Friday, July 27, 2012
In verse three, John attributes every act of creation that has ever existed, to Jesus Christ. John says … “All things were made by Him.” There was no act of creation to which Jesus Christ was not a central part, indeed nothing was made without Him. This key piece of scripture reveals that at our creation, Jesus Christ was one who called us into existence. We are not only the creations of an all-powerful God, we are the creations of the part of the God head that came to our world in person, and to which John is about to give testimony. To those Christians who would seek to replace the act of our creation with a process of evolution, John stands in contrast and points clearly to exactly who created us. When on the seventh day He rested from His work and all that He had made, and blessed the day, it was to Jesus Christ, that John points.
To those Christians who do not understand the character of God is defined in love and that His law is only the beginning of the meaning of love, here stands John, stating that our Creator and author of the law is Jesus Christ. The law he handed to Moses on Mt. Sinai was Christ’s law of love. Christ came to show us more than the beginning of the definition of love; He came to show us its fullness. The law of love written by the finger of Christ, was not crucified on Calvary, rather it was fully affirmed and realized in the sacrifice of Christ. The life that would make our redemption and restoration possible would be lived and performed by He who brought us into existence. And it is He who has the creative power, to remake us, into what He intended for us to be, if we but let Him. Only Christ is able to restore us into harmony with His law, and with the love that stands behind it, and behind our very Genesis. The same loving hands that took dust and formed man, and breathed into him the breath of life, are the same loving hands that can take the disaster we have made of our lives, and transform it into the perfection of service and love that heaven itself is modeled upon. The secret to our salvation is based on the creative power of Christ. It is this characteristic of our Savior that will give us the most hope that our fate is not what we deserve, but what His love longs to bring to us. Our Creator is able to re-create us.
John begins in verse 4 … “In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.” Man is not inherently immortal, only God is. The breath of life was breathed into us and we “became” a living soul. The source of life was not inside the lump of clay that our Master fashioned into the form of Adam. The source of life was inside our Creator. It was extended to Adam, and to us. But beyond even this, John is stating that our God is life itself. Everything outside of our God, is the opposite of our God. All things that are good are a part of who Jesus is. He is life. He is love. He is joy. And of a truth, those things that are not of Christ, are His opposite – evil brings pain, evil brings hate, evil brings death. To look outside of Christ, one finds only those things one would wish to avoid. To find life is to find Christ; for there is no life outside of our Creator God.
The sad example of Lucifer stands as an eternal reminder of what happens when we search for an existence outside of Christ. Lucifer questioned the idea of love as service only to others. He wondered at his own beauty and perfection, and attempted to see if pleasing himself instead of others might offer him a better existence than the one he had. He did not heed the counsel of God, that this pursuit could only end badly. He had no historical context of the knowledge of evil for he had only known good and life; he had never seen bad and death. But instead of trusting God in a matter to which he had no knowledge, he decided to trust himself, and pursue his own ideas. All the degeneration of evil that has transpired since has come from that break in trust. All the keen knowledge of bitterness, and evil to which we are all personally familiar started with a simple break in trust with God.
Lucifer chose to trust himself, and in so doing has brought the definition of death itself to the universe. We are faced with the same choice today. Do we trust ourselves to find our redemption, or do we voluntarily submit our wisdom and our choices, and our desires, and the core of who we are, to the Savior who has promised to redeem and remake us? It does not make sense to give up control to Christ, as it did not make sense to Lucifer that such a seemingly small alteration in how he would live, would bring about such horror as to think that killing God would be a good idea. But our sense, and Lucifer’s trust in his own wisdom over Gods, is the same issue we face in our redemption today. Do we trust in our own wisdom, or submit to His? John states plainly, life is only found in Jesus Christ.
John then waxes a bit philosophical and in verse 5 states … “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” How sad that one of the chief symptoms associated with the disease of evil is our inability to perceive truth. Even as a light is held up in darkness, we choose to turn away from it to seek out the darkness we crave. It takes an act of intervention on the part of our God, to clear away the chains of our bondage to evil, to even begin to think clearly enough to make the freewill choice to decide whether to follow our God of love or not. Without this act on our God’s part, our minds would never be clear enough to see the truth of what He offers in contrast to the bondage we are already enslaved to. It would be all too easy to look at this verse, and apply it merely to those who do not believe in Christ, to those who are unfamiliar with our God of love. But sadly, it was not to the unbelievers that Christ appeared.
Our Messiah was not born to Roman parents of noble birth, in the greatest city of his day. He was not found in the personage of the Caesar’s who would have respected power, but would have had little context of the meaning of the coming of a Messiah. It was not to the Chinese scholars, or Germanic barbarian tribes to which Christ was born. No, instead He was born to those people to whom He had personally given His laws and sent to them His prophets. The texts to identify the Messiah were clear, as were the signs offered in the miracles He performed, and the truth to which He gave voice. But his own religious system where every piece of furniture in the temple, and every ordinance ever given with respect to its worship practices pointed to the now present Messiah; was unable to perceive His arrival. The priests who should have heralded the coming of the Messiah failed to do so. Instead it would take a wild man living in the desert to cry out ‘repent’.
The priests who should have been the first to sit at the feet of He who had so brilliantly captured their attention at ripe young age of 12, and taught them truth they had never perceived for 3 full days in the temple at Jerusalem; instead rejected the entirety of His teachings. These priests should have been his most loyal disciples, and most ardent preachers of His words. Instead they plotted to entrap Him with un-answerable questions, and when their plans failed, they eventually took action to kill Him. Christ did not submit Himself to their religious authority. Instead of obtaining power over others, Christ personally served those in need. Instead of hanging out only with those of equal or higher social class, He went to those who were poor, and humble, and willing to receive Him. Instead of ending the political tyranny of Rome, He completely divorced Himself from politics and taught submission – first to God, then to each other. Christ did not hate the Romans; instead He sought to save them, and praised those He found faith in. Christ did not discriminate against Samaritans; instead He broke down prejudicial barriers and welcomed them to the Kingdom of His Salvation. He was everything His priests were not. He was love, without condition, and without restraint, just pure self-less love, incarnate. This was what He intended His religion to be, and those who claimed to serve the One True God should be like. Instead His religious system had been corrupted by the exaltation of self, into a hierarchy only interested in preserving its own power over the people. Selfish gain, and inflated ego’s, had replaced service to those in need, and love to all. And so, His own religious system, sought to kill the Light that had entered their darkened world.
