Showing posts with label #Apostles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Apostles. Show all posts

Satan’s excuses precede lawless Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 July

1 John 3.7-12.

Many of the verses from today’s passage tend to be yanked out of context.

  • “Let no one deceive you” 1Jn 3.7 —used to refer to anything which might trick or mislead Christians, from heresy to the latest internet conspiracy theories.
  • “The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil” 1Jn 3.8 —treated as though it’s the only reason Jesus came to earth, so certain dark Christians use it to justify their fixation on demonology instead of good news.
  • “Everyone borne of God doesn’t sin” 1Jn 3.9 —used to condemn Christians who do sin, instead of encouraging them (really, all of us) to go back into the light.
  • And of course those folks who wanna interpret the Cain and Abel story to make Cain an irredeemably evil person… instead of recognizing the LORD and Cain had a conversational relationship, Ge 4.9-15 and God obviously wanted to redeem Cain, not destroy him. (Otherwise he’d have destroyed him!)

All right, best I jump into the text before unpacking it.

1 John 3.7-12 KWL
7 Children, let no one deceive you: Doing what’s proper is right, just like Christ is right.
8 Doing sin is of the devil, because the devil sins from the very start.
This is why God’s Son appeared: To undo the devil’s works.
9 Everyone reborn by God doesn’t do sin, for God’s seed remains in them.
They can’t sin, because they’ve been reborn by God.
10 This is how God’s children and the devil’s children are identified:
Everyone who doesn’t act properly, who doesn’t love their fellow Christian, isn’t of God.
11 This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.
12 Not like Cain, who murdered his brother Abel out of evil.
Why did Cain murder him? Because Cain’s works were evil.
The works of his brother Abel were proper.

John wrote this right after he defined sin as violating the Law. Parts of the Law are still totally valid. (The ritual sacrifice and ritual cleanliness parts are redundant, and the rules for native Israelis and Israel’s descendants don’t apply to nonresidents and gentiles.) Following those valid parts is still what God expects of a saved people: Now that we belong to Jesus, be like Jesus. He didn’t sin; we shouldn’t sin.

So John went on to say his readers shouldn’t let themselves get tricked into thinking otherwise. ’Cause plenty of us have been deceiving ourselves for years. Like the Christians who are anti-Law, who think Jesus nullified God’s Old Testament commands and therefore nothing’s a sin anymore. John cuts right through this rubbish: If you don’t resist sin, if you don’t behave as God’s children ought, you’re not one of his children. “Everyone reborn by God doesn’t do sin.” 1Jn 3.9 He doesn’t, so we shouldn’t.

No, this doesn’t mean Christians never ever sin. Of course we do. Hence grace. The proper idea, reflected in some translations, is N.T. Wright’s “Everyone who is fathered by God does not go on sinning.” 1Jn 3.8 NTE We don’t continue in a lifestyle of sin; we don’t wanna live that way. We want to follow Jesus!

And people who legitimately wanna follow Jesus, crack open their bibles and find out what Jesus taught so we can follow him. What they’ll invariably find is Jesus took the Law, expounded upon it, and closed all the Pharisee loopholes. We’re not to follow the letter of the Law, like any lawyer, politician, or activist judge; we don’t twist it till it suits us. We’re to follow the original intent of the Law, “the spirit of the Law,” the will of the One who gave it. How does Jesus interpret it? ’Cause we do that.

Those who don’t really wanna follow Jesus, but only look like they do: They prefer loopholes. The bigger the better. They like to quote “Christ is the end of the Law,” Ro 10.4 but they don’t mean, as Paul does, that Christ expresses it better than the Law does itself; they mean Christ ended it. Or “He taketh away the first [Law], that he may establish the second [Law],” He 10.9 not just updating the old covenant with the new, but abolishing it altogether, so that breaking the Law is no longer sin, 1 John 3.4—

1 John 3.4 KWL
Everyone who commits sin also commits an act against the Law.


No, this passage isn’t about perfectionism either. John isn’t claiming Christians don’t sin anymore. He already objected to that idea in chapter 1. What he’s stating, is real Christians try not to sin. We no longer consider a lifestyle of sin to be acceptable. “Not perfect, just forgiven” simply isn’t good enough! We have God’s seed in us, the Holy Spirit within us, leading us away from sin and selfishness, and towards Jesus. If we’re following him, we recognize sin is the opposite direction. We don’t make excuses for it any longer!

And if we do make excuses for it… well we’re not God’s children. Really we’re Satan’s.

Children of the devil.

I translated John a bit literally: Ἀπ̓ ἀρχῆς ὁ διάβολος ἁμαρτάνει/ap arhís o diávolos amartánei, “from [the] start, the devil sins.” John used present tense, not past; not aorist. The devil sins now.

Yeah, this isn’t how this verse has been traditionally interpreted. Most translators tend to put it in past tense:

  • KJV “…for the devil sinneth from the beginning.”
  • CSB, NKJV “…for the devil has sinned from the beginning.”
  • ESV, ISV, NIV, NRSV “…because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”
  • GNT “…because the Devil has sinned from the very beginning.”
  • NLT “…who has been sinning since the beginning.”

This is one of those instances where Christian theology has bent our interpretation of the bible, rather than reading the text itself and beginning from there. John clearly wrote in present tense, but translators keep throwing it into past tense because they keep fixating on the story of the Fall: At the beginning of history, either before Adam was created or shortly after, Satan must’ve revolted against God and got thrown to earth, Rv 12.7-9 because here he is in paradise, in the form of a serpent, tempting Eve. Ge 3.1-5

So when your average translator reads ap arhís/“from [the] start,” their brains immediately leap to that start, and adjust the verb tense accordingly. And incorrectly. They get us to miss an important truth about how temptation works.

Don’t get the wrong idea: When we humans sin, that’s on us. We make the decision to do wrong. Blaming the devil doesn’t cut it. Eve tried it, Ge 3.13 and it didn’t work then either. We have free will; we never have to sin. God always provides his kids a sin-free option.

But when we sin, we usually adopt an excuse. Whatever loophole justifies us, excuses us, blames someone else, makes us feel we’re an exception to the rule, makes us feel like the good guy in the story. “Jesus did away with the Law,” or “I simply didn’t see any other option; I had to choose the lesser evil,” or “I’m not trying to achieve salvation by works,” or “I’m not a legalist,” or whatever. None of these excuses are new; they’ve been around forever. They predate John.

Guess where every last one of ’em originated? Duh; Satan.

Satan doesn’t have to actually be there, at the moment of temptation, nudging us to do evil. (Nor any other devil. Satan’s not omnipresent, remember? If you’re tempted by a devil, it’s not necessarily the devil—who’s probably tempting somebody more important.) But Satan set up all the common human arguments for why we’re not all that bad. Those arguments do its job for it. Once we humans embed the excuses in our heads, we can pretty much sin on autopilot. Satan sins first; we sin thereafter.

The bulk of the devil’s followers aren’t Satanists. They’re dupes, suckers, marks, the easily confused, the heavily prejudiced, the inattentive, the apathetic, the shallow thinkers, the gullible, the irrationally angry. They’re not using a lot of brainpower. They don’t need to. And they think their knee-jerk reactions, their gut instincts, are the right responses. Some of ’em even claim God put these reactions in ’em.

The devil ropes these suckers into believing there’s some sort of Christian foundation for the evil they do in Jesus’s name. Next, the sucker sins. Both bear responsibility for the sin. But here, John forewarns the Christian: Don’t let anyone deceive you. Proper Christians follow Jesus and his Law. False Christians, the devil’s unwitting followers, don’t.

Loving one another, as opposed to murdering one another.

When people read the Cain and Abel story, where the first murder took place between the first brothers, Ge 4.1-16 they constantly skip over the fact Cain heard God. And talked with him. And heard God’s answers. Cain heard God better than many Christians nowadays hear God. And no, this isn’t because these were prehistoric bible times, when just anybody could hear God: This is because Cain and God were much closer than, sad to say, many Christians and our God. Yeah, Cain murdered his brother. That was evil. Even so. Moses and David were murderers; Paul got people killed. Nobody’s irredeemable. Not even Cain.

John pointed to the story of the first murder, ’cause the writers of the scriptures regularly liked to point out hate leads to murder. Mk 7.21, Ro 1.29, Jm 2.11, 4.2 In our day murder is illegal, and prosecuted by the state… unless cops do it, but that’s a tangent let’s not go down today. In John’s day murder was also illegal, but there were no prosecutors: If you wanted a murderer dealt with, the victim’s family had to have influence with the government. Otherwise they’d get away with it—and a lot of murderers did. Some of those murderers were even right there in the church.

Murder’s a heinous crime, and for that reason murderers go out of their way to justify themselves. Nowadays it’s self-defense, or the victim “got what’s coming to them,” or otherwise karmically deserved it. The murderer was simply restoring balance to the universe. Life for a life, Dt 19.21 or something they consider just as valuable as life… like their honor, or their personal code of ethics, which assigns the death penalty to all sorts of offenses.

