Church Re-imagined: A church overcoming the world

Church re-imagined1. The problem of sin which leads to death

We have a duty in love to care for our brother or sister in spiritual need. If anyone sees his brother commit a sin, he cannot say ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ and do nothing. The way to deal with sin in the congregation is to pray. And God hears such prayer.

Not every everyone can be given life in answer to prayer, however. John draws a distinction between a sin that does not lead to death and a sin that leads to death. For those who commit the former the Christian will pray, and by prayer will give them life.

It is a sin, but once repented of, the person is given life in answer to prayer. This means that he is in fact dead, since he needs to be given life. This person is not a Christian yet. Christians have received life, and do not “fall into death when they fall into sin”.  The question remains: How can someone who is not a Christian be termed “a brother”? The only answer is that John must here be using the word in a broader sense either of a ‘neighbour’ or of a nominal Christian, a church member who professes to be a ‘brother’. 

What, then, is the sin that leads to death

1. A specific sin?  
2. Apostasy?
3. The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?
4. The sin that leads to death to which John is referring here is the work of the false teachers. In John’s view they were not apostates; they were counterfeits. They were not true ‘brothers’ who had received eternal life and subsequently forfeited it. They were ‘antichrists’. Denying the Son, they did not possess the Father (2:22-23; 2 John 9). They were children of the devil, not children of God (3:10). True, they had once been members of the visible congregation and had then no doubt passed as ‘brothers’. But they went out, and by their withdrawal it was made evident that they ‘did not really belong to us’ (2:19). Since they rejected the Son, they forfeited life (5:12). Their sin did indeed lead to death.

For these people, John does not encourage prayer.  Nor does he explicitly forbid prayer, as God forbade Jeremiah to pray for the people of Judah (Jer. 7:16; 11:14; 14:11; cf. 1 Sam. 2:25); but he does not advise it, for he clearly doubts its efficacy in this case.

2. How can people come to genuine faith in the divine-human Jesus?

Who Jesus is is bourn witness by water, blood and the spirit.

What does water and blood mean?  Luther and Calvin saw in them a reference to the two sacraments of the gospel. This is extremely doubtful! If water stands for baptism, blood would be an unprecedented symbol for the Lord’s Supper. Augustine links the passage with the spear thrust into Christ’s side, and the flow of blood and water (John 19:34-35). But in the gospel, if they are taken as bearing any witness, it is “only” to the reality of Christ’s death.

Here they they bear witness to Christ’s divine-human person – the Man who is God.

So the water refers to the baptism of Jesus, when he was commissioned and empowered for his work, and the blood to his death, in which his work was finished.

Countering error: Irenaeus challenged the heretical teaching of Cerinthus and his followers with the same understanding. They distinguished between ‘Jesus’ and ‘the Christ’. They held that Jesus was a mere man, born of Joseph and Mary in natural wedlock, upon whom the Christ descended at the baptism and from whom the Christ departed before the cross. According to this theory of the false teachers, Jesus was united with the Christ at the baptism, but became separated again before the cross.

It was to refute this fundamental error that John, knowing that Jesus was the Christ before and during the baptism and during and after the cross, described him as ‘the one who came through water and blood’.

And what does the Spirit testify to? John is referring to the inward witness of the Holy Spirit, who opens our eyes to see the truth as it is in Jesus (cf. 1 Cor. 12:3, etc.). The Spirit has been ‘given to us’ as an indwelling possession (3:24; 4:13),

These then are the kinds of testimony to who Jesus is: objective and subjective, historical and experiential, water and blood on the one hand and the Spirit on the other. ‘He it is who seals in our hearts the testimony of the water and the blood’ (Calvin).

So what?

The purpose is to bring us to faith in Christ (e.g. John 1:7; 20:31). The results of belief and disbelief are stark. The believer has a deep assurance by the inward testimony of the Spirit that he was right to trust in Christ, a striking example of the spiritual principle that ‘everyone who has will be given more’ (Matt. 25:29; Luke 19:26; cf. Mark 4:25).

Three important truths are taught in these verses about eternal life. First, it is not a prize which we have earned or could earn but an undeserved gift. Secondly, it is found in Christ, so that, in order to give us life, God both gave and gives us his Son. Thirdly, this gift of life in Christ is a present possession.

Our assurance: we overcome the world (5:13-17)

1. You have eternal life’ (neb).

It is common today to dismiss any claim to certainty as arrogance, that includes assurance of salvation.  But certainty and humility do not exclude one another. If God’s revealed purpose is not only that we should hear, believe and live, but also that we should know, arrogance lies in doubting his word, not in trusting it.

2. Boldness in approaching God.

Christian confidence belongs not just to the future, to the parousia (2:28) and the judgment day (4:17), but to the here and now. It describes the manner of our approach to God, free and bold (3:21). 

Cell outline

Read again 1 John 3:11-18

1. What are the common ways we exclude others and make them feel like outcasts?

2. What are the ways we can show love with our words, and how can we confirm these words with actions?

3. What is one need you are aware of that you can meet, thereby living out the love of Jesus Christ?

Read 1 John 5

4. John wants us to know the source and strength of our love. According to John, how do we develop a heart of love for others?

5. How do we develop a heart that is deeper In love with God?

6. What is the source of our power to overcome this world?

7. What are you doing in your life right now to develop and deepen your love for God?

The practice of godliness is an exercise or discipline that focuses upon God. From this Godward attitude arise the character and conduct that we usually think of as godliness. So often we try to develop Christian character and conduct without taking the time to develop God-centred devotion. We try to please God without taking the time to walk with Him and develop a relationship with Him. This is impossible to do….

Now it is obvious that such a God-centred lifestyle cannot be fully developed and maintained apart from the solid foundation of devotion to God. Only a strong personal relationship with the living God can keep such a commitment from becoming oppressive and legalistic. John writes that God’s commands are not burdensome; a godly life is not wearisome, but this is true only because a godly person is first of all devoted to God. —Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness

8. How does this reading help you become a more passionate lover of people?

9. What is one of God’s commands that you are struggling to obey?

10. How can your small group members pray for you as you seek to follow God’s command for you in that area of your life?

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