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.

The new command: Stay in the light!

by K.W. Leslie, 20 June

1 John 2.7-11.

In John’s gospel, Jesus gave his students a new command. The way he talked about it, kinda suggests it’s not just a personal directive from their rabbi, nor a commentary on the bible’s commands like he did with the Sermon on the Mount. This is a new command, meant to be added to the other commands, and followed just as intently.

John 13.34-35 KWL
34 “I give you a new command: You should love one another!
Same as I love you, you all should love one another.
35 This is how everyone will come to realize you’re my students:
When you have love for one another.”

Like all the other things Jesus teaches, Christians have sought any loophole possible for not obeying this one. Usually by claiming those other Christians aren’t real Christians. They have (slightly) different doctrines, do their rituals all wrong, revere other Christian teachers than we do, focus way too much on practices which make us uncomfortable, or play way-too-different worship music. They sin (as if we don’t). They have different politics. They’re too young or too old, too formal or informal, too white or brown (although let’s pretend that last thing isn’t really our hangup; let’s pretend it’s politics again). Pick your favorite excuse.

Anyway. In today’s discussion on 1 John, we got John writing about a new command, and a number of commentators have decided John’s actually writing about the new command; Jesus’s new command. About loving one another.

A few assumptions are part ’n parcel of this interpretation:

  • The author of this letter, and the gospel, are the same John.
  • The readers of this letter, read that gospel, and know “new command” refers to that new command.
  • Because John would never issue a new command on his own. Because he’s not God, of course. Neither are the other apostles. Their writings aren’t commands; they’re just instructions. Although… haven’t Christians historically followed the apostles’ instructions kinda like they are commands?…

Me, I’d say unless John explicitly says he means that new command, it’s not appropriate to leap to such a conclusion. Better to read the letter in the context of itself. What’d John just write about in his previous chapter? God being light; us living in his light. So when John goes back to writing about light and darkness, that’s what we oughta pay attention to: The stuff he just wrote. Why is it Christians regularly seem to totally forget basic reading comprehension when it comes to bible study?

Oh right; our tendency to chop the bible up into little segments and study ’em one soundbite at a time. Kinda like I’m doing in this series. But regardless: These aren’t self-contained soundbites! They’re part of a whole. Read the whole. Study the whole. And don’t lose sight of the whole when you expound on it… even if us commentators sometimes (or pretty darned often) slip up and do exactly that.

On to today’s soundbite:

1 John 2.7-11 KWL
7 Dear Christians, I write you not a new command, but an old command
which you’ve had since the beginning; the old command is the message you heard.
8 Yet I do write you a new command, true for one and all:
The darkness is going away, and the true light is shining already.
9 One who says they’re in the light while hating their fellow Christian:
They’re in the darkness even now.
10 One who loves their fellow Christian lives in the light,
and isn’t triggered by them.
11 One who hates their fellow Christian is in the darkness, walking in the darkness,
and doesn’t know where they’re going for the darkness blinds their eyes.

The purpose of John’s letter is to keep his students away from sin. 1Jn 2.1 And how we go about doing that is we stay in the light which God is. This is the new command.

It’s not, as John pointed out, all that new. Every Christian’s heard it, in one form or another. Follow Jesus. Walk like he did. Teach everybody what he taught. Mt 28.20 “What would Jesus do?” like the T-shirts say. The assumption one usually makes when they embrace a guru, is the goal of being just like that guru. The term “Christian” itself means “little Christ,” or Christ-follower. Does this really need to be spelled out?

And then again it is a new command. Following Moses’s teachings didn’t mean people wanted to be just like Moses. The scriptures actually record Moses’s screw-ups as much as his accomplishments. So you don’t follow Moses; you follow the Law. Whereas in being Christian, we do follow Jesus. We obey his commands too, but Jesus personifies his own commands to a degree Moses never personified the Law (and frankly never could). Following Jesus is following his commands. Following him is a command in itself.

So while it’s not new, it kinda is. There’s never been a guru we could follow to the level we follow Jesus. And frankly, if we’re not willing to follow Jesus to that level, we suck as Christians.

The point of following Jesus, as stated in verse 8, isn’t because “the darkness is past,” as the KJV puts it: Παράγεται/parághete is a present-tense verb, so the darkness is currently passing. It’s not gone yet. When we follow Jesus and walk in the light, we’re helping to drive darkness out. The more of us that are in the light, the fewer places there are for dark to be. Christianity spreads, darkness recedes. And on New Earth, darkness will be utterly gone.

Hatred means you’re not in the light.

I get why commentators mix this “new command” mixed up with Jesus’s command to love one another. Loving one another is integral to living in the light. Note verses 9-11, where John straight-up wrote if you hate one another, you’re not in the light. The commands are very closely connected.