In the cruelest irony the devil could present, those who should have known Him best, were the very ones who sought to end His existence in this world. The Romans hardly had any concern for a pacifist who taught only selfless love. He was literally no threat to their “power”. The priests however, could not stand the brilliant light that illuminated the hypocrisy of self-service against the magnificence of pure self-less love. Today, Christians purport to follow Christ, but I wonder if our “system” of religion would do any better in recognizing the God we claim to know if He were to appear among us? Our expectations of fine clothing would likely not be met. He would not be found in our church board meetings, instead preferring to be in the street with the other “homeless”. For Christ Himself, was a homeless person. He owned nothing. He only had one set of clothing, and it was no Armani suit. He had no jewels to ordain His person. Indeed the creator of gold, sees no more value in it than concrete. He did not eat often without the mercy of someone else providing for Him.
Those who were engaged in the most grievous and public sins were known to be His regular companions. He was found only in the company of the humble, almost never in the company of the rich or the proud. He did not travel alone; to receive Him was to receive 12 other companions of a less than savory sort, and the entourage and crowds that sought Him out everywhere. In our day, we would call Him a hippy, perhaps a cult leader. In our day, we might call Him a bum. In our day, we might call His teachings of unconditional love, even to those who are clearly committing horrific sins, too radical, perhaps too heretical. In our day, His rejection of our political processes, and complete indifference as to who runs our nation, might offend those of strict ideologies who believe it is their responsibility to enforce their moral code on the lives of others. His refusal to answer trick questions like when does life begin, and is cloning wrong, and should we be exploring stem cell research; might anger those who cannot understand the wisdom of teaching that love can remake us from the inside out, removing naturally what should be removed, and replacing hate for love. His ability to heal any disease would rouse the anger of medical and insurance financial establishments and make Him a real threat to profit. I wonder if the Light were to appear in the darkness that is our world today, would we fare any better than our spiritual ancestors, or would we like the Pharisees of old, reject Him entirely? The measure of that answer can be found in the measure of how we love today.
In verses 6 to 8, John makes it clear who he is, and that he is only there to bear witness to the Light, John is not the light himself. How often are those who teach the truth of Christ often elevated by those they teach. Perhaps it is a combination of gratitude for the knowledge imparted, or respect of the wisdom revealed, or just admiration of the effects of transformation, that inspires one man to put another on a pedestal, but it happens. John here makes it clear exactly “who” the Light is, and that John is not it. John begins by disclaiming all elevation, and lifting up only the name of Jesus Christ as the true Light of the world. “Pride”, even in matters of religion, is still the catalyst for downfall and evil. To bear testimony to the Light, is the only ambition John will attempt to achieve in this book of his gospel.
In verses 9 to 11, John restates his opening premise that those who should have known Him best, did not recognize Him at all. This was a heart-rendering truth. The Jewish readers would know that John is calling them to see truth where they previously thrown it away. It would be the same thing as having a homeless man enter your church mid-service and declare that the teachings of your pastor, and your closely held beliefs were all in error. It would be worse, to know beyond all shadow of a doubt, that the homeless person who did this was Christ Himself. Christians might take great offense at the notion they have been “doing it wrong”. Christians might find it hard, to accept this truth, and in humility seek out the very homeless person who called them out on their errors. Christians might find it hard to let go of their dreams of freedom and ease, and embrace servitude and poverty. The Jewish readers in the time of John, had an equally hard time doing these things. Yet this is precisely what John is stating should happen.
He continues in verse 12 and 13 with a summation of salvation itself. He provides the motive and method for acceptance of Christ, and the salvation from self and evil it brings. Verse 12.) “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: 13.) Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” To those who receive Jesus Christ, it is to them who submit, it is to them who allow themselves to be completely remade, who can stop relying on their own power, and find instead the power of Christ within them. It is Christ who “gives” the power to become the Sons of God. We do not earn this power, we do not steal it, buy it, or work for it. It comes in ONLY ONE way, as a gift. It comes only to those who believe on His name.
The re-genesis that follows within us, does not happen because of our genetic predisposition. We do not inherit it from our parents, or their value systems we might have been taught. We do not become new creations, or are born again, because of the strength of our own will power and character. Nor can the will of other men be imposed upon us, in order that we are saved from ourselves. There is only ONE way, we can be remade, and that is by God as a gift to us. Our portion is only to accept in humility His gift of recreation. Despite the fact we will never deserve it; we want it anyway. Despite the fact we may never understand why He loves us so much; we will accept the gift that love offers. In the knowledge that there is nothing we can do to remake ourselves, and the humility this must bring; we accept His generous offer to make us into something entirely different than the people we are today. This is how salvation works. And love is the only reason why He offers, and why we would accept.
In verse 14 John once again articulates that Christ is not just an idea, or a belief system, he was a physical person, a physical manifestation of God on earth, in flesh and in blood. Christ was the only begotten of the Father. Our God had only one son. Only Christ could claim with legitimacy that His father was the one true God. Christ had no divine siblings. Men like Moses, or Elijah, or Mohammed, or Buddha, or Gandhi might have lived spectacular lives, and made a great impact on the world; but there would only ever be one “Son” of God. And it is only through Jesus Christ, that we might also be considered a part of the family of God.
John concludes his prologue in verses 15 to 18 repeating now over and over again, that Christ was the fullness of grace and truth. Notice that truth was never used as a weapon by Christ, nor was it ever discarded. It was always grace that would enable us to see the wisdom of His truth. It is grace that allows us to be remade so that we begin to desire His truth. And it is His grace that then enables our lives to adopt His truth as a part of who we are, how we think, and consequently how we live. Truth is never discarded in this process; instead it is fully realized through the mechanism of grace. Truth is not used as a weapon to reveal our guilt; instead it is presented as an aspiration we can attain through the power of His grace. Christ makes no excuse for evil. Instead He offers freedom from it, in heart, mind, body, and soul. It is more than forgiveness that grace offers to us, it is reformation of who we are, and harmony with the truth of who He is. John states that Moses brought the law, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. Moses and law of love he relayed had not the power to reform the desires of our hearts, only to show us how far from harmony with this law of love we are. But the grace Christ brings, offers to remake us from the inside out and restore our harmony with His truth, His law, and His love. Again John is restating, our salvation does not come from our perceived ability to keep “the law”. Instead our salvation comes from His grace, that makes His laws engrained on the core of who we are, how we think, what we want, and therefore how we live. For the second time, in his opening prologue, John describes the process of salvation, and again bears testimony to the salvation Jesus Christ alone offers.