Because of how often murder took place in the first century, the bible’s various statements against murder aren’t just hypothetical worst-case scenarios. They aren’t just subtle reminders of how hate and murder are connected. Mt 5.21-22 The two are connected. People back then murdered their enemies. In some countries people still murder their enemies. Warlords and dictators do. Even criminals in our country do. And think they’re right to… and need to be reminded they’re not. Especially when they consider themselves Christian, as (believe it or not) some ganglords do.

Sheltered American Christians tend to reinterpret the anti-murder sentiments in the bible, to reflect their world where murder seldom happens. Hence “don’t murder them in your heart”—don’t hate anyone so much, it’s like they’re dead to you. Yeah, that’s one way to look at it too. We shouldn’t hate anyone that much. But John wrote to a culture where murder isn’t a metaphor, murder isn’t hypothetical. People murdered Christians for being Christian. And in a heat of passion, anybody might murder someone else, exactly like Cain had. We all have it in us to do something just as extreme, just as regrettable. Don’t delude yourself.

’Cause it’s the self-deluded who usually wind up becoming—to their great surprise and horror—murderers. If you know you have a temper, no matter how successful you’ve been thus far at keeping it under control, take steps to make sure it never escapes you. Those who tell themselves, “No; I never would; people are naturally good” never take such steps… and sometimes become the folks who “snap,” of whom everybody later says, “I never knew she had it in her.”

We should love one another, and reject hate in all its forms. Hate’s typically the product of sin. Cain’s works were evil because he refused to recognize the danger in him, even though God warned him his sin “has stretched out for you.” Ge 4.7 He was in denial, and the consequences of his denial were terrible. It could happen to us too. Sin stretches out for all of us.

If you think it’s okay to dismiss the Law, you clearly don’t know Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 June

1 John 3.4-6.

Here we get to the parts of 1 John which bug Christians.

1 John 3.4-6 KWL
4 Everyone who commits sin also violates the Law. Sin’s against the Law.
5 You knew Jesus was revealed so he could take away our sins, and there’s no sin in him.
6 Everyone who remains in Jesus doesn’t sin:
Everyone who sins has neither seen him, nor knows him.

“Violates the Law” is my translation of τὴν ἀνομίαν ποιεῖ/tin anomían piheí, literally “does the anti-Law.” (KJV has “transgresseth… the law”; NIV “breaks the law.”) I capitalize Law because John wasn’t writing about Roman law; plenty of Roman laws encouraged if not committed sin. John meant the Law of Moses, the Hebrew Law, the תּוֹרָה/Toráh. The stuff God commanded the Hebrews at Sinai and thereafter. It’s the formal part of the relationship between the LORD and Israel, the backbone of Hebrew culture, the foundation of the Old Testament, the basis of the commands and interpretations Jesus himself presented to his students, and the backdrop of the Christian religion we practice to facilitate our own relationship with the LORD through Jesus.

The Law warned the Hebrews if they didn’t stick to it, the LORD would remove his hand and their enemies would have at ’em. And history has recorded they really didn’t stick to it. Time and again the LORD had to let Israel’s enemies crap all over them; then when they finally returned to him, he rescued them. The whole point of the Pharisee denomination was to break this cycle once and for all: Create schools which taught the Law to every Hebrew in every generation, make ’em experts in it, and they’d never break it again.

Problem is, some Pharisees missed the point, and thought following the Law saved them. After all, it broke the cycle and kept their enemies back! But that’s not how salvation works. The LORD already saved his people; that’s what the Exodus is about. And now that you’re a saved people, how ought you live? Good question; the Law is the LORD’s answer. Live like this.

But I should point out, same as other comparative religion scholars have pointed out, most Pharisees knew better. Paul was a Pharisee, Pp 3.5, Ac 23.6 and properly articulated the Pharisee view: Nobody’s saved by the Law. That’s not its purpose. That makes people think we’re saved by good deeds and good karma—and unsaved by bad deeds and bad karma. The Law doesn’t save; God does. His grace does. And grace forgives when we slip up and break the Law from time to time. Don’t break the Law; but when we do, we have Jesus. 1Jn 2.1 Our relationship with the LORD is more than merely the Law. It’s not contractual obligations: “I did such-and-so, and now you owe me salvation.” No he doesn’t. But he wants to save us.

So what was Jesus’s beef with Pharisees? Cherry-picking which commands they wanted to enforce, and which ones they’d create loopholes to slip through. Inconsistency. Hypocrisy. You know, all the stuff we Christians commit too.

And contrary to what the scriptures teach, many a Christian claims a giant loophole in the Law: They claim Jesus did away with it. The New Covenant wholly cancels out the old one. Because we’re saved by grace not Law, it’s okay to ignore the Law; even willfully break it.

So when John writes stuff like “Sin’s against the Law,” such Christians’ visceral reaction is to ignore John. Or explain him away, till he means nothing—same as they figure the Law means. They don’t wanna follow the Law. They don’t wanna quit sinning. Much easier to claim nothing’s a sin, or claim God’s reduced all the commands to the ten… plus abortion, homosexuality, and anything else which bugs them personally. Funny how their idea of God only hates the things they do.

Christians against the Law.

It’s not accurate to say Christians reject the Law because it doesn’t save. Christians reject the Law because we’re sinners. We don’t wanna follow the Law. We wanna sin. We want to take advantage of God’s grace regardless of our laziness and selfishness.

Well, one of the Law’s purposes is to make our laziness and hedonism super obvious—so we’d realize we massively need God, and turn to him for salvation. But one of its other purposes is this is how we oughta live. It still needs to be followed. We may not do it perfectly or well. But we’re expected to at least make the effort. It’s God’s minimum expectations for humanity.

And despite what people claim about the Law being impossible to follow: Once you subtract the commands which don’t (and can’t really) apply to Christians—

  • Ritual sacrifice, wholly superseded by Jesus’s self-sacrifice.
  • Temple practices, wholly superseded by Christians becoming the Holy Spirit’s temple.
  • Ritual cleanliness, likewise wholly superseded by Christians becoming the Holy Spirit’s temple.
  • Laws specific to the descendants of Israel (which Jewish Christians should probably still follow).
  • Laws specific to the land of Israel (which residents should still follow).

—the Law’s not as hard as most people make it out to be. Read it sometime. Its difficulty has been exaggerated so people could point at that, and claim it’s impossible. Christians keep quoting Simon Peter,

Acts 15.10 KJV
Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

and claim he rejected the Law. No; he rejected legalism. He rejected the idea certain Pharisees put to the Jerusalem Council—that gentiles gotta follow the Law before they could be saved. Nope; wrong; we’re not saved by Law. But now that we are saved, what’re we gonna do? Good works. Ep 2.10 Which good works? Well, there’s the Law.

John was at that council. He knows what James ruled; Ac 15.19-21 he agreed with it. He still wrote this letter years after that council. It’s not inconsistent with James’s ruling: You don’t have to be sinless to have a relationship with God, but you should strive to stop sinning. You shouldn’t be lawless!

And yet lawless Christians have accused 1 John and its author of gnosticism, or ignored this passage altogether. Others, who recognize they can’t ignore bible, try to twist its meaning away: “It’s about how impossibly high God’s standards are. If we don’t have grace, we’d have to follow the Law, perfectly. And we can’t. Therefore grace.” No; John already said there’s grace. But at the same time, in the same verse, 1Jn 2.1 he told his readers to stop sinning. And here he defines sin: “Sin’s against the Law.”

This is why I’ve known Christians to be simply horrified when I read 1 John 3 to them. They wait for me to offer an explanation which means 1 John 3 doesn’t count. They wanna hear we don’t really have to strive for sinlessness; that “Christians aren’t perfect just forgiven.” That we don’t really need to obey the Law. But God’s grace isn’t a loophole: He honestly does want us to obey him. Those who don’t, may make it into his kingdom anyway… but they’ll be the very lowest of the people in it. Mt 5.19

One common excuse of lawless Christians is this one: “All have sinned. Ro 3.23 So there’s no point in trying to not sin; we’ve already sinned. It’s too late. Our sins have condemned us.” True, if you were hoping to achieve salvation through sinlessness, it’s much too late. But John’s not writing about that. This is about those who abide in Jesus. If we’re actively following Jesus, truly following Jesus, we’re not gonna sin. Right now we’re not gonna sin. Like I tell my students all the time, “Are you sinning right this minute?… No? Good. Keep it up.”

So if we’re in Christ, continually in Christ, we’re gonna fight our tendency to sin, and not sin. No it’s not easy. That’s why we gotta remain in Christ: When we stay in the light it’s easier to stay away from sin.

So this becomes our litmus test. When we sin, clearly we’re not living in the light right now. And when we claim to have a relationship with God, but break the Law—no matter what excuses we use for doing so—it makes no bloody difference. We’re lying to ourselves and others. We’re not following God. And Christians who have an entire lifestyle of Law-breaking and loopholes and excuses, arguably aren’t even Christian.

So let’s cut the crap and follow Jesus. Repent! Repent daily, or hourly, or a minute at a time; but repent, stay in the light, and resist temptation instead of embracing it with lazy excuses.