John literally used the word ἀδελφὸν/adelfón, “sibling,” but the general idea is siblings in Christ, sisters and brothers whom God adopted as his children. And if we hate these fellow Christians, either because we haven’t worked out our disagreements, or because of idle prejudices and assumptions made about different denominations, we’re in the wrong. It violates Jesus’s command to love one another. It means we’re still in the darkness, no matter what we claim.

This can be a hard principle for some Christians to follow. For many, partisanship trumps Christianity. Many’s the time I’ve heard a Christian just rip on a politician… who happened to be a fellow Christian. “Hey,” I’d point out, “you know she’s Christian?” In response I’d get a blank or shocked stare… followed by a sputtered diatribe about how anybody who thinks as she does, votes as she does, or is in the party she’s in, can’t possibly be a real Christian. And I shouldn’t be such a sucker that I believe their professions of faith.

Meanwhile I’m being shouted at by someone who’s not acting all that Christlike right now, so it’s pretty clear what John meant by being blinded by the darkness.

Now yes, we Christians are allowed to judge one another, provided we do it fairly, mercifully, in love, and with the goals of building one another up and restoring relationships. So it’s fully within my rights and duties as a Christian to critique a fellow Christian’s manner of following Jesus. If they’re doing it wrong, I can say so—just as if I’m doing it wrong, they can say so. But in none of this judgment are any of us allowed to hate the person we’re critiquing. Not ever.

Were I to hate the other Christians: All the building up, the fairness, the rightness, the mercy, the love, would be gone. ’Cause the judgment wouldn’t be about love and restored relationships. It’s about anger, envy, vengefulness, and damage. I’d be in the pitch-black dark.

Even if they’re horribly sinning, I shouldn’t be triggered by them. The word σκάνδαλον/skándalon was used to translate the Old Testament word מִכְשׁוֹל/mikhšól, “rock one trips over,” which is why it’s so often interpreted “stumbling block” (KJV “there is none occasion of stumbling in him”). But properly a skándalon is the trigger of an animal trap; the part of the mousetrap where you put the peanut butter. “Stumbling” implies they move you to sin, but “triggering” makes it quite obvious how they do that: We get angry, then use the anger to justify everything evil we do from then on. But God wants his kids to control our emotions way better than that.

When we behave this way, we’ve no clue how destructive and hurtful we’re being. We’re in the dark, remember? Properly the light drives out sin, not people. Yet we drive away the fellow Christians we hate, and we offend all the pagans watching from the outside, who rightly respond “If that’s how Christians behave, I want nothing to do with it.” So much for spreading the light.

If we’re angry, we must work it out. If we hate, rebuke the haters. Otherwise we Christians are to love one another, period. No exceptions.

Disobedient Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 June

1 John 2.1-6.

I’ve known various Christians who get really outraged by the phrase “cheap grace.” Grace, they insist, isn’t cheap!

Well of course it isn’t. But “cheap grace” doesn’t mean we think grace is cheap; it means others treat it as cheap. They take God’s forgiveness for granted. They figure Jesus took out a trillion sins by his death… so what’s one more?

Heck, what’s a thousand more? God’s given us a blank check of forgiveness! We can sin ourselves raw, and he forgives all! So why go to all the bother of cleaning ourselves up and sinning no more? Self-discipline is so hard. Easier to just do as comes naturally—and remain the same bitter, selfish wankers we’ve always been.

But we’re forgiven just the same! And still go to heaven!

Hence the popular bumper sticker:


Or window sticker, or button, or hat, or T-shirt; found at many a Christian bookstore.

Now yes, this message can be used to describe just how expansive and generous God’s grace actually is. You don’t have to be perfect to come to Jesus. He came to treat the sick, not the healthy; Mk 2.17 he saves sinners, not paragons. Taken that way, it’s not a bad message.

But that’s definitely not the way Christians mean it. What we typically mean is, “Yes I’m an a--hole, but it’s okay if I’m an a--hole, because Christians don’t have to be perfect. It’s not a requirement.”

Yes it is a requirement. Stop sinning, dammit!

True, we don’t enter God’s kingdom by first becoming sinless and perfect. We get in through God’s grace. But the kingdom isn’t for sinners! It’s for people whom God makes sinless and perfect. He’s trying to transform us. And either we’re on board with his program… or we have no business calling ourselves Christian. Because we’re not.

Obviously I’m basing this rant on 1 John, so here’s the relevant bible quote:

1 John 2.1-6 KWL
1 My children, I write these things to you so you don’t sin!
And when anyone sins, we have a aide with the Father, Christ Jesus. He does right by us too.
2 Jesus is the solution for our sins.
And not only for our sins, but also for the whole world.
3 We know that we know Jesus this way: We keep his commands.
4 Saying we know Jesus and not keeping his commands:
It’s a lie, and there’s no truth found this way.
5 God’s love is truly completed by whoever might keep Jesus’s word.
We know we’re in God this way.
6 One who says they abide in Jesus is obligated to do this:
Just as Jesus walked, they themselves are to walk like this.