Friday, July 20, 2012
Sometimes today, Christianity has a tendency to withdraw behind its walls, and aim its message to only those of like mind. We fear that to try to extend our message into the world around us will somehow corrupt us with ‘the things of the world’. In this way we isolate ourselves from the very people who need to hear the freeing message of Christ. At other times, when those brave souls emerge who do go out into the world around us and find a willing ear, we tend to treat the newly converted as ‘babies’ in the faith. We do not tend to offer them leadership positions in the church because we consider them too ‘new’. This makes sense, except for one thing. It ignores the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to determine who is fit to lead, or called to serve, and who is not. It is not our length of time spent in the faith that qualifies us to lead and serve, it is our absolute dependence on Christ and our full acknowledgement we would never be ready. Our humility and dependence are far greater attributes for leadership, than our confidence in our own spiritual achievements. In this short book, John has no problems embracing Gaius, and Demetrius. Their time spent in Rabbinical schools or lack of it, is meaningless to John. Their nationality means nothing. Only that they serve in truth and in love.
By the same token, John is unafraid to call out Diotrephes for his lack of charity, hospitality, and generally negative disposition. It appears that Diotrephes (as John writes in verse 9), cares more about being the preeminent leader, than being the chief servant. It is the next great attack of Satan, that if he cannot divert us from our beliefs, then perhaps he can inflate us with our own sense of accomplishments and leadership of the flock. If Satan can tempt us to have ‘pride’ in our spiritual efforts, to begin to see the victories over sin in our lives as ‘our’ victories, he will slowly offset the role of Christ, with the elevation of self. Once self retakes the center of our focus and Christ is displaced, the negativity of evil follows. Malicious words, discontent, a refusal to be hospitable follow the insatiable need to be number one in the faith. Diotrephes looks too much in the mirror for his own salvation, and forgets that to lead in Christianity is to be like Christ, and therefore to serve everyone else except yourself, and find no fame for it, because we seek no fame for it. The service is the reward.
The comparison John offers between Diotrephes and Gaius is clear in verse 4 where John says … “I have no greater joy, than to hear that my children walk in truth.” Here again John says so much to us in such a short sentence. John first expresses that from his point of view, we are all family. He embraces those he writes to as if they were his very own children. He feels protective of them, and further finds the joy that only a parent can know when their children are known to have done something good. It is not ‘pride’ John expresses, but instead it is ‘joy’. This distinction is important. When a Christian embraces pride they take on the idea that ‘they’ have done something of note. This is a far different sentiment than sharing the ‘joy’ that heaven knows over the redemption of just one sinner.
In this instance John offers that he has no greater “joy” than when he “hears”. It is not simply that he suspects his Christian family is doing well in charity and truth. He is actually hearing of it from other folks. In point of fact, his readers have done charity not only to the brethren, but to strangers, those who were on journeys, and they performed this charity asking nothing of those who did not share their beliefs. Their charitable ministries came from the work they performed, and the sustenance they had earned themselves. They were not out raising money for the poor so much as offering those in need anything they had at their disposal. They did this to the point that it became widely known. Their service could be relayed to John who was a distance from them. This brought great “joy” to John.
John continues in verse 11 to exhort his readers to “follow good” not evil. This would seem like a very oversimplified piece of advice, but the subtlety in the remainder of the text reveals the profound nature of salvation itself. The verse reads … “Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.” John states that he that doeth good is of God. When Christ inhabits us, when we allow Him to change us from the inside out – we become born of God, easy to recognize, and easy to spot as living how Christ lived. It is who we follow, not how we lead. It is not just what we think that defines our Christianity, but what His thinking within us leads us to do. But further John continues that he that doeth evil “hath not seen God.” Notice in these words he is far from condemnatory. He does not call them servants of Satan, evil seed, bad folks, condemned to hell. John says nothing like this. Instead he makes a definitive observation – they have not “seen” God.
Obviously he is not talking about “seeing” God with our own two eyes, as no Christian has ever seen the Father face-to-face and survived. What John is saying, as he has said many times, is that God … is love. When you see what love is, it transforms you. You cannot help it. You must look away from it, in order for it not to affect you. When we look on self, and rely on self, to determine our spirituality, we fail. But when we look on love … by beholding we become changed. It is love that lures us to God. It is love that motivated God to save us, and love that motivates us to wish to be saved. John is far more subtle than we find on a cursory read of this verse. He is not simply calling out those people who do not yet share the Christian ideology and beliefs; instead he is calling out all of us, both inside and outside the church. When love is not our primary motivation, evil is the result. When we are not looking at love, we find ourselves looking in the mirror, and the failure and pain of evil are not far behind. John’s intent is not to condemn those who have taken their eyes off of Christ, but instead to remind them to return to Him.
In this letter John praises Demetrius and Gaius for the report he hears about them. It is not what they preached that brought them to the attention of John, it is how they lived. Their leadership in the Christian church was one of active participant in charity and truth. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if in our day, Christians were known by what they did, more than by what they preached. There is many a famous Christian, because they preach on the television to a wide audience. But how few Christians are known in their own neighborhoods, let alone their own cities, or states, because of the vast amount of charity and love they show to everyone, including strangers, and those on journeys. I am ashamed to admit that perhaps only two of my neighbors may know my name. They do not know me for my charity. I pray this is something the Lord helps change within me. For if the change does not begin with me, with each of us, how will it ever be known to the world?
Friday, July 13, 2012
John begins his second letter using a new way to identify the church of Christ, as being a ‘Lady’. This may well have been an active reference to the book of Revelations where he writes many things about a “woman” who was persecuted by the dragon. John, in the book of Revelations, compares the church to a good woman, and he compares the world to a woman like Jezebel, a harlot, who seduces many. In this letter he begins by greeting the lady and her children, a reference to the little children he wrote about in the first letter, and admires them in truth. His greeting then extends to include Grace, Mercy, Peace, Truth, and Love. This was quite a wonderful blessing, something needed as much then, as it is now in our own churches.
