2.3): By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commands. These include the Test of Love (2.10): Whoever loves his brother abides in the light … And, this week, these include the Test of Right Belief about Jesus (2.15-27). Additionally, John gives us “bridge” passages that help us think about what it looks like to apply these tests in our various settings. First John 2.15-17, involving our love for Father rather than the world, is such a bridge passage.

For the moment, though, read through 1 John 2.15-27 and think  through some of these questions, with others if possible.

What does John mean by “world” in verse 15? Is he talking about creation (like, creation is bad, so don’t love it); or, is he talking about aspects of the created order that oppose God? 

What is the main problem John gives with loving the world (verse 17)?

In verses 18-27, what does John mean by “last hour” (1 Pet 1.20; 1 Tim 4.1)? Who is he talking about in referencing “Antichrist,” and then “antichrists”? 

What are some of the qualities of the false teachers John references? What about true believers? 

What is the essence of the false teaching about Jesus? (Check out verses 22-23). 

What two safeguards against false teaching does John mention in verse 24 and then in verse 27? 

Assurance we belong to God grows when we believe rightly about Jesus. 

Tests for Assurance: 1 John 2.3-14

How many of us would consider ourselves fathers or mothers in Jesus? How about young men or women? Or children?

In 1 John 2.3-14 we see that assurance in the faith grows when we obey God and love others. And, just like we grow in our faith in Jesus, it’s God’s plan that we’d grow in the assurance that we belong to God.

That’s why old Apostle John writes his first epistle to the churches under his care, and why he gives them (and us) tests to help us measure our growth in the faith. These tests (repeated in three cycles) make up the structure of John’s letter. We consider the first two tests in the first cycle today.

Test of Obedience (2.3-6). And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments (:3). John bases this first test of assurance on our habitual and continual desire for the things of God. Notice, he’s not basing our assurance on some experience in the past, or even our testimony including what we say, but on our watchfulness and observance of what God has said.

And here we’re thankful for Jesus, again, since Jesus didn’t recite all 600-some Old Testament commands and tell us to follow them. Instead, Jesus kept the law of God perfectly and then summarized the ruling principle of God’s Law into one command. In John 13.34, Jesus says: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. 

That’s Jesus’ command that gives root to every one of our acts of obedience in service to God and others. And it leads to the second test.

Test of Love (2.7-11). This command is both “old” and “new”. It’s old in that it doesn’t add anything to what John has already taught his churches. It’s new in that it’s about Jesus who, in Himself by the Jewish and Old Testament way of reckoning things, divides the “present age” from the “age to come”. The darkness is passing away, because Jesus has been on the scene. Those who love, in Jesus, grow in assurance because they pass the test of belonging to God.

But here we have a practical problem. If you were to ask those on the street whether they love people, I’ll bet about 99% would “say” that they do. But, this test doesn’t measure what we “say”; it measures what we do, remember?

Have you ever known an emotionally wounded person? Maybe, you are that person. Certainly I’ve been wounded in seasons. It’s possible, when we’re hurting, to view all of life through our roundedness. You know how it works. Somebody hurts us; then we interpret every action after that through the original events, till, finally, we  … do not know where we are going, because the darkness has blinded his [our] eyes. The Test of Love allows those who have been wounded to hold themselves up to God’s character and ask God for help when they hurt. The hurt is real. Justice needs to be done, maybe. But, our responses can still be loving when we’re hurting. Healing doesn’t come right away, but we can grow through seasons of woundedness, and eventually healing comes because the true light is shining.

Application on Growth and Spiritual Maturity (:12-14). The third test waits while John provides a digression on the church. He speaks to “children,” “fathers” [and mothers] and “young men” [and women]. These refer to levels of maturity. Important is that each has achieved victory and is presently enjoying the result of victory. The perfect tense verbs (somewhat obscured in most English translations) talk about you “having been forgiven,” “having known him who was from the beginning,” “having overcome the evil one”. Past action with present results. As John Stott writes in his commentary, “John is laying emphasis on the assured standing into which every Christian has come, whatever his age of spiritual development”.

So, test yourself this week, why don’t you. Ask yourself if you’re obeying God, thinking especially of Jesus’ command to love others. The purpose of John’s tests is not to grow doubt (unless you don’t believe in Jesus’ work) but assurance. Throw yourself on Jesus’ God-the-Father-satisfying work yet again (2.2). And then, abide in God. Let Him grow you in assurance that you belong to Him. And know  that this assurance is rooted in the person and work of Jesus.

Here’s some questions to consider:

What about John’s teaching in this section do you find challenging to understand?

