1 John 2:1-2

“My little Children”

John addresses the church as his children. It is, perhaps, a reference to the fact that John was instrumental in bringing the good news of Jesus to these people, and they in believed that message. As Paul said to the Corinthians, he had ‘birthed’ (eteke) them in the faith.

John is acting in the manner of a father to them. He is not behaving like a sergeant major whose aim is to whip them into military shape. He has real concern for their spiritual welfare, and he wants them always to be reminded of the good news and the reality of Christ’s saving work. And this saving work has real, observable effects on the attitudes and behaviours of those who are saved.

“I write these things to you so that you might not sin.”

What is sin? In the Hebrew language, the word for sin literally translates as “missing the target”. The tribe of Benjamin had, at one stage in Israel’s history, 700 slingers who could each aim a stone at a single strand of hair and not “sin”, meaning that they did not miss that target. They were very good shots.

The target that we all have as God’s creatures is obedience to God’s moral law. Later in this letter, John tells us that sin is lawlessness. Whenever we act or have desires contrary to God’s law, we sin. We are very bad shots.

But, because of God’s mercy to us in Jesus Christ, we are to aim at giving up our sin. We are to put sin to death, just as Paul says. The gospel is not a reason to become relaxed about our sinful behaviours. God’s free and full mercy to us in Christ is in fact the biggest argument against having a relaxed attitude toward our bad behaviour.

If our Lord Jesus Christ so humbled himself to …

  • take on humanity by being conceived and born a human baby,
  • live a completely good, law-abiding life despite the opposition of sinners and the temptations of the evil one, and
  • take responsibility for the sins of his enemies and to be condemned and executed in their place

… so that he might rescue bad people like us from that condemnation, how can anyone who has received such mercy be content to go on living a lawless, God defying life?

“And, if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous.”

Here John recognises that Christians will fail in spite of their best efforts to live lives free of sin. In fact, the Bible does not anticipate perfect sinlessness in believers here and now.

Jesus Christ has made us saints while we were still sinners, and he keeps us saints even though we are still sinners.

John explicitly recognises this in those to whom he writes and he recognises this in himself.

He says that, if anyone sins (and each one of us will – 1 John 1:8 & 9), We have an advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1)

Note that when the apostle says “if anyone sins”,  he means “if any Christian” sins. We know this because of what he says next. If any Christian sins, We Christians have (present tense) an advocate with the Father. John saw himself as a sinful Christian who always needed an advocate.

An advocate, in this sense, is a legal representative. The word itself simply means one who is at your side. In an other context, Jesus called the Holy Spirit by this term. In the passage of John’s gospel, the term is usually translated as “comforter”. The Holy Spirit brings reassurance to believers that they have not been abandoned by God. The Holy Spirit reminds God’s people of Christ and his word and what he has done for them.

In this letter, Jesus is spoken of as a legal representative at our side, on our side. He speaks for us before God the Father. He is there for our defence.

In his role as advocate, Jesus does not justify or minimise our sin, but he interposed his own righteousness and his death as fully satisfying God’s justice on our sinful behaviour.

This is because John not only identifies the Lord Jesus as our advocate, but he also reminds us that he himself is the propitiation for our sins.

The word “propitiation” means the removal of all offence. If we wrong a friend, and our friend is rightly offended, we try to restore that friendship in some way that removes the offence. Again, if one nation threatens war against another, often there is some attempt  to appease the one who is threatening and thus avoid war.

The propitiation that Jesus achieved for us is that of his good life and his death in our place.

By his good life he provides human righteous for his people who have no righteousness of their own. Our Lord Jesus always kept the Law of God perfectly. He never missed the target, and he did this as a human being for us. It is his righteousness that is legally attributed to those who trust him.

In his death, Jesus took responsibility for our sins. God legally attributed our sins to his sinless Son, and his son was condemned and executed in our place. The only sinless man bore the sins of his people on a Roman cross and died because of those sins.

By his death Jesus completed the condemnation of our sins. By his good life he provides us with real human righteousness. He has removed our offence before God.

All who trust Jesus Christ as he is offered in the Bible can know that the offence of their sins has been removed by the Lord Jesus Christ.

“And not only for ours but also for the whole world.”