Making us Christians like God.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 June

1 John 3.2-3.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul, Silas, and Timothy wrote that we’re gonna get raptured at Jesus’s second coming: Dead Christians will be resurrected, living Christians will be transformed into our resurrected selves, and all of us will meet Jesus in the air. 1Th 4.15-18

These sinful sacks of meat we currently carry around: They get swapped for something eternal, to match the eternal life God always meant for us to have. They no longer have the same self-preservation instincts we currently do, ’cause they last forever… and therefore these instincts won’t go overboard and become self-centered and depraved. Our first impulse won’t be to do the selfish, sinful thing; it’ll be to do as Jesus does. Christians call this “the new nature.” Human nature is considered selfish and fallible, but this’ll become the new human nature: Selfless and Spirit-led.

Plus we can finally see Jesus as he really is. Without freaking out, Mk 9.2-8 passing out, Rv 1.17 or going blind. Ac 9.4-9

This is what John refers to in today’s 1 John snippet:

1 John 3.2-3 KWL
2 Beloved, we’re now God’s children—and God’s not yet revealed what we will be.
We’ve known once he reveals it, we will be like God: We will see him as he is.
3 Everyone who has this hope in God, he cleans them like he is clean.

Now the bit about becoming like God: This tends to weird out certain Christians. Partly ’cause a number of us misinterpret it and think we’re gonna become gods. Lowercase-G gods; we certainly won’t be the God, like Jesus is. But uppercase or lowercase, the idea of us having any form of divinity strikes em as disturbing.

Lesser gods.

Humans define God in two ways:

  1. As the Almighty, the mightiest being in the cosmos.
  2. As the Creator, the first cause, the origin of the cosmos.

If you’re those two things, you’re God. If you’re not, you’re not. The pagan gods, which claimed to rule the universe but never created it, aren’t really gods; either they’re mythical people which never really existed, or powerful spirits which appropriated the titles (and myths), and got worshiped as gods, but were frauds.

But that’s actually a western idea of God, developed under centuries of Christian philosophy. Other cultures define a god as a mighty and long-lived spirit, with a certain amount of power over nature. All the pagan cultures surrounding the ancient Hebrews defined gods that way. And arguably the bible describes lowercase-G gods that way; that the One God, YHWH, the LORD, created lesser gods subordinate to him, and put ’em in charge of certain things—in precisely the same way he put us humans in charge of the earth. Ge 1.28

And if we’re in charge of the earth, doesn’t that kinda make us humans lowercase-G gods? I would argue that’s exactly what Jesus meant when he said so.

John 10.34-36 KWL
34 Jesus answered them, “Isn’t this written in your Law, ‘I say you’re gods’?
35 If God’s word came to the one who said those people are gods
(and the scripture can’t be dismissed),
36 now for the one the Father sanctified and sent to the world:
Do you say, ‘You slander God!’ because I say I’m God’s son?”

Then again, the psalmist says God made us humans lower than the אֱלֹהִ֑ים/elohím, “gods” Ps 8.5 (KJV “angels,” ESV “heavenly beings”); we’re not at the level of gods yet. We might have glory and honor, Ps 8.5 but we’re not quite that mighty.

But yep, there are such beings as lowercase-G lesser gods. These’d be the “sons of God” Ge 6.2, Jb 1.6 which are mighty beings which work for God… or not, in which case he has to judge them. Ps 82 In the Lucifer myth, Satan is one of those beings, gone horribly wrong; since Satan’s a dirty liar, I suspect it’s padding its résumé a lot. Regardless, God has plenty of mighty spirits working for him, and whether we call ’em gods or not, we don’t prioritize ’em over the LORD. Ex 20.3 We only worship the One God. He was really explicit about that.

The idea of other gods or multiple gods, tends to weird out western Christians: If there are multiple gods, doesn’t this diminish the One God? Absolutely not. There might be other mighty beings, but none of ’em are all-mighty. It’s the difference between a Matchbox car and a monster truck: Yeah, we call ’em both cars, but they’re way different from one another. The LORD isn’t really the same species.

So if God’s goal is to make us Christians into lowercase-G gods, no it doesn’t make us equal to him. Not in power, not in rank. Jesus is still the uppercase-G God; he’s still king.

Ancient Christians recognized this. They were familiar with pagan ideas about the gods, and whenever they talked about “how God became human so that humans could become gods,” that’s the idea they had in mind. Not that we were evolving into cosmic beings, not that we were gonna eventually become the divinity over a new planet, like Mormons believe. We were gonna become mighty, like Apollo or Athena; not almighty.

And, unlike Apollo or Athena, good. ’Cause pagan gods were awful. They sinned as much as humans!—and got away with it most of the time. Whereas we Christians are gonna be like Jesus: We’re not gonna sin any longer. We’ll have a good nature, a godly nature, instead of a corrupt one. We’ll be led by the Spirit, ruled by Jesus. We’ll continue to rule the world—but Jesus will rule us, and that’s as it should be.

Western culture has conditioned a lot of us Christians to be extremely uncomfortable with this talk about becoming lowercase-G gods. Feels like blasphemy, doesn’t it? Relax; it’s not. God’ll make us ready for it. We’re so not ready yet. But he’ll get us there.

God’s goal is to make us like Jesus. Not in rank, ’cause he’ll still be our king, but in species. We’ll have a perfect human body like his. As to what “perfect human body” means, we first need to get out of our heads this idea of bodybuilders or fitness instructors; or even perfect skin, ’cause Jesus has scars. Jn 20.27 Perfection comes from having a body that’s not instinctively sinful. Corruption won’t be built-in. There might still be a bit of corruption in our minds, and this may need to be purged from us a bit more; I won’t get into that right now. I’ll just say there will no longer be any physical limitations keeping us from doing God’s will. We’ll physically be like Jesus.

We’ll be clean, as John said. God’ll cleanse us. Cleaner than ritual cleansing does. God’s children will no longer sin, and we’ll be perfect like he is. Able to see him, and be with him face-to-face, just as he’s always dreamed of.

Society doesn’t know what to make of Christ-followers.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 June

1 John 3.1.

John didn’t write any of his books and letters with chapters and verses. Medieval Christians did it: They gave every line in the bible an address, so we could more easily find it. It’s great for that. But every so often, it splits a sentence, paragraph, or train of thought, right where it ought not. As a result Christians tend to lose the train of thought, if not miss it altogether.

  • Don’t love society, which is passing away. 1Jn 2.15-17
  • Don’t be misled by antichrists; you know better. 1Jn 2.18-23
  • Hold on to what you learned in the beginning. 1Jn 2.24-29
  • After all, society doesn’t understand us, or God, anyway. 1Jn 3.1
  • Meanwhile clean yourselves up. Jesus is coming! 1Jn 3.2-3
  • And stop sinning, wouldya? 1Jn 3.4-6

And so on. But today’s bit is gonna zero in on that bit about society not understanding us Christians.

The word I translate “society” is κόσμος/kósmos, and I already explained why I’m interpreting it that way: The KJV renders it “world,” but that’s imprecise. It means the social order—which ideally would be harmonious, but you know how society gets.

1 John 3.1 KWL
Look at the kind of love the Father gives us: We can be called God’s children! And we are!
This is why society doesn’t understand us: It doesn’t understand God.

The Textus Receptus left out καί ἐσμεν/ké ésmen, “and we are.” (Somehow John Wycliffe, who translated the Textus, learned these words oughta be included, and rendered them, “and be [his] sons.” 1Jn 3.1 WYC But the Geneva Bible dropped ’em, as did the King James.) John included it ’cause it makes clear we’re not merely called God’s kids, as if it’s an honorary title: He adopted us. We’re legitimately his kids, and he’s legitimately our Father.

Yeah. We are. Us scumbags. Well, many Christians are in utter denial about being scumbags, but the cold hard truth is we totally don’t merit adoption by God; we merit hell. But God loves us so much, he graciously offers us a route out of hell, a place in his family, a room in his kingdom, his presence (he himself!) to live within us and empower us to do mighty things in his name. It’s a hugely disproportionate response to humanity. It’s a massive act of love.

And society doesn’t get it at all. Because society doesn’t do grace. It does karma. If we get anything approaching this level of grace from our fellow human beings and our governments, society insists there be some level of merit and reciprocity as part of the package. We should only give vast fortunes to deserving people. And if they don’t deserve it right this moment, they’d better bloody well earn it, by spending the rest of their lives making themselves worthy.

The only exception society recognizes, is inheritance: If a billionaire begets a kid, the kid inherits the billions. Doesn’t matter how utterly useless and stupid this kid might grow up to be, or how dangerous it might be to put such a mighty estate into the hands of an imbecile. He might hire immoral managers for his companies, and create poisonous products instead of healthy ones. Or he might implode the companies, destroy jobs, and ruin lives. Even so, inheritance is largely accepted by society; if a rich mother wishes to indulge her prodigal daughter, people shrug and say, “Well it’s her money.” But if that same woman wishes to adopt some ill-behaved stranger, make her a daughter, and enrich her? Society will figure she’s lost her mind.

Well, our heavenly Father is lost-his-mind gracious to us. And likewise, society doesn’t get it. They think any religion with sense should make us earn our spots in the kingdom, not just get ’em free. (And the gnostic groups of John’s day didn’t just make their followers earn heaven: They had to pay out the yin-yang for it too.) Free, unlimited grace?—you gotta be nuts. Buncha liberals.