What about John’s teaching do you find difficult to apply? Like the Law of Love, it seems simple and straightforward, until we think of ways we become confused, right?

How have you grown in your assurance, since you first believed in Jesus? 

What level of assurance that you belong to God would you like to arrive at? What’s keeping you from going there?  

 

Walking in the Light: 1 John 1.5-2.2

In this over-busy Northwoods week, we continue our study in 1 John by looking at verses 1.5-2.2. Read through it, why don’t you? When you do you’ll note that walking in the light of who God is means thinking rightly about sin and acting on the work of Christ. 

God is light, not darkness (1.5). This verse is the anchor for the passage. It’s about who God is and what we have to be like, if we’re going to have a relationship with God.

Why do you think God is described this way?

What characteristic of light helps us understand something essential about God’s character? 

After introducing the broad themes of light and darkness, John gives us three denials that the false teachers in his churches were, doubtless, proliferating:

  • The denial that sin breaks our fellowship with God (1.6-7)
  • The denial that sin exists in our nature (1.8-9)
  • The denial that sin shows itself in our conduct (1.10-2.2)

With each of these deceptive teachings about sin, John talks about the work of Christ. Notice how the work of Jesus satisfies the requirement of our Holy God.

Which if these denials do you see most today?

How does reliance on Jesus by faith serve to correct the false ideas about sin that each denial includes? 

How would you put 1 John 2.2 into your own words? Why is this truth about Jesus so absolutely wonderful? 

When we depend on Christ and don’t take sin lightly, we can walk in the light like God is in the light. Fantastic, isn’t it?

Have a great week!

Fellowship in the Gospel Message: 1 John 1.1-4

Recently, I listened to the Packers play the Vikings. Great game! Five full quarters, and it came down to one, chip-shot field goal by the Viking’s rookie kicker. Do you know what he did? He shanked it!

After the game the poor guy explained why. By his own admission, he lacked confidence. Lacked assurance.

When we lack assurance in the Christian life, we shank it. That’s why Old John the Apostle wrote the letter we call 1 John. He wrote to churches he oversaw in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) to remind them of the assurance they can have that they belong to God. 

In the first four verses of John’s heart-warming letter we learn that assurance is all about right gospel fellowship, with God and with other believers.

Proof of fellowship with God and other believers (:1-2). For John, fellowship with God is about something he calls “the word of life”. Proof of fellowship includes sensory knowledge of the “word of life”: we’ve heard the word, we’ve seen the word with our eyes, we’ve looked at the word and our hands have touched the word. This “word” existed before the beginning of all things. And, God has made manifest the “word of life”.

Do you get the feeling that the “word of life” isn’t a thing, but a person? You’d be right to feel that. John is talking about the fellowship of those who knew the Lord Jesus in this life. His Greek-speaking churches in the late 1st century needed to remember that God had revealed Himself in the man named Jesus who is the Christ. Jesus is 100% man, totally human, flesh-and-blood. No use searching beyond Jesus for some logos or ordering principle of the universe beyond Jesus. Know Jesus and you know God revealed.

But, it might have ended there. Why is the fellowship of those who belong to God not limited to those who walked with Jesus in this life?

Proclamation of fellowship in the Gospel message about Jesus (:3). … That which we have seen and heard we proclaim ALSO to you (:3a). In the key verse of the prologue to John’s letter we now see a shift from Jesus the word to the gospel as the word. John is widening the fellowship of those who are in fellowship with God to those who hear and believe the good news about Jesus! Why? … so that you may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

“Fellowship” involves both personal relationship and common purpose. Through the gospel message we’re included in this fellowship of those who know Jesus! Through the gospel message we’re included with the Father and His Son Jesus. And that’s good news for us today!

Purpose of proclaiming fellowship in the gospel message about Jesus (:4). And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. John’s purpose will be accomplished through his writing. John’s purpose will make his “joy complete”.

This is a great reason to read John’s first epistle. John is the apostle of the heart. He’s going to show us how to be in fellowship with God and—through tests we can give to ourselves—to prove to ourselves that we are in fellowship with God and those who, likewise, love God. And that means assurance.

Fellowship with God and other believers takes place through the gospel message about Jesus the Christ. 

Here’s a couple of questions to consider as we prepare for the rest of John’s letter:

We’re going to find out in the weeks to come that the false teachers in John’s churches got the gospel message about Jesus wrong. What happens if we get the gospel message about Jesus wrong? Is it still good news? Does it still bring about fellowship? 

How would you define “the gospel”? What about Jesus do you have to know and believe to be in fellowship with God?

How can we be sure that we’re in this fellowship of those who rely and believe in Jesus? 

