"There is only one thing God wants of us, and that is our unconditional surrender."
- Oswald Chambers
- Oswald Chambers
Our Only Defense
In his epistle John sets the standard of perfect holiness, righteousness, and love then graciously introduces Jesus Christ is introduced as our Advocate (parakletos), the one who comes alongside to help, in this case a defender. As McArthur says, “There are surely lawyers in heaven, but only one practicing.” He also teaches, “There is more to our salvation than elements of love and grace and kindness and mercy. There is the matter of divine justice since God cannot ever disregard His own perfect, holy Law and justice... But both love and justice are equally satisfied in God's salvation plan. God's love did not overpower His Law, His mercy did not overwhelm His wrath, His compassion did not conquer His justice, but rather they worked together in perfect harmony.” Under the terms of the New Covenant God accepts our sincere obedience despite its defects because all the defects have been paid for by the death of His Son. And as we abide in Him like a branch on a vine, we draw strength from him to walk in the manner in which he walked.
“The Lord God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness. Yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished" (Ex. 34:6-7). He is both merciful and just. "The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but He will by no means clear the guilty" (Num. 14:18). Jesus Christ the righteous became the propitiation for our sins. Propitiation (hilasmos) means an appeasement. He provided satisfaction for the justice of God. “He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21). Mercy and justice kissed each other at the cross.
A Satisfying Sacrifice
When the Tabernacle and Jewish Temple were operating it was a bloody business every day. But the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) was special. Inside the Most Holy Place the high priest entered the Most Holy Place where God met his people, approaching the Mercy Seat atop of the Ark of the Covenant which contained the Law of Moses. (Think Indiana Jones.) Once a year, after offering sacrifices to cleanse his own sins, the priest would go in and sprinkle blood on the Mercy Seat to appease God. But none of the Old Testament sacrifices truly appeased God, they only pointed to the sacrifice that would. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23) We are therefore under the just condemnation of God. No matter how religious we are, no matter how many sacrifices we may offer, we cannot propitiate God or appease God. Verse 24 comes to our rescue, "We are then justified as a gift by His grace."
Assurance of Salvation
John Calvin taught that assurance is of the essence of faith, but can we truly have assurance of our salvation? Peter wrote, "Be diligent to make sure about God's calling and choosing you" (2 Pet. 1:10). Many in contemporary Christianity teach that if you pray a certain prayer or are baptized you are saved without question. Any doubt comes from Satan or poor self-esteem. Other Christians follow the Puritan train of thought that you can lose your salvation, so it’s better to be always nervous about your salvation.
MacArthur says, “Roman Catholicism denies in its theology that anyone can have the assurance of salvation because salvation is a joint effort between God and the sinner. God will always do His part, but the sinner might not always do his part. So no one can be assured of their salvation until they finally get to heaven. [Others teach that] you really can't be sure of your salvation… you might have it now, lose it tomorrow… you don't know how it's going to end up when you die.”
So some have false assurance and some have no assurance, but the middle (and biblical) ground is to consistently examine yourself in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5) while maintaining confidence in Christ. “The Bible encourages true believers with the promise of eternal salvation and does not teach that true salvation can be lost… Scripture encourages believers [to] live a life that makes their calling and election sure. At the same time the Bible also makes false Christians insecure by demanding that they examine themselves, never settling for an event kind of salvation without a transformation” (MacArthur).
MacArthur defines Christians as those “who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the people who believe that He is God, that He is the Savior, who repent from their sin and ask Him to save them by grace through faith alone... He has paid the price for their sin on the cross and risen from the dead... Anybody who believes that and comes before the Lord and asks for salvation is a Christian, anyone else is not.”
There is in faith itself a component of assurance. When you put your trust in Jesus Christ, you experience it. Your heart is awakened to its sinful condition. Then as you walk in the faith you will see the Spirit of God directing your life through ministry and life circumstances, and you will grow in spiritual gifts and the fruit of the Spirit. You keep His commandments and walk as he walked.
Persistence in the Faith
Jesus taught in the Parable of the Sower that some will respond to the gospel, but in the end – under pressure, under the deceitfulness of riches, under the cares of this world, under the influences of sin – they deny their faith. 1 John teaches that if a person forsakes the faith, that person was never really part of the flock. Piper teaches, “Judas knew Christ. Lots of unbelieving scholars today know more about Christ than many Christians. There must be a different kind of knowledge than this merely factual knowledge... There can't be knowledge of God where there is persistence in sin.”
Difficulty arises because professing Christians can be hypocritical or for a time show blatant disregard for God’s commands. Piper reasons that “Sin says to Christ, ‘I do not regard your suffering as sufficient incentive to keep me back from this act. You may have died to prevent me from doing this, but I'm going to do it anyway.’”
As Piper says, “When God commands you to do something and you ignore it or go against it, John can only conclude one thing: You don't believe that God is love. And therefore you don't know him. For if you believed that God is love then you would believe that all his commandments were the very best thing for you. And you would follow them. When you turn away from the commandments of God, you say in effect, a loving God wouldn't command me to do that. And so our disobedience displays our lack of trust in the love God has for us. And it shows that we do not know God.”
"By this we know we've come to know Him if we keep His commandments." The word “keep” stresses the idea of observant, watchful obedience – to guard daily the precepts of Christ. When Jesus Christ is truly Lord and Savior, His authority is gladly embraced. His authority becomes precious. And if He is truly loved there is this guardianship of His truth and His precepts that causes us to love it in our hearts and long to manifest it in our lives. Spurgeon preached, “Is God so good?—then I will not grieve Him. Is He so ready to forgive my transgressions?—then I will love Him, by His Grace, and offend no more. Gratitude has bands which are stronger than iron, although softer than silk. Sinners go to their sins as children to their own father’s orchard, but Believers slink away like thieves when they have been stealing forbidden fruit. Shame and sin are always in close company in a Christian... His heart is broken within him, and when he has sinned he goes with sore bones for many and many a day... A Christian always sins worse than other men. If the sin is not in itself so bad as other men’s, it is worse in you. For a king’s favorite to play the traitor is villainy, indeed. “
Obedience and Love
Knowing Christ necessarily produces obedience. "The one who loves his brother abides in the light.” Christianity is more than a philosophy. You can't live any way you want to live. If you've really been changed and regenerated, you're going to obey God and you're going to love other Christians.
This apostle once called Boanerges, a son of thunder, once wanted to call down fire from heaven to incinerate a whole village of people. He became known as the apostle of love because he had been tenderized by the mighty work of God in His life. John witnessed firsthand the perfect love exhibited by Christ and it forever changed him.
"The one who says he's in the light yet hates his brother is still in the darkness until this moment." McArthur says, “If you hate, you're not in this kingdom. If you… don't see people the way God sees them then He's not in control of your heart. Rather our hearts go out in love to them… You're going to want to serve those around you, not demand from them. You're going to want to help those around you, not harm them. You're going to want to come to the aid of those around you, to lift them up not to step on them.”
As Spurgeon preached, “Only in proportion as Divine Grace makes you obedient will Divine Grace make you an assured Christian. Your holiness and your confidence will keep pace together if your confidence is worth having... Depend upon it, if you want to kill your doubts and fears, you must kill your sins, by God’s Grace, by exterminating disobedience… Sin promised freedom, and brought us bondage; grace now binds us, and ensures us liberty.”