Saturday, 13 November 2021

1 John 2:12-14 - the essential Heart of a real Christian faith

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                 •        Introduction

John has been probing, testing, searching his readers for a while by exposing the mistaken confidence of those who are leading astray these churches that John is writing to.

He now turns (as it were) to his congregation, fixes them with a beady preacher’s eye and addresses directly (eye to eye) the people his gaze lights upon in the congregation there.

But he does it to hearten, to encourage and embolden them.

What John is doing here is to summarise his teaching in the first part of the book in a way that now positively affirms his confidence in the readers … reassuring them that they do in fact have eternal life.

But he does it in a strange Johannine way.

He switches from giving hypothetical examples in the third person (‘the one who says …’ is not genuine) to making positive affirming statements in the second person (so v. 12 says ‘your sins are forgiven’) and John does this to emphasise that the readers actually DO have a genuine Christian experience of God.

Karen Jobes says: “His readers have been living out their faith in Christ, and these verses (2:12-14) commend them for that.”

The first thing to notice is that …

            •          (There’s an awful lot of ‘writing’ going on here)

You know we said at the outset, in the very first exposition in our series, that John’s structure often seems to us to be pretty circular?

Well, he’s doing that circular thing in spade-fulls in these verses.

The temptation to the preacher is to quietly slide by this section because it does just seem so unusual, but it is probably the most important, central section in the book.

These few verses are the most highly crafted and rhetorically structured in the whole book.

Each statement begins with some way of saying ‘I write’.

But there are three statements in one tense and three using another.

And then there are three groups of people addressed: children, fathers and young men.

In fact it is ‘children’ and ‘little children’ … a term used by John to refer to all the children of God that he is addressing in this book.

And then each of these three statements is justified with a ὅτι- clause …

‘I am writing to you children BECAUSE …’

‘I am writing to you fathers BECAUSE …’

I am writing to you young men BECAUSE …’

Karen Jobes (who is really helpful at this point in the book, by the way) says “This highly structured rhetoric is effective for making the passage memorable and, therefore, marks it as a (the?) high point of the letter. The needs of remembering material in a largely oral culture necessitate such schemes, which may seem trivial or be missed altogether in our own visual, text-based culture.”

And so John sticks in the memory of his non-booky readers or (as by now we are suggesting) in the memory of his hearers the essential elements in a genuine believer’s experience of God. 

And the first of these seems to be the experience of sins forgiven

            •          The Essentials of Authentic Christian Experience

John has written a lot of hard stuff to these little house churches spread around outside Ephesus, and now on the basis of the searching stuff he’s written he writes reassuring stuff about the people he’s writing to.

Up until now he has been saying ‘the person who says’ such and such is not really an authentic Christian believer.

He has been writing to warn of the sort of wandering away from God and His Word that has afflicted the churches he’s writing to, but (obviously) he hasn’t been saying to those faithful who are giving his book a hearing ‘this is you!’

The ones who have wandered aren’t listening … but John is writing to warn and therefore to protect those who ARE listening to him as he exhorts them to stay with these beliefs of the genuine believer and the experience of God that goes with it.

What changes now is that he personalises what he is saying to those shaken but faithful believers.

As we’ve said (try to remember this as we go along today) he now switches to look these particular individuals in the eye, point the preacher’s finger out into the congregation and eye to eye reassure shaken but faithful people that the truth about them is that they’re the real deal.

John is dealing with a community that is discouraged by the controversy which has arisen within it and that is in need of exhortation.

And the themes he isolates as characteristics of a genuine experience of God are both 

·       drawn from what he has already written (knowing God and the forgiveness of sins) and 

·       introduce the matter of overcoming the evil one 

which leads into the discussion that follows on from these verses about what the genuine believer must do to continue living in Christ with the assurance of eternal life.

The intention is to say that through every stage of a Christian’s life 

·       confession for the forgiveness of sins, 

·       knowledge of the Father and the Son, 

·       the indwelling of God’s Word and 

·       victory over the evil one, 

are very necessary parts of the Christian’s experience and walk with God.

         •        Sins forgiven, v. 12

So first of all (because it is foundational to everything) John writes:

“I am writing to you, dear children,

    because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.”

Notice this … it is crucial … John isn’t writing what he’s written to them because they HAVEN’T got the point, but because they HAVE!

He aims to reassure not to wrack with questions and doubts.