In verses 4 to 6 He continues his appeal to the ‘lady’, and continues the over-riding theme of his first lengthier letter, that the foremost concern we must have as Christians is to love one another. So as not to be misinterpreted as to what love is, he gives it a simple definition … “And this is love, that we walk after His commandments”. Those who say that the commandments of Christ authored on the top of Mount Sinai were nailed to the cross of Calvary, apparently did not get the memo from John. John continually measures our love for each other by our harmony with the laws of God. When Christ Himself summarized the law He summed it up by saying the first and therefore most important law was to love God with everything we have; the second to love each other.
To discard love on the cross makes no sense at all. Why would the God of love, in the crowning act of love and service, be trying to make null the very love He was expressing for His creations? If the goal of Calvary was to free us from the law, then it would be to free us from love itself – to embrace what? Hate, vengeance, self-interest, these are the things of Satan and the reason why the law of love is constantly broken. Evil is defined as the opposite of love. And again here in a very short letter to the church of his day, John again measures our love by our harmony with the laws of God, the laws of love itself.
John further states that this is not something new, it is not a new commandment, it has been with them “from the beginning”. ‘Beginning’ is another interesting word. One could apply it to the day of Pentecost when the birth of the Holy Spirit poured out on the early church gave it the start the world had never seen. Or one could go back further and apply the commandment to the point in the ministry of Christ when He had summarized the commandments to the questioning listeners trying to trap Him in which law is most important. Or one could go back further to the birth of Christ, and His entry into the world. But the beginning could be referencing all the way back to the mountain top at Sinai when the law of love was first documented for the benefit of mankind.
I believe John was referring back even farther, to the creation of mankind itself, which in essence was ‘our’ beginning. At that time the institutions of marriage, the seventh day Sabbath, and a daily personal fellowship with God walking in the evenings in the Garden of Eden were established. Before sin entered the picture, love was already present. It was present in the marriage of Adam and Eve. It was present in weekly rest of the Sabbath God had given them. And it was present in the daily talks with God Himself. It would take another 2800 years after the fall of man, before a hardcopy of the basic law of God would be needed for man to even remember what love is. But here John calls us to remember, that the commandments of God, are the basis for our measurement of love to each other.
In verses 7 to 11 John addresses a new growing threat to the infant church of Christ. The idea of a literal Jesus Christ, who came and died in the flesh, began to be replaced as being merely an idea, or a Spirit. This dangerous doctrine would seek to undo the sacrifice Christ made to redeem us, and therefore to diminish the cost of our redemption; to cheapen grace. To acknowledge that Christ was a literal person, cast blame upon the Jews and Romans who ended up killing Him. It pointed out in stunning clarity that the very organized religion of God, was the vehicle to kill the Messiah they had so long waited for. And further, when looking in the mirror, we realize our own accountability for the death of Christ, as He had to die for the choices we made, and continue to make. The Roman guard who nailed the hands of Christ, shares his hammer with me, each time I decide my own pleasure supersedes the laws of love John writes about. That is not a pleasant thought. So in his day, John encounters those false ‘teachers’ who would rather ascribe the life of Christ as being too good to be true, and therefore more of a Spirit, Ghost, or idea, than a man born in the flesh. John states that Christ was real, and only by accepting this truth, can we ever hope to reach the Father who is also real.
John goes further, and draws a line about supporting this kind of nonsense. He asks the believers not to receive these false teachers into their homes, or offer them blessings in their work. John does not want those who hold to the truth, to have their own faith or ideas shaken by the various counterfeits of Satan. Any teaching that would demean Christ, or attempt to elevate a human to the position only Christ could hold was based in error. We are redeemed only by the singular work of Christ performed within us, the perfecting of His love inside of us. This is a work only Christ is qualified to do. No spiritual leader is able to reach inside of you and change what you want, who you are, and therefore what you do. A spiritual teacher may influence how you think, but they cannot change who you are.
This is a work of perfection only Christ can do. It is yet another service our God does for us. So many leaders, even inside of Christianity attempt to become agents of salvation, rather than pointing us to the only true means of salvation. They falsely tell us to look to ourselves and make better choices to remove our sins, and that we can be responsible for our own perfection. In so doing, they deny the work of service only Christ can perform within us, and encourage us to make ‘self’ our God instead of Christ, all under the name of Christianity. And so is born the doctrine of antichrist. It is possible even within the name of Christianity to lose focus on Christ as our only method of redemption from evil, replacing Him with a ‘partnership’ with ourselves, or worse a wholesale replacement based on our own ‘good works’.
In so doing we no longer feel the need to humble ourselves, and submit to the transforming love of Christ. Love is never our real motivation. Control, and status with others, in short pride of being a ‘righteous’ person tempts us away from the humility it would require to go to Christ and admit we ‘cannot’ and need Him to save us from us. This dangerous doctrine forms the basis of every false religion in the world – that man can save man from the creature he is, by what he does. Self-denial is not the key to Christianity. Self-control is not the key to perfection. Self is the very enemy of anything in harmony with God. It is the death of self in us, that must be achieved, before others can take a higher priority in our motivation than ourselves. This lack of self, or freedom from self, can only be achieved by the divine work of Christ within us. It is not something we are able to do for ourselves. We do not keep the commandments of God to achieve our perfection; we keep them because the perfection Christ creates inside of us, can think of no other way to live.
John concludes his letter by telling his readers he has much more to say, but he intends to visit them personally to say it. Then he salutes his readers with a greeting from the children of “thy elect sister”. Again John uses the idea of a chaste woman to represent the church of Christ. This distinction is important as much of Revelation cannot be understood without it. It is also interesting that John uses the imagery of a woman to define the church rather than a righteous man. In his day, a woman was much more dependent on her husband for her survival. Our church then must be dependent on Christ for our survival. A woman was protected by her husband, as our church is protected from the assaults of the devil by our Lord Jesus Christ. John does not present the church of Christ as a strong figure able to sustain itself based on the strength it inherently has. Instead, he presents the church as being chaste, but still in a state of dependence. The characteristics of how a woman loves and how she gives her whole heart to just one, is more important to John to describe the church, than the image of a mighty man of war who could defeat his enemies by his strength of arms and will. John would rather call it like it is, he would rather keep it ‘real’, by talking to little children, and comparing the church to a good woman.
