Living in the connection between heaven and earth

Meme image as heading which says "Heaven on earth" is a choice you must make, not a place you must find".

Church calendar readings for Sunday, August 26, in Bible order

Prepare for Sunday by reading the Bible passages beforehand – read again to reflect on Sunday’s teaching

1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43 » God presences himself in the glory cloud

John 6:56-69 » Jesus promises Himself as food for eternal life

Ephesians 6:10-20 » How we position ourselves in the spiritual battle

Theme: Living in the connection between heaven and earth

SUMMARY  The three readings all speak of how the presence and purpose of God and the heavenly host affects events in our lives – and how choices we make, and the spiritual position we take, affects the spiritual reality behind what we experience. Yahweh’s presence was visible to the Israelites in the pillar of fire and cloud, on Mount Sinai and in the desert wanderings, and then at the consecration of Solomon’s temple. Jesus taught how He was the bridge between heaven and earth in a way that had to be spiritually discerned. And Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, teaches them that the struggles against evil that we all face are spiritual battles won in the place of holiness and prayer, not human argument and political strength.

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OLD TESTAMENT READING

1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43 » God presences himself in the glory cloud

The reverent placing of the ark in the temple

Then King Solomon summoned into his presence at Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Zion, the City of David.

The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim.

“Ark… to its place” – moved from David’s own shrine into the temple, probably in the 12th year of Solomon’s reign.

10-11 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord, Yahweh,  filled His temple.

“The cloud” – The presence of the Lord appearing in a visible cloud, as at Sinai.

For further study, Exodus 24:15-18; Exodus 40:33-38; Numbers 11:24-25 and 2 Chron. 7:1-3.

22-23 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven and said:

“Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like You in heaven above or on earth below – You who keep Your covenant of love with Your servants who continue wholeheartedly in Your way.

“No God like You” – Yahweh was quite different from the impersonal, fickle deities of other nations, directing events to fulfil His covenant promises. See Exodus 15:11, Deut. 7:9,12, and Psalm 86:8-10.

“Covenant of love” – Hebrew berith chesēd, covenant faithfulness, which made Yahweh unique and different. However, there was also responsibility on the other party to “continue wholeheartedly” in His way.

24 You have kept Your promise to Your servant David my father; with your mouth You have promised and with Your hand You have fulfilled it – as it is today.

25 “Now Lord, the God of Israel, keep for Your servant David my father the promises You made to him when You said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to sit before Me on the throne of Israel, if only your descendants are careful in all they do to walk before Me faithfully as you have done.’

“If only your descendants are careful” – a clear, unambiguous condition amplified in the “But as for you… but if you” statement of 2 Chron 7:17-22.

26 “And now, God of Israel, let Your word that You promised Your servant David my father come true.

27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain You. How much less this temple I have built!

“How much less this temple” – Yahweh could not be contained, but the cloud of glory and physical temple led to a false belief that God’s assistance was assured however people lived, Jer. 7:4-14, Micah 3:11.

28 “Yet give attention to Your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that Your servant is praying in Your presence this day.

29 “May Your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which You said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that You will hear the prayer Your servant prays toward this place.

Verses 30 and 40-43 in the longer reading speak of God’s mission to all peoples of the earth, that they might know His name and His ways.

30 “Hear the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, Your dwelling place, and when You hear, forgive.

“Toward this place” – Israelites who could not pray in the temple directed their prayers to the temple, the place where God has promised to be present among His people, e.g. Daniel 6:10.

41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to Your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of Your name –

“Foreigner” – not  an alien living in Israel but someone who has journeyed to Jerusalem to pray to Israel’s God.

42 for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand and Your outstretched arm – when they come and pray toward this temple,

43 then hear from heaven, Your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do Your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears Your Name.

“All peoples of the earth” – the wider intention of God’s mission, which we sometimes overlook in the OT, but plainly stated here.

IN PRACTICE  Solomon and the priests involved in the consecration of the new temple had never seen the glory cloud, but they knew about Moses entering the cloud on the top of Mount Sinai to receive the commandments, and the glory of the Lord filling the tabernacle tent. For the people of the Old Testament era, the relationship was remote, not personal, with prophets and priests speaking for God and acting as His intermediaries. However our relationship through Jesus is to be personal, not mediated through priests. The story sets out a scenario where we can see that the affairs of heaven and of earth are not compartmentalised, but closely linked.

QUESTION  How is God’s covenant of love distinct from other world faiths?

GOSPEL

John 6:56-69 » Jesus promises Himself as food for eternal life

By receiving Him totally our lives are transformed

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in Me, and I in them.

57 Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on Me will live because of Me.

“Feeds on Me” – as John Wesley put it, Jesus becoming the meat and drink that feeds the soul. The Hebrew idiom ‘flesh and blood’ refers to the whole person.

58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

“Whoever feeds…live for ever” –  clearly not to be taken literally, and at this point, no sacrament has been instituted. Eternal life comes from wholeheartedly believing in Him by internalising who He is.

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?

62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before!

“Ascend” – to the realm He came from, and harder to comprehend than Jesus offering Himself for them to feed on spiritually.

63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life.

Jesus’ hearers, not discerning the spiritual truth behind His words, were shocked and offended. The Jews believed that study of Scripture and ‘doing works of God’ were enough for spiritual understanding. Jesus is patiently explaining to them that the Holy Spirit is needed to provide revelation that human reason cannot – refer back to John 5:39, 6:27-29.

64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.

65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless the Father has enabled them.”

