Saturday, October 24, 2015
What It Means to be of God
1 John 4:1-6 provides the Johannine community with two different aspects of dualism that are indispensable to the Christian faith. The first is the contrast between the spirits or teachings that are from God and those that of antichrist in nature. John provides instructions in 4:1-3 regarding how we may know if a spirit or teaching is from God or if it is antichrist. John says that every spirit that confesses that Jesus has come in the flesh is from God. Of course there is more to the concept of such a confession than modern western vernacular might suggest, but I cannot get into that here. Suffice it to say that there is more to such confession than merely making a statement or giving intellectual consent. The point here is that there is significant meaning attached to those teachings that have their source in God and those that have their source in antichrist. The secessionist community had rejected apostolic teaching regarding the nature of Christ and that rejection not only had consequences, it have far-reaching implications. Contrary to modern attitudes regarding Christian theology and its place in Christian praxis, nothing is more serious than rejecting apostolic doctrine.
In the second section of 1 John 4:1-6, specifically, 4-6, another dualistic feature of Christianity emerges. We see arguably six ablative genitives in these three verses. Specifically, John uses this rare construction in order to point out that there is real substance to being of God versus being of the world. First John tells us that we are of God and being of God, we have overcome them. Now, the "them" probably refers back to the many false prophets that have gone out into the world mentioned in v. 1. These are the same false prophets responsible for and leading the secessionist community. This is a false Christian community. They claim to be Christian, with worship, preaching, teaching, and gatherings. However, it is clear that John does NOT recognize them as Christian. I can imagine if some mindless American were living at the time how they might inform John that he is out of line to make such judgments, that he is unloving, and that he is not acting like a Christian by being so exclusive and dogmatic about something as trivial as doctrine.
John then informs the Christian community that false teachers and prophets are of the world, therefore they speak as from the world and the world listens to them. Have you ever wondered why so many people listen to men like Joel Osteen? Ken Copeland? Creflo Dollar? The world is in such condition that it will not tolerate the Christian message. The Christian message is far to narrow-minded, far too intolerant, far too exclusive, far too restrictive. The world wants a message that is worldly. They world wants someone who will compromise God’s truth for convenience sake. John is a man of courage. In fact, if we look at the apostles of Christ we see men of incredible courage. They thundered God’s truth regardless of the cost. Paul warned in his letter to Timothy that some will fall away from the faith, paying heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons. He also said that some would seek out teachers that would tell them only what they loved to hear. Peter warned that in the last days false teachers would enter the church. John’s message is consistent with the rest of the NT writers.
John is doing something different in his letter and specifically in the section I am concerned about. His aim is to encourage the Christian community by reassuring them that they can see the impact and work of genuine faith. In this section, the impact is quite clear: the world listens to worldly men, false prophets. However, John goes on to say that the one that knows God listens to us. In other words, those that know God do not reject apostolic doctrine. Those that know God submit to apostolic doctrine. They do not dare question the authority of apostolic doctrine. On the other hand, those that do not listen to apostolic doctrine do not know God. What are we to make of men that want to turn apostolic authority upside down on its head directly or who do the same thing when they employ such a hermeneutic that the apostles words become so subjective that one could make them say just about anything they please.
John repeatedly tells us in his letter that there is a difference between the children of God and the children of the devil. The children of God do not practice sin. They do affirm the apostolic doctrine of Christ. They submit entirely to all that the apostles’ doctrine teaches. They receive the instructions of Paul, Peter, John, James, and Jude, not to mention Matthew and Luke.
When modern men introduce a message that contradicts Christianity, Christian leaders must respond and quite often, they must respond harshly. John is not writing because he wants to be interesting. He is writing because he wants to do something. He wants to change people. He wants to shape behavior. For instance, in 2 John he says, If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds. It is not loving when Christians refuse to deal with false doctrine, when they refuse to call out false prophets and their teachings, and when they refuse to discipline those who introduce ungodly practices into the community. Yes, being a Christian makes a difference, a real difference in how we think, what we believe, and how we behave. If you do not believe that, you do not believe in Christianity.