Now … at a surface level John is addressing this point to a small sector of the congregation … ‘dear children’ … but actually, John has addressed the whole group of believers across all these house churches as ‘dear children’ and he has already said this of all who confess their sin in John 1:9.

So there’s a hint right there at the outset in these targeted comments that what is being said to one group in those congregation (fathers, children, young men) is actually true of all.

That bit about ‘your sins have been forgiven’ is great … it is written in the perfect tense indicating (so far as these things do) that there is a completed act in the past that has abiding and continuing results.

The same tense is used of the Fathers having come to know God.

John is recognising that his hearers have got genuine Christian faith and lives and all these ‘that’ statements (or ‘because’ statements, depending on your translation) contribute to John’s stated purpose in 1 John 5:13 of assuring his hearers that they DO have eternal life.

And here lies the key to it in v. 12:

I am writing to you, dear children,
    because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.”

John considers the forgiveness of sin to be the basis of the New Covenant … as described for example by Jeremiah who foresaw the basis of this new relationship with God … which has so many echoes in what John goes on to say in these few verses and then the rest of the book.

Karen Jobes: “This reminder that John’s readers are the new covenant people is memorably presented in the highly rhetorical form of 2:12-14”

Your sins have been forgiven … Heaven’s declaration has been historically made and continues to stand against your name in His book and this has been done ‘in HIS Name’.

It is written (as it were) against your name.

But that task has been completed at His charge, to His cost, by His authority and merit, against (preacher’s finger) YOUR name.

To someone who has come to Christ by the conviction of the Holy Spirit of their sin, of the nature and reality of God’s righteousness and therefore of the SURETY of the judgement against sin of the Holy One … this assurance is superb breath-takingly superb!

You … YOUR sins are forgiven … in HIS Name!

And THERE … in the atonement applied to me … is the root of the two further personally reassuring affirmations which immediately follow. 

         •        Knowing God, v. 13a and 14a

v. 13a “I am writing to you, fathers,

    because you know him who is from the beginning.”

v. 14a “I write to you, dear children,

    because you know the Father.”

As if to underline that he is speaking to all of them but for rhetorical effect just picking out specific groups as if pointing to where they sit in the assembly as the churches meet, John addresses first fathers and then ‘dear children’ on the matter of this characteristic plank of Jeremiah’s prophesied new covenant and this fundamental Christian experience that the personally applied atonement leads straight on into …

Sin has separated humanity from their God, so its atonement leads to the removal of that separation.

Knowing God is therefore fundamental to the assurance of the application of Christ’s shed blood to ME.

Here’s what encourages John about these people and what he encourages them with:

you have battled, struggled and wrestled with your experience of life, but in your prayers and in your Bible reading as you’ve struggled through these things, you have heard from and seen the interventions of the living God.

No.

It is true:

Not many of us see Him writing in the sky.

Not many of us really meet Him the way Moses did nor do we often see the miraculous interventions of God that Elijah knew.

But in our lives, in our weakness, in our tentative but heart-felt prayers … quite possibly looking back after the event, though not at the time … we’ve seen the reality of the hand of the Living God in our lives.

Do you know what that means?

It means that you know Him Who is from the beginning.

You know THE Father.

And you know Him in your own experience because your sin has been atoned for in His Name, and the curse that banished YOU from Eden has been once for all turned back against your Name.

            •          Fathers, v. 13a

What’s said to the fathers here is “you know him who is from the beginning.”

Again, this knowing God is in the perfect tense … something happened in the past which has continuing and abiding results.

This (like ‘your sins are forgiven’ in v. 12) echoes what Jeremiah says about how things will be under the New Covenant that gets spelled out plainly in Jeremiah 31:34

“No longer will they teach their neighbour,

    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’

because they will all know me,

    from the least of them to the greatest,”

declares the Lord.

“For I will forgive their wickedness

    and will remember their sins no more.”

The Lord Jesus refers to this as He initiates the New Covenant meal around His last Passover celebration with His disciples in John 17:1-5

“After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”

At the heart of His teaching there at the institution of the New Covenant, Jesus highlights the essential nature of knowing God in the New Covenant … it’s right there in v. 3 (it’s a verse worth committing to memory!)

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

These are now those days.

These are the days prophesied by Jeremiah when …

“… they will all know me,

    from the least of them to the greatest,”

declares the Lord.