“The Father has enabled” – only those who seek on God’s terms, and not their own, will receive. Jesus knew some would choose not to believe, and would not allow themselves to be drawn by God – a fine balance between the free will choice to respond, and being drawn to a choice by the Holy Spirit. Different theological streams often give more emphasis to one or the other.

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.

“Many turned back” – Jesus is not surprised that many potential disciples have turned away at this watershed point in John’s gospel..

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68-69 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that You are the Holy One of God.”

“To whom shall we go” – the twelve disciples are beginning to get  this hard teaching, although for others it was too hard. They don’t want to transfer to another rabbi.

“Holy One of God” – God was called the Holy One of Israel, e.g. Psalm 71:22, Isaiah 43:3 and 54:5.

IN PRACTICE  Jesus reminded His hearers of the manna, God’s day by day provision from heaven for His people dwelling in a desert. Then Jesus challenged them with a steep step of logic – now God’s ‘manna’ from heaven was He Himself. He was God’s provision to them for life, and indeed eternal life and they were to feed on Him by taking Him to heart.

We live on earth in an awareness of God – and  through Jesus this becomes a real and personal relationship with Him. But we still see a gap between what happens in heaven and what happens, good or bad, in our earthly lives. This teaching of Jesus reminds us that He is the connection. To the extent our lives are lived in Him, and we are placing ourselves under His lordship, what is played out before our eyes is harnessed to the hope we have in the heavenly realm.

QUESTION  In a practical, day to day way, how would you explain what it means to you to feed on Jesus?

EPISTLE

Ephesians 6:10-20 » How we position ourselves in the spiritual battle

The real conflict behind events we experience, is won in a different way

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.

“Be strong in the Lord” – being strong humanly is not enough. Recognise the need to summon God’s invincible power.

11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

“Put on” – earlier in the letter Paul has written, “Put on the new self” i.e. the new attitude of who we are in Christ, born anew into true righteousness and holiness. This is countering false witness and fear in the opposite spirit of integrity.

For further study, see compare with Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10.

“The devil’s schemes” – the Bible is clear about the present reality of the devil, a personal enemy, who deploys a few predictable strategies to exploit sin, fear and guilt by using accusation and division. Knowing those strategies is a key to recognising their origin, and then standing on who we are in Christ to overcome them.

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.

“Our struggle” – it is a mistake to resist human opponents or institutions without recognising the dark spirituality that is manipulating them, and taking a spiritual stand in the authority of Jesus. Even those who know the Lord may well have remaining vulnerabilities that the different levels of spiritual opposition are able to exploit.

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.

“Full armour of God” – a picture of the ‘panoplia‘ of the soldier’s kit, but what is meant here is Yahweh’s armour and weaponry, Isaiah 11:4-5 and 59:17, made available to the believer. When evil seems to prevail, truth and righteousness are the spiritual ‘weapons of character’ that win through.

“Stand” – repeated four times in this passage for emphasis. Rather than invade the domain of evil, we are to firmly maintain the decisive victory already won by Christ, Eph. 1:20-22, 4:8, Col 2:15.

IN PRACTICE  The spiritual connection between heaven and earth is real and vital, and that is made explicit here. Struggles are real experiences — our lives are under attack, both in the fears and anxieties and negativities that assail our thoughts, and in all the practical difficulties, health issues, relationship conflicts, adverse weather and accidents. The devil and his minions are personal opponents, always working to steal our peace and cause division wherever they can gain a foothold. The world’s advice is to be strong. Money in the bank, a robust constitution, influential friends… life has taught us how to ‘tough it out’. And this is exactly what we have to ‘unlearn’. This clear lesson from Paul’s teaching is that to prevail, is to prevail spiritually. It requires us to put down our worldly ‘weapons’ in order to take up a very different set of spiritual ones, where growing holiness, integrity and trust in the face of difficulty are the very qualities feared most by our spiritual opponents.

QUESTION  What makes it difficult for us to take up spiritual weapons? What in Christian life and fellowship helps us to see the spiritual dimension?

PRAYER  We live in a cruel and difficult world but so, Lord, did You – and we put our trust in You. Help us to perceive more clearly the spiritual realities behind our lives and to constantly give You the Lordship, and praise for Your sacrificial victory. Amen.

Pride leads to a fall but humbly accepting Jesus is salvation and life

Five marks of renewed lives – Ephesians 4:25-5:2

TLW32 August 12, 2018. Theme: Pride leads to a fall but humbly accepting Jesus is salvation and life

QUICK SUMMARY  The story of Absalom’s shameful death, caught up in the mane of hair which was so much his image, is a parable of how not to do life. Absalom’s arrogance and rebellion is a picture of our sinful, independent state and where it leads. By contrast, the story of Jesus patiently explaining that the way to life is He Himself – like the bread that was shared out with no one excluded, and all able to internalise it,  – so spiritually internalising Him and what He stands for is our choice to know God personally and receive His gift of life. That brings with it a new lifestyle, the life of the Spirit, which empowers us to say ‘no’ to traits which harms us and others, and to say ‘yes’ to the opposites, which are living and Christlike. The Way of God for us to imitate is to live in an attitude of love. We can do it because we are transformed and Spirit-empowered.

Readings set in the Revised Common Lectionary for Sunday, August 12

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 – Absalom loses his life in self-condemnation

John 6:35, 41-51 – Jesus says He is the bread of life, our salvation

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 – Paul urges living renewed lives in transformation

 

 

 

OLD TESTAMENT

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 » Absalom loses his life in self-condemnation

Defeat in the Forest of Ephraim ends a life marred by arrogance and rebellion

5 The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.

“Be gentle” – whether out of fatherly love or a sense of guilt towards Absalom is not clear.

