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!