If a person’s not even trying to keep Jesus’s commands, they’re not Christian. They’re not “in God,” not in the light, have no relationship with him. Might think they have a relationship with him, ’cause they go to church and quote bible and said the sinner’s prayer once. But when they treat God’s safety net of forgiveness like a bounce house, they clearly don’t give a wet fart about Jesus. They’re not following him, trappings aside. Not Christian.

So if you’re not keeping Jesus’s commands, repent and start keeping ’em.

Stop exploiting God.

When Christians quote verse 1, they tend to skip the first line and jump straight to the second: When anyone sins, we have Jesus!

1 John 2.1 KWL
My children, I write these things to you so you don’t sin!
And when anyone sins, we have a aide with the Father, Christ Jesus. He does right by us too.

Which is understandable; it’s really good news. But back to the first line: John’s writing these things to his children (i.e. his students) so they don’t sin. Too many Christians in his church were likewise hopping on the cheap-grace bandwagon. They used a thousand loopholes, cop-outs, and misinterpretations to justify living in the dark.

Too many Christians talk about only having a contractual relationship with God. We have a covenant with him, they point out: We said the sinner’s prayer, and in exchange for believing Jesus saves us from sin and death, God has to take us into his kingdom. Has to. ’Cause he said he would. And since God never breaks his own word, we got him by his heavenly short hairs.

Yeah, they’re defining covenant wrong. They like to claim it means “an unbreakable contract”—if we violate its terms, it doesn’t void the covenant; God still holds up his end of it. But most contracts work like that: If you violate the terms of your credit cards, you still owe the bank money! If you defraud your business partners, you’re still partners… until you formally decide you’re not. A covenant is simply a formal relationship: You’re not just casual friends, but have bound yourselves together with various promises… and now you’re family. Like Jonathan and David. 1Sa 18.1-4 Like adoption.

Not that adopted kids don’t sometimes take their parents as much for granted as biological kids. And lots of us treat God like that. Like an indulgent father who lets us borrow the car… and for fun we speed, sideswipe bicyclists, pick up sketchy hitchhikers, and slam into things. And every time he bails us out of lockup, bribes the judge to look the other way, replaces the car, pats us on the head, and says, “Please drive the speed limit. Please stop plowing into convenience stores. Please. I love you.” Gee thanks, Dad; love you too. But tomorrow all his requests are totally forgotten, ’cause our buddies wanna go drag racing.

That’s not love. That’s exploitation.

Relationships involve give and take. But all our contractual understanding does is take. We do nothing but violate God, and he has to suck it up because he loves us so desperately. This turns him into a codependent, and us into his abusers. But we don’t realize we’re his abusers, ’cause we figure he’s almighty, so he can take it.

If we love God, truly love him, we can’t do him like that! We can’t justify our sick behavior by claiming he’s obligated himself to accept the short end of the deal, ’cause that’s just how grace works. It’s absolutely not how grace works.

Grace is a free gift. Gift, not obligation. God’s not forced to grant it. We haven’t forced him; he hasn’t forced himself; his love doesn’t irresistibly compel him. (If it did, he’d save everybody, like he wants to. 1Ti 2.4) He grants common grace, prevenient grace, to everybody: Everyone can come to him, ’cause he won’t turn us away, Jn 6.37 and he grants saving grace to those who do. Jn 1.12 But have those who exploit God’s grace truly come to him? Aren’t we demonstrating by our disobedience that we don’t really have any relationship with him?

See, those who are trying to not sin, trying to follow God, are clearly his. Jesus is here to help, and his forgiveness helps us out whenever we inevitably slip up. But those who aren’t trying: Jesus’s help isn’t yet for them. God’s forgiveness isn’t yet for them. They’re still in the dark. No Holy Spirit within, lighting ’em up. No real relationship with God. They’re not Christian. The behavior on the outside reflects the person inside. Mk 7.23

John knew Jesus personally, and knew what a legit relationship with Jesus entails: The Holy Spirit constantly takes us through a process of redefining and refining our lives to conform to Jesus’s will and teachings. The Spirit reminds us to follow Jesus. He regularly shows us practical ways to apply Jesus’s teachings. He corrects us when we go wrong. He points out relevant bible verses. He encourages us to do better, go farther, love more, grow a backbone, trust him more—and hey, don’t sweat the small stuff, ’cause grace.