6-8 David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great – twenty thousand men. The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.

“Forest of Ephraim” – not in Ephraim at all but an area east of the Jordan in Gilead, settled by the tribe of Ephraim. The larger army was unable to move effectively in the hazards of a forest, and fell prey to David’s experienced force.

9 Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.

“Riding his mule” – the usual mount for the king’s sons, 2 Sam. 13:29.

“Absalom’s hair” – what he gloried in, 2 Sam. 14:25-26, became the instrument of his downfall. As in life he had exalted himself with his own monument, 2 Sam. 18:18, in death he was thrown into a pit heaped up with rocks, like stoning, and a monument of shame.

15 And ten of Joab’s armour-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.

“Joab’s armour-bearers” – David’s senior officer and his close support had conflicting feelings about the leader of a bloody rebellion. The narrator stresses, e.g. verse 5 above, David’s order to spare Absalom, but Joab had fallen for his deception before, 2 Sam. 14:1-24, and with the king’s safety in view, acted against David’s instructions.

31 Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”

“Cushite” – “man from Ethiopia’, NLT. Joab had chosen an alternative to the priest’s son to carry the news, in case David overreacted.

32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”

The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”

33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you – O Absalom, my son, my son!”

“If only I had died” – David had lost Absalom’s love and respect, and now he had lost his son and any possible reconciliation. From the tone of David’s exclamation, it appears that he is seeing what Nathan prophesied, 2 Sam. 12:10-11, is now happening – His sin with Bathsheba, repented of and forgiven by God, still has consequences which are now playing out.

IN PRACTICE  The story of Absalom’s death, caught in a tree by the long hair he so gloried in, brings with it a reflection on his way of life. He ingratiated himself with others, gained a following over and against his father, and even built a monument to himself just outside Jerusalem. It is a story of pride that leads to a fall, of man-centred values that can never play out well; a story of self-condemnation. In our sinful state apart from God, it’s how we all start. We can recognise the desire to be something for ourselves, and the rebellious streak. This is the ‘how not to” example that brings out the new life in Jesus, and the life of the Holy Spirit that empowers us to make positive choice and live differently – not needing people’s attention to boost our egos, but able to live for Jesus and even look a little bit like Him.

QUESTION  What stands out in the story of Absalom and his death that is the lesson for you?

 

 

GOSPEL

John 6:35, 41-51 »  Jesus says He is the bread of life, our salvation

Some recognise Christ, the Messiah, and His mission to save while others struggle with believing who He is

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.

“I am” – there are a number of statements where Jesus refers to Himself using the words “I am”, purposefully making His hearers think of the Father’s words to Moses in Exodus 3:14, and prophetically through Isaiah e.g. Isaiah 43:25. This is the first of seven such sayings recorded by John.

“The bread of life” – the crowd had said in verse 34, not getting it at all, “Always give us this bread” or ‘keep on giving us free food’. So Jesus makes it very clear He is speaking of Himself.

41-43 At this the Jews there began to grumble about Him because He said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can He now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered.

“Began to grumble about Him” – The complaint recalls the attitude in the desert which was the root of the delay in entering the Promised Land. The synagogue crowd are showing the same inflexibility of thought and expectation – and lack of faith – as their ancestors who grumbled about the provision of manna. They consider that they ‘know’ He is the son of Joseph, miracle worker and possible national leader, and refuse to see beyond, to Him being the Son of the Father.

• For further study, read Exodus 16:8, Numbers 14:27 and the recollection in Psalm 95:8-9.

44-45 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’  Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from Him comes to Me.

“No one can come… they will all” – the word ‘can’ is dunamai, which has the fuller meaning of ‘no one is able’. Jesus also quotes Isaiah 54:13 – His bigger vision is all being saved and coming to a knowledge of the truth, also the new covenant prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34. A balanced view holds these tensions of God’s election “no one can come… unless the Father… draws them” and “they will all” in man’s free will in responding to the tug of the Holy Spirit, in tension. This is a process of grace from God to us, to which we are divinely enabled to respond as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts. Scripture emphasises in different places God’s initiative of grace, and our responsibility of responding, in the initial spiritual transformation we call salvation or becoming a Christian.

46-48 No one has seen the Father except the One who is from God; only He has seen the Father. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.

“No one had seen… the one who believes” – as in John’s prologue, John 1:18. If we simply accepted what we could see, that would not be faith. We are required to go out on the line of putting our trust in the goodness of someone we have not physically encountered.

49-51 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

“Ate the manna… yet they died”. Manna gave them food at that time, but Jesus, the Living Bread, confers enduring life.

“This bread is My flesh” – ‘this bread is Me’. Jesus is the true living bread who satisfies the spiritual hunger of those who believe in Him. In a more physical sense, He becomes this ‘bread’ by sacrificing His body – “My flesh” – to death on the Cross. His perplexed hearers would reflect on this and some would later understand.

IN PRACTICE  The crowd who heard Jesus give this teaching didn’t find it easy to grasp. Many of them had known Jesus for 30 years. But recently, they had seen miracles of healing and provision which pointed to a different kind of identity, His divine Messiah identity, which He was now explaining to them. Some had faith to see Jesus beyond the carpenter’s shop, while others struggled.

It’s the same with us. Every encounter with God requires two things of us: our need of God (depending)  and taking Him at His word (believing). John doesn’t use words like ‘faith’ and ‘trust’ but prefers the action word ‘believing’. Jesus, not our efforts or good deeds, is the source of empowered life now and the way to life eternal. He chooses us, reminding us that He does out of love for us, and hold out an offer. When we trust Him for that offer, everything changes.

