We began by reading some verses from 1 John 1.
Don launched in with a brief overview of the gospel, saying something like this:
“In the beginning God made everything good, but sadly we made a mess of everything. We have sinned and destroyed the world. We bring death. We bring decay. But God in his mercy has intervened in the world again and again. He intervened through Abraham, Moses, and the prophets. Jesus came and destroyed death. He opened a new beginning. Resurrection existence will happen in the future, but in the present we are bringing in something of God’s kingdom.”
There is nothing in that presentation that is false, but something can be left out, whether accidentally or on purpose. Doing that can lead us astray. What was missing from this description is God’s relationship with our sin. God intervenes to do something after standing outside the system watching the decay. But God is deeply and horrifically offended by sin! The wrath of God is mentioned repeatedly in the Bible. This is the righteous response of a holy God to his creatures defying him to his face.
What angers God is idolatry. The setting aside or “de-godding” of God. The fall was all about mankind taking on the role of God. He doesn’t want any competition! What is the chief problem in human history? If we don’t understand why we need a Savior, we will not understand what God has done to save us! If we pull out only a strand, we distort the entire picture. What starts off as mere silence on a theme finally has huge consequences. It has always been this way.
In its early history, gnosticism was one of the most critical dangers the Church faced. The main error taught that spiritual is good and physical is bad. If matter is intrinsically bad, how can a good God have made it? Also, how can a good Spirit, Jesus, become a man? Maybe he just cloaked himself somehow. John, in this book, stresses that his opponents deny that Jesus was the Christ.
Ethics were also affected. One branch became ascetic—wanting to whip matter down. This idea of “denying oneself” was very stringent based on the proposition that matter is bad. Another branch claimed that since bodies would die they have no significance, and therefore there was no need to be concerned about doing evil with your body—show your freedom by sinning with your body. Gnostics don’t understand that the cross as crucial, since instead of the biblical concept, the eternal son abandons the imperfect human, Jesus. A few strands here and there, and before you know it, you have lost the gospel.
John faced gnosticism in its earliest stages. We looked together at how he handled it.
What Does John Long For?
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:1-4)
Here the beginning is the absolute beginning. There is a resonance with the opening of John’s other book—his gospel. John is saying that the eternal became a human that he has touched and met. It also seems to remind us of Thomas’ famous request to put his hand in Jesus’ wounds. Jesus was heard, seen, and touched as a resurrected being.
Jesus is the Word, but he is also the life (as there and also here). He comes back from the grave after slaying death. Fellowship is not just friendship with Christians. The word is stronger in the New Testmanet. A business set up between two partners is described as a fellowship. There is a commonality here, but it is partnership in an enterprise. We have a fellowship with the Godhead because we share in a purpose with him. If John’s hearers enter into partnership with them they will get partnership to God. According to John, the way we enter the partnership with the living God is through a relationship with people. [This thought struck me powerfully and I found myself drifting from what Don was saying and thinking about how astonishing it is that a form of Christianity has arisen that makes commitment to a local church optional. We say “I don’t need other people in order to meet God.” There is a sense in which that is true, of course, but surely what John is saying here is that if we are partners with God already, how can we form a partnership with God without forming one with each other, too!]
What Stands in the Way of What John Longs For?
Sin gets in the way. But some are claiming they have not sinned. God is light. He has nothing to do with error, sin, corruption, decay, or ignorance of darkness. People call good evil and evil good. There is a twisting that happens. There is not any shadow in God. We cannot live in darkness and have fellowship with God. If we walk in light we will have a relationship, both with God and with each other. The truth is, we have all sinned. Jesus blood purifies us. To say the blood does something means that the life of Jesus violently ended is what does it. We are commended to God because of what Jesus did. When we become aware of anything that besmirches God’s glory we must come back again and again to the cross. God is holy, and the more we see this the more we will be aware of our sin.
It is not just that God will somehow overlook our sins. God bore our sin, as John goes on to explain. If Jesus bore our sin, then God is just to forgive us our sin. Christ was condemned for me so I will not be condemned again! He died on my behalf. That is our hope. We cannot claim that we have not sinned. If we say that, we make God to be a liar.
What Brings About What John Longs For?
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)
If sin is inevitable, we might get the wrong idea and become less upset by it. We might decide to give up the fight and not strive to be holy. John says, I am not trying to give you an excuse to go on sinning. I want you to stop sinning! Christians must not go on sinning, but if we do, wh
at is the solution? What brings it about? We have one who is speaking to the Father in our defense. He is our propitiation, which means that act by which God becomes propitious. It is that act by which he becomes favorable. God stands against us. Therefore, the object is God, whose attitude towards us is changed by propitiation. Expiation has as its object our sin, i.e. our sin is removed.
Many people don’t like the concept that the cross makes God kindly and favorable to us. Through this human reasoning people try to explain away the concept of “turning away the wrath of God.” They argue that God already loved us enough to send his son in the first place. Some argue that the wrath of God is only a metaphorical way of saying that bad things have bad consequences, which are just somehow designed into the universe. They claim God is not against us. Dodd was a major promoter of this theory. Leon Morris and others responded clearly and demonstrated the link with turning aside the wrath of God in the Old Testmanet sacrificial system.
God DOES stand over against us in wrath. To simply ignore our sin would make him unrighteous. But he ALSO stands over against us in love because he is that kind of God. God doesn’t love us because we are lovable. We are not lovely. We are sinners. He loves us in spite of ourselves. He sent his son to bear our guilt, to stand in our place, and thereby God’s justice is satisfied. His standing against us has now changed entirely so he is now completely favorable to us. Christ’s death in the New Testament does a lot of things—it reconciles us to each other, defeats death and Satan, and removes sin, but at its heart, it reconciles us to God. It is not that Jesus had to persuade a reluctant or ambivalent detached God.
In our legal system the judge always has to be impartial. He is never the offended party and must be neutral. But when we stand before God, he is always the most offended party. His knowledge is perfect, his justice is exact. God’s law is not somehow separate from God.