Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Believe in Jesus and love one another ..."

Day #330:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - November 23rd

Scripture Reading:  I John 1 - 3 ...

The Apostle John is writing to Christians who are facing persecution, false teachers, temptation and every other aspect of life, so what he writes must be the most important thing on his mind and his heart. God used the writers of Scripture to speak truth to believers throughout all ages ... to you and me today ... and this is truth we need to hear.  Here it is in summary:  Those who know Jesus Christ and who have been born again by His Spirit are in fellowship with God AND with each other, as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Those who are true believers love God AND one another.  Remember that these words are written to encourage believers as they live with Christ and for Christ in the world.  There is nothing more important in your life and mine that loving God and loving one another!  We who believe have a special bond that those who do not know Jesus cannot understand.  While we are called to love all people, the love of believers for one another gives us strength because we know that we are never alone.  That's what God is saying through John ... "You are not alone!  I am with you and you have brothers and sisters who are with you.  Love one another!"

It is a special message for a special people ... special not because of what we have done or who we are in ourselves, but because of what GOD has done and who we are in Christ!  You can feel John's passion as he begins his letter and talks about his own personal experience in seeing and touching Jesus, "the Word of Life" (1:1).  Then he says, "We proclaim to you what WE have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with US.  And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ" (1:3).  "Fellowship" is "koinonia," the community of believers, the Church that Jesus came to build ... His BODY!  There is a oneness among true believers that exists nowhere else on earth, for our fellowship comes from being united to Christ.  We who believe are all attached to the Vine and we get our life from HIM!

That's why it is so important that we live out this special relationship by the power of His Spirit living within us.  This is the "light" John is talking about throughout the first chapter of his letter.  "God is light" is another way of saying that there is nothing bad, nothing wrong, nothing evil in God ... NOTHING!  And through fellowship, communion, oneness with God, we become like Him.  We begin to think like God and act like God.  Remember when Satan tempted Eve in the Garden by saying she could be like God, knowing good and evil?  He didn't tell her that she would KNOW the difference, but would not be able to resist evil because of the sinful nature within her that arose when she died spiritually and her fellowship with God was broken.  So it is with every human being who has ever lived since (except Jesus!).  But when you are born again by the Spirit of God your fellowship with God is restored and you now have HIS power within you.  Jumping ahead, that's why John says in Chapter 4, verse 4:  "... the One who is IN you is greater than the one who is in the world."

God doesn't make mistakes!  He doesn't call someone to follow Jesus and forget to empower them to love their brothers and sisters in Christ.  Reading these chapters, you need to understand that John is not saying that believers will never commit a sin.  Some have tried to go there, but that would exclude all of us from having any assurance of being the children of God.  In fact, John says, "If we walk in the light ... we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His Word has no place in our lives" (1:7-10).

Believers still sin, so John writes, " ... if anybody does sin, we have One who speaks to the Father in our defense - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (2:1-2).  Jesus did all that was necessary to pay for every sin ever committed, but only those who place their faith in Him, who confess their sin and trust in Christ, receive forgiveness and cleansing.  It is we who believe who are empowered and enabled to love God because He first loved us and to love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.  This is how we know we belong to Him, when we love those who love Jesus with all our hearts.  John says that he is not giving a new command, yet it IS a new command because until Jesus came and until His Spirit was poured out we did not have the power to keep God's command to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Knowing and loving Jesus changes everything, and what God is saying through John is that if you don't love those who are brothers and sisters in Christ from your heart, you don't know or love God ... you are still walking in the darkness.  "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness" (2:9).  It is so easy to get caught up in the ways of this world and to treat people the way they treat you - even in the body of Christ.  It is so easy to get distracted and to expend your effort doing things for yourself, loving the things of the world rather than loving God and your brothers and sisters.  Think of the things you do for YOURSELF!  It's just easier to pursue the cravings of the sinful nature than it is to do the will of your Father in heaven ... isn't it?!  But that isn't the way Jesus calls us to live.