QUESTION  How would you explain to someone else simply, what Jesus had done out of love for them, and how they might respond to that?

 

 

EPISTLE

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 » Paul urges living renewed lives in transformation

The hallmark of those who belong to the Lord, who is Love personified, is that they walk in love like Him.

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry…

Each of you must” – in the context of, each of you, redeemed by Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit,  is now enabled to live like this. A list of five instances follows, each with an aspect not to do, an aspect to do positively instead, and a spiritual principle.

“Put off falsehood” – twisting of the truth comes with anger and bitterness. The emotional response of anger (like any emotional response of the moment) is not of itself sin, but anger that takes root i.e. carries over to the next day and beyond forms a resentful, bitter and often slanderous attitude that is the visible effect of unforgiveness – and that is denying the gospel.

27-28 …and do not give the devil a foothold…

“A foothold” – all sin gives the devil legal rights to oppress us and the sin of unforgiveness and unresolved conflict is perhaps the most common strategy the devil uses to gain a measure of control over our thoughts and lives. Sin is the access he looks for.

…Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

“Steal no longer but… work” – repentance can be defined as stopping something harmful, starting something positive instead, and a changed lifestyle that all can see.

29-30 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

“Only what is… building others up” – a practical guideline and the opposite of obscene language, gossip and slander which like a rotten fruit spreads and corrupts, doing so much damage to individuals and the whole community.

“Grieve the Holy Spirit” – showing the Holy Spirit to be a person and One who is sensitive to any harshness of attitude, perhaps more than we are

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

“Bitterness…anger” – resentment and malice have no place in people who have been forgiven of much -– and so morally cannot withhold from others that same grace. Failure to forgive results in the anger, clamour and malice which follow logically in the sentence.

32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

“Be kind” – be kind, chrestos, because of Christ, Christos.

“Compassionate… forgiving – the opposite of the bitter attitude. God’s forgiveness of us is the standard we apply to others: “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors, Matt. 6:12.

For further study, compare with Hosea 3:1, Colossians 3:13.

Eph. 5:1-2 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

“Follow God’s example” – more literally, “Be imitators of God”. Believers have been exhorted to learn about Christ, and not to grieve the Spirit, Eph 4:20-21, 30. Now they are set the challenge of adopting and demonstrating God’s values to the world around them.

“Walk in the way of love” – a summary of the section. Christ’s demonstration of loving us was fragrant, i.e. acceptable to God; our fragrant offering is following His example in walking in love towards others.

IN PRACTICE  The new life which comes through asking Jesus to be Lord of our lives is – new. ‘The old has gone, the new has come,’ in Paul’s words elsewhere. Foul language and petty dishonesty doesn’t seem clever any more. A lot of our more selfish traits lose their hold on us. But there’s plenty of baggage we need to recognise and lay down, and Paul sets out some choices for us – what not to do, what to do positively instead and the spiritual principle involved. In the flesh, or selfish nature, we can be harsh and critical of others, with standards of behaviour that don’t align with our new spiritual identity. This ‘mixed message’ destroys our witness but more seriously, offends the Holy Spirit and causes Him to distance Himself. Someone whose very nature is love is going to be a sensitive person, and the Holy Spirit is that sensitive person. On the other hand, He is the very One who enables us to grow more Christlike and loving. There’s a part we do, but we cannot do it by ourselves – we need to work with His empowering.

QUESTION  Out of the “get rid of” things listed and the challenge to love unconditionally, like Christ, which speak to you most?

PRAYER  Father God, as we come to You in Jesus, we are so grateful for the new life You hold out to us. Jesus, You are the Bread of Life! Help us to grasp this with both hands, eagerly, and with the help of Your Spirit, to live it out for all to see what You have done. Amen.

How to live God’s way

Living in God’s word like well-watered trees, Psalm 1.

Image credit: Joni Shaffer

Church calendar readings for Sunday, May 13, in Bible order

Prepare for Sunday by reading and reflecting on the word for the week. Formerly this was structured with a passage to read and reflect on for each day, but I felt that was overly prescriptive. Use this as a weekly resource to divide up or come back to, as seems best to you. The principle of ‘having the Scriptures in us’ before hearing the Scriptures preached is well-proven, however. And it is a good stand-alone Bible study! –IanG

Ezekiel 36:24-28 – Living God’s way from within

Psalm 1 – Living like well-watered trees

John 17:6-19 – Living as those united by Jesus

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 – Living as witnesses that Jesus is alive

1 John 5:9-13 – Living the new life that the Son of God gives

The saying “Whoever has the Son has life” in 1 John 5:12 is like a headline over the theme that emerges from this week’s Sunday readings (you may only hear two or three of them in church). This is about living God’s way – living as those who belong to God through receiving Jesus – and give five complementary pictures of what that means.

= = = = = = =

 

Ezekiel 36:24-28 » Living God’s way from within

• In the regathering, the Holy Spirit is promised to be a personal enabler of righteous living

24  “ ‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.

“Out of the nations” – out of a pagan land.

25  I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.

“I will cleanse you” – as Jews, they were defiled by ungodly pagan practices all around them, but also by their history that had caused the fall of Jerusalem.

26  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

This is a repeated theme in Ezekiel – a revelation the prophet caught and expressed at different times, Ezekiel 11:19, 18:31.