Those who don’t really follow Jesus might know some of this stuff. Secondhand, though: They didn’t learn it by experience, but through sermons. Their “relationship” with Jesus is only memory verses, doctrines, enough Christianese for them to sound spiritual, and hypocrisy. They’ve never accepted a single challenge from the Holy Spirit. Why, he’d never challenge us to do such things; he’s a gentleman.

Saying we know Jesus but disobeying him: “It’s a lie, and there’s no truth found this way,” as John bluntly put it. How can Christianity be adequately expressed when we don’t follow Jesus? Well it can’t, and isn’t. Fake Christians provide pest-ridden fruit, and nothing in comparison with what God actually wants to achieve. Instead they offer sucky substitutes: Easy, casual practices. Warm fuzzy feelings of self-worth. “Prosperity,” comfort, and material riches, ’cause Jesus takes away all our problems. They don’t pick up any cross to follow him, Mt 16.24 they needn’t do self-control, Ga 5.23 and it’s all ease, wealth, happiness, sunshine, lollipops, rainbows, and unicorns.

And none of it real. It’s entirely phony. Most pagans can see right through this fraud, and think all Christians are self-deluded con artists like these phonies, and think God’s a fraud too. Phony Christianity turns good news into bad, religion into farce, and spreads darkness instead of light. Watch out for it!

Wanna know you’re saved? Follow Jesus.

Assurance is a big deal, and a real concern, for a lot of people: They wanna know they’re saved. Not just believe it really hard, as if wishing hard enough will make it real. (Although way too many people do actually believe they can do that. But let’s not go there today; it’ll turn into a crazy-long rant.) They want to believe… but they have doubts.

Which is understandable. Look at all the people who are neck-deep in other religions, and are entirely sure their religions are gonna save them. If Jesus is right… man are they boned. And if Jesus isn’t right, man are we boned.

So we’d kinda like some proof. Some evidence. Something other than happy thoughts. (Although, like I said, a lot of people are entirely sure happy thoughts work.)

Well, John pointed the way to it: When you obey Jesus, you know you’re saved.

1 John 2.3 KWL
We know that we know Jesus this way: We keep his commands.

No, not because obedience saves, ’cause it doesn’t. Grace saves. But obeying Jesus causes us to interact with Jesus. If we’re gonna obey successfully, we need the Spirit’s fruit and the Spirit’s power. We can’t do as Jesus does without the same Holy Spirit who guided and empowered Jesus on earth. And once you’ve had those God-experiences for yourself, you’re not gonna wonder any longer whether you’re saved. You’ll know you are.

Those who don’t follow Jesus, or who try to achieve the bare minimum but never ask the Holy Spirit for help—or worse, don’t even believe the Spirit does such things anymore—aren’t gonna have such God-experiences. They’re not gonna know they’re saved. They’re always gonna wonder. Or they’re gonna invent other proofs. Sometimes ridiculous ones, like when they psyche themselves into feeling something because they believe so hard. Or when they memorize the date they said the sinner’s prayer, as if God needs a proper time-stamp before he can let you into his kingdom.

And once they have those other false assurances, they’re gonna presume once saved always saved, and live lives of cheap grace. A disturbing number of ’em even insist we shouldn’t follow Jesus. “That’s legalism.” Or “We’re under grace now.” Or “You’re following the wrong dispensation.” Or “He doesn’t literally mean for us to obey these commands; they’re just ideals he means for us to uplift.” You know, cop-outs.

No no no. If you wanna know you’re saved, your proof is gonna come by following Jesus. By deep enough faith to really do as he said, and see what he’ll do in response. ’Cause he will act in response. Watch.

We sin, and need Jesus’s help.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 June

1 John 1.8 – 2.2.

There are a number of immoral folks who figure if God has a dark side, it justifies them having a dark side. I wrote on this previously: Gnostics and determinists claim God co-opts evil as part of his cosmic plan. So people figure if he’s not tainted by such behavior, there’s no reason they can’t commit the occasional sin… if it’s ultimately for the best.

Funny how often people wind up committing such “occasional” sins. Seems there are an awful lot of these occasions.

But the very idea is rotten to its core. If God has an evil plan, it makes him an evil God. Period. And as John had to point out, God has no dark side. God is light. Not just in the light, like we can be when we follow God: Is light. In John’s other writing, Revelation, he even describes New Jerusalem as lit by the Lamb himself instead of the sun. Rv 21.23 Since Revelation is all apocalypses, I don’t think it wise to interpret that literally, but certainly you get the idea we’re going to live in God’s presence and goodness, where there will be no room for evil. It can’t exist there.

1 John is written as a corrective to people who develop such messed-up ideas. And, as appropriate for Christians, it’s a gracious corrective. If you’ve fallen for this twisted idea and gone wrong, chill out: Repent, be forgiven, accept God’s grace, and move forward!