Having God in the family.

Y’may not be aware of this: In the first century, when John wrote his letter, Greco-Roman pagans believed certain individuals were literally the children or grandchildren of the gods. ’Cause you remember their myths: Zeus was super horny and didn’t care that humans were a whole different species. Heck, he’d disguise himself as bulls or geese, and get freaky with humans that way.

Zeus wasn’t the only randy god. His daughter Aphrodite had sex with a Trojan prince named Ankhísis, and five years later brought him their son Aeneas. Julius Caesar claimed his family was descended from Aeneas, so this made him part god—and after he died, Julius’s adoptive son Augustus additionally had the Roman senate officially declare Julius a god himself. Which meant Augustus could include Divi filius/“son of god” in his official name. Many in the Roman Empire could claim to be related to gods… and be believed, by most people.

Today we’d consider such claims to be ridiculous. But not all of us. Some Hindu sects believe people can achieve godhood; you can have gods in the family. And of course pantheists believe everything in the universe is collectively God, so they’d say everyone has gods in the family.

Thing is, if ancient Greco-Roman pagans wanted people to believe they had gods in the family, they needed proof. So what they pointed to was their achievements. The Caesars were rich and powerful; isn’t that a sign of divine favor from their great-great-granddaddy Zeus? Isn’t it a sign the goddess Fortuna is smiling on them? And yeah, people assume Fortuna is the god of luck—namely dumb luck—but that’s not what the Romans believed. Fortuna only blessed people of good and noble character. If you had good luck, it was only because you merited it.

Yep, it all comes down to good karma. You were prosperous because you were worthy. Social Darwinism teaches much the same thing: Work smarter and harder, and the universe will reward you with wealth.

It’s not how the LORD works at all.

Christians aren’t identified as God’s kids because of our personal success. In fact ancient Christians had the worst of circumstances: Persecution, poverty, misery, disaster, death. Our Lord Jesus got crucified, remember? To pagans, this stuff didn’t identify God’s children at all. It identified someone who must’ve royally pissed off the gods. Someone worthy of being an outcast, not inheriting a kingdom.

God identifies his kids through our faith. If we trust him to save us, God considers us in right standing with him, and graciously does save us. It’s not by…

  • Our noble character: Our character might suck at the time we first turn to God. Stands to reason; we haven’t grown the Spirit’s fruit yet. But he’ll fix that.
  • Our wealth and success: The good news is primarily for the needy and poor, ’cause the wealthy and comfortable really don’t consider it any better than where they are.
  • Dumb luck, chance, or God’s mysterious whims. Determinists believe we’re not saved by grace; we’re saved by decree. God made some of us for saving, and the rest of us for destroying. We don’t deserve saving, which is why determinists claim it is so salvation by grace. But they themselves insist God’s sovereign determination comes before everything else. That’d include grace, right? His will alone would be his motive for saving us. Not his grace.
  • Our potential: God doesn’t save people because he foresees all the great stuff he can do through us. Some of us won’t achieve anything, ’cause we get saved on our deathbed. (Or our cross.) God isn’t a capitalist, who sees us as potential investments; he already owns everything, needs nothing, and saves us solely out of love.

All the things which’d make us merit salvation in society’s eyes? God ignores ’em and does his own thing.

Karmic Christians.

Not only does pagan society not understand this way of thinking, way too many Christians don’t appear to understand it either. ’Cause they don’t understand God. Whether that’s because they’re only going through the motions to fit in, or because the culture’s insistence on karma has overridden anything the Spirit’s trying to teach us, is debatable. (I’d like to optimistically think it’s the second thing. I might be wrong though.)

Hence many Americans think God’s kids are likewise identified by success, social standing, wealth, health, and other material blessings. It isn’t an idea which comes from Jesus, who shocked his students when he said it’s hard for the wealthy to enter his kingdom. Mt 19.23-26 But worship of wealth doesn’t just make it easy for some to ignore such scriptures; we’ve even invented a “prosperity gospel” which full-on swaps Jesus for Mammon. Follow Jesus and he’ll shower you with wealth. And the kingdom; but for now, wealth’ll have to do.

We need to watch out for such warped teachings. If God’s love isn’t at the center of everything we do, we’re not walking in light. We’re following a fake god, whether we call it Mammon or Fortuna or whatever. The rich use it to justify hoarding their resources instead of being as generous as God. The powerful use it much the same way. For the needy aren’t deserving; don’t have the proper karma. “If they only trusted God more,” or otherwise proved themselves worthy in some way, maybe their gods would enrich the needy too… though y’notice it’ll never be at their expense.

Such people’s churches don’t preach the good news, but libertarianism and social Darwinism. The needy get cursed for being a drain on society. The love of God is nowhere to be found among them. How sad for them: They’re not God’s kids, and despite their apparent riches they’re full of trouble, worthy of pity, fearful, blind, and naked. Rv 3.17

God’s love overcomes such things, and such delusions. If we’re walking in it, we’ll see the reality. If not, we’ll wonder why, despite our wealth, we lack peace. We’ll wonder about that nagging, in the back of our spirits, which warns us we’re not really God’s children. We’ll wonder if there’s something to it… but we’ll probably just try to drown it out by buying some Christian music and the latest devotional book. But I hope not.

Needing not that any man teach you.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 June

1 John 2.26-29.

Ever heard of a “life verse”? It’s an idea y’find in some Evangelical circles; it means there’s a bible verse which isn’t just a Christian’s favorite verse, but one they kinda consider their personal mission statement. They base their life on it.

Heck, a number of these “life verses” are all found in the very same chapter of 1 Thessalonians:

  • “Always rejoice” 1Th 5.16 for people who are big on joy.
  • “Pray without ceasing” 1Th 5.17 for people who are big on prayer.
  • “Give thanks for everything” 1Th 5.18 for those who definitely do.
  • “Don’t quench the Spirit” 1Th 5.19 for those who love to listen to the Spirit.
  • “Don’t dismiss prophecy” 1Th 5.20 for prophecy (or prophecy scholar) fans.
  • “Test everything” 1Th 5.21 for big skeptics.
  • “Abstain from every form of evil” 1Th 5.22 for big legalists.

Anyway. I once worked with this woman whom I’m gonna call Eustacia. Her “life verse” was clearly this one:

1 John 2.27 KJV
But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

Not just ’cause Eustacia quoted the “ye need not that any man teach you” part all the time. Really, nobody could teach her anything. She wouldn’t let ’em. She had “the anointing,” the Holy Spirit abiding in her, teaching her. So we weren’t allowed to.

Eustacia isn’t alone in this interpretation. 1 John 2.27 is the favorite proof text of the go-it-alone Christian. They’re all over Christendom; they’re the folks who won’t go to church lest the pastor and elders try to teach ’em. And since I teach, I run into this type all the time. Paradoxically enough, they even attend my classes. But the instant I tell ’em something they don’t wanna hear, or never heard before and really don’t like, up comes this verse like it’s their shield.

Eustacia did go to church; not mine. She picked one of those fiercely independent anti-denominational types, ’cause if she didn’t answer to anyone, why should her church? But if her pastor dared cross her, expect her to immediately find another church and take her family with her. She didn’t really need a pastor anyway. She had Jesus.

Didn’t read bible commentaries; don’t need bible scholars when it’s just you ’n Jesus. Didn’t read books by other Christians; can’t trust men, and all she needed was a good King James bible. Whenever she read it, and came to conclusions about it: Didn’t need anyone’s contributions, insights, and especially corrections. She had license to interpret her bible any old way she liked. If someone asked Eustacia, “How’d you come up with that?” she’d tell ’em. If someone objected, “But the context says otherwise,” she’d point to 1 John 2.27 and proudly proclaim her independence—from any tradition, any preachers, any scholars, any denomination, any fellow Christians.

And while we’re at it: Independence from logic, reason, context, and the Spirit’s fruit.

When iron can’t sharpen iron.

Nearly every time I hear someone quote 1 John 2.27, it’s to declare their absolute authority to make the bible say whatever they want, and declare we’re not allowed to correct ’em; we have zero authority. “I don’t need a teacher. Certainly not you. I’m anointed by the same Holy Spirit as the holy apostles. The same anointing teaches me all things. That’s why I’m right… and you’re wrong.

Back to Eustacia. I knew better than to try to teach her anything. I saw others try, and watched her blast her “life verse” at ’em like buckshot. She wouldn’t be corrected; she knew best. I always kinda wondered what was gonna happen when one of her kids realized their mom’s “life verse” might be useful as their life verse, spun the bible in a way she objected to, and quoted her favorite verse right back at her. Never did find out. Had to happen eventually. Bet it was epic.

This is the core problem with this “I don’t need any teacher” jazz: Works both ways. Ironically, some go-it-alone Christians never notice this, and try to become everybody else’s teacher. But like I said, misinterpreting 1 John 2.27 means you can sling their false interpretation right back at ’em: You won’t listen to me? Fine, I needn’t listen to you either. You have your wacky theories about what the bible means, and I have mine. One of us is right and the other wrong, and each of us think it’s the other. You can go to your church and I can go to mine, and both of us can think the other’s church is heretic. Twas ever thus.