27  And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws.

The Law instituted by Moses and subsequently turned into a detailed ‘do this, don’t do that’ religious system was near-impossible to keep – as any religious system is for people trying to work it out in their own strength. To be empowered by the Holy Spirit to WANT to live right by God was to be a seismic change in the whole order of things, that would happen at Pentecost.

28  Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be My people, and I will be your God.

“Your God…My people” – the covenant language reminds hearers of God’s kind, not harsh, intentions. The relationship between God and His people would be restored.

In practice

When the relationship breaks down, God is always looking for ways to restore it, on His initiative. That was always part of His covenant promise. The covenant required His people to obey, but promised to treat them better than they deserved – with His unearned, faithful love – when things went wrong.

Life is like that. Relationships do get strained, damaged and broken. But in God’s view, that is not the end, but the beginning of a restoring process. This is God’s intentional work of renewal. He is always about this work of renewing and inviting us to see the need, and join Him.

These verses also set out a huge change: the Law instituted by Moses had not been working. Man has been created with free will, and that means there is an independent and at times wayward tendency in all of us. The promise of His Spirit was to counter that with a desire and therefore tendency to get better and better at both knowing and following God’s ways. We can only do that with His Holy Spirit in us – a heart change that comes as a result of us recognising who our Saviour Jesus really is, and inviting Him to reign in us.

Question

Is God’s gift of new life an opportunity to decide for Him, or the start of a process of renewal that goes on in us and even through us?

 

Psalm 1 » Living like well-watered trees

• The righteous person who loves living in the Word is blessed in the relationship with God that brings

1  Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked

or stand in the way that sinners take, or sit in the company of mockers,

2  but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

“Blessed” – Happy or fortunate

Both Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 use the same word, hāgâ,  to contrast the righteous person who  “meditates” on God’s word, v.2, with Psalm 2:1 where God’s enemies “plot”, or meditate on, rebellion. Another part of the contrast is the determination of the righteous individual to seek God’s way, and not be swayed by the crowd of those who feel they know best, described as wicked mockers.

3  That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,

which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—

whatever they do prospers.

“That person” – As in “blessed is the one” (v.1), the individual who goes against the more acceptable unbelieving crowd but who has a philosophy of life that is rooted in the Word. This is the way that “prospers”, knowing the constancy of God’s provision and protection rather than a life of blips and dips.

For further study see Jeremiah 17:5-8, Joshua 1:8, Matthew 6:33.

4-5  Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

“The wicked” – showing a disregard for God and his Way. Not being anchored in God’s truth leaves us too lightweight and blown around by mere opinion, to be a good influence in the community (or church)

6  For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

“Watches over” – an intimate, relational word. “Wicked – our ‘I know best’ independence casts us loose from the security of being held in relationship with God.

In practice

Those individuals who choose to go against the crowd and maintain a close relationship with God through His Word, are contrasted with the many who are disdainful.

There is no fast track to the prosperity of life that the Bible describes, which is a broad prosperity in which financial sufficiency is just a part. However, there are simple ways we can follow which attract God’s blessing and favour. Because God is essentially relational, these will all be ways for us to stay close to Him. The number one way is to learn to hear His voice, by reflecting on His revelation of Himself in His Word.

If we think we don’t need to read God’s Word and seek His guidance day by day, we are an accident waiting to happen. Independence doesn’t play out well for God who wants us to know His love and respond to Him in a relationship.

Question

What is needed for a tree or shrub to prosper? How well does that picture what we need to grow well and true?

John 17:6-19 » Living as those united by Jesus

• Jesus’ prays for those that are His to be united in knowing God’s love and protected from the tendency to division

6-7  “I have revealed You to those whom You gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to Me and they have obeyed Your word. Now they know that everything You have given Me comes from You.

“I have revealed You…” – there are two particular ways Jesus revealed the Father. Firstly, by being God in human form – God incarnate, the Word became flesh, John 1:14 – and secondly, by being the Way to the Father, John 14:6. See ‘In practice’.

8  For I gave them the words You gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent Me.

“They knew with certainty” – that what Jesus taught was from the Father and was truth. They would need more time to fit the pieces together to understand Jesus’ death and resurrection, and how the OT Passover lamb, priest, temple and suffering servant was fulfilled in Him.

9-10  I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given Me, for they are Yours. All I have is Yours, and all You have is mine. And glory has come to Me through them.

11  I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name, the name you gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one.

“That they may be one” – of one mind and heart about God’s purpose and their mission.

12  While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name You gave Me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

13-14  “I am coming to You now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of My joy within them. 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.

“The world has hated them” – which is why we need the joy of belonging to Jesus to be our motivation. His way, as He is teaching here, also John 15:11, releases something deeper and stronger than happiness. When we get religious about what we think is correct or not, or competitive about our way rather than other ways, the joy (and the anointing) quickly fades.

15-16  My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.

Following Jesus brings its own protection, the New Covenant, and it also brings its own attack. Satan does not give up ground easily. We have to learn to live in the world, relating to people and policies that do not reflect our beliefs and values, while drawing our strength from the Father and our guidance from the Holy Spirit as those who are not of the world.

17-19  Sanctify them by the truth; Your Word is truth. As you sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify Myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Our coming to know Jesus, who is the truth, and our being empowered by the Spirit of Truth, does change us and set us apart for God – being sanctified, or made holy, in Bible language.

In practice

Jesus revealed the Father by giving us a key whereby we could come first to Him, and then know the Father: “I am the way… no one comes to the Father except through Me. If you really know Me, you will know my Father as well…”, John 14:6-7. Once we take that decision, there dawns an awareness of a wonderful one-ness we share with other believers who have come to the Father through Jesus, whatever stream they may worship with.

