C.) THE CHARACTERISTICS OF GOD’S PEOPLE
1 John 2:18-3:24
John in this section has us do something which goes beyond confirming our own personal allegiance to Christ. He has us think through the implications of many people coming to know God and their corporate testimony. John begins to characterize the shape of the group of people who have fellowship with God. We should not at all be surprised to see that this group would have a lot in common even though coming from very diverse backgrounds.
If someone asked you how would you recognize a Christian who never before had come to this country, how would you answer? I’m sure we would say different things. In a sense John is answering this same question but to a particular group who has to deal with a heretical group. How can you tell the difference between Christians and a cult group? John mentions three characteristics which are true for all Christians.
A. Truth: The Right Confession 2:18-27
The first sign is to possess the right confession. Many would regard this as a nonissue today, but we need to learn the difference between absolutes and revelation, and relativity and selfperception. John helps clarify the ‘they’ and the ‘us’ by pointing out that the “they” group left the fellowship of God’s people. It seems like they went out willingly. This cult believed that Christ came upon Jesus for a time but left him, Jesus the man, before he died. They couldn’t understand how God could die. I can’t totally grasp this either, except that truth is truth, and I am not going to accept or reject things just because I can’t fully comprehend things. Actually, their arguments went far beyond this. For in dismissing a truth, they built up an elaborate system of false teachings all around the idea that the flesh - our bodies - are evil and that salvation is to release the spirit within to contact the greater spirit. Now this sounds a lot like New Age teachings and some teachings overlap. I don’t go quite so far to call New Age Reformed Gnosticism but let it be know we should hold our distinctions.
There are probably some here who have a hard time with confessions and statement of faiths. I don’t think we appreciate statement of faiths enough. Perhaps as the Closing of the American Mind rightly said that the only thing a professor can be sure about in his students is that they are relativistic. Confessions change through time not because truth changes, but because the presentation of what is relevant changes. For example, I have never heard anyone argue about Christ being man, but we say it because it is steeped into us from this past controversy. However, I hear many people dismissing as a myth that Christ is God. They believe God is a myth.
This confession of Christ doesn’t make one a Christian just as living in a certain family’s household doesn’t make them a member of a certain family. We see instead that it serves as good evidence that you might belong. The birth is what makes the real difference, but the agreement with the father tends to prove similarity. Disagreement speaks of unsubmissiveness and no subjection to one’s father.
We have new life from God. Christ, which means anointed, is upon us in the Holy Spirit. Christ’s Spirit so moves our lives that we live for Him. We might not realize it, but John is going back to his premise that if we are Christians, then we have met with God. He doesn’t care if you haven’t been taught a long time. He clearly expects that they would discern the essential truths about God through meeting God and grasping the revelation of God. John has added an important element in identifying God. Many are confused as to who the true God is and whether we can really know these things. It is not just whether one has a certain background or teaching. If he does not believe these things it goes to show that they really do not have an anointing of God. God’s Spirit is not upon their lives. All these teachings are not different from what God has revealed to the prophets of old. All these things are confirmed by their allegiance to the OT.
We need to remember that a Christian will stick to this confession (2:24). It is time and endurance. Again, I don’t think many people would mark off a genuine Christian as one that sticks with it. John uses this word to “abide in the Son” to stress their link with God’s people. The cult people left the church. They left Christ. I wonder if we ever have taken this marker seriously.
Summary There is a way to discern a true Christian group from a false one. One does have to examine their beliefs as to whether they really have met God. It is not as if it is our duty to be other people’s judges, but when their teaching begins to affect our thoughts or the thoughts of our brothers and sisters, it is then we need to grasp what they are saying.
B. Light: The Right Moral Lifestyle 2:28-3:12
John sets out in the prior section that we will believe the right things because the we have been anointed with the Spirit. We cannot just persuade people. In this section, serving as our second point, John tells us very clearly that we need to live a righteous life. This is the second characteristic of a group of Christians. The individual Christian’s testimony is part of the whole community who lives righteously.
A Christian will be like Christ because he is born of Him. And now, for the first time in this book half way through, we see clear indication of why Christians can expect to have a common bonding and similar lifestyle. Somehow God in His eternal plan has worked it that the Spirit has begotten a new life within each Christian so what was once very foreign is not very natural and common, and even expected. Somewhere in meeting with God we experienced a new life. I’ve seen both physical and spiritual births; the children are characterized by their parents. The babies are immature and need to grow. They need to be handled carefully less they are hurt. Most important is that connection with the father. There is a common nature that is sure to find its definition.
John even more carefully sets the Christian apart from the non-Christian. John did not want the two families to merge because of lack of definition. Fortunately, we can tell them apart rather easily. This is because of the different natures of the one who begot them. For the Christian, he was born of God so that he likes the things of God, even delights in them. He does not look at these things merely as a preference for the time being. They are part of him and so John unobtrusively says, ‘they practice righteousness.’ The other children are children of the devil for they act like him and imitate Satan’s wishes. There is no place this shows itself more than in love for one another. Notice the contrast: One loves and practices righteousness. The other practices lawlessness. The Son of God appeared to get rid of sin, not to legitimize it. Those who have been born of God will live a life consistent with God. Those who have not met God do not have His Spirit or share His nature. They instead share the devil’s nature and live lives consistent with that.
C. Love: The Right Relationships 3:10b-24
Love is the third characteristic of a Christian group. They love each other. What scares me at this point is the number of churches I am aware of that let problems get in the way of love. The assurance of our faith comes through loving our brothers. John is not just interested in having a great relationship with God whom you can’t see. There is demanded from us a compelling interest to favor the treatment of our brothers and sisters. So we ask, why is it that many churches have problems between members?
Maybe I need to first ask what was happening in the church John was writing to? This will help us keep the question in perspective. John knew the church had squabbled over doctrine and then divided. But I think now is he talking of healing. It is easy to fight over doctrine but love must stand calmly as a guard in the way one handles the way one argues and discusses issues.
Without love, we show that we are not really of God. For God’s nature is love. Love becomes very practical (3:18). In I Peter there is the verse that warns the husband that he must care for his wife or God will not hear his prayers. Our connection with our brothers and sisters is equally important. If we find ourselves loving our brethren, then we can have full confidence that God will hear our prayers. But if we hold back from our brothers and sisters the love Christ demands of us, then our prayers will be hindered. The necessity of love must begin to rule over our actions. If so, we find that we must confess our sins to one another and that we will accept the apologies of others. One person said recently that Chinese have a greater problem forgiving each other. Tell me, then; does the problem Chinese greater than the nature of God within His people? Of course not. We must not fault God. If you discover a lack of love and a love for self, then we must rightly question our own Christian faith.
Summary (3:23-24) If we have God’s nature, His Spirit, His life, then we will as His children find that we will live differently than the world. I am not saying that we won’t have difficulties; they did and so will we. But at least we will find that we can and will come back to our root nature. We must bow to correct teaching, His moral standards and His love that gives (3:10b-16), Acts (33:16-18) and receives (19-24).
We forget the importance of living as the body of Christ. Many Christians think they can live apart from the people of God. This has two or three important implications.
- First of all, if you don’t like the people God likes, perhaps you don’t like Him.
- Secondly, perhaps as this text suggests, you are one who has left the flock and betrays your heart.
- Lastly, if you are not very attracted to God’s people, maybe you are more attracted by other things in the world. Remember for everything you don’t do for the lord, you are doing something else for someone else.