John is not teaching that everyone without distinction is propitiated by Jesus. It is not true that every human being, despite their attitude to Jesus Christ, will finally be saved.

What he is saying is that anyone, anywhere in the world, who trusts Jesus Christ shall be saved from their sins.

There are some implications from this statement:

  • it identifies all people from all nations and cultures as sinners. No one is excluded.
  • it identifies Jesus Christ as the only hope for any person in this world
  • it reminds us of our obligation to contribute to the work of taking this message to the whole world.

Why did they dig through the roof? Mark 2:1-12

Do you know the story about the paralysed man whom Jesus healed? The man was carried on his mat to a house where Jesus was speaking the word to a large crowd. The people who were carrying the man couldn’t get past the crowd, so they took their friend and his mat onto the roof and unroofed a section. Once the hole was big enough, they lowered the man to the floor in front of Jesus. The Lord then told the man that his sins were forgiven, and, to confirm the reality of this forgiveness, Jesus healed him. The man happily walked home carrying his mat.

This story is a favourite of Sunday School classes, or at least it was when I was a child. In my experience, the pitch for the story usually is that the paralysed man and his friends came to get the man’s paralysis healed, and the man got something better. It might be so. People who come to Jesus for one reason sometimes end up with something other than what they expected. For example, Lord Lyttleton and George West were young men (in the eighteenth century) who did not believe Jesus rose from the dead. They made a pact to investigate the claims in the New Testament about this and the conversion of Paul. They meant to expose the fraud that they imagined was being perpetrated by the Bible. They both ended up publishing books, one of them confessing himself convinced of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and the other stating that Paul really was converted in the way the Bible tells it.

But back to the paralysed man. Why should we assume that the man and his friends were coming to Jesus so he might have his paralysis healed? Admittedly, Jesus had been healing all sorts of medical and mental problems before these people come to him. News had got around. Yet, there is something in the urgency of these people that suggests to me that conviction of sin was behind it. What I’m suggesting is that the paralysed man was acutely aware of his sin. The Pharisees and teachers of the day were good at telling people that they were sinners. In this they were correct, although they wrongly excluded themselves from that just condemnation. So the man would have had a clear idea that he was not right with God, that, if he were judged for his sins, he would have no excuse or escape. Having this conviction of sin would make a person keen for relief.

I suspect that the paralysed man, or one of his friends, had heard what Jesus had been saying about good news for the poor and release for prisoners. He might even had heard of John the Baptist’s remark that Jesus was the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Nevertheless, make no mistake; Jesus was not going around Judea and Galilee speaking about ways to achieve physical well-being. His main aim was to seek and to save lost sinners. This aim, and what he would do to save people from sin, was the focus of his talks.

So I suggest that the urgency to see Jesus, to hear him speak the word (the good news to sinners) was what got these people digging through the roof of the house where Jesus was. They were trusting that Jesus was the only one who could help this man with his sin problem. Then, when Jesus saw their faith, he said the words the man was longing to hear: ‘Child, your sins are forgiven.’ The physical healing, though I’m sure it was welcome, was incidental. I don’t think it was the main game for the paralysed man. The healing was so we can know that Jesus has authority to forgive sins on earth – then and there, and here and now, by speaking the word. This authority comes from who Jesus is, and from what he did in dying on a the cross for his people and rising again from the dead.

Notes on Romans 6:1-14 — How shall we live? Part 2

[Continued from Part 1]

If we are rescued from judgement by unity with Jesus in his Death, we are also united with Jesus in his resurrection. We are to be united to his new way of life. To emphasise this reality, Paul uses a ‘much rather’ phrase, as if to say: ‘If one is rescued from sin, so much rather will that one live now as a new sort of person.’

Why is this so? Well, Paul says that even our death with Christ implies the doing away with our old way of life.

Knowing this, that our Old Man was crucified so that the body of sin might be brought to an end.

Our Old Man is our pre-Christian attitude. We had bad attitudes

  • To God as king – we had rejected God’s rule
  • To Christ as saviour – we thought we were fine as we were.
  • To God’s law – we made our own rules as if we were God.

We were once slaves to sin and death. We were bound to it and could not (and would not) free ourselves.

  • Jesus said so (John 8:34-36), but Jesus sets these sorts of slaves free.
  • Paul says that Jesus’ death puts an end to slavery to sin (old man crucified so that we might no longer be slaves to sin — Romans 6:6b).