Or maybe I’ll just quote John.

1 John 1.8 - 2.2 KWL
8 When we say we don’t have sin, we mislead ourselves, and truth isn’t in us.
9 When we acknowledge our sins, God is faithful and does right by us:
He can forgive us of sin, and can cleanse us of everything wrong.
10 When we say we haven’t sinned, we make him sound like a liar,
and his word isn’t in us.
2.1 My children, I write these things to you so you don’t sin!
And when anyone sins, we have a aide with the Father, Christ Jesus. He does right by us too.
2 Jesus is the solution for our sins.
And not only for our sins, but also for the whole world.

God doesn‘t have a dark side, but humanity surely does. I sure do. So do you; so does everyone. And the only solution to this problem isn’t self-deprivation, isn’t noble truths and an eightfold path, isn’t gnostic revelations of how the universe really works, isn’t to find a bad guy to blame for everything, isn’t any of the usual solutions humans invent. It’s Christ Jesus.

Admit we have a problem, and need our Higher Power.

Maybe you already know this, but 12-step addiction recovery programs borrow their steps from medieval Christian discipleship practices. The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, in order to get pagans to participate without being weirded out by religion, dropped most of the religious language. They had to keep God in, ’cause it doesn’t work very effectively without him, but they renamed him “the Higher Power,” and leave it to people to pursue him… or not. Celebrate Recovery straight-up calls him Jesus. But all groups recognize they can’t recover without him.

Same deal with sin. Step 1 of our process is to admit we have an addiction—to sin—and we can’t defeat sin alone. Legalists invent or borrow rules, and try to follow them, and fail hard. Their efforts to live perfect lives involve a whole lot of judgmentalism, harshness, and hypocrisy to cover up the many inevitable missteps. But we truly trust God to guide your steps, we shouldn’t require so very many of our own rules!

Step 2 is to admit we need our Higher Power. We can’t conquer sin, won’t conquer death, without God.

We find these ideas in 1 John and elsewhere in the bible. John got directly to the idea of living in the light God is: Acknowledge the truth to ourselves (and don’t hypocritically hide it from others!) that though we really shouldn’t sin, we do. Let’s not deceive ourselves. Let’s not invent some fantasy-world fake Christianity where we’re not really sinners, ’cause Jesus abolished all the LORD’s commands for this dispensation, so we can do as we please. Jesus’s solution, his atonement, doesn’t turn sin into non-sin, and doesn’t undo sin. But it does fix the sin problem, and that ain’t nothing.

Lying about our sin problem, and “making God a liar.”

John wrote about Christians who say they don’t have sin, who say they haven’t sinned. And a number of commentators are pretty sure John really wrote about gnostics. ’Cause seriously: Other than hypocrites, what Christians think they don’t sin?

Oh, plenty. Too many. I grew up hearing many a preacher claim once God forgives our sins, he blots ’em out entirely. They’re gone. Deleted from space, time, and God’s very own memory. He said so more than once.

Isaiah 43.25 KJV
I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.
 
Jeremiah 31.34 KJV
And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
 
Hebrews 8.12 KJV
For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
 
Hebrews 10.17 KJV
And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.

Need more proof-texts? This, these preachers claim, mean God’s deliberately giving himself selective mini-lobotomies. And since they’re no longer in his memory, it’s like we never did sin against him.

But taking these statements literally becomes a really problematic teaching. Don’t we claim God’s omniscient?—he knows all? We can’t very well teach this, and that God suffers from selective self-inflicted amnesia.

It’s more accurate to say God forgives. Yes, he totally recalls our every act. Since he fills time, he’s simultaneously right here, and back there at the point of every sin in our lives. He relives ’em better than someone suffering from post-traumatic stress. But unlike a human, it doesn’t traumatize him. Doesn’t drive him away. Doesn’t make him so hurt he can’t go on… or worse, vengeful. We humans get that way, which is why we usually have to forgive and forget: We can’t get past sins, and forgive people, unless we do so. But God is almighty. And good. And δίκαιος/díkeos (KJV “just”), which I translate “does right [by us],” because nobody deserves grace, but that’s precisely what he gives us: Compassionate, loving grace. He doesn’t do grudges. We’re good. ’Cause God is good.

Okay, so other than weird or heretic teachings about the nature of forgiveness, who claims they have no sin? ’Cause whenever someone foolishly tries it, the rest of us automatically cry foul. “Who d’you think you’re fooling? You ain’t perfect.” Some of us, especially spouses and parents and kids and close friends, can remind us of a bunch of sins; they have a whole list. None of us are so stupid as to claim perfection. Cult leaders will, but that’s only after their followers learn that contradicting them will have terrifying consequences.