Look at the following references: John 15.11; 16.24; and 17.13. From whom do you think John got the idea of “complete joy”? 

 

 

Holiness Yet To Come: 1 Corinthians 15.20-23

This week’s topic finds us right where we are. All of us!

For a number of years, in my former ministry in Iowa, I served as our church’s pastor of care. That meant I got to sit with people as they were dying—while they were preparing to leave their bodies here on earth, while they were preparing their souls to meet the Lord. That’s a complex thing in every way, complex even for those who are ready and really want to be with the Lord.

One of my favorite saints was named Verne Joslin. Vern and I visited weekly during the last year of his life. We read Scripture together, we prayed together, and sometimes—when I just wanted to get out of the church office—we just passed time together.

When it came time for Verne to die, I visited one last time. With his vitals failing, he looked straight at me and asked softly, “What shall I do now?”

Most of us need two or three reps before we respond rightly to surprise questions, and I’m no different. But this time I paused a minute, asked the Lord for insight, and gave an answer I’m still happy with …

“Verne,” I said. “Don’t do anything. You’ve understood what Jesus has done for you. You’ve placed your trust in Him. You’ve cooperated with God’s Spirit all these years. Now, let Jesus take you. Let Jesus present you to the Father clothed in His own righteousness. Rest.”

And so Verne died, two days later.

We’ve been thinking about how our holiness is the provision of God in which those who have trusted Christ have been changed (in the past, when we trusted Christ), are being changed (in the present), and will be changed (in the future) to take on God’s character … Holiness Past, Holiness Present, Holiness Yet To Come. Through God’s holiness project, we’ve been saved from the power of sin, are being saved from the practice of sin, and will be saved from the presence of sin.

But, what will God do to bring to completion His work of holiness in us? That’s what we’re thinking about this week.

God will complete His work in our souls and bodies. We’re talking here about the work of God we call glorification. This is where God’s holiness project is going, the end-point we’re all waiting for. Except for those who are alive at Christ’s coming (and we might be!) glorification takes place in stages.

Holiness Present for our souls takes place at death (2 Cor 5.6-8; Phil 1.21-23; 1 Thess 4.14; Heb 12.22-23). As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, … we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yet, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord (2 Cor 5.6-8).

Paul recognizes that death involves a separation. While death would be good, in that he’d be with the Lord, it’s also bad (in the moment) in that he’d be divided, body from soul. For that work of future holiness in his body, Paul will have to wait for Christ’s return (Rm 8.11; 1 Cor 15.20-23, 42-49; 2 Cor 5.1-8; Phil 3.20-21). As Paul had written to the Corinthians in an earlier letter, But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor 15.20-23).

That’s true for us too. Christ’s return is the focal point for everyone who has trusted Christ and now struggles to learn holiness in this life. While we make progress, by the power of the Spirit, we won’t be fully formed in God’s character until we’re with Him, body and soul. And when we finally are, God will fulfill our hopes. God will provide final relief from sin and death. And, God will make us like Christ, in every aspect of our being. This is the completion of God’s divine surgery when my actual condition will match what God says about me in Christ.

My grandmother on my father’s side is buried on a hillside in a beautiful place named Pratum, Oregon. Soon after her passing, the family gathered to stand next to her graveside and reflect. Suddenly, my grandfather said, with finality, “She’s not here!” He was right. “She” was with the Lord. But, my grandfather was also becoming right, because her body was there with us. The exercise in standing there together proved hopeful, because it drew our attention from death to Christ. God’s completed work of Holiness Future for us lies yet in the future and is all bound up in Christ’s return.

What will God do to complete His work of holiness in me? God, at the return of Christ, will free me completely from sin making me like Himself in His own holiness. 

This is humbling. Apart from Christ, I have nothing I need to dwell with God. In Christ, there’s nothing else I need. And, this is hopeful. My life is really going somewhere because God is at work in me, in Christ.

 

Here’s some questions to think about as we consider Holiness Future. They involve some passages to look up together. No reason to look them all up, but pick a few.

How will God work in our souls and bodies at our death and at Christ’s return?: 2 Cor 5.6-8; Phil 1.21-23; 1 Thess 4.14; Heb 12.22-23; Rm 8.11; 1 Cor 15.20-23, 42-49; 2 Cor 5.1-8; Phil 3.20-21.

How will God fulfill our hopes?: Rm 8.23-25; 2 Cor 4.13-18; Titus 2.11-13.

How will God provide final relief from sin and death?: 1 Cor 15.54-55; 2 Cor 5.1-5.

How will God make us like Christ?: Phil 3.20-21; 1 Jn 3.2-3; Col 3.3.

