Archive for the ‘1 John’ Category

Prayer According to God’s Will: 1689 Confession Study (Chapter 22)

September 15, 2016 1 comment

The 1689 Baptist Confession exposition series is currently in chapter 22 – the chapter on worship and its elements.  Two paragraphs here address the specifics of prayer – both corporate and private – and thus the 1689 study includes a mini-series on the elements of prayer.  (Now I am caught up to the latest available message in the series; this will continue with future lessons as they become available on Sermon Audio.)  A few thoughts here, regarding the issue of ‘praying according to God’s will,’ from this lesson (March 13, 2016) — three common errors, or points of misunderstanding, regarding interpretation of 1 John 5:14:

  • The “Room Service” view interprets 1 John 5:14 with over-emphasis on the ‘ask.’ Asking is what matters, and therefore to ask about anything is in itself according to God’s will.

A well-known scripture example that refutes this error, is the apostle Paul’s request (three times) for God to remove the thorn in his flesh; the answer was no.  Another incident I recall here, brought up in Tom Chantry’s recent Deuteronomy series: Moses’ pleading with God to be allowed to go into the promised land—that too was not allowed, and was not according to God’s will.

  • The “name it and claim it” view, one we’re familiar with from all the false teaching on Christian television, takes the scriptural reference that “if two or more people agree” and concludes that therefore, if at least two people agree to pray about something, God will do it.

R. C. Sproul has referred to this idea as, God as our “celestial bellhop,” at our beck-and-call for anything we want. As Sproul observed (quote available at this blog link):

We are reminded of statements like “Ask, and it will be given you” (Matthew 7:7); “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19); and “Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matthew 21:22). Shorthand summaries like these have provoked bizarre theories of prayer where people have violently isolated these passages from everything else Jesus and the Bible say about prayer. Distortions also abound when we approach these aphorisms simplistically. Consider the earlier statement about any two people agreeing. It would not be difficult to find two Christians who agree that ridding the world of cancer or wars would be a good idea. Their prayer in this matter would not automatically accomplish their desire. The Word of God indicates that wars, poverty, and disease will be present at the time of Christ’s return. To expect their absolute elimination before the appointed time is to grasp prematurely the future promises of God.

The third idea is not so much error, but partly true combined with a misunderstanding regarding God’s decretive versus perceptive wills.  The “Submissive but unsure” doubtful view, submits to God’s will, but remains uncertain as to whether the request being made is according to God’s will.  Here we consider God’s two wills: 1) His decretive will regarding everything that happens, everything that will occur; and 2) His perceptive will, that which is revealed throughout scripture as God’s precepts, God’s moral law, how we should live as Christians.  When we pray for things regarding our future – things not specifically revealed in God’s word – we submit the request to God and His will, with that uncertainty as to what the answer will be.  But when we pray for things that pertain to God’s perceptive will, we know that He will answer. Prayers for greater patience and endurance, for more peace, and other Christian “fruits of the spirit” ARE according to God’s will, prayers that we can have confidence that God will answer.  Indeed it is so, as Hodgins related, that often we can look back at a particular situation and realize, that yes, in this situation, this time I was more patient, this time my temper didn’t flare up – continuing answers to prayers that are according to God’s will.

‘Christ is Awesome’? Remember the Father Who Sent Him

April 25, 2014 3 comments

It is common, especially in places of superficial and shallow teaching, to hear Christians focus on the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, in a way that neglects the more in-depth teaching of the whole counsel of God. For instance, recently at a local church someone proclaimed “Christ is Awesome!” — a great thought so far as it goes, but incomplete and limited in its perspective. I prefer instead the wording, as expressed in bumper stickers years ago, “God is Awesome” (reference the Rich Mullins song “Our God is an Awesome God”), which more accurately focuses attention on the Lord God, considering the work of the Triune God and God’s Divine Purpose.