But actually lots of Christians claim we don’t sin. We do it by omission: We never confess our sins to one another. You know, like James taught.

James 5.16 KJV
Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

We figure our sins are nobody’s business but God’s, so we confess them to him, and only him. Then we act like our lives are just fine; that we never struggle against the darkness—or that every time we do, we totally win.

Or we’ll confess mundane sins. It’s no big deal to admit, “Okay, I sometimes lie. Every so often the wife’ll ask me if her butt looks big in some outfit. Come on, am I supposed to hurt her feelings?” We’ll confess to petty, dumb stuff. The bigger stuff?—we keep that to ourselves, and when people ask us what’s new, we tell ’em nothing we’re really struggling with. “Kids doing okay in school?” We’ll say sure; we’ll skip the fact the kids got suspended for swearing at teachers. “Work doing all right?” We’ll say sure; we’ll never mention the fact the boss chewed us out for using the company credit card to buy weed. The big, embarrassing infractions against God go unconfessed.

As a result, all our fellow Christians really know about us is… nothing. All people ever hear from us are positive, upbeat, funny, victorious stories. Nothing about our real problems and struggles. Nothing about how God helps us through the rough times—’cause what rough times? Our lives are perfect. We’re perfect. Yeah, everybody sins, but as far as we’ve clued everybody else in on our lives, we only have little sins. They, on the other hand, are the only serious f---ups in the church.

Justify this behavior all you want: “I don’t wanna be a downer,” or “I don’t want their pity,” or “Every time I tell on myself, all I get from them is judgment, or platitudes and bad advice, and I have had it up to here with that crap.” I don’t blame anyone for tiring of judgmentalism. Even so: If we don’t confess our sins, we’ve created a pious façade of ourselves, and become hypocrites. We’re making our lives look perfect and uncomplicated—and we know they’re not.

And we’re making God look like a liar. Because we supposedly follow God… and we’re liars. And once struggling Christians find out what our lives are really like when all we’ve shown ’em is the façade, how d’you think they’re gonna feel about God? About our church? About Christianity? Plenty of people have quit Jesus over less.

So let’s not. Don’t lie by omission. We sin. Let’s admit that. Then let’s point to Jesus, the solution to our sins.

God doesn’t have a dark side.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 June

1 John 1.5-7.

Gnostic religions have always taught weirdness about Jesus. Some of these ideas leaked into the first-century church; hence John’s first letter, correcting his church. Loads of these ideas are still around. Some are outright heresy.

Others aren’t technically heresy… because heresy is defined by the creeds, and for whatever reason the creeds didn’t get to that particular error. Often because the ancient Christians figured, “Well of course that’s wrong; haven’t you read a bible?” And of course Christians haven’t read their bibles. (Read your bible!) They let their favorite teachers read ’em for them, and blindly follow these teachers without double-checking any of their proof texts. That’s how gnostics have always got away with it.

And one of the more popular errors is about God having dark side.

It’s based on determinism, the belief God is so sovereign, he controls absolutely everything in the cosmos. God’s the “unmoved mover” of Aristotle of Athens, the first cause of everything, and everything in the universe happens because God wants it to happen that way. He’s in control. Really, determinists insist, if he weren’t wielding total control of everything, we couldn’t legitimately call him almighty.

But if God’s in charge, what about sin? Why is evil, chaos, and death part of our universe if God’s pulling every single string of our cosmic puppet show?

If you’re not a determinist—and I’m not, and I would argue the apostle John’s not—there’s a really simple answer: He’s not pulling every single string of the show. He’s not so inept a creator that he built something, but constantly has to fiddle with it lest it go awry. But if it does go wrong, it’s not God’s fault: His creation has free will. It can legitimately make its own decisions—and choose to do what God told it to, or do its own thing. That’s the cause of evil, chaos, and death. Not God.

Determinists insist no, God’d never cede control of his domain like that. (Certainly they never would, were they God.) And since he doesn’t clamp down on the evil (again, not like they would, were they God) it must mean he determined this evil, chaos, and death oughta happen. He wants it to. It’s not the fallout from our bad choices; it’s part of the plan. A plan full of evil, chaos, and death; so much so it’s properly called an evil plan. Which God’ll sort out in the long run, but in the short run, God sovereignly decrees there will be evil, chaos, and death.

You’ve seen this in sitcoms and superhero movies, like The Incredibles: Somebody wants to look like a hero, so he creates a disaster, fully intending to “solve” the problem himself so everybody can laud him as a hero. Well, this is exactly how determinists describe God: He’s gonna solve all the evil in the world, and as a result receive all the glory. But… didn’t he create the problem in the first place?