Remember how we Christians are supposed to build one another up? 1Th 5.11 (Why’s that never anyone’s favorite “life verse”?) Remember we’re to encourage one another to do good, discourage one another from going astray, and love one another like Jesus loves us? Jn 13.34 Kinda impossible to do when we’re not permitted to teach one another.

If it’s just me ’n Jesus, and nobody’s permitted to instruct me but the Holy Spirit, it sorta makes all the scriptures’ instructions to teach one another impossible. And yeah I got a list:

  • Teach your kids the Law. Dt 11.19
  • Teaching the Law makes one great in God’s kingdom. Mt 5.19
  • Teach new believers to do everything Jesus commands. Mt 28.20
  • God’s appointed teachers in his church. 1Co 12.28, Ep 4.11
  • Share good things with your teacher. Ga 6.6
  • Teach in wisdom. Cl 3.16
  • Church supervisors must teach. 1Ti 3.2, Tt 1.9
  • Church elders ought to teach. 1Ti 5.17, 2Ti 2.24
  • Scripture is useful for teaching. 2Ti 3.16
  • Teach good behavior to the people of your church. Tt 2.3
  • There are false teachers, sure. 1Jn 2.1 This verse also implies there are valid teachers.

But if nobody can teach us but the Holy Spirit, there are no teachers.

Thankfully, God hasn’t designed his church, and his Christians, to be this level of stupid. We’re to submit to one another, Ep 5.21 which means I need to listen to what the Spirit told you, and you oughta listen to what the Spirit told me. This is how iron can sharpen iron. Pr 27.17 Which isn’t gonna happen when one iron tells the other, “You don’t sharpen me. Only the Spirit gets to sharpen me. You stand back.”

What are we to do with such people? Just as Jesus taught.

Matthew 15.13-14 KWL
13 Answering, Jesus said, “Every plant my heavenly Father never planted will be uprooted.
14 Leave them be; they’re blind guides for blind people.
When a blind person guides a blind person, both will fall in a hole.”

Don’t fret about go-it-alone Christians. They’ve chosen to learn the hard way—through harsh, unforgiving experience instead of godly wisdom. Through trial and lots of error, instead of learning from others’ mistakes. So let ’em fall into a few holes till they learn to finally ask for help.

But whatever you do, don’t put such people in leadership. Eustacia was a schoolteacher, and that’s one of the worst places to put an unteachable person. Thankfully she didn’t stay in that job long.

The context.

Now if you’re actually willing to be taught, here’s what John actually meant by this scritpure.

John’s church was beset by gnostics, religions which claimed they know all the answers to all the universe’s secrets. Yep, gnostics and gnostic religions totally still exist: Y’know how people come up with theories about how God works, turn those theories into Pinterest memes, and spread ’em all over the internet? Very same thing. Especially how they try to make a profit off their “spiritual wellness” by starting a lifestyle blog, selling tchotchkes, writing books, hosting seminars, and so forth. They wanna sell you their “secrets”—because who doesn’t wanna hear a secret?

Problem was, some of these “secrets” were leaking into Christianity and fuddling the Christians. So 1 John was written to reject these false ideas, and remind the Christians they did know God. They did have valid information. The gnostics didn’t have any dark secrets which God had withheld from Christianity—God doesn’t even do darkness.

1 John 2.26-29 KWL
26 I write you these things about those who mislead you.
27 As for you, the anointing you received remains on you.
You have no need for a certain new instructor who might teach you about everything;
instead it’s like the anointing itself teaches you about everything.
It’s true, isn’t false, and just as it teaches you, remain in it.
28 Now children, remain in the anointing so when it’s made known,
you can have enthusiasm and not be ashamed of it, at its coming.
29 When you recognize it’s righteous, you also know
everything it does is begotten by God and is also righteous.

John wasn’t rejecting teachers. At all. He was a teacher, remember? This letter is all about teaching his church. Teaching them they aren’t wrong about Jesus, they do know him, they do have the Holy Spirit within them, and they don’t need to listen to some antichrist teaching ’em otherwise.

True, the go-it-alone crowd will claim John really wasn’t saying this. They point to his bits about not writing new commands, 1Jn 2.7 or how fathers already know God, 1Jn 2.13 or how everybody has knowledge. 1Jn 2.20 They cherry-pick the heck out of 1 John 2 to defend their independent lifestyle. Doesn’t come from a pursuit of real knowledge; doesn’t come from a desire to know God better. It’s all about escaping accountability. They don’t wanna answer to anyone. They don’t wanna love one another.

Yes we already do have the Holy Spirit within us, steering us right. He anointed us when we first became Christian; no he didn’t literally pour ointment on us, but he did what anointing represents in the bible, i.e. gave us a mission. We’re to follow Jesus, and share him with the world. And not get sidetracked by weird gnostic bulls---… as far too many Christians will.

There are various Christians who confound the anointing with the Spirit. After all he teaches and reminds us of everything Jesus teaches. Jn 14.26 So when John wrote “the anointing itself teaches you about everything,” people leap to the conclusion the anointing is the Spirit and the Spirit is the anointing… and that’s not correct. If you’re in the military and your sergeant sends you an email with your mission spelled out in it, the email and your sergeant are two different things. Your sergeant might even misunderstand the mission and unintentionally mislead you—which is why you gotta keep referring back to the mission. The Spirit won’t ever make mistakes like that, but the same idea applies: He and his anointing are still two different things. They’re on the same page, same as Jesus and the Father, but we’d never say Jesus is the Father; same principle here.

Jesus’s church doesn’t have a shortage of teachers. (Some Christians claim it does, but that’s only because these particular Christians have trust issues.) Gnostics will claim otherwise: “They can’t teach you; they don’t know everything; we do, so follow us.” Gnostics aren’t the only people who do this; a number of churches and religions likewise try to grab our attention and lead sheep away from the flock.

One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs—assuming we listen to him—is to guide us away from them, and towards truth. Jn 16.13 When we’re wrong, or go wrong, he corrects us. Sometimes personally. Often through fellow Christians, ’cause we aren’t the only people who can hear him. He’s trying to foster community and teamwork, which means sometimes he’s gonna divvy up the knowledge, same as he does his gifts. And we’re to dig through it, dismiss the bias and bad information, get to the truth, and follow it.

Not arrogantly dismiss every teacher but him. That’s the fastest way to go weird. As we regularly see among go-it-alone Christians.

So we need teachers. Even those of us who are teachers, need teachers. We need one another. We need our fellow teachers to fact-check us: Test our statements to make sure they hold up. Keep us honest. Correct us when we’re off course. Ask tougher questions than we’ve thought of ourselves. You know, the whole iron-sharpening-iron idea.

Woe to Christians who think they’re beyond teaching. The time’s coming, and is already here, when they won’t listen to the Holy Spirit either.

We can’t have the Father without the Son.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 June

1 John 2.20-25.

In my article about antichrists, I pointed out not every antichrist is a radical atheist. Plenty of people totally believe in God… yet deny Jesus is Christ, or Lord, or in any way like Christians describe him, or that he’s even real.

Jews fr’instance.

And let me preface this with a warning about antisemitism. ’Cause there’s still a ton of racism out there. Racists want to hassle and exclude anybody they consider different, and they don’t care if there’s no reason for it, or if their “reasons” are stupid or nonsense. They wanna hassle Jews, and any excuse will do for them. They will, and historically have, used “antichrists” as an excuse. It is not an excuse, not a valid reason. The racists are simply being evil.

In John’s definition of antichrist, anybody who actively rejects Christ Jesus is an antichrist. Plain and simple. So if you worship YHWH, Abraham’s God, same as Christians, yet reject Jesus the Nazarene as Christ the Lord, you’d be an antichrist. Cut ’n dried, plain ’n simple. Jews do. Christians don’t… and to many Christians’ surprise, Muslims don’t. (Muslims totally believe Jesus is a prophet, is Messiah, and that he’s coming back. It’s why when he appears to them and tells ’em to follow him, they eagerly do. They just don’t believe he’s God incarnate, among many other problematic things.)

Religious Jews absolutely believe in YHWH. But do they think Jesus is their Messiah? Nope; if they did they’d be Christian. (Or “Messianic Jews,” if they prefer to call themselves that; still Christian.) If we try to tell ’em otherwise, they’ll blow it off as the ramblings of silly gentiles; if they’re zealous or young or somewhere in the “cage stage,” they’ll even fight us over it. And fighting the idea that Jesus is Christ, means they most definitely fall under the definition of antichrist.

Funny thing is, there are a lot of Evangelicals who treat Jews as co-religionists, as slightly wayward brothers. Usually for political reasons; often because they have a distorted idea of the End Times which confuses the present-day state of Israel with the ancient kingdom of Israel. These very same Evangelicals also tend to fear and distrust Muslims. But like I said (even though we’d consider both these religions heretic), religious Jews are antichrists, and religious Muslims aren’t. Just goes to show how politics can do mighty weird things to one’s theology.