I wonder what images we conjure in our minds today to describe our churches? I would bet a playground full of trusting, happy, loving, playful toddlers is not the first image that comes to mind. Our American idealism has crept into our churches and brought with it the spirit of self-reliance, and independence – rather than the pure dependence a child must have on its parent to survive, and the freedom this dependence offers. Our Lord teaches community, not isolationism. Our Lord teaches us to reach out in love, particularly to those who do not deserve it. Our national pride teaches us to give only as it makes budgetary sense, and hold accountable those who make bad decisions to suffer the fate of their decisions. Were this true in how our God thinks about us, redemption would be impossible, and perfection something we could never know. The true strength of the Christian church can only be found when our weakness is admitted, and then taken to Christ. Our actions can only be in harmony with the law of love, when we allow the Author of that law, to change who we are from the inside out. This is not an act of strength on our part; it is an act of divinity on the part of Christ. Our dependence must be complete, as only that reality will see perfection completed within us.
Friday, July 6, 2012
First Letter to the Church …
The first epistle or book one of John was likely written between 95AD and 110AD, which means it is possible it may have been written after the book of Revelations. In any case, it was a letter written well into his old age. With old age, comes the wisdom of experience, and perhaps for those of us less fortunate, the wisdom of regret as well. But as we age, we gain a clearer and clearer perspective of what it really important in life, and what is not. It may be that as our mortality starts to become an ever present reality, we begin to lose interest in the unimportant things, and begin to focus more on those things that truly carry meaning. If this was so in the life of John, then the themes which John focused on, would be those themes he felt were perhaps more important than others. And what might you expect to be a central theme from one called “the beloved”? That’s right, LOVE. But perhaps the greatest revelation ever given the disciple John, was that God Himself … is love.
Chapter One …
In chapter one he begins with an outline of the reality of Christ. John is clear that the Father God his people had traditionally worshipped had a Son, who was sent to the world and became one of us. Christ was a real person. He was more than just the Word of God, or an idea, he was real. John states He was … “made manifest”. What is more John offers a reason why this is important; fellowship. Being near to God, having a close proximity to the God of the Universe, is the highest ambition any sentient being can attain. John is here drawing a circle and saying to his readers that it is Christ who was real, who makes it possible for you to join with us in the circle of fellowship. When you join in fellowship with Christ, and those who follow Him, you are also joining in fellowship with God the Father. Hanging out with Jesus was something his contemporaries might have been able to relate to, but hanging out with God the Father seems beyond the reach of anyone. Here is John saying, it is just like being with Christ, there is no difference. And it is because of Christ that your fellowship with God is possible, and therefore is something results in … “your joy may be full”.
Beginning in verse 5 John begins to articulate the character of God. We have seen the same theme in the writings of Jude and James, where Christians may be tempted to use the forgiving nature of God as an excuse to embrace evil rather than to seek a cure from evil. John begins by plainly stating that God has no evil in Him. “God is light” … there is no darkness in Him. If we aspire to be with our God, and share that fellowship with Him, it will not be done in a place of darkness but in one of light. How often do we tend to commit our deeds of evil in secret, outside of public view and scrutiny? Bank robbers wear masks to hide their faces. Rapists attack at night and in places where they are largely isolated and alone. Corporate criminals hide behind nameless and faceless business entities that are hard to track, and even harder to prove personal liability. It is darkness that facilitates hiding our evil deeds. And there is no darkness in the presence of God. His light dispels it.
John is equally clear about our own nature. We are not naturally creatures of the light. Instead we tend to prefer darkness in our natural state. Johns tells us in verse 8 … “if we say we have no sins, we deceive ourselves”. And further in verse 10 … “if we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar.” John is making the point that none of us are naturally perfect, or naturally inclined to be completely in the light. We are more like cockroaches that search for a place to hide from the light which reveals our nature. But this is not a condition we were meant to have to endure. John, like his contemporaries Jude and James, consistently reveals how salvation from evil works. In verse 7 he states that … “the Blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin.” And again in verse 9 … “to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Jesus forgives our past, and by His blood pays the penalty we should have paid.
But beyond forgiveness, comes the cleansing from ALL unrighteousness. It is not just our past the Lord is focused on, but also on our present. In order to walk in the light, we must become like our God who is the source of light. We do not do this on our own. On our own we sin, and run from the light. But as we submit ourselves to Christ, as we confess that we are “unable” to Christ, He forgives and cleanses us. John is saying to his readers that you do not do it on your own, that would make Him (Christ) a liar. Rather, all of us need Him, all of us can be forgiven by Him, and more than that, all of us can be made perfect, or cleansed by the work He does within us.
Chapter Two …
In Chapter two John continues by citing the reason for his letter … “that you sin not.” Now John just finished writing in the previous chapter that we all sin, and that we all have sinned. What is more he continues immediately after citing this reasoning by saying … “But if any man sin” … and continues again with the mechanism of our forgiveness. So why would John give a reason he writes when he seems to clearly understand who we are, and that we are all far from perfect? Perhaps because John is trying to remind us, that the removal of sin from our lives, is the very process of salvation. As God’s transforming love alters who we are, our sins and even our desire to sin, is what is removed from us. As we embrace God and forsake the evil of self, we lose the pain our self-focused actions always brought to us and inevitably to all those who care about us. The removal of sin then, is not a punishment, or a threat, it is a cure, and a relief from the pain in our lives. John writes to remind us that Christ is the source of this relief. Even if we fail as the very next thought reveals, we can still go to Christ, and begin again on the process of perfection He offers us as gift.
In verses 3 to 6 John, like James, shows how we can measure whether our faith has been transformative or not. John, like James, measures our knowledge of God by the actions we take. When we keep the commandments of God, it is because we are allowing God to transform how we think, what we want, and how we love. We do not keep His commandments in order to obtain a transformation, but rather because we are undergoing a transformation. John writes … “in him verily is the love of God perfected:” Here is where the rubber meets the road, it is ALL about love. It is love that transforms us. It is love that was willing to save us. It is love that motivated the life and actions of Christ. And when we begin to let Christ change us, and teach us what it means to love like He loved, we begin to walk like He walked. Love is the motivation behind the law of God, and the actions of God. When love motivates the commandments can be kept. When love is not the motivation, there is no way to keep the law. We can only keep a law we are in harmony with, and this is not our natural state. We can be transformed to be in harmony with God, and with His law, only as we allow His love to remake who we are from the inside out.