And y’notice in the sitcoms and superhero movies, the mastermind usually gets exposed as the person who created the crisis in the first place. And universally denounced as a fraud. ’Cause he totally is. Yet for some reason, determinists never get to that part of the plot: They keep insisting no, even though God’s totally behind the evil, he’s not evil. He can’t be; he says he’s not!

Eventually their incredible explanations get a little too incredible for even them to believe. Which is why so many determinists quit Christianity or turn atheist. And y’know, if God really is the way determinists claim, I don’t blame people at all for rejecting him: That’s not a good God!

But I would counter that’s not God. He doesn’t have a secret evil plan. Doesn’t have a dark side. And he’s still sovereign and almighty; just not deterministic.

If God has a dark side, can we have one too?

Here’s a dirty little secret you’re gonna see among many determinists: A lot of ’em legitimately believe the ends justify the means. If something good is gonna come out of it in the long run, it’s okay to sin and commit evil things as part of the plan. After all, in the deterministic worldview, God himself incorporates every last act of evil into his sovereign plan… and turns it into good. So maybe, just maybe, we can do likewise.

Y’might call this a case of “monkey see, monkey do”: If God gets to dabble in evil and not get burnt, maybe we can do it too. At least with small, manageable, non-felonious evils. Only God is mighty enough to mitigate vast evils, like genocide and institutional racism, so we should maybe stick to small evils like white lies and minor frauds. Anything bigger might spin out of control.

And yeah, if you grew up in a church which taught you God has a dark side, this is definitely a case of poisonous fruit taking root. But frequently Christians choose to join deterministic churches. They love the idea God makes all things work together for good, that everything happens for a reason, that nothing in this universe is meaningless. Finally, here’s a church which tells ’em what they want to hear!—what they’ve always suspected or wished was true. And if they’re this willing to choose an interpretation of God which suits ’em best, stands to reason they’re just as willing to embrace a God who dabbles in evil because they kinda think it’s okay to dabble in evil.

Pharisees had a lot of determinists among them, and y’notice they tended to think the very same way. It’s how the head priest’s argument was so able to sway them. (Joseph Caiaphas was Sadducee, not Pharisee, but you don’t become an expert at herding Pharisees without knowing how they tick.)

John 11.47-51 KWL
47 So they gathered the head priests and Pharisees in senate,
and said, “What do we do? This person does many signs.
48 When we let him do them like this, everybody will believe in him—
and the Romans will come and take away us, this place, and the nation.”
49 A certain one of them, Joseph Caiaphas, the head priest that year,
told them, “You don’t know anything.
50 Nor do you realize it’s better for you that one person might die for the people,
instead of the whole nation destroyed.”
51 Caipahas didn’t say this by himself. But as head priest that year,
he prophesied Jesus was about to die for the nation,
52 and not for this nation alone,
but Jesus might gather together all God’s scattered children into one body.

It was okay, Caiaphas figured, to murder one guy than have him trigger a Roman invasion. (Which, y’know, happened anyway.)

Ends-justify-means is a popular mindset among immoral people, ’cause it doesn’t just get them out of tragic moral choices where they don’t think there’s a way out (even though God always grants us one 1Co 10.13): It lets ’em think they’re morally right because they sinned in a way which benefits them or others. They can use the darkness for the greater good. It’s even okay if it quietly, cancerously corrupts them: Other people get to live good, prosperous lives, so it’s okay if they sacrifice their character and soul for others.

Yep, wrong ideas lead to even more wrong ideas. Sometimes much worse ideas.

Christians stay out of the dark.

God is only the source of good in the universe. Not evil.

There are multiple first causes in the universe. Satan, fr’instance, is the first cause of lies. Jn 8.44 Humanity’s the first cause of all the sin in the world. Blaming God for these things, directly or indirectly, may appear to keep all the power in his hands; it gives people comfort to think nothing happens without God’s permission. But God doesn’t permit evil. He forbids it all the time. Not stopping it from happening in the first place, is not the same as permitting it. Inaction isn’t action. (No, not even passive action.)

God’s gonna eventually judge the world for its evil behavior. It’d be pure hypocrisy if he permitted this evil, or suborned it, or manipulated us into committing it for his own purposes. It’d be evil on top of evil. God’d be nothing but darkness.

But as John pointed out, God doesn’t do darkness. At all.

1 John 1.5-7 KWL
5 This is the announcement we heard from the living word and report to you:
God is light. “Darkness in God” is not a thing.
6 When we say we have a relationship with God,
yet would walk in darkness, we lie. We’re not being truthful.
7 When we walk in the light, like God is in the light,
we have a relationship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus, God’s son, cleans us from all sin.

