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).


Holiness Past: Romans 6.1-11

This week at Woodland we begin a short season of thinking about holiness.

While we’ll be in the Book of Romans, we’ll start off with that picture of God’s holiness we receive in Isaiah 6.1-7. Read it, why don’t you? When you do you’ll realize what a special glimpse we’re given through the prophetic vision of Isaiah as he witnessed the presence of God, and became overwhelmed, even, by the angelic beings who spent their strength doing nothing but worshipping God.

We also get a picture from Isaiah’s vision of what happens when we encounter God in His holiness. There is dread … confession of sin … and God’s provision that allows Isaiah (and us) to go on living. Then, we come to the New Testament and consider verses like 1 Peter 1.13-16, especially verse 16: … “You shall be holy, for I am holy”. 

So, here’s the question for us: How is this going to work? How are we going to be changed to share God’s character, so that we are holy like God?!

Our holiness, we’ll learn, is the provision of God in which those who have trusted Christ have been changed (in the past), 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. 

That brings us to Romans 6. In verses 1-4, I come to understand that I’ve been joined to Christ in His death and burial. To see where Paul is coming from in Romans 6 we have to catch his meaning in Romans 5, especially verse 19: For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 

Romans 5 teaches us that just as Adam brought sin into the world, Jesus entered the world and obeyed God where Adam had failed. We are, then, declared righteous when we trust in Jesus by faith. In biblical language, we are “justified”. Justification changes our legal position  before God. Before we were guilty. Now, we are declared righteous based on Jesus’ active obedience, since He kept God’s law for us, and declared righteous on Jesus’ passive obedience, where He took the sins of lawbreakers on Himself, and died in our places.

But something else takes place in time at the moment we trust Jesus and are declared righteous in Christ: We are also changed in our moral condition. That is the business of sanctification (or holiness). Holiness, as we’ll see next week, is a more-or-less thing in our lives. We grow in it, so we become more holy than we were. But it begins with a positional, bottom-line act of God in which He changes our moral condition and frees us from the power of sin.

One Anglican preacher from the last century said it this way: I fear that is is sometimes forgotten that God has married together justification and sanctification. They are distinct and different things, beyond question, but one is never found without the other (J.C. Ryle, in Holiness).

Paul argues like a rabbi in these verses with questions: How should we respond to God’s judgment about us? … Will saved people continue to live the same way? … How can a dead person continue to live as he did? … Don’t you know that we joined Christ in His death? But, his basic meaning is that we’ve been joined to Christ in His death and burial experience, and because we’re in Christ WE ARE DEAD TO OUR FORMER SINS, AND WE ARE CHANGED!

A second reason we ought to regard ourselves as having been made holy is that I’ve been joined to Christ in His resurrection life (:5-10). Christ’s death led to His resurrection (:5). My death (in Christ) leads to my new condition in which I’m free with respect to sin (:6-7). My life in Christ will lead to my future resurrection (:8-10). The result of being joined to Christ’s resurrection with respect to my sins is that I now have freedom not to sin.

The high point of this critical passage about holiness comes in verse 11. Here I learn that I am alive to God in Christ! So  you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. That’s our new reality. That’s where we need to live and the true place where we need to let our minds dwell.

I can say that I’ve been made holy because I’ve been joined to the death, burial and resurrection life of Jesus, so that (in Christ) I am alive to God. 

Take a few to consider holiness.

Are you, in fact, holy? Why would you say that you are? Or aren’t? 

If you don’t feel holy, why might that be?

What if you don’t experience regular victory over sin? Why might that be? 

As we’ll see next week, holiness is both a past provision for us (think Romans 6.1-11), but it’s a present, progressive and on-going process as well (Romans 6.12-14).

Why not cheat and look ahead at the rest of Romans 6 to learn how God is making His set-apart people more holy?