The difference between what is sometimes described as ‘churchianity’ and true organic Christianity is right here in this teaching by Jesus, about those who are His maintaining a united heart and witness. He knew that there would be a tendency for control and competition and division to creep in – that is man’s way – and He was teaching that His Way was not like that.

It is increasingly common for Christians to disregard denominational barriers to pray and worship together and especially to engage in outreach. Recently, outreach has been found to be particularly effective in towns where there is genuine friendship between different streams of the church, with Christians of different streams going out on the streets in threes. We are in it together, for our protection but also for His mission.

This passage makes it clear that we are not soldiers of the barracks but sent out. However, like soldiers, as soon as we step out, we start getting rather too well acquainted with the enemy of freedom and life, Satan. Togetherness and one-ness is vitally important. No one in Special Forces would ever need to be reminded of that!

Question

What more could we do that would emphasise – and bring – the oneness we have as those who belong to Jesus?

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 » Living as witnesses that Jesus is alive

• The Twelve are made complete again to be solid witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection to new life.

15-17  In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about 120) and said, “Brothers and sisters,  the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus.  He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”

Peter was looked up to as a leader of the apostles in the gospel accounts and especially in the early times of the church described in the first few chapters of Acts. He had (v.20) spoken two well-known sayings from Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8 “May his place be deserted… May another take his place of leadership” which seem rather like a prophetic word to them to make the Twelve complete in number.

21-22  Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who has been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

“Witness with us” – The two particular requirements were that the person was a witness to Jesus’ resurrection – many people encountered Him at this time, so that was not too difficult. But the other requirement was for their experience of Jesus to be similar to the remaining eleven, knowing Him for the three years of His ministry. The first apostles needed to be authoritative eyewitnesses of how Jesus showed Himself to be Messiah, against the denial and threats of the Jewish rulers.

23  So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.

24-26   Then they prayed, “Lord, You know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two You have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

“Casting lots” – possibly shaking marked stones in a jar until one fell out, a bit like our ‘heads or tails’ – is never mentioned again. It became obsolete at the coming of the Holy Spirit who Himself guides and leads God’s people.

In practice

Here we see God restoring the Twelve who keenly felt the loss and shame of one of their number who was the one who betrayed Jesus, and then died an unpleasant death in the field he bought with the bounty. It was a messy situation – but we see God’s hand in bringing restoration of the first team of eye-witness apostles.

God’s guidance is something we all seek, but we know it is an imperfect art, even with the help and guidance of prayer and the Holy Spirit. This snapshot taken just before the coming of the Holy Spirit shows them casting lots, and no doubt this was done prayerfully. A short time later, they were all much more confident about what they were hearing and seeing – not to mention much more bold in the face of people who wanted to flog them, or worse.

We find guidance today a challenge, but the lesson from this passage is that God uses many ways to guide, and if we give Him time and listen – they were doing plenty of that in the Upper Room – He does speak to us.

Question

What ways do you know that churches use to choose leaders? Does it matter what way is used if it is done prayerfully?

1 John 5:9-13 (verses 6-8 added) » Living the new life that the Son of God gives

• The testimony about Jesus is incontrovertible

6-8   This is the one who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

9  We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about his Son.

“Human testimony” – Verse 9 needs the context of 6-8 to be understood. When Jesus encountered people who would not accept His testimony about Himself,  He pointed them to His works, John 10:25. The Holy Spirit (Spirit of Truth) gives witness to who Jesus is, and John’s readers would mostly have experience of this, John 15:26. John calls two widely known works of God, Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion. Generally two or three witnesses were needed for human testimony. John calls three ultra-reliable witnesses of God Himself.

10  Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about His Son.

“Whoever believes in…” – There’s a difference between believing that Jesus was a historical figure who did good and set an example to follow, and believing in Jesus, Son of God and crucified Saviour who I call my Saviour and Lord.

11  And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.

12  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

To have the Son comes simply through turning to and believing in the Son. It is through faith in Christ, not any observances, that we have life, which is experienced as a new dimension of life now, as well as assurance of eternal life (v.13), John 14:6, Acts 4:12.

13  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

In practice

The Jewish religious leaders didn’t want to believe who Jesus was, let alone that Jesus is resurrected and alive. The followers of Gnosticism were a discordant strain in the early church who didn’t believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man, and John was writing partly to counter their unbelieving influence.

We get that today. There’s a lot of Christian religion that has been constructed around a set of beliefs and observances but with no recognition that the Lordship of Jesus and personal submission to  Him comes first and holds central place.

John would say to us today, the baptism and transfiguration of Jesus both happened and the audible voice of God was heard to affirm His Son. No one seriously challenges that the crucifixion of Jesus happened – secular historians of the time noted it as an important event. But those who have turned to Jesus and believed in Him have their own inward witness, the witness of the Holy Spirit of God who brings a revelation and understanding that goes beyond what can be understood intellectually. They know. They have a new dimension of life which is close to a definition of Christian joy. And they are secure in themselves, held by the love of God and with the assurance of being in the early stages of eternal life with Him.

Question

Have you been invited to pray this prayer? It’s always good to pray it again:

Lord Jesus, I turn to You now, believing that You are the only Son of God, who was born as man, lived a perfect life of obedience to Your heavenly Father, and then went willingly to a shameful execution to pay the price of my sins.
I ask that all my independence from God, my rebellion against God, my selfishness in wanting to be the master of my own destiny – all my sin, past present and future – be put under the cleansing of Your blood shed in your death on that Cross.
And I ask, Jesus, that You fill me with Your Holy Spirit now, to give me revelation of what I do not understand, that I might know the fullness of new life with Your peace, and be empowered to learn to walk with You in life, join You on Your mission and then dwell with You always. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

This is a big decision that will bring release and joy, but a decision that will be tested as well. Talk it over with your parish priest, pastor, or trusted Christian friend so that you have some prayer and practical companionship on this exciting leg of your journey with God!