“For I will forgive their wickedness

    and will remember their sins no more.”

And that’s YOU, John writes to these people.

And it’s also YOU if your sins are forgiven and you follow this Jesus.

            •          Children, v. 14a

The term ‘little children’ or ‘dear children’ here is a more endearing term than the one in v. 12.

But again, it echoes the sort of language John uses to address all the believers in the churches to which he is writing.

And once again, it is characteristic of that group … all genuine believers … that what Jeremiah prophesied about the new Covenant experience of God, and what the Lord Himself instituted at the first New Covenant meal is true of them.

Authentic believers know God because their sins are forgiven through His Name.

         •        Strength in overcoming the evil one, v. 13b

v. 13b “I am writing to you, young men,

    because you have overcome the evil one.”

 

v. 14b “I write to you, young men,

    because you are strong,

    and the word of God lives in you,

    and you have overcome the evil one.”

 

John is here addressing …

            •          Young men, v. 13b

The phrase the evil one is used in John 17:15 as a reference to Satan. 

Satan is also the referent here and in the four other occurrences in 1 John (2:14; 3:12; 5:18, 19).

Please notice that the Apostle John has not the least compunction in identifying overcoming the Evil One as an essential component and characteristic of authentic Christian faith and life.

Along with sins forgiven and knowing God.

It is WAY up there.

Now, very interestingly, that is also a perfect tense.

It is referring to a completed act.

This is a thought that will recur in 4:4 and 5:4-5 so I don’t want to go into this too much at this stage but whilst this applies across the board to all believers, the energies and vigour of young men is particularly directed to this concept of conflict not just against evil but with the Evil ONE.

So, the Lord Jesus prays in John 17:14-15 

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”

The reality of the believer’s conflict not just with evil but with the Evil One is pretty much at the core of Biblical expectation with regard to the authentic Christian life!

So, John writes about the dragon being bested in cosmic conflict with the Almighty and pursuing the woman in fury at his defeat … 

“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

 

“Now have come the salvation and the power

    and the kingdom of our God,

    and the authority of his Messiah.

For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,

    who accuses them before our God day and night,

    has been hurled down.

11 They triumphed over him

    by the blood of the Lamb

    and by the word of their testimony;

they did not love their lives so much

    as to shrink from death.

12 Therefore rejoice, you heavens

    and you who dwell in them!

But woe to the earth and the sea,

    because the devil has gone down to you!

He is filled with fury,

    because he knows that his time is short.”

I would LOVE to spend more time on this chapter looking at how believers are caught up in this cosmic conflict, at how they are protected through it and how they triumph in it … but that would be to get side-tracked a bit at the moment!

Go and have a look at Revelation 12 yourself … there is such a lot of phenomenal stuff there!

It looks in these current few verses as if John is saying that all those who aspire to being strong in the faith will be called on to overcome the Evil One and the world he has descended upon … a topic introduced in the very next verse after this section.

John is writing to these people precisely because they have - by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony (atonement and knowing God) they have overcome the Evil One, the Accuser of the Brethren who accuses them day and night before the throne of God in Heaven.

And John writes to counter the accuser by reassuring these guys about the genuine-ness of their Christian faith and experience.

Oh, sure, this is strong medicine for the soul right here, isn’t it?!

By the blood of the Lamb and by the proclaimed word of their testimony to their genuine Christian experience … you (says John) have overcome the Evil One!

Perfect tense.

Done deed!

            •          Young men, v. 14c

καὶ νενικήκατε τὸν πονηρόν

νικάω (nikaō) 'to conquer'

It’s what the great military marshals and Generals of the Empire did using the Roman legions.

It is winning the war, basically.

And for Christians the war is ultimately with the devil, who also has his claws into the world order as it currently exists, and still seeks to exert undue pressure on our choices through our sinful human nature.

πονηρός (ponēros) is 'evil/bad' 

So, THE Evil One?

It meant ‘the bad guy’ but it quickly became a title … the proper name for Satan.

Now look … without being all fanciful or spooky or over-fascinated with things that distract us from the central issues of Christian life and faith, our brothers and sisters in the Apostolic era had a clear and practical grasp on their fight not with just flesh and blood but with the powers and authorities, the fallen rulers of the spiritual realms.