This is true because death deals with sin (verse 7). ‘The one who has died [with Christ] is justified [set free] from sin.’ The flow of Paul’s argument seems to be this:

  • Death is the just end for a sinner; it is what justice requires. A sinner’s death does not make a sinner clean.
  • Christ’s death alone justifies because Jesus was not a sinner when he died for us — the just one died for the unjust.
  • If we are one with Jesus in his death, we ought to be one with Jesus in his life.
  • Jesus lives – raised from death – because He was just  and He continues to live a good life.
  • Our lives as Christian should be modelled on the good life of Jesus – Live with him.

Knowing that Christ is raised, never to die again, leaves us with these conclusions:

  • Jesus has done with sin – his once for all time death provided complete salvation.
  • There are no more sins for him to deal with – all the sins of all his people from all time (past, present and future) have been suffered and died for.
  • Therefore Death no longer has any authority over, or claim of any kind upon, Jesus Christ.

Jesus died once for sin, Jesus now lives for God, so…

  • We are to regard ourselves as dead to sin (having died with Christ)
  • and as alive to God – alive to doing things God’s way.

This means we are not to let sin boss us around, precisely because we are saved sinners.

We are not to obey sin with regard to our desires.

  • Human desires were created by God and they were given to us as good things.
  • Our sinful nature messes with these desires, for example:
    • Our human desire for partner was messed with, producing unfaithfulness, pornography and prostitution.
    • Our desire for useful work was twisted by laziness, workaholic attitudes and careerism.
    • Our desire for food is blighted by over-eating or other difficulties.

Next, Paul’s language seem to echo the 10 commandments, which begin with a statement of how God had rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt and how they are now his people.

  • We are not to present our physical and mental abilities as weapons of unrighteousness.
    • You are my people.
    • You are to show love by not doing evil.
  • We are to present our physical and mental abilities as weapons of righteousness.
    • You are my people.
    • You are to show love by doing positive good.

If you are a Christian, if you trust Jesus Christ, you have been made alive from the dead. You are united to Christ. You are Children of God.

You are no longer under law to be condemned by it. Jesus has dealt with your sin. You may now say with the Psalm writer, ‘Oh, how I love your law!’ (Psalm 119:97)

You are now a child of God’s grace in Christ, under his fatherly protection and love. You have been saved to show love and do good.

We have new attitudes toward God and our fellow human beings because Jesus has died and risen again for us. As Christians we are no longer to live as if God isn’t there, no longer to live as if we were our own boss. We are to love God with all our mind, strength, will and heart, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13) — Part 1

If Christianity is a contest, we’ve lost already. A reading of Luke 13:1-5 suggests this.

Some who were present with him at that time told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices. In answer, Jesus said to them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans suffered such things because they were more sinful than all [other] Galileans? No, I tell you; rather, unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen [souls] who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them — were they greater debtors than all people who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; rather, unless you repent, you all will likewise perish.

I was once told that, ‘All you need to do to keep God happy is live by the 10 Commandments and Sermon on the mount.’

This is easier said than done. Jesus spent a great deal of time showing how far we are from doing ‘all we need to do’. People naturally think, if they think about these matters at all, that there is a hierarchy of goodness, and if you past 50% (or just do better than others) you’ll be ok. That’s where the Galileans come in.

Galileans, in the minds of your average resident of Judea, were either country hicks or revolutionaries. They were looked down upon by respectable Judeans. A fellow called Nathaniel initially questioned Jesus’ character on this basis: ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’

These particular Galileans were either in the temple making sin-offerings when Pilate took vengeance on them for some crime he thought they had done, OR they were terrorists caught in the act of killing Romans (or Roman sympathisers) and Pilate slaughtered them over the bodies of their own victims.

Were these Galileans worse than all Galileans because this sudden death came upon them? Did they receive a special judgment from God for their evil? Jesus said, ‘No’.

The Lord Jesus says we are all in the same boat as the Galatians; unless we repent, we will all perish.  He repeats this message with an example of his own — those who seem to have been taken in an accident – a tower in Jerusalem fell on them. Were they worse than others? No, they were just like us. Unless we repent, we all will likewise perish.