The emerging message – empowered to live out the Way

The early disciples of Jesus were known as followers of the Way before they were known as Christians, Acts 11:25-26. They were followers of the Way of God, not the rigid and religious way the Pharisees would have people do it, but the new Way and new life demonstrated by Jesus.

This Way was foretold by Ezekiel who saw in the Spirit a picture of the old, hard, stone-like ‘heart’ which is our inner being – the heart of our desires and motivations – being replaced with a new feeling, sensitive, spiritual heart, alive to God. With this new heart, the Way of God would no longer be a drudge but a joy, not hard-won by effort but experienced through exploration.

The ‘exploration’ is allowing God to speak to us through His word. Psalm 1 puts this rather formally as “the law of the Lord” but says this is something we can delight in. Exploration is fun. When we sense God speaking to us personally through words and phrases that are eternal, it is exciting. The “wicked”, who think they know best, miss out on all of this, but being rooted in God’s word is how we live fruitful lives, following God’s Way.

Everyone who belongs to Jesus has a special affinity with everyone else who belongs to Jesus, although the churches or buildings we gather in to worship may have very different names and represent different styles. That one-ness is spiritually powerful, not just in terms of mutual encouragement, but because the humble prayer “when two of you… agree” Matthew 18:19 is the prayer with God’s power behind it. Jesus, knowing the heavenly principle of one-ness, prayed that believers would be protected in it, knowing full well that the enemy of souls who comes to kill, steal and destroy the new life John 10:10 would be active in sowing distrust, competition and division. The world sees churches in competition, and sometimes they are. The Way of Jesus has nothing to do with this form of pride and everything to do with collaboration.

The Way of the Lord leads us to the Cross, a place where we can be real about those things in our life and attitudes which grieve God but also the place where we can lay them down and receive the forgiveness that cancels the record of sin. The Way of Jesus doesn’t leave us there, but propels us into new life beyond the Cross, the life that is lived in the presence of Jesus who is alive. The first apostles needed to be a full number, strong in their resolve to face persecution in proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. The Way of Jesus for us, is to know and to tell others that He is alive, a very real and also approachable Saviour and Lord.

Those who know Him – “whoever has the Son” – have a dimension of life and joy that is infectious. We are the testimony to who Jesus is, the Son of God, because the Holy Spirit in us testifies, not just to us but through us to others.

As present-day Followers of the Way, we have a new heart and reborn spirit, we have the delight of the Scriptures speaking to us, we have the unity with other believers, the excitement about the resurrection and a desire to be a testimony and witness to others. The Way of God is to walk with Jesus who told people “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” John 14:6. Whether by actions, or attitudes, or perhaps by words of explanation, we have both the responsibility and also the privileged and empowered commission, to show the One who is the Way of God to a world that needs Him.

Guided on the right paths of life by the Shepherd

TUESDAY, APRIL 17
Psalm 23

Knowing the goodness and love of the Lord who is with us in the twists and turns of life

A psalm of David.

1  The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.

“My shepherd” – this form of personal address is unique in Psalms, although “my God” is often used. It is the most intimate metaphor David uses in contrast to the more impersonal ‘rock’ or ‘shield’,  and the more remote ‘king’ or ‘deliverer’. The shepherd lives out with his flock as their guide, healer and protector.

2  He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters,

The true shepherd sees things from the perspective of the flock – the quality of pasture, the safe and relatively still water which sheep need.

3  He refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

“Refreshes my soul” – in more formal versions, ‘restore’. A parallel verb has the meaning “makes wise”. ‘Causes my soul to repent’ is possible and amounts to the same as ‘refreshes’ or ‘renews’.

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

“You are with me” – only the Lord will go on with us where others turn back, continuing to guide along the “right paths” which may at times take us through the valley of the shadow of death. But not alone, with an armed escort.

5  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Specially honoured guests would receive an anointing on the head of perfumed oil

6  Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

“Your goodness and love” – God is good, God is loving and He is the Lord (v.1) the Shepherd, in a covenant relationship.

“All the days of my life” – in the O.T. world, to eat and drink with someone was to establish a covenantal relationship – like at the Last Supper and the shared cup that Jesus said was the New Covenant, 1 Cor. 11:25.

God’s goodness and love, covenantal and bestowed, rather than earned, follows us into the dark and threatening places – and out again. The outcome is assured.

Application

We enter into a relationship with God and we enter into a covenant of salvation. His part is as the provider, guide and protector. Our part is being committed to trust Him, even when life takes a turn down what looks like death valley.

He is with us. Are we with Him? This is the nature of a covenant relationship, and it requires faith. There are times when we feel secure in God’s guidance and provision. Then life takes a turn down a different kind of path which is potentially more fearful. Is God still guiding? Where is His provision now?

The point of the psalm is that we can say, definitively, “Yahweh is my Shepherd. I shall not want.” This brings us into agreement with His intention. The Valley of the Shadow of Death is the place where the devil will try to deceive us into agreeing with him, and believing the fears and the apparent lack – what we see with our eyes. But we are in a different covenant – a covenant with Almighty God in which nothing has changed. However, we need eyes of faith to see that and the resolve of faith to agree with the covenant-giver. With eyes of faith, we can turn for a moment and see that He is with us, and that His goodness and mercy are following us right into this adverse terrain – and out again.