S. Lewis Johnson, in his 1 John series, addressed this very point, that our gratitude should include not only Christ the Son, but also the Father who sent Him:

The Father sent the Son, so that the gratitude that we have — because we’ve come to know the Lord Jesus as Savior — is not a gratitude that should stop at Christ. It should go on, as our Lord taught us, to embrace the Father who sent the Son. In fact, the Lord Jesus says, that everything He did was done at the command and the will of the Father. The Lord Jesus acted for the Father. He carried out the Father’s will. And as far as going to the cross is concerned, it’s the Father who led Him to the cross. In other words, what I’m saying, my Christian friend, is that the Lord Jesus Christ is full of the love that the Father sent Him to carry out toward us. Never forget that.


The Tender Conscience and Assurance: J.C. Ryle and S. Lewis Johnson

March 25, 2014 5 comments

In going through S. Lewis Johnson’s 1 John series, here is a section I can especially relate to: study of one aspect of Christian living can lead the “tender conscience” to discouragement and doubting one’s salvation, if the teaching is not properly balanced. Indeed, the superficial teaching at a local church several years ago (including its approach to 1 John), with emphasis on external, outward religion and our good works as evidence of salvation, affected me in just this way. In-depth teaching is always the remedy for proper balance on this (and any) issue, and I still remember the impact to my understanding, when I first read similarly encouraging words a few years ago, in this excerpt from J.C. Ryle’s Holiness:

The only righteousness in which we can appear before God is the righteousness of another — even the perfect righteousness of our Substitute and Representative, Jesus Christ the Lord. His work, and not our work — is our only title to Heaven. … For all this, however, the Bible distinctly teaches that the holy actions of a sanctified man, although imperfect, are pleasing in the sight of God. “With such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:16). “Obey your parents . . . for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). “We . . . do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22). Let this never be forgotten, for it is a very comforting doctrine.
Just as a parent is pleased with the efforts of his little child to please him, though it be only by picking a daisy, or walking across a room — so is our Father in Heaven pleased with the poor performances of His believing children. He looks at the motive, principle and intention of their actions — and not merely at their quantity and quality. He regards them as members of His own dear Son, and for His sake, wherever there is a single eye — He is well pleased.

From Dr. Johnson’s 1 John series, a good analysis of the believer’s conscience, exposition of 1 John 2:12-14:

one can see that a person with a tender conscience might be tending to discouragement at this point because, if you feel as I do, and I don’t say that I have a tender conscience, but sometimes I have something like that, and when I read some of the statements of Scripture that say we know that we know him if we keep his commandments — I recognize that in my life there are many of those commandments that I have questions about whether I’m really keeping them.

And I’m not always sure that I’m always walking in the light. In fact, at times, I know I’m not walking in the light. We talked about that and how the Christian life is a sin-judged life, and that characteristic of the Christian life is the necessity of continual confession of sin. So I can understand that a person with a tender conscious might have problems, and then when this apostle says that, “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now,” that really comes home because I must confess that I have had problems with some of my brethren, that is my professing brethren in Christ. And I have often had to get down upon my knees, and ask God to give me the strength to love, and the mind to love this brother or sister, as the case may be. So I can see that someone with a tenderer conscience than mine might have questions about his salvation.

He might really say, “I don’t think I’m keeping the commandments. I know I fail in loving my brothers and my sisters. Perhaps I’m not a Christian at all.” And so, I think that what John writes now is a kind of interlude in which he wants to encourage people like me, and maybe even more so, those whose consciences are even more tender than mine. I think, therefore, it’s very fitting that in this brief paragraph, this apostle of love, the elderly apostle, the last of the apostles still living — the apostolic age is drawing to its conclusion — assures the ones to whom he writes these very strong words of test, that he is confident of their faith and life.

Study the Scripture: 1 John 5:16-17

June 21, 2010 Leave a comment

I appreciate S. Lewis Johnson’s advice concerning how to study the Bible, in which he recommends the use of a few good English translations — and to look at the words and the context:

As I have so often said if you have two or three translations made fairly accurately, like the New American Standard Bible or the International version and then the old King James Version if you have those three versions before you and you studiously studied them you would be able to be a premier student of the word of God without any knowledge of Greek or Hebrew.  For the simple reason as you read and pondered those texts in English you would be able to discover where the problems were because the authors would differ here and there in their renderings of the text. And then by the study of their context you would be almost always able to make a decision that would be the right decision, because almost all interpretative problems are solved by an accurate, careful, perceptive knowledge of the context….  Study the Bible for yourself.