Jesus did not say this because he was somehow in a bad mood that day, and it was not said because Jesus had little concern for the people he was speaking to. His aim was to use some vivid and real examples to benefit people who were in great need but didn’t know it.

What is a Sinner?

Technically, sin is not doing what God requires of us, and it is also doing what God tells us not to do. The sober reading of the law of God shows us that we don’t do what God says and we do do what he forbids.

But in a more basic way, we are born covenant breakers. Our first parent Adam was made good and could do good, but decided not to.  By this disobedience, he sinned and brought death upon himself and all of us, his children.  David in Ps. 51 says “In sin my mother conceived me.”, meaning that from conception, David was a sinner, and so are all of us.

What is Repentance?:

  •  It is not ‘turning over a new leaf.’
  • Nor is it joining a support group (Alcoholics Anonymous, Weight Watchers, or the local church).
  • It is not acting according to ideas of positive thinking or some pop psychology.

 So what is repentance? It is a change of mind, not a change in behaviour (though true repentance results in changes of behaviour). In particular, is it a change in our opinion about our own basic ‘goodness’ and a change in our attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ.

Continued in Part 2.

Why is death certain, and what can be done?

People from all sorts of cultures fear death. Some say death is normal, and we should just get over it. But if death is simply a natural thing, why is it a terror to us? An ancient book, the Bible, tells us why.

The God who made everything, also made human beings to live forever. But this life was conditional. The first man, Adam, was told that the world was his to enjoy, all of it, except the fruit of one tree. That tree was not for him. Leave it alone, God said, and you will have life to the full. Adam and his wife decided not to be content with all that God had given; they took bad advice from a rebel creature and they stole the fruit. God pronounced the sentence of death upon them. But Adam’s situation was unique. He didn’t act for himself alone, but he represented all his future children as well. His act condemned not only himself, but all human beings who would descend from him in the normal way. Each child of Adam willingly follows Adam in his rebellion. Death is a terror because it is the judgment of our creator against our rebellion.

Even though Adam’s act was inexcusable and brought disaster into God’s good world, the news wasn’t all bad. The God whom they had offended, the one against whom they had rebelled, promised Adam and Eve one way of escape. God himself would eventually come as a human being to put right what Adam had done wrong. This one is known to the world as Jesus Christ.  Why is Jesus Christ our only hope? The Bible calls Jesus the second Adam, because he was the second person in all history who made a real difference to the human condition. By Adam’s disobedience, death came to all people. By Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, life comes to those who trust him.

Jesus’ life was one of love; love toward his God, and love toward his enemies (people like us). Jesus lived an obedient life; a substitute life to replace our bad lives. He did this as a human being. He was born a human being, yet the Bible says that God himself is his father. Jesus is the Son of God. As God, his good life can be donated to us. His good life is accepted as a replacement for our bad lives when we trust him.

Jesus’ death was also a substitute. Rebels against God deserve to die and undergo everlasting judgment, because — left to ourselves — we would and could never stop rebelling. We love our bad ways, even though they will bring us to a bad end. But Jesus died once for rebels, to take death in their place. Jesus was not personally bad, so the only way he could die was if God regarded him as a substitute. Jesus died as a sin-bearer, but the sins he bore were the sins of other people, people like us. Because he is human, he could die; because he is God, that death can be accepted as the death of sinners who trust him.

Jesus really died but he didn’t stay dead. When Jesus came back to life, it showed that Jesus is truly good. Death could not hold him, because he wasn’t personally bad. The resurrection of Jesus means at least two things. First, he will never die again, and second, those who trust him will be raised to endless life too — because his death finished the punishment that their sins deserve. The Bible tells us that those who trust Jesus are regarded by God to be as sinless as Jesus. The reason people die is because of sin. So those who do trust Jesus, are deemed to be ‘sinless’ and are given an endless life just like Jesus.

The Bible says that a judgment is coming. At that judgment every human life will be compared to the righteous life of Jesus Christ. Those who fall short of that high standard will be condemned. We all personally fall short of that standard; we don’t even maintain the low standards we set ourselves. Our only hope is to have our Judge as our Saviour – to receive his goodness as a gift, by faith. We can know that we have everlasting life simply because of who Jesus is and what he has done.  The Bible says that, if we trust Jesus, we will be saved.