In verses 7 through 11 John reiterates how our saying we love God can be measured against how we love our brother. When the power of God’s transformative love has truly infected us, and has become our central motivation, we will love like He loves. God loves us all, even while we are not yet perfect. Our perfection is not a prerequisite to His love, it is an after effect, and this is a very good thing. He loves us in spite of our imperfection, and His greatest desire is to see us lifted out of our state of self-inflicted pain. His love wishes only to see us relieved from the pain we embrace, not continuing to languish in it. How often Christians look at those still engaged in their public sins and try to avoid “those people”. How often we look down our noses at them, cast dispersions on them, consider ourselves fortunate not to be them – and still call ourselves by the name of One who would only think to love those very same people with His entire life. Our God died to save that murderer, that homosexual, and worse that arrogant “Christian” staring back in the mirror. He did not die because He had to. He died because He loves, and wants only to save the erring one from the pain of his error. When arrogance is replaced with humility and submission, Love is allowed to replace it. When love becomes an overpowering motivation, it is no longer the sin of others we see in them, but the infinite potential God sees, and the infinite value their lives carry with God, and now with us. This is the transformative effect Love will have upon us, when in humility and submission, we allow Him to perform His work within us. This is why it is so clear to John, that we can tell a Christian, by how they love.
In verses 12 through 17 John talks again about how we love, and what we love. When … “the Word of God abideth in you, you have overcome the wicked one.” This is the nature of salvation. When it happens within us it changes what we love. The things of this world are no longer the things we value. The world around us is obsessed with pleasing self. Lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life are not the things associated with God, only with the world. The life of Christ stands as a shining example of what our God is like. Christ’s life was one of selflessness. Our God was our servant. Our God thought only of us and never of Himself and His own comfort or pleasure. Instead He took pleasure in seeing freedom from the oppression of the slavery of self, relieved within us. Our God thinks only of saving us, the children that chose to leave Him. This is a marked contrast with the philosophy of the world that seeks only to please self, even if at the cost of another.
In verses 18 to 25 John addresses a similar problem as Jude had done. It was not from the outside that the attacks of the devil would find success against the Christian church, it was from the inside. People and leaders formerly associated with the Apostles “went out from us, but they were not of us”. John distinguishes between those who remained in the fellowship of the Apostles and those who chose to break away and preach their own ideas about salvation. These men are identified for their most heretical disagreement with Christianity – to deny Jesus Christ. By denying the work of the Son, they cut themselves off from the presence of the Father.
The work of salvation can only come through submission to Jesus Christ, when that work is denied, bondage to self and sin remain. Again, a Christian leader who plainly stated they did not believe in the divinity of Christ would have been rejected by those of the Christian faith. A belief in Jesus is the central tenant of Christianity. However, to deny the “work” of Christ in saving us, and instead profess a belief in Him, without expressing a need to see Him change us, is to deny His work. The “antichrists” that John describes were not like the Jews who simply did not believe at all in the divinity of Christ, but those who professed the name of Christ, yet denied Him control over themselves. Any form of Christianity that denies the work of Jesus Christ within us, and instead seeks to promote the idea that we can through our own will and good works save ourselves from evil falls into the category John classes as “antichrist”. The opposite of Christ’s selflessness is the self-focus of those deemed antichrist.
In verses 26 through 28 John again reminds his readers to stay steadfast in Him, to keep their salvation based in the work of Christ and not of self. Only in Christ can we abide to the end. Only in Christ is it possible to see evil removed from within us. Only in Christ can we be confident that at His returning our perfection will have been achieved. If we were to rely on self for our cure, we would inevitably fall short of His perfection and find ourselves wanting to avoid His coming. But by allowing Christ to do the work of perfection for us, and within us, will not be ashamed at His coming, but rather our righteousness will be born of Him. John is careful to never take the credit for what is good that is reflected through us. Rather he always points his readers back to Christ, the source of our righteousness. Like his contemporaries he is ever mindful of the power of transformative love that Christ brings to each human soul. Every good thing or good deed that may come our way, does so by the power of Christ to transform how we think, what we want, and therefore what we do. And behind it all is the love of Christ reflected through us.
Chapter Three …
In chapter three, John begins with perhaps the most astounding words in scripture. He declares that God’s love for us is so great that we … “should be called the sons of God.” Notice, John did not say the ‘friends’ of God, or to be accurate the ‘redeemed’ of God. Most of us aspire to both of those. But to use a familial analogy in Greek, Roman and Hebrew cultures where parentage on the father’s side determined most of your destiny was a stunning revelation. All throughout scripture only Christ was ever referred to as the Son of God. John is here stating that because of the sacrifice of Christ, and the love both He and His Father have for mankind, they are elevating us to family status. We are beyond the role of best friend, beyond the role of treasured associate, or needed companion – we are to be thought of as actual “sons” of God. I do not believe this was intended for us to internalize as meaning we are to be given “god-like” powers at some point in the future. Nor are we to become equal with Christ in stature with His Father, or equal in our abilities to create things by sheer power of will. But the love that binds us together with God is in fact so strong, that Christ thinks of us, as His direct and immediate family. The bond of love we best understand is the one Christ uses to show just how intimate he wants to be with each of us. Christ does not seek a casual, periodic, convenient sort of love relationship with us, but an intense one, one that is always with you, one that is in your face so-to-speak. His passion for us is so great, He is actually referring to us as His kids. John marvels at love that is so great.
John continues that he has no idea just what the end of the transformation process will have us looking like. He is not referring to our physical forms, but to the wonder of transformation that turns our evil horrific lives, into the bliss of perfect service. The transformation is so radical, so pervasive, so complete that what it will turn us into is something we cannot even imagine. To be so like Christ that we too look like sons of God, is way farther that humans have the capacity to begin to dream about. And it is important to note, that Christ finds value in how He loves us. We often measure God or Christ by their omnipotence, or wonderful power to bend laws of physics, time, or space. But the simple equations that God created to govern physics are not the rules he values. God puts value in the expression of love to another without regard to self. On that score, the life of Christ sets a benchmark of what it means to be devoid of self, and dedicated to the service of others, even your enemies. The most powerful, being that has ever, or will ever exist, set the benchmark for humility and service. He did not wield miraculous power to control others, only to relieve the pain of others. He did nothing for Himself, yet did not leave even one in need unattended. This is the value God places on existence. To be like that, is something John has a hard time imagining.