As one example concerning different translations, consider 1 John 5:16-17:

KJV:  If any man see his brother sin a sin [which is] not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.  All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.

ESV:   If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life-to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.  All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.

Notice that the KJV translation has the added little word “a” — “There is a sin unto death” and “there is a sin not unto death.”  If someone merely looks at the authorized version (KJV) they might think that John is talking about a specific sin, and from this come some incorrect understandings of what the “sin unto death” and the “sin not unto death” is really talking about.

The next part of SLJ’s advice concerns how we look at the detail, the actual words and their context.  In the case of 1 John 5:16-17, some have interpreted “sin unto death” as a reference to the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (from Matthew 12), or to the sin of apostasy.  But if we closely examine the text, it is clear that it is not talking about either of these, but the sin of a believer that leads to physical death — as described also in 1 Corinthians 11.

First, the verse says “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin” — which indicates that it’s talking about a believer, a Christian brother.  A Christian cannot be guilty of eternal sin.  We also know, from the more modern translations, that John is not talking about any one particular sin.  Verse 17 reinforces the point of verse 16, too, by pointing out that “all wrongdoing is sin,” so again John is talking about sin generally, not any one specific sin — much less the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which we would never see a brother commit in the first place.  Here is further commentary from SLJ, in his exposition of this text:

It’s obvious he’s speaking generally.  Any sin that one persists in which is within the whole body of sin, generally.  Persistent sin exposes one to the possibility of a disciplinary chastisement of physical death.  Willful continued sin then of any kind.  If we are looking at the Epistle of 1 John, we would think of what he has been talking about in the epistle.  Unrighteousness, unlove among Christian brethren and sisters.  All of these things he has spoken about.  In other words, to put it in the language that all of us can understand, sometimes we are fit for heaven when we are not fit for the earth.  In other words, having been brought to faith in Jesus Christ, a true faith, if we persist in sin, the Lord may find it necessary to take our physical life.  The reproach brought upon his name by our sin is reason to take our lives physically.  It is a very solemn thing to think about isn’t it?  “Sin unto physical death” is something for all of us to think about.  Therefore, we don’t have anything from this particular context to make us think that John is talking about a definite sin.  There are no particular clues to any specific sin.  He’s talking about sin of all kinds in which a believer may persist.

Furthermore, the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is only mentioned once, and it’s a definite sin related to that historical situation where Jesus showed the nation of Israel, and its leaders, clear proofs that He was the promised Messiah.  Arnold Fruchtenbaum (a Christian from Orthodox Jewish background) has pointed out, concerning Matthew 12, that Jewish tradition held that the Messiah would be able to do three particular miracles:  cleansing of a leper, healing of a man born blind, and casting out a demon from a mute man.  (Exorcist tradition involved a step in which the exorcist asked the demoniac to identify himself by name; Jesus himself did so in other cases, such as the Gadarene demoniac.)  Matthew 12 describes the third case, casting a demon out of a mute, and the people seriously wondered at this point, could this be the Messiah?  Confronted with an undeniable miracle, the Pharisees instead attributed the Holy Spirit’s power to the devil.

John MacArthur also deals with the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in Matthew 12, in his book  The Jesus You Can’t Ignore — a book that specifically looks at the hard sayings of Jesus and His many confrontations with Israel’s leaders, culminating in this very incident.  MacArthur likewise notes the difference between this sin, and the sin unto physical death described in 1 John 5.

Wrong theology comes from incorrect Bible interpretation, and this is just one example of how we must all study the scriptures for ourselves, to see what a text actually says.  This is also the only way to really evaluate Bible preachers, to discern how closely they agree with what the text says, and discern which Bible teachers are worth listening to.