Knowing we are in covenant with God gives us a choice in what we hear, which is where the spiritual battle is fought. We can choose to agree with what God is saying.

For discussion and reflection

Think of a test you are facing in your life right now. Who are you agreeing with?
The voice of God, the whisper of the Holy Spirit reminding you of promises which cover you?
Or the more sarcastic tone of the enemy showing you what appear like impossibilities?

Tests of a true believer: Walking in the light, dealing with sin

THURSDAY, APRIL 5
1 John 1:1-2:2

If we walk in the light, we have fellowship. If we are transparent about our failings, our relationships with God and others prosper

1  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

“…From the beginning, which we have heard…” – This is an apostolic manifesto, laying down some authoritative markers for what follows. The purpose of John’s letters is to address some serious difficulties in the young churches (see page on GNOSTICISM). Unspiritual teachers were going off-track with their own philosophies, for example saying that Jesus only ‘seemed’ to be man.

2  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.

“The life”, “the eternal life” – Jesus is our pathway to eternal life and the source of spiritual life. Accepting Jesus as personal Saviour and Lord is how we become born again into a new start, a new spiritual life which is evident to all.

3  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.

We knew Him personally, and we know the Life of God through fellowship with Him, John is saying. Those claims cannot be made by false teachers.

4  We write this to make our joy complete.

“Our joy” – could also be ‘your joy’. There’s the joy of hope, the joy of faith and salvation, and the joy of love. John is writing to better establish the readers in their hope and faith. Those spiritual foundations, well made, will lead to the joy of fellowship. If the fellowship isn’t all it should be, it is a symptom of the foundations of hope and faith not being all they should be. As a result, the joy in the fellowship and the apostle’s joy will be lacking.

5  This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him, there is no darkness at all.

“This is the message” – John was writing to churches in which there were cliques following Gnostic ideas and others who were quite mixed up about who Christ is, and what it actually means to be His. Then, as now, there could be a kind of religious Christianity which followed the form without the relationship and Lordship of Christ in personal Christianity.

In particular, John’s letter addresses false teachers of a Gnostic ‘christianity’ which held that:

  • Moral behaviour doesn’t affect one’s relationship with God
  • Immoral conduct doesn’t constitute sin for those that know God
  • The knowledge of God removes the possibility of sin in a ‘believer’

“God is light” – describes God as being above what is material – therefore He is impossible to define – but in a similar way to light, having a quality of truth and transparency and the ability to reveal what is hidden, which communicates with and impacts others.

For further study: The Logos (the Word, Jesus) is the light (to phos), but God is light (phos) without ‘the’. Similarly God is Spirit, God is love, God is consuming fire. Read 1 John 4:8 and 16, John 4:24, Hebrews 12:29.

6  If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.

John introduces three tests of authentic Jesus-centred Christianity which confront a lack of personal engagement common today in many church attendees, where we may claim fellowship with God without recognising the need to first go to the Cross of Christ for cleansing and forgiveness, and to then live differently in a consistently holy life.

7  But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

The first hallmark of the true believer is fellowship with one another, followed by cleansing of sin in the blood of Jesus. If we love one another without condition – because we all share the same Saviour and Lord – we will be quick to recognise where our selfishness or independence has caused hurt to others and we will have the capacity to take responsibility and say ‘sorry’. At that point, we are already starting to take that sin to the Cross in repentance, and receive forgiveness. The relationship awareness is what starts a natural progression.

8  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

9  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

The second hallmark of someone who has received Jesus into their heart, is a readiness and willingness to acknowledge sin for what it is. Those who know the Redeemer have no reticence in confessing what they need to be redeemed from!

2:1  My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

2  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

The third hallmark of one committed to Jesus is a confidence in Him as the advocate and also sacrifice for our sins. Not knowing whether we are forgiven, and feeling the need to earn our way into eternal life, makes for an apologetic and reticent kind of faith – if faith it is. The confidence of knowing our Advocate, who has a remedy for our failings, makes for a completely different stance in Christian life, worship and mission.

Application

The enemy of our souls, Satan, may have been seen off by Jesus in the desert confrontation, and may have been soundly defeated by Jesus dying and shedding sacrificial blood as a sinless man on the Cross. However, like a vagrant who has been given a court anti-social behaviour order, he finds ways to come back and cause every kind of hardship, oppression and difficulty – until we confront him with the court order and put him out again.

Leaving sickness and death on one side, the less visible ways the devil operates are by deception, confusion and fear.

Deception is insidious, because (by definition!) no one thinks they are being deceived. So is confusion, because the bearings and points of reference have become obscured. And many of us have lived with fear and anxiety so long it seems normal. If you have no assurance of a life in God that endures, as was the case for the gnostics addressed in this letter, then you try to create your own in superstitious and religious practices. The motivation is not love of God, but fear of abandonment.

The answer, John explains, is to know without doubt that God is light, absolute and pure. Then we walk in that light of truth and revelation, walking with others on the same journey, and making that light and love the foundation of our relationships when things go wrong, as from time to time they inevitably will. That involves keeping short accounts with God and with others about our sins – taking them to the cross, taking hold of the cleansing of the blood of Christ.

Against that the enemy has no strategy.

For reflection and discussion

Where am I walking on the boundary of darkness and light, and not being quite real about beliefs and attitudes which are not right with God? Who is standing with me, and will help me as one who also needs the help of others?