So Paul writes in Ephesians 6:10-13

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

We are not helped by a sentimental Christianity, nor a rationalistic Christianity, that minimise the reality of the genuine believer’s part in a cosmic battle under the protection and in the power of Almighty God.

For sure this world deals us difficulties.

But our God issues us with armour.

Genuine faith picks it up, puts it on and wields it.

“I write to you, young men,

    because you are strong,

    and the word of God lives in you,

    and you have overcome the evil one.”

We are engaged in a cosmic battle against the enemy of souls by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony and the faith that leads us to not love our lives such that we back off from this holy conflict even if it leads us to the point of death.

It is REAL.

That’s what John says Jesus said in John 17 and it is what he says here and in Revelation 12.

But, finally, you will notice that there is a key feature there in v. 14 that I have slipped by, an element that is crucial to the armour we need in this authentic Christian conflict that John seeks to encourage us in. 

         •        The Word of God 

                        remains in you, v. 14b

“I write to you, young men,

    because you are strong,

    and the word of God lives in you,

    and you have overcome the evil one.”

How amazing is that?!

So, Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:22-25

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 

23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 

24 For,

 

“All people are like grass,

    and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;

the grass withers and the flowers fall,

25     but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

And this is the word that was preached to you.

 

We have been given new birth through the Living and enduring Word of God … and as such (John says here) 

·       you are strong and 

·       the Word of God lives in you and you 

·       have overcome the evil one.

That living and enduring Word of God of Peter’s letter, LIVES AND ENDURES IN YOU!

(Says John).

Here’s an AMAZING indication of genuine faith … God’s Word comes to LIFE in that person.

If you want to be assured in your faith not dithering about faith’s edges, 

if you want to be strong not floundering around in flip-fop faith (the toes are just about in but there’s no great measure of attachment or stability) 

then make it your daily delight to be IN the Word so that the Word comes to life in your thoughtful, deliberate living out of life conscious of, enlightened by and instructed through the revealed will of God in His holy Word.

Tenaciously so.

So that John could write of you:

“you are strong,

    and the word of God lives in you,

    and you have overcome the evil one.”

         •        Conclusion

Do you see that these strange and highly rhetorically structured … honestly to our culture quite ODD verses … are really such VERY strong meat?!

Through every stage of a believer’s life (all God’s children are included in spite of the preacher here lighting upon particular groups in the congregation as he makes his points) …

Through EVERY stage of any believer’s life, 

confession for the forgiveness of sins, 

knowing God - the Father and the Son - by 

the indwelling Word of God 

- being thus armed for victory over the Evil One – 

these are essential and authenticating, reassuring aspects of life lived in the long-prophesied but now inaugurated New Covenant of Grace.

Where are we with this?

·       Do you find yourself tempted to doubt your salvation because you are tempted?

No WAY!

That is authentic Christian living!

Have you turned from sin and trusted Christ in a real and living way wrestling through to the peace of God that passes all understanding which the Spirit breathes into your saved soul?

You are the REAL deal if you find yourself battling through in prayer to peace with Him at the foot of His cross.

·       Do you KNOW God?

By which I mean do you see God at work in His world, in His Word as the Spirit applies it to your circumstances and to the toils and troubles of your heart?

Does He quietly pop up to guard and guide you and to answer your prayers?

You have a Father in Heaven Who is your shield and your very great reward!

·       Do you BATTLE with temptation?

Hallelujah!

Why hallelujah?

Because battling temptation in this world ain’t ‘normal’!

It is not from THIS world, but it is evidence of the Heaven-sent life of God in the soul of man.

In the soul of YOU, man.

·       And do you have to work hard at God’s Word?

Does it not come naturally to you but at a price?

Does it take energy and effort and is it a battle to carve out the time and the energy to CONCENTRATE on having the Word of God in MIND?

My friend that is AUTHENTIC Christian experience in this God-dishonouring world and the fact that this is tough means you are DOING it and that in itself is such a joy and such an encouragement because it is living evidence that the battle is joined for the Living Word of God to live in YOU … and it is others that will see the fruit of that in you LONG before you see it in yourself.

And above all … here’s the kicker … HEAVEN will see it long before all see it and Heaven will REJOICE over you for it.

And should we not also ourselves rejoice at the wonder of the work of God in OUR poor, weak hearts and souls, that He has ever put a sinner like me savingly in Christ?

Well?

What do YOU think?

Message me and let me know.


 

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