My former grad school roommate is legally blind. He can see, but not well. The brighter the lights, the better he sees. Our dorm room was dimly lit by 40-watt bulbs, so one day I went to the hardware store and got a 200-watt bulb. You think a halogen torch is bright: This sucker was so bright, when you opened our door it lit up the entire dorm hallway, and the bathroom down the hall. Of course the sun did the very same thing every day, but we were still mighty impressed with this bulb.

God’s the same way. Light wipes out darkness. God beats evil. Gnostics, other religions, and even many Christians make spiritual warfare sound like a tremendous cosmic battle. A Götterdämmrung, to use the German term: The gods fight, the bad gods fall, but the old gods also fall, to be replaced by new gods. In reality there’s no such thing. At the End, the Almighty says, “Kids, we’re done,” and evil stops. It’s no contest. God wins. The end.

I get paranoid email all the time from Christians who are scared witless of one stupid thing after another. The government’s up to something, the president’s up to something, the media are up to something, the Europeans or Chinese or Iranians or North Koreans are up to something, the devil’s up to something. There’s so much irrational fear, and it’s completely antithetical to people whose faith is supposed to be in God. That’s because it’s not in God. They may trust him to save them from hell, but nothing else.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t stay up on current events, and try to fight evil in our communities and nation. But Christians really need to stop flinching in panic every single time we hear of sinners being sinners. How else should we expect sinners to behave? And just because they behave like the pagans they are, doesn’t mean evil is winning. Our God is still infinitely more powerful than evil. To him, their darkness is nothing.

If we believed this, we wouldn’t freak out over every dark and scary thing. Or every semi-dark thing. We shouldn’t see the fruitless, scaredy-cat mania I see so frequently among Christians. Being in the light should make it quite clear these worries are unfounded.

Assuming we’re actually in the light. John made a fairly obvious point: If God’s light, and we have a valid relationship with him, we shouldn’t see dark behavior.

Gnostics used a lot of twisted logic to justify and cancel out their sins. Christians do it too. We argue the Old Testament commands no longer count, ’cause we’re under grace. We argue the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t matter, ’cause that’s how life in God’s kingdom works… but that kingdom won’t arrive till Jesus returns. We’ve come up with all sorts of reasons why sins are no longer sins, ’cause grace. Which isn’t logical. Grace means God forgives us. If sins aren’t sins anymore, what’s to forgive?

John cut through our crap and made it clear: If we claim any relationship with God, yet act like every other pagan, we have no such relationship. Doesn’t matter what we claim. God’s influence should’ve transformed us and borne fruit. If it hasn’t, we don’t have him. Behavior implies salvation. No, we’re not saved by works, but when we lack the works, we have no evidence of salvation. Faith without works is dead. Jm 2.26

Those of us in relationship with God can’t be involved with the dark. We literally can’t: We’re surrounded by his light, which wipes it out. Our close proximity to God means any temptation the dark used to hold, isn’t there. Our focus is on God, only God. We see sin through his eyes: It’s small, stupid, unnatural, and foul.

Note how it’s not sin which hinders our relationships with God. It’s us. In order to be tempted by darkness, we gotta walk away from light. The light’s still there; God hasn’t gone anywhere, and he’s not leaving. He’s like the friend who still texts you even when you never text back. Even though you’re plotting to do all the things you promised him you’d never. Even after you did a few of ’em.

We need to stop reducing our relationship with God to this contractual “I call you Lord and you get me saved” deal. God doesn’t want a business arrangement. He wants children. He wants a real relationship, not an acquaintanceship with frequent name-dropping, where our testimonies consist of God-trivia instead of something we actually did together. (And not something we did together decades ago, ’cause there’s been nothing since.) That’s no relationship. It’s hardly a relationship worth appealing to at the Last Judgment. Yet many of us will try… and sadly for some it won’t work.

Gnostics.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 June

1 John 1.1-4.

Y’ever noticed somebody on the internet who claimed they knew stuff? Secret stuff? Stuff where, if you click on this link and read their blog, or buy this book, or watch this video, or attend this seminary, or buy any their other products, you too can learn these secrets?

  • Better career, bigger income, more money, more leisure time?
  • Better health? Conquering disease, especially without Big Pharma or the healthcare industry enriching themselves at your expense, or even maliciously keeping you sick?
  • Better nutrition? All the stuff the food industry’s replaced with chemicals, or is manufacturing in substandard ways for a quick buck?
  • More freedom?—’cause the government’s not telling you stuff, or big business doesn’t want you to know what rights they’re exploiting?
  • Better sex?—which you don’t know about ’cause of various cultural taboos?
  • Other secrets “they” don’t want you to know?

People love the idea of having exclusive information, of knowing stuff the general public doesn’t. And we’ll get really irritated “they” don’t want us to know such things. “How dare ‘they’ not want me to know about nutrition!” Plays right into all our paranoid fears