The problem with being an antichrist who nonetheless believes in God? Well, God’s a trinity. Jesus is a person of this trinity. If you reject Jesus but claim to follow God, you got a problem.

1 John 2.20-25 KWL
20 You have an anointing from the Holy Spirit and know all these things.
21 I don’t write you because you don’t know the truth already,
but because you know it, and that every lie doesn’t come from truth.
22 What’s the lie, if not the denial, “Jesus isn’t Christ?”
This, who denies the Father and the Son, is an antichrist.
23 Everyone who denies the Son, doesn’t have the Father.
One who confesses the Son, has the Father as well.
24 Have what you heard from the beginning, remain in you.
When what you heard from the beginning remains in you,
you remain in the Father and in the Son.
25 This is the promise God promises us:
Life in the age to come.

Properly, believing Jesus is Lord recognizes there isn’t any other lord. Y’can’t serve two lords, as Jesus pointed out when he talked about God and money. Mt 6.24, Lk 16.13 Prophet Isa ibn Maryam (blessings upon him), as the Muslims call Jesus, can’t be superseded by Prophet Muhammad ibn Abudullah (even more blessings upon him). Jesus can’t be one master of many. Not one guru of a collection we’ve cobbled together. Not an avatar of God, same as the others before him. Not one of seven major prophets. Not a son of God in the same way I’m a son of God, and you’re a child of God. Jesus is unique, and uniquely Lord. He’s to be followed and worshiped the same way God is. It’s because of this uniqueness, Christians came to recognize he is God.

If you imagine you can challenge, reject, or oppose the Son—meaning Jesus—and think you’re still good with God, you’re in for a significant surprise. You can’t oppose the Son without opposing the Father who sent him.

One God. Turns out Jesus is this one God.

If you think of God as your heavenly Father, as many a religion does, I again remind you God’s a trinity. The Father is a person of this trinity, same as the Son. And he is always, indivisibly, on the Son’s side. You can’t divide one being and fight one of the divisions, without fighting the entire being.

Sigh… y’realize every analogy of the trinity is gonna misrepresent God to some degree. But I’m gonna tackle it anyway: If you have a problem with my leg, and would be perfectly happy dealing with me if only I’d get that leg removed, so you take a machete and start hacking it off, you now have a big problem with me. I’m rather fond of that leg. It gets me places.

How much significantly more, then, does the Father not want the Son removed from him—and separately ignored, belittled, hated, rejected. The Son is part of the Father. They’re one, y’know; they’re both the one God.

Second, fighting Jesus opposes the Father’s will. The Son is an instrument of the Father’s will. Who d’you think sent us the Son in the first place? The Son does everything he sees the Father do.

  • The Father wanted humanity saved… and so does the Son, who died for humanity and got us saved.
  • The Father wanted his will for the world revealed. The Son did that.
  • The Father wants us to be his people so he can be our God. The Son’s preparing a place for us where this very thing will be done.
  • The Father wants to give us his kingdom. Guess who’s gonna be its king? Yep, the Son.

Again with an inadequate analogy about body parts: My hands do what I want ’em to. When you cut off my hands because you don’t like what they’re doing, it’s really because you don’t like what I’m doing. Same with the Father and Son: If you object to Jesus, you’re really objecting to the Father. You’re not as tight with the Father as you imagine.

Third, you’re really hobbling your own spiritual growth when you dismiss the Son. No fooling, I’ve heard various Christians claim they wanna study and understand the Father apart from Jesus. They think there are insights to be gained if you divide the persons of the trinity from one another, and analyze them independently.

But it’s like trying to understand me by asking me questions… yet not watching anything I do, listening to anything I say, nor reading anything I write. Instead you’re trying to read between the lines: What am I really “trying to say”? And in the absence of any useful information, you fill in the blanks with yourself: I must think like you do. (Or the opposite of you, if for whatever reason you don’t like me.)

Same with God. We can detect plenty of things about God apart from the revelation of Jesus… but we won’t understand why, how, or even the answer. So we’ll project the rest. Deists claim they can deduce through nature that God exists and he’s good… though I don’t know how they got that through nature, which is chaotic and Darwinian, and in so many ways unlike God. So how’d they conclude God is good? Filled in the blanks with themselves. They want God to be good, so that’s what they started with. Nontheists, in contrast, started with the idea of no God at all… and looked at nature same as the deists, and no surprise, came to all the answers they liked best.

We’re all wrong, and it’s usually because we try to understand the Father without the Son. In the end we know nothing. And we Christians need to make sure we understand this. Jesus is central, vital, to everything we do. He must remain that way. He isn’t just a conduit to the Father: His mind and the Father’s mind are one. Knowing him is knowing the Father. Knowing Jesus is knowing God. Jesus isn’t the means to an end: He is the end. He’s the point. Don’t miss the point.

Antichrists: When pagans wanna see Christianity gone.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 June

1 John 2.18-23.

There are four definitions of antichrist we find in our culture:

  1. Someone who’s anti-Christ: They object to Christ Jesus and his authority, refuse to recognize him, and counter those who do.
  2. Someone who rejects the orthodox Christian view that Jesus the Nazarene is Christ. They insist he’s not, or that he’s not human, not divine, not historical.
  3. Someone who claims they, not Jesus the Nazarene, is Christ.
  4. The Beast, Rv 13.7 or lawless one, 2Ti 2.3 an End Times figure who attempts to deceive and conquer the world. Christ Jesus overthrows him.

Most of the time when people, Christians and pagans alike, refer to an antichrist, they mean the Beast. And it may surprise you to learn the Beast is never called an antichrist in the scriptures. Seriously. Oh, it’s definitely anti-Christ, so medieval Christians got into the habit of calling it Antichrist, and it stuck. But in the bible it’s just the θηρίον/thiríon, “wild animal,” KJV “beast.”

The apostles reserved the word ἀντίχριστος/antíhristos, “antichrist,” for what I’m writing about today, and what John discussed in today’s passage: Pagans who oppose Jesus the Nazarene. People who are literally anti Christ.

You know the type. They’re not just unbelievers, like the two-thirds of the people on this planet who don’t acknowledge, or very casually acknowledge but don’t mean it, that Jesus is Lord. Unbelief doesn’t make you an antichrist. To become an antichrist you gotta actively be against Christ. Antichrists aren’t passive nonbelievers: They wanna fight Jesus.

Sometimes they do believe Jesus exists, that he’s really in heaven, that he’s really God; and they’re pissed at him, so they’re having a tantrum. A lot of Christian apologists assume all antichrists are like this: “If you don’t believe he’s real, why’re you so angry with him? Means you actually do believe he’s real.” No it doesn’t. It’s exactly like when anti-Muslims get angry at Allah and attack him: They don’t believe he’s real either. (They definitely don’t believe he’s God.) They might be angry at other things, and are misplacing or redirecting their anger, but no it doesn’t necessarily have belief and disappointment at its core. But yes, sometimes it does. If Jesus were standing right in front of these particular antichrists, they’d wanna knock him out.

In recent decades Christians—with a certain level of worry—have pointed to what they fear is an upsurge of “New Atheism”: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher, Michael Newdow, and various vocal antichrists. They’re nontheists who bash religion in general, but they really go after Christianity with hammer and tongs. These Christians fear the militant nontheists may convince more people to reject and fight Christianity, and maybe even try to get it banned in our homelands. First in the public square, then in private.

I have a longer memory than these fearful people. There have always been militant nontheists. Back during the Cold War, when the God-fearing United States was battling the godless Communists, nontheists were looked on with suspicion. They were considered radicals, possibly treasonous, ’cause they were undermining good ol’ fashioned American values and society. The more outspoken an nontheist got, the more backlash they got. But they were definitely around. Noam Chomsky, H.L. Mencken, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Linus Pauling, Ayn Rand, Gene Roddenberry, Gore Vidal, and others were very outspoken against religion and Christianity. Ask any nontheist nowadays about their forebears, and they’ll kindly point ’em out to you.

Now that the Red Menace is no longer so menacing (especially with all the Christians in Russia, China, and Cuba, and hopefully underground in North Korea), militant nontheism has gone mainstream in the west. These “New Atheists” feel free to be openly critical of Christianity. They get away with it ’cause nobody doubts their patriotism anymore (even though it’s rare a nontheist will get elected to public office). Plus God hasn’t struck these guys down with lightning. True, that’s mixing up Jehovah and Zeus… as if nontheists care, ’cause all gods are the same to them.

Nontheists are the most obvious antichrists, but they’re far from the only ones. Don’t forget other religions. Judaism doesn’t recognize Jesus as Messiah either, and sometimes its practitioners attack Jesus lest anyone get the idea Jews can become Christian (you know, like the first apostles). Certain Hindus are outraged at the way Christianity levels their caste system, so they fight it vigorously. Certain Muslims get offended when anyone (including a growing number of Muslims!) ranks Prophet Jesus higher than Prophet Muhammad, and likewise fight Christian beliefs, and even get downright antichristian. But there remains a big difference between religious and irreligious antichrists: Religious ones often remember to behave with some degree of goodness. Irreligious ones don’t feel any such restriction whatsoever.