In verses 4 to 10, John again describes what allowing the love of Christ to transform us, looks like. When we submit to Christ, and allow Him to remake us, allow His love to re-create us, our sin goes away. We become in harmony with the law of God, which is only a cursory definition of love. When love itself is our primary motivation, we do not think to steal, or lie, or murder, or cheat. Love is not expressed in those actions, only pain is. Love seeks to relieve pain, not cause it. We begin to sin no more, because love just does not think the same way about life. The devil sins and violates every principle associated with love, because his first and only interest is in himself. Anyone who gets in the way of Satan is trampled underfoot by Satan. His philosophy is in direct contrast with God’s. Looking out for number one, is Satan’s idea, not Gods. God is looking out for everyone but number one. He died to prove it. Satan is not interested in dying for you, he is only interested in your death. When the focus of your existence is based in pleasing self, your goals will inevitably come up against the goals of someone else. When that happens, a self-based philosophy, seeks first to please itself, if someone else has to suffer, so be it.
Verses 11 to 19 focus on the same theme nearest and dearest to the heart of John, loving one another. John states it plainly, when you love your brother, the love of Christ is in you. When you do not love your brother, it is because you have shut out the love Christ from transforming you from what you are today to what you should become. When you love like Christ loves, you simply cannot ignore the needs of others. Christ does not fault the poor for their poverty. He does not blame the alcoholic for his addiction. He does not condemn the sinner for the fact that they are decidedly guilty of their sins. Instead He loves. He seeks to relieve their pain. He meets the needs of the poor, the hungry, and the naked. He gives anything He owns to those in need, without a second thought, or moment’s hesitation. And He brings peace and relief from the self-inflicted pain our sins cause us and everyone that cares about us. Christ did not make social policy arguments about how we need to teach the poor to get themselves out of their situation. If someone was sick, He healed them. He did not give them health lessons about how illiterate they obviously are, or how their bad habits have led them to this fate, or how our stupid decisions lead to pain. He just healed them, because He loved them, and they needed it. If they were hungry He fed them. If they were lonely, He held them. If they were feeling guilty from their deeds, He forgave them, and then freed them from the bondage of serving self. This is the life of Christ. Those who can ignore others in need, do not know who Christ really is, because they have not allowed Christ to change how they think, and how they love.
In verse 20 John describes the mystery of salvation. He says … “if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart”. Our nature is not to want to be saved. Our nature is to ignore or reject God and continue down the path of self-destruction until we reach the demise we crave. It takes an act of intervention on God’s part to interrupt this natural chain of events, so that we can even be free to make the decision to change our fate, and embrace His redemption. If left to us, we would choose “under the influence” of our addictive slavery to self, to remain in slavery. Instead, God elevates us so that we are able to choose Him, without our nature overpowering the choice itself. Our heart need only remind us of the truth of our failures, to rightly condemn us. But here too, God is greater than our heart, and His mercy is greater than the truth of our failures. It is a mystery that His love is so great it can forgive. But it is this mystery that frees us.
John concludes the chapter by summarizing the keeping of the law in simply loving one another. John understood motives matter more than actions. I can refrain from hurting you, without ever loving you. In so doing I have not truly kept the law. But when I love you, I do so much more than simply refrain from hurting you, I seek to bring you joy. When love motivates, it is natural to do good. When love is absent, no deed accomplishes anything. It is easy to tell sincerity from mere oral arguments. I can say anything. But when I mean it, my words are backed by my actions, intentions, and consistency. My actions do not create my sincerity, rather they are a result of it. My actions do not create my intentions, but result from them. My consistency comes because I mean it, I believe it, and I am not casual about it. This kind of love can be seen, not simply described. Christ loves us in sincerity, and John makes the argument that when Christ dwells within us, we truly love each other, and His Spirit is evident in us.
Chapter Four …
John opens with a very practical admonition, to paraphrase he says ‘don’t believe everything you hear’. Just because a prophet claims to prophesy in the name of God, does not mean he does so. John recognizes that there are supernatural forces at work in our world, both to redeem mankind, and to work for his utter destruction. “Spirits” may see beyond our immediate vision, and as such, John does not say to test them by their accuracy. But he does counsel, we should test them by whether they admit that Jesus Christ came to this world in the flesh, and that He is the Son of God.
It is also interesting that throughout his letter, John addresses his readers as “little children”. For it is only as little children that our dependence on Christ for literally everything is recognized. Our strength in spiritual matters is determined by “who” we allow to abide within us, not as a picture of our own merits, abilities, skills, and experience. In verse 4 John addresses the “how” we have overcome those who work to our demise … “because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.” It is not about how “strong” we have become on our own, or the list of various good deeds that help us to defeat the enemy. Instead, like little children, who are fully aware they need daddy for everything, particularly protection, our enemy is defeated by He who is “in” us. Little children are not ashamed of their dependence, they are actually happy to know they can depend. Little children are not burdened with the “work” of salvation, as they realize that “work” is being done for them by Dad. Little children then, are free to love, free to play, free to enjoy. When you encounter a Christian who loves first, and is happy, and is playful; my bet would be you have encountered a true little child of God, who has finally accepted the truth of how our salvation works.
In verses 5 and 6 John notes that the transformation is so astounding that how we think changes, therefore what we hear and understand changes. Ever considered the little phrase … “that does not make sense”? How many times do we apply logic to our day-to-day decisions and always attempt to make sense of what we do. Yet when you look at the basic relationship with God, it really does not make sense. God asks us to believe in what we cannot see. God tells us He will change who we are, despite the fact that we have been unable to do so. God often asks us to do things that just do not make sense to the world like … ‘build an ark for a flood no one has ever seen’, ‘step into a Red Sea that has been parted by unseen hands’, ‘look at a snake on a cross to be miraculously cured of a poison bite’. In our day, as in times past, our God asks you and I, to let go of the illusion of control over our own lives, and submit our every breath to His control.
The only way that what God asks us to do begins to make sense at all, is when we let go of our own ideas about wisdom, and begin to see things from His perspective. The fundamental conflict in the universe between good and evil arose, because Lucifer did not trust what God said about the nature of evil. To Lucifer what God was saying … just did not make sense. Lucifer trusted his own wisdom on the matter of pleasing self, instead of serving others, and everything that has transpired since has been a tangible lesson in the opposite of love. This same test of trust is the one we face. It does not make sense that God can do in me, what I have seen myself fail at time and time again. But it works. As such, and like a little child, I start caring less about what the world thinks “makes sense” and start seeing that what God says “makes more sense to me”. It may well be the difference between seeing things from a logical and tangible perspective, and a dependent spiritual one.