And, have a great week in the Lord!

Holiness Present: Romans 6.12-14

Here’s a thinker for you …

Let’s suppose there is a couple who is living together. They’re not married, they don’t know Christ, and they aren’t following God’s plan for their lives.

Then, one of them (let’s make it the guy) gets invited to a small group or men’s ministry meeting. He hears the Gospel and trusts Jesus. Then, he returns home, goes to sleep and wakes up with his partner with whom he is certainly not serving God.

Question: Is this guy holy?

Well, YES … and NOT YET.

He’s holy because he has been joined to Christ. Just like we learned last week from Romans 6.1-11 in our lesson on “particular” holiness, those who have trusted in Jesus can say that they are holy because they’ve been joined to the death, burial and resurrection life of Jesus! Romans 5 tells us that, like a judge, God has changed our status or position. The minute we trust in Christ we’re declared righteous before God, based on Jesus and His work. But, Romans 6 tells us God has also changed our condition. Like a surgeon, God has gone into us and changed something about our moral condition. 

The guy in our story has been freed from the Power of Sin. He doesn’t have to sin anymore! But … He is not yet free of the Practice of Sin. And, frankly, like the rest of us, he won’t be entirely free from the practice of sin until he’s with Jesus. He needs to grow.

This week in our study on Holiness Present we’re asking: what is my part in the pursuit of holiness? The answer(s) are a scatter-shot gathered from all over the New Testament. They’re like a kind of irreducible complexity: you can say more than what we’ll say, but I don’t think you can say less.

We’ll drill down into the first answer, reference the others and let you discuss them with your small group or family.

  • Holiness Present begins at conversion and is the process in which the Christian practically separates from sin and YIELDS herself to God (Romans 6.12-14).

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions (Romans 6.12, ESV). Notice the heart-language here. The business of growing in holiness is a battle for our desires. And it’s a battle for what we want in the moment.

Imagine you’ve just settled down to watch the Packers. And then, at the opening kickoff, you remember that the kitchen is full of dirty dishes, and in the economy of your home that means you need to do the dishes. What do you want most in the moment? I bet you’d know the right thing to do and even what is best for you, but I also bet you’d actually follow your immediate desires.

Holiness is about growing strong desires for righteousness that we follow each moment. Sin doesn’t reign in us anymore. We have a new Master, and our desire to serve Him grows and overwhelms our desires for our former practices.

That’s still a struggle, isn’t it? But, the growing Christian who has been made holy in the past will make progress in the present, as he yields to God who helps him.

J.C. Ryle, in his book Holiness, writes of this struggle: Are we conscious of two principles within us, contending for the mastery? Do we feel anything of war in our inward man? Well, let us thank God for it! It is a good sign. It is strongly probable evidence of the great work of sanctification. All true saints are soldiers. 

Here’s six more truths about Holiness Present, along with verses to look up. They’re all about the ways that we make progress in holiness as we aggressively put ourselves in the place to be changed by God. They’d make a great study, for individual or group study:

  • Holiness Present involves the work of the Spirit who FILLS and controls the Christian (Acts 4.7-8; 13.52; Eph 5.17-19).
  • Holiness Present requires active PARTICIPATION from the Christian who depends on the Spirit to change her heart (Romans 8.13-14; 12.1-2; 2 Cor 7.1; Phil 2.12-13). 
  • Holiness Present affects the whole PERSON: the intellect (2 Cor 10.5; Col 1.9-10), the emotions (Gal 5.22), the will (Rm 13.14) and the body (1 Cor 9.27). 
  • Since the Christian will not be without sin till he is in Christ’s presence (Rm 6.12-13), Holiness Present will not be COMPLETED in this life (Gal 5.17; Phil 3.20-21).
  • The Spirit works through MEANS: Bible study (2 Tim 3.16), prayer (1 These 5.17), meditation on the Gospel (Phil 3.8-11) and endurance in suffering (2 Cor 1.3-4). 
  • The ultimate goal of Holiness Present is conformity to the IMAGE OF CHRIST (2 Cor 3.18; 1 Jn 3.2-3).

So, what is my part in the pursuit of holiness?

My part in the pursuit of holiness is to yield myself increasingly to God, becoming more like Jesus in His perfect obedience, until I’m with the Lord. 

Take some time to discuss Holiness Present with someone else: Which of the seven truths above do you find to be most significant or helpful for you? 

Can you point to moments or periods of time in your walk with Christ when that truth helped you? 

Next week, we’ll consider where all this is going. We’ll discuss the end of holiness—Holiness Yet To Come (1 Cor 15.20-23).