John, and first-century antichrists.

In John’s day, in John’s church, antichrists cropped up. They got mixed up in his church… then objected to what he taught about Jesus, left, and shared their heretic ideas with anyone who’d listen. Whether they were influenced by gnostics, or started their own gnostic groups, I dunno.

But John figured they were an obvious sign the end was coming soon. ’Cause Jesus had warned him (and us) there’d be antichrists. Mk 13.6

1 John 2.18-23 KWL
18 Children, it’s the last hour, and just as you heard “Antichrist is coming!”
so many antichrists already came—o you know it’s the last hour.
19 They came from us. But they aren’t from us:
If they were from us, they’d have remained with us,
but they left so everyone could have it revealed they aren’t from us.
20 You have an anointing from the Holy Spirit and know all these things.
21 I don’t write you because you don’t know the truth already,
but because you know it, and that every lie doesn’t come from truth.
22 What’s the lie, if not the denial, “Jesus isn’t Christ”?
This, who denies the Father and the Son, is an antichrist.
23 Everyone who denies the Son, doesn’t have the Father.
One who confesses the Son, has the Father as well.

And we still have this phenomenon in our churches. People who dabble in Christianity, or who grow up Christian, but who don’t really believe Jesus is Lord and God, and are just going through the motions for now. Some of them can suspend disbelief forever, but for many the Holy Spirit’s gonna force them to deal with their doubts and pick a side: Believe in Jesus, or not.

So antichrists are Christianists who grew weary of their façade, left church, quit Jesus, went nontheist, and began mocking their old phony lifestyle. They learned how to fake the Spirit’s fruit, how to fake supernatural acts, how to fake prophecy, how to pretend to feel God’s presence… and they presume everybody in Christendom is faking it like they did.

Blaming bad Christians.

There’s been a trend among Christians for the past four decades: We claim people turn antichrist (or turn pagan, or stray from Christianity) because of Christians behaving badly. Just like Father Brennan Manning’s spoken-word intro to the 1995 DC Talk song, “What If I Stumble?”:

”The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today are Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

All due respect to Manning, but that’s rubbish. “I’d follow Jesus if it weren’t for all the a--holes who call themselves Christian”? I follow him regardless. Loads of Christians do. This excuse is the same crap the Judeans tried to pull when they told Jesus, “Show us a miracle and we’ll believe.” Jn 6.30, Mt 12.38 No they wouldn’t.

The real cause, as usual, is good ol’ human depravity. People wanna do as we will. If we believe in Jesus, but don’t really wanna follow him, we’ll invent loopholes and do as we will. If we don’t believe in Jesus, we won’t need loopholes; we’ll just be pagan or nontheist, and do as we will. But sometimes these folks run into Christians who wanna evangelize ’em, and in order to get these Christians off their back, the guilt card works great: “If you Christians were only more like Christ, I’d believe.” Again, no they wouldn’t.

Bad Christians are an easy target. They make it easy for antichrists to point to them, and paint all Christians as the rotten fruit of a rotten religion. I gotta agree with the antichrists about hypocrisy and bad religion; they’re not wrong. But that’s not the reason they’re antichrists. Here are the real reasons:

  • They were raised pagan. Had no beliefs one way or another about Christ. Till they met militant nontheists who insisted religion is stupid, religious people are fools, and religious leaders (who’d include Jesus, I suppose) are con artists. They fell in, and now proclaim the same thing. But they’re not speaking from any experience. Just regurgitating stuff they’ve heard. Makes ’em feel good to imagine they haven’t been brainwashed by overzealous hypocrites who unquestioningly follow the teachings of a few charismatic preachers… hey, waitaminnit.
  • They were raised or influenced by bad Christians who seriously botched their representation of Jesus. The bad Christians were jerks, who claimed Jesus authorized their awful, control-freak behavior, and was kind of a jerk too. The antichrists feel they’re quite right to object to a bad founder of a bad religion. Like the jerklike Christians, they found a few verses they could quote out of context which make Jesus sound overzealous, crazy, or violent, and that’s how they choose to reinterpret him. Or they adopted some of the weirder ideas about Historical Jesus, and are attacking that guy.
  • They knew Christians who made really outlandish claims about Jesus. Made him sound like a genie who’d grant every wish. Turns out he’s not that way at all, and once he told them no, they felt betrayed, blamed him… and figured they’d get him back by quitting him. Like I said, many apologists naïvely think every antichrist is bitter at Jesus. Nope. It’s a percentage, but ’tain’t that big.
  • Actually they don’t think Christ is awful. But they’ve found when they bash him a little, it really freaks Christians out… and that’s kinda fun. Besides, they figure Jesus is long dead, so who’s it hurting?… other than Christians.
  • They joined a religion who sees Christ as competition. I already mentioned a few. They wanna neutralize Jesus’s influence. So they reinterpret him, or even slander him, through that religion’s lenses.

Basically comes down to ignorance, willful or not; or intellectual dishonesty.

Dishonesty’s a pretty common behavior among antichrists. They’ll claim they were raised Christian, but our hypocrisy made ’em quit. The dishonest part is whose hypocrisy made ’em quit: Their own. They never wanted to know Christ, so they never did. I grant they might’ve held some beliefs, or even had personal experiences. But like the Hebrews in the Exodus, none of these experiences sunk in. If they really knew God, they’d leave his bad followers for a better church; nontheism would never be an option. Neither would going antichrist.

Identifying antichrists.

John’s definition of antichrist was very simple:

1 John 2.22 KWL
What’s the lie, if not the denial, “Jesus isn’t Christ”?
This, who denies the Father and the Son, is an antichrist.

Outside our churches, it’s really easy to identify antichrists. They’re the ones boldly bashing Christianity and Christ. But within our churches, they’re a little harder to detect because they’re not overtly being hostile. If they don’t believe Jesus is Lord and Christ, if they reject what the scriptures tell us about Jesus’s relationship to his Father, John calls ’em antichrists.

And if you don’t know how they feel about Jesus… well there’s always fruit. If they lack the Spirit’s fruit, if they act like they’re still in darkness instead of the light, they should stand out clearly.

We need to identify the antichrists among us. For two reasons.

First we want ’em to meet, get to know, and follow Jesus! We never want ’em to become those apostates who claim they went to church for years but never authentically encountered Jesus: Make sure that yes, they did indeed. Sometimes it’ll stop their apostasy dead in its tracks. Hate to tell you, though: Sometimes they’ll leave anyway, and ruin themselves all the more by denying what they truly saw. Either way, we did our job of actually introducing them to Jesus.

Second, we need to make really sure they never ever slip into leadership positions. ’Cause they can. And do. All the time. A nice guy becomes the music pastor, or youth pastor, or small group leader, or Sunday school teacher… and he has doubts, or she has heretic ideas, or he’s fruitless and graceless and backbiting and unkind (but talented!), or she’s checking out which boys in the youth group she could get away with nailing (but she’s the pastor’s daughter!). It’s every church’s worst-case scenario, and it happens way too often. These folks get found out, kicked out, and spend the rest of their lives bitterly denouncing Christianity and Christ. How’d they slip past us? Because we were looking at their façade, not their fruit.

Watch out, John reminded us. Don’t fall for any good-looking, impressive-sounding Christian. Test ’em. 1Jn 4.1-6 Check for humility. Make sure they actually do know Jesus. Look for fruit. When in doubt, nudge ’em towards God-encounters. Make it impossible for them to stagger in any antichrist direction, ’cause they know Christ. Make sure of that for yourself, while you’re at it.

Don’t love society.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 June

1 John 2.15-17.

The Greek word κόσμος/kósmos can be a tricky word to translate. Obviously we get our word cosmos from it, which means “universe.” But when ancient Greeks used it, they didn’t mean the entire universe. Just their universe—the harmonious order of things. Their world. Which is why we usually just translate it “world.”

But “world” is likewise a tricky word. What do we mean by it? The literal planet we’re planted on? The people of this planet? A segment of this planet, like the English-speaking world; or a segment of time, like the ancient world, or the age to come?

Define “world” wrong, and you wind up teaching the wrong idea. Because God so loved the kósmos that he gave his only-begotten son for it. Jn 3.16 So he loves the world, and he wants us to love our fellow Christians, our neighbors, and our enemies—which means pretty much everyone in the world. And that idea would therefore contradict what John’s teaching in today’s passage, in which he tells his readers not to love the kósmos.

So how do we define kósmos in this context? Simple: Read the context. John listed three things you’re gonna find in the kósmos, and they’re not meant to be considered good things.

  1. ἐπιθυμία τῆς σαρκὸς/i epithymía tis sarkós, KJV “the lust of the flesh.”
  2. ἐπιθυμία τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν/i epithymía ton ofthalmón, KJV “the lust of the eyes.”
  3. ἀλαζονία τοῦ βίου/i aladzonía tu víu, KJV “the pride of life.”