We have "an anointing from the Holy One, and ... know the truth" (2:20).  Everything in the world will pass away.  It has no lasting value.  So why do we spend so much time pursuing the pleasures of the world?  We who know the truth confess that Jesus is the Christ, the eternal Son of God, and that He died on the cross for our sins and rose again for our salvation, defeating sin and death once for all.  He promised us eternal life and He now calls us to "remain in Him" (2:27).  People live all their lives in this world wondering why they are alive, wondering what to do with their lives, fearing the future.  We have received God's grace so that the truth would set us free!  We are alive to please God.  Every day is an opportunity to be an instrument in God's hand to share His love in Word and in deed, that He might receive glory and praise.

Is your life radically different than that of those who do not know Jesus?  If not, why not?  What's missing?  Do you understand how much you are loved?  Do you believe your sins are forgiven and that you have new life in Christ?  Have you confessed your sins?  Do you believe God is at work purifying you and making you more like Jesus?  All these things and more God has promised for those who believe in Jesus!  "How great is the love the Father has lavished on US, that we should be called children of God!  (This is NOT everybody!)  And that is what WE are!  The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.  Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (3:1-3).

We who believe are in the process of being transformed by the power of the living God!  And He will not stop until we are actually LIKE HIM!  (Philippians 1:6).  Now John writes that "in Him is no sin.  No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning.  No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him" (3:5-6).  What can John possibly mean?  Put this in the context of Romans 6:1-4:  "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means!  We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  We were therefore buried with Him through baptism (the baptism of the Holy Spirit) in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."

While in this body the old nature of sin must still be "put off" in order that the new nature may be "put on" (Ephesians 4:22-23).  In our minds and in our hearts we do not want to sin.  Paul talks about this struggle in Romans 7, where he writes, "As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  ... For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it" (7:17-19).  This does not give an excuse for sin, but rather explains the importance of keeping our hearts and minds on Jesus.  If you spend more time thinking about your sin than you do about God's love and grace and forgiveness in Jesus, you will find yourself giving in to sin all the more.  It is in setting your mind on loving God because He first loved you that you will find strength and power to overcome the flesh.

And the evidence of that is love for your fellow-believers!  You will enjoy fellowship with God's people more than fellowship with the world, with those who don't know Christ or confess Him as Savior and Lord.  While still being a witness to those who are not part of God's people, your friendships and your community will revolve around the Church, the body of Christ.  "Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.  We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers" (3:13-14).  "This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" (4:16).  John then explains that this means giving to those in the body who have needs.  "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth" (3:18).

THIS is His command:  "to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us.  Those who obey His commands live in Him, and He in them.  And this is how we know that He lives in us:  We know it by the Spirit He gave us" (3:24).  You and I need to continually remember that it is by the power of the Spirit that we live in fellowship with the Father and with each other.  Not one of us can or will accomplish this by our own strength.  Those who fall away, those who leave, never had the Spirit in the first place.  "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.  For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us, but their going showed that none of them belonged to us" (2:19).

In John's day many who had claimed to be followers of Jesus left the body when things got hard.  They turned against those whom they had claimed as brothers.  Those who have the Spirit cannot and will not do that.  We who believe will persevere, not by our strength, but by His.  Thank God that He did not leave us alone to accomplish all that He calls us to do and be.  His grace is His empowering presence, giving us all we need to be what He wants us to be and to do what he wants us to do.  May you rejoice in His grace today and in the fellowship we share, and may His Spirit help you this very day to believe in Jesus and to love one another!

"Father, the call to follow Jesus is so loud in my ears and in my mind.  It consumes my heart and my will ... and yet, I see my old nature at work to pull me away from You.  How I thank You for Your promise that as I keep on confessing my sin, You will keep on forgiving me and cleansing me from the unrighteousness that remains.  I praise You, Father, that through faith in Christ You already see me as righteous, for His righteousness has been credited to my account.  Continue Your work in me, that in all things I may glorify You as You purify me through the blood of Your Son.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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