In verses 7 through 12, John again sums up the nature of God. In verse 8 he says … “for God is love.” Imagine it, the very things we attribute to love, may well be the composition of God Himself. Beyond matter and energy, there is love. Beyond the limits of our imagination, there is love. Every time you think you have a handle on what love is, it surprises you. A young couple fall in love and get married, right then they believe they understand what love is. But introduce a new baby in the mix, and they are both astounded to find, they knew only one dimension of love before, now they see another. Introduce another child, and even though they have one before, they find a new love in the new relationship they introduce into their family unit. Even when after many years, their children are grown and gone with families of their own, the love the couple has for each other has grown as well, matured, deepened, become more intense, and when they look back at their youth, they realize just how little they really knew of love. This is God Himself. We will never be done knowing who God is. Just when we think we understand His love for us, it will surprise us. God never tires of showing us what it means for Him to love us. He does it before we are even aware of it. He loves us before we even know who He is. It is His love for us that draws us to Him and inspires love in us for Him.
In verses 15 to 21 John closes out the chapter reiterating the theme of how love dwells within us. John tells us that when love dwells within us, that God dwells within us. The belief on Jesus Christ is the mechanism, love is the result. In verse 17 John states … “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as He is, so are we in this world.” Our love is made perfect, we are in effect made perfect. While it is not our natural state, through submission to Christ, we are made perfect, and the work of this perfection is done inside of us by Christ. The result is actually boldness in the day of judgment. We actually have a sense of our harmony and affinity with God. It is not that we are proud of the changes in us, but that we long to be with God, and upon His return, we are anxious to be with Him. We would run to Him, rather than to call on the rocks to fall on us and hide us from the brilliance of His coming. Our boldness reflects a lack of shame, and a harmony with our Lord, and most of all a burning desire to be at His side. In this His love makes us perfect, the work of salvation from the evil of self, to the beauty of service, this is the work that love perfects within us.
Our perfection then leads us to a lack of fear in the presence of God. Were there any still hidden desires to sin, we like Adam before us, would tend to run and hide from the revealing light of God. But due to the beauty of grace, His work, His love has made us perfect from the inside out. And the beauty of love, is that our God loved us first. He loved us before we knew who He was. He loved us, while we still called ourselves His enemy. He loved us while we still preferred the slavery of pain and death. And His love works a transformation in us, so that we no longer only love ourselves, but instead love others ahead of self in every way. The evidence of this transformation is traced back to how we love those we have around us. We begin to love like Christ loves, unconditionally, fully, without reservation or hesitation. Thus loving our brother begins to be natural to us. Those who have a hard time loving their brother are still relying on their own strength to accomplish it. Humans are frail, weak, and fickle. It takes a divine remake, to love like Christ loves. This is a work only He can do within us, and only as we allow it. So John concludes chapter four.
Chapter Five …
John opens chapter five with a measurement of our love against the commandments of Christ. The law of love was summed up by Christ in that we love God with all our hearts, and our brothers as ourselves. Against this standard, only love is measured. The words “I love you” ring hollow if they are said while I lie, steal, cheat, envy, lust and dishonor you. My actions over-ride the sentiment said from my lips. But when by faith, I allow the love of Christ to transform who I am, the commandments of love become part of the very core of who I am, and thus how I love. The commandments are no longer thought to be a burden or grievous, instead they are like breath, something we do without thinking. This is the victory over the world, over self, over slavery to pain. It is our faith in the work of Jesus Christ; it is our submission to Him that brings the victory.
In verses 5 to 10 John enumerates how one God is made of three distinct parts. Our God is made up of a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit – three in union, in purpose, united to bring us home. There are those Christians who do not understand the concept of the Trinity, how one God could be made of three unique entities. But perhaps this confusion is due to a lack of understanding about love itself. The very essence of God is to love someone other than Himself, this is easier to accomplish when a Father loves a Son, and a Son loves a Father. Love expressed both within the Godhead, and to us, the creations of God. In Genesis when the creation of man is recorded, the words reflect the idea … “let Us make man in Our image.” Even at the creation of man God is referred to in the plural form, reflecting a family relationship that man was created with the ability to emulate. We understand the love parent has for child, and as John has pointed out earlier, this is how God feels about us. We are His kids.
In verses 11 and 12 John details what life itself is. Life itself is found in Jesus Christ. Christ is not only our creator and originator of our lives, but life itself is only found in Him. “He that hath the Son hath life.” In Christ is everything that makes existence worth having. Without Christ, our existence would be defined only by our pain, and craving for the relief of death. A life remade by Christ is a life of freedom from pain. A life untouched by Christ is an existence bound by slavery to self, and the extreme pain it causes everyone. When we refuse to allow Christ to remake us, we are bound to our pain. It is not a threat John is making regarding our salvation, it is a statement of fact – life is found only in the Son of God – those who reject this idea doom themselves to the strength of their own humanity, and thus to the pain of failure they are unable to avoid. The problem with Islam, and Judaism, and Buddhism, and every other religion in the world is the lack of Christ being able to remake who we are. Without divine intervention, our best efforts will always be nothing more than an existence of pain, the pain we create, and the pain we endure.
In verses 13 to 15 John assures us that belief will lead to transformation as we submit. When we submit our will to the will of God, instead of to our own ideas about perfection and how we can save us, our prayers become petitions we can be sure about. Doubt disappears when we submit what we want, to be in harmony with the will of God. Instead of putting our own desires first, we seek the will of God to be first in us, and then what we ask of God becomes more about what He wants, and less about what we want. The key is to be in sync with God, this takes submission on our part, not on Gods. John writes that we should “know we have eternal life”. For as discussed earlier, eternal life is found in Jesus Christ.
John wraps up his letter by discussing differences in sin. There is a sin unto death. While all sin is bad, when we replace Jesus Christ with something else, when we look somewhere other than Jesus to get rid of our sins, we risk the sin unto death. There is no way to obtain forgiveness let alone transformation when we look away from Christ. Idols, whether made of stone, or simply elevated in our hearts because of the financial investment we place in them, lead us to look away from Christ. Idols by definition lead us to worship self, place value in self. They serve as a replacement for the actual God our Christ, whose existence is defined by love and service to others, with something incapable of service to others. Looking in the mirror for the removal of sins, is worshipping at the altar of self, and it is risking a sin that leads only to death, or away from the source of life, Jesus Christ. John’s final words of his first general letter again reminds us to remain “little children” and to keep ourselves away from anything that would seek to replace the work of Christ within us.