I’m gonna translate them with present-day words which mean the same thing. And yeah, they’re things you find on the planet, the people on it, our culture, ancient culture—and not in the age to come. So let’s narrow down our definition of kósmos to something more appropriate to the context, and translate it thataway:

1 John 2.15-17 KWL
15 Don’t love society, nor anything of society:
When anyone loves society, the Father’s love isn’t in them.
16 For all these things are found in society:
Valuing whatever feels good. Valuing whatever looks good.
Emphasizing one’s lifestyle—which isn’t based on the Father, but on society.
17 Society, and its values, are passing away.
Doing God’s will, remains in the age to come.

Because it’s not the world that’s the problem. God created that, and declared it good, even though we’ve mucked it up a lot, and he’s gonna have to redo a lot of things. And one of the things about it that’s gonna have to go, is the structure of human society. Right now it’s based on human depravity: On material wealth and the amassing of it (i.e. capitalism), the rule of the majority instead of Christ Jesus (i.e. democracy), living for pleasure first and others a distant second, if at all (i.e. hedonism), and peer pressure to conform to these expectations.

A startling number of people, particularly those who claim to be Christian, are gonna insist all these things are the way God wants ’em and made ’em. Which only goes to show how very little they know God.

Whatever feels good, versus God.

Fr’instance the belief, found all too often in Christendom, that if something bugs us—or to use the Christianese term, “gives me a check in my spirit”—it’s not a God thing. Whereas if something “resonates in my spirit,” it must be a God thing. ’Cause their spirit would never mislead them, would it?

And of course it will. When Christians refer to “my spirit” we properly mean “me.” We’re just trying to make things sound and feel more spiritual. But yeah, “my spirit” is me—and saying it’s my spirit that’s bothered by something, or loves something, is a way Christians claim our personal preferences are godly. Or not.

And they’re not. My spirit is not the Holy Spirit, who’s an entirely different person. And while his motives, desires, and will is pure and good and holy, my motives, desires, and will is usually based on whatever makes me feel good. It’s that epithymía tis sarkós John wrote about; the desire, yearning, appetite, longing, inclinations, of my fleshly human nature. Doesn’t automatically mean we humans are bent towards evil or horniness. Most of the time we just wanna be comfortable.

But these comforts often don’t take God or others into consideration. In fact many in our culture encourage us to deliberately put ourselves above others: Do what’s right for you, and stop sacrificing your health and wellbeing for other people. To be fair, sometimes that’s because our self-sacrifice is really codependency: We’re accommodating other people’s bad behavior or addictions. (Usually because we figure it’s easier to adapt for them, instead of get ’em to stop their evil.) But not every act of sacrifice is codependent. Most aren’t. It’s just that those who don’t care to sacrifice anything, who don’t wanna practice any form of self-control, are really annoyed by other people’s good examples: Stop highlighting their selfishness by your good example, and be selfish too!

Our society would much rather we focus on what feels good, instead of self-sacrifice and self-control. Y’see, once we become dependent on luxuries and comfort, we become much easier to manipulate. Threaten to take their comforts away, and you can actually get the wealthy to riot. We’ve seen it in some of the protests against COVID-19 quarantines: They’re sick of self-sacrifice. They want their comforts back!

The reason God wants us to practice self-control is because he doesn’t want us others-controlled. He wants us self-disciplined enough to effectively resist temptation and follow Jesus. But that’s not gonna happen when we unthinkingly equate what makes us comfortable, with God’s will—when every time we don’t like something, we rename it “a check in my spirit” and fight it. You realize if the Holy Spirit’s behind that thing, we’re fighting him.

Likewise i epithymía ton ofthalmón, the desire, yearning, appetite, longing, inclinations, of one’s eyes. We can interpret this one of two ways, and probably both are valid.

  1. Whatever looks good to me.
  2. Whatever looks good to others.

Am I following what appeals to me instead of Jesus? Am I trying to keep up public appearances instead of following Jesus? Either way, I’m not following Jesus.

Jesus is gonna overthrow this age, y’know.

Years ago I got into various books by Francis Schaeffer and Chuck Colson about “the Christian worldview.” Both those guys were Calvinists and political conservatives, so properly they meant the politically conservative Calvinist worldview. But they were entirely certain a Christian should only be politically conservative and Calvinist, and you’ll find a lot of the Christians who talk about worldviews are mostly fixated on those two areas. Jesus’s teachings, not so much.

Anyway, according to Schaeffer and Colson, God structured the universe in such a way that everything, everything, has one single correct way to think about it, and it all fits together perfectly. So nothing else is a valid option. (Arguably it’s sin.) Find and follow the proper Christian worldview, and alter your lifestyle to fit it. It’s God’s way.

Before I got to reading Schaeffer and Colson, I’d read C.S. Lewis’s The Discarded Image, so I already knew better than to believe “it all fits together perfectly” therefore means it’s true. Plus I’m not Calvinist; plus at the time I was noticing too many profound differences between the social Darwinism found throughout politically conservatism, and Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. So the “proper lifestyle” they emphasized so strongly… well let’s just say I felt a check in my spirit.

Yep, even Christian society has a “proper lifestyle” they’re gonna promote. And sometimes it’s not all that Christian. Like pagan society, they’re just trying to manipulate us with the things which make us comfortable, play on our prejudices, get us to spend our money on their products and causes, get us to vote for their candidates, get us to cede them power that really only belongs in Christ Jesus’s hands.

So I began a fun little exercise years ago: Is Jesus keeping it when he comes into his kingdom? If so, it’s worth investing my time and money into. If not, it’s not. Might even be worth fighting.

I found Christians justify a lot of evil things, on the grounds it’s not Kingdom Come yet; on the grounds Jesus’s teachings apply to a future age, but they’re not sure he seriously means us to live this way now. And of course on the grounds this stuff is gonna cost money, and they kinda love money.

This age is passing away. Jesus is gonna overthrow a lot of things. You sure you want any of your investments to be in the things he overthrows? ’Cause the more of such things you’ve invested in, the more you’re not on his side. The more he’s overthrowing you.

Stages of Christianity.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 June

1 John 2.12-14.

John already stated in previous verses he wrote this letter so his joy might be full, 1Jn 1.4 and so his readers won’t sin. 1Jn 2.1 Here he gives a few more reasons, along with the people attached to the particular reasons: This letter is to τεκνία/teknía and παιδία/pedía, children and invants; πατέρες/patéres, parents; and νεανίσκοι/neaníske, young people, and since adulthood back then began when you were 13, teenagers.

1 John 2.12-14 KWL
12 Children, I write you because your sins are forgiven in God’s name.
13 Parents, I write you because you knew this from the beginning.
14 Youths, I write you because you conquer evil.
14 Infants, I wrote you because you know the Father.
Parents, I wrote you because you knew this from the beginning.
Youths, I wrote you because you’re strong,
and God’s word remains in you, and you conquer evil.

The repetition is Hebrew-style poetry, where you repeat ideas instead of phonemes. Sometimes the very same idea, ’cause John wrote twice that he’s writing parents because they knew this already, and that he’s writing teenagers because they conquer evil. The first three statements are in present tense (γράφω ὑμῖν/gráfo ymín, “I write you”). The second three are in aorist tense, which is a tense we don’t have in English; it’s set in neither past, present, nor future, so it’s timeless. Translators tend to make it past-tense (ἔγραψα ὑμῖν/égrapsa ymín, “I wrote you”) but perhaps it’s better expressed as “I wrote you, write you, and will keep on writing you.” The first three are about why John’s currently writing to his readers, but the last are why John would always write such stuff.

A lot of commentators point out these age groups—kids, teens, parents—refer to different stages of Christian maturity:.

  • INFANTS are brand-new Christians.
  • CHILDREN are still relatively new followers; I usually call them newbies. They still make a ton of mistakes, and clearly need to develop as Christians, but they’re definitely in God’s family now, and are often excited about it.
  • TEENS are probably just a little more mature than literal teenage Christians (many of whom are newbies, so they’re still making tons of mistakes). They’re still zealous for God, but now they have a few successes and victories and experiences under their belts.
  • PARENTS are the elder Christians, who’ve been following Jesus long enough to be able to mentor others; in other words to be spiritual parents.

I tend to agree with this interpretation. It makes sense. But I wonder just how far we oughta consider “children” to be a metaphor. After all, 1 John is written in basic Greek with a simple vocabulary, and teaches elementary concepts and basic theology. You gotta teach Christianity to children at some point… so I gotta wonder whether 1 John wasn’t written with a very literal audience of children in mind.

There are those commentators who speculate the groups work a little differently. “Infants” and “children,” they claim, are the Christian community at large, but “teens” would be the Christians in leadership, the people helping John run the place; and that’d include the elder Christians. “Parents” would refer to the top leaders, the ones in charge. I don’t care for this interpretation ’cause it presumes John’s church had special code-words for people in leadership which nobody else in Christendom seems to know about: It’s kinda overlaying gnosticism on top of a very anti-gnostic letter!

Nah; the letter’s primarily for new believers, but maturer Christians can read it too, and get something just as valuable out of it. Yeah, we know all this stuff already (or should); we learned it back when we were newbies. It’s still good review.

Anyway, where do you find yourself? Awestruck newbie, vigorous relatively-new disciple, or well-grounded elder?

Hopefully not wandering newbie, apathetic disciple, or jaded oldtimer.