God became man

How do you explain love? What does love look like? We can see examples and displays of love but we can’t turn love into a concrete object to put on display. This was the Greek understanding of the term “Word” used in John. The term, “logos” in the Greek, is here translated “Word.” It means the reasoning, the music, the expression, the being of God.

We’ve adopted many Greek ideas about who God is. We see Him as ethereal, otherworldly, totally outside of us and, if you look at how we act and pray, we think He’s totally removed from us. That’s what’s so scandalous about John’s opening words. This idea, the logos, became flesh. He became man and is with us. How can He be God and become man? Because He is three united as one. This is in itself a miracle. He was the promise to save the world. He didn’t just extend Himself, He gave up His glory in heavenly places to join with us.

What does it mean that Jesus, very God of very God, became man? (more…)

Incarnational Fellowship

Incarnational Fellowship – I John 1:3-7

In introducing the book last week, I said that John’s theme is the incarnation of Christ and its application in our lives.  How does the incarnation apply?  Just as Jesus is the Word of God in the flesh, so we are to display the word of God in the way we live.  We see in these first verses the primary application to the church—fellowship.   What is fellowship?  The holy bond between members of the covenant in which they sacrifice, encourage, and uplift one another while rejoicing in the bond they share in Christ. 

1:3, John begins by explaining the basis for fellowship with others—fellowship with God.  I’m going to explain his point in reverse order.

  • We have fellowship with God through Jesus the Christ.  We are made aware of our fellowship with Christ through the gospel (that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you). 
  • The message of the gospel (God’s proclamation of reconciliation) grants us fellowship with you.  It is reconciling those who formerly had nothing in common. 
  • Nowhere in the Old Testament does it refer to us having fellowship with God.  It refers to men eating with God but not fellowship?  What is significant in that?  Because when Jesus came, he was the incarnation of God (Hebrews 1:3), God with us.  His incarnation brought fellowship between God and man.  Only by the incarnation of Christ with His death, burial, and resurrection do we have fellowship with Him.  Philippians 3:8-10, Galatians 2:19-21, Romans 6
  • The message that John declared says tells us that we are no longer the enemies of God, II Cor. 5:18-20.                                                                                                                                                                                                           

But it goes further than that.  We know we have communion with God in Christ, but that communion is not alone.  We have also been reconciled to other saints.  Those who formerly had nothing in common are united in Christ.  Ephesians 2:12-19

1:4 – Our joy is incomplete apart from fellowship with God and with God’s people. 

  • It is impossible to walk in the joy of Christ without being united together with God’s people. 
  • There is joy in the presence of the Lord, but when is it fully experienced?  In corporate worship with the saints of God.  This ties into fellowship with God.
  • You alone don’t make up the body of Christ and neither do I.  It is only together that we make up His body.
  • If we neglect coming together regularly to worship Him we are missing His completion.  That is why it is so harmful to erect barriers before our brothers and sisters which cause them to stumble.  That should only be done for disciplinary actions.
  • When we cut off fellowship with a brother or sister, we are saying they are not a part of the body of Christ. 
  • We have a calling toward one another – we weep with those who weep and we rejoice with those who rejoice.  We are called to bear one another’s burdens, to exhort one another. 
  • If we are not giving and receiving that, we aren’t walking in the joy promised to us.  But there is a hindrance to that joy, the darkness that surrounds us.  The phrase is best translated, “may remain full.”  It is not a one-time filling but a continuous fullness.  John 15:11-13, Jesus said he spoke these things to the disciples for their joy to remain full (just like I John 1:4).  What is the key in John 15?  The same as in I John 1:4, to love one another sacrificially. 

“In context, John surely means to emphasize that we have a share in the life that was with the Father and manifested to us. Whatever life God has in Himself, in the Son, He shares with us. More concretely perhaps, Paul describes fellowship with Jesus in terms of fellowship in His whole life – in His life, sufferings, death, and resurrection. Believers have communion with one another – sharing life, projects, ministries, tears, wealth, laughter, meals, evenings, cigars, etc etc. And this life-together is joyous and vibrant because it is also an inclusion in and is permeated by the life of the Father and Son, manifested in Jesus.”—Peter Leithart

I John 1:5 – Now John is finished with his introduction, he can being unpacking it. 

  • God Himself is light.  Jesus gives full revelation of all things, but most of all, God Himself.  In the Old Covenant, God was hidden by a certain degree of darkness—Ex. 20:21, Deuteronomy 5:22-23, I Kings 8:11-13, Why? 
  • Because no man could witness His glory and live.  But it was prophesied that with the coming of Christ, that would begin to change.  Isaiah 9:2-3, 29:18-20, 42:7-16, 60:2.  The light would shine. 
  • John is saying that the summary of the message of Christ, the incarnate Word, is that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. 
  • Jesus calls Himself the light of the world.  He came to reveal God the Father, who had allowed Himself to be hidden. 
  • The Jews had covered Him even more through their extra-biblical rituals and requirements.  
  • But He came to remove the darkness. The time of it was past.  Romans 13:12. 
  • Paul is speaking of all the things that belong to the old order.  Live in the new-life of Christ. 
  • Paul says in I Corinthians 13:11-12 that we no longer behold as God as children, with darkened understanding, but would soon know Him face to face. 
  • II Corinthians 3:13-18, Paul refers to beholding the glory of God.  This is the fellowship we are to have with God. 
  • II Corinthians 4:6—God has commanded the light to shine.  We are not bound under the old order, the times past when Satan and his fallen kind ruled the hearts of men.  John is telling them, “If you say you are in fellowship with God and walk in the old ways, be it ways of Judaism or paganism.”  This fellowship is full fellowship: it is with the Father and the Son (who reveals the Father to us).

 

1:6 – Walking in darkness.

  • This is the application of verse 5.  If a person claims to be a child of God but walks in open sin, he is a liar.  What is the primary sin referred to?  Look at chapter 2:8-11—it’s not walking in fellowship with the brethren.  Are there other ways to walk in darkness?  Of course, but this is the sin He is referring to as a problem here.
  • We display the light of God and fellowship with Him through walking in fellowship with His children.
  • The church is to be made of members who walk faithful to the covenant to which they are called. 
  • John likes to express things through contrasts.  Not only does this person lie, he doesn’t practice the truth.  Remember the entire structure of this book is the incarnation of Christ and how we are to live out our professed beliefs. 
  • No one has the right to claim fellowship with God if they are walking in unrepentant sin.  Your theology is expressed by the way you live your life. 
  • Don’t try to spiritualize your anger, coldness, or irritation with a brother or sister as being okay.  Do you see any of these sins in yourself?  Do you have a bad attitude toward other brothers or sisters?  How do you believers outside the church? 
  • If you find yourself guilty of this, there is hope. 

1:7 – Walking in the light.

  • This is the contrast to verse 6.  If we walk in the light, the light of God which Christ brings us into, we have fellowship with one another.  AND, (don’t forget) the blood of Jesus Christ His son cleanses us from all sin. 
  • He doesn’t make two different statements here.  It’s all one and the same.  The person in v. 6 talked about union with Christ but didn’t walk it.  Therefore he is a liar.  This person walks in the light of Christ.  He remains in the revelation of Christ.
  • What does this look like?  First, it is far removed from never sinning.  We all sin (as John will mention later). 
  • Rather, this person walks in humble submission to God’s word and demonstrates this by walking in fellowship with the body.  This person doesn’t look to legalistic requirements (like Pharisees) for salvation while ignoring the real truth. 
  • They don’t ignore their own sin.
  • They walk with an open eye to the New Covenant, revealed by Christ Himself. 
  • According to John, fellowship is the mark of walking in God’s light.
  •  If we claim to walk in the light, then fellowship is a necessity, not an option.  And the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us (the tense of the verb means “continuously cleanses) from all sin.  This doesn’t mean that our sins aren’t taken once for all, but that the blood is keeping us clean. 
  • The meaning is as follows: if we are walking in God’s light, we walk in fellowship with the body, which gives assurance of our sins being covered.  If we walk in unrepentant sin, especially that of refusing to fellowship with other believers, we are demonstrating a denial of fellowship with God.

Living Incarnationally

I want to begin this morning by asking a question: have you ever seen theology?  If someone were to ask you what it looked like, could you tell them.  For most the answer would be “no.”   If we can’t see your theology, then it needs changing.  This was a problem in the church to which John was writing. 

The setting is Ephaesus, where church history says he oversaw the church.  It is “the last time” or last hour (2:18), meaning the time just before the coming of Christ in judgment.  John said the “world is passing away” (literal interpretation). 

  • And these people were facing trials from false teachers who had crept into the church, just as Paul predicted they would.
  • There is good evidence to suggest John’s adversary is one, Cerinthus, who was who combined elements of the Jewish ceremonial law with Gnosticism.  Douglas Wilson says that it was “characterized by two great features—the necessary impurity of matter and the supremacy of knowledge.” 
  • This led to them teaching that Jesus was fully God but not fully man (because matter is evil).  This could have two possible consequences: one is they could have said that they should reject all the pleasures of the world because it is just that—enjoyable. 
  • But the heretics here took a different approach.  They taught that since only the spiritual is important what they did in the flesh didn’t matter.  Therefore they could live sinful lives. 
  • Many of the church had remained faithful but they needed guidance from the apostle.
  • How do you exhort and encourage a congregation that has been through this?

His message is to live an incarnational life. 

  • What does that mean?  Putting into practice the doctrine we proclaim.
  • It means turning the world’s method of operation inside out and living for the glory of God, from the way we worship to the way we put on our shoes. 
  • It becomes very easy to hear what I’ve just said and respond with, “That sounds good.”  But that’s not nearly enough—to agree with statements of doctrine is only part of spirituality.  That’s why I asked you what theology looked like. 
  • If every doctrine we profess doesn’t have some practical outworking, we have fallen into the Gnostic trap of thinking that holding the right propositions are enough. 
  • Those Gnostics are the opposite of incarnational.  They believed that all that mattered was what was in your head.  We can do the same thing. 
  • This book takes one of the greatest doctrines of all time (Jesus’ incarnation) and calls the church to apply it against a heresy that had made its way into the body.  We must do the same today.
  • How do we do apply it?  Not by mentally agreeing with it but living it out.

What is the greatest example of this?  Jesus Christ Himself. 

  • John doesn’t begin with the usual greetings that we expect from Paul and others.  He immediately breaks in by speaking of, “That which was from the beginning…”  John does something quite creative with the vocabulary. 
  • When you look at verse 1, do you notice something odd about the first word, “that.”  Not, “Him who was from the beginning,” but, “that which was from the beginning…of the Word of life.”  He uses a neuter pronoun (that) rather than a masculine pronoun.
  • Certainly we know who John is speaking of.  The object of the sentence “the word of life” is masculine.  But his pronouns don’t agree.  Some would say, “It doesn’t matter.”  But it does. 
  • Verses 1-3 are one sentence.  The “that” in verse 3 is the same “that” in verse 1.  The sentence structure points to it referring to the same thing.  There is an argument among theologians about whether it is referring to Jesus or the gospel, because in verse 3 John says “that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you.”  If it was only referring to Jesus, John’s writing is illogical. 
  • There is a key to this opening riddle; when we unlock it we discover John’s first shot across the bow at Cerinthus’.  The answer is, to paraphrase Gordon Clark in his commentary on I John, Jesus is the gospel incarnate. 
  • This hearkens back to the opening lines of John’s gospel, in the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God.  Then in verse 14 of John 1, the word became flesh.  Jesus is the good news, the eternal covenant faithfulness of God, in the flesh.
  • This is an opening line against the beliefs of Cerinthus, who taught that matter was evil and higher spiritual (unseen) things were good.     

Why did John write this epistle?

  • To increase fellowship – 1:3
    • He says clearly that he wrote to increase their fellowship.
    • The earliest display that we don’t live what we proclaim is when we lose fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the body.
    • That fellowship is based on fellowship with God Himself.  And fellowship with God is shown by our fellowship with one another.
  • That the joy of the church would be increased – 1:4
    • When the children of God are being the body of Christ, the result is joy within the members. 
    • When our religion becomes a set of statements, there is nothing for joy to feed on. 
    • Mental assent to a teaching changes nothing (James 2:19)
  • That they would be victorious over sin – 1:9, 2:1, 3:5
    • There is no place in the Christian life for walking in sin.  It’s wrong and we are to forsake it.
    • But it’s easy to become discouraged with we sin.  We can even (as I have done) curse our flesh.  But your flesh was made by God.  He will one day resurrect your flesh.
    • We work to excuse ourselves by chalking up our sin to our weak flesh (Gnosticism: body=bad, spirit=good).  But that isn’t the biblical answer to it.  John says to go confess our sin and go to Christ our advocate.  Don’t give yourself a pass by blaming your flesh.  Take it to God and trust his work on your behalf.
  • Because the light of Christ was beginning to shine – 2:7-8.
    • John calls attention several times to the point in history in which they live.  Again he said it was the last time and that antichrists were on the scene.  John calls to mind Jesus words about those who would attempt to lead them astray in this way.
    • But he writes them that they may know how they are to walk apart from the Jewish ceremonial law that was being taught by some.  They needed to be reminded of how they were to live once the darkness of the old system has passed away.
  • To call attention to the false teaching taking place – 2:21-26, 4:1-3
    • It is important to recognize error that would creep into the church.  John is no stranger to error and he calls the mind of the people to the error that was spreading and how to recognize it in their midst.
    • And not only how to recognize it but how to walk apart from it.  We are so bombarded by false teaching that even though we recognize it, we can adopt its application without knowing it.  
  • To give an objective standard for assurance of eternal life – 5:13
    • The standards we use are usually quite subjective, feelings, thoughts, etc.  But John says at the end that he has written that they can know (apply a standard) they have eternal life. 
    • What is it?  If they walk in fellowship with one another; they confess Jesus’ incarnation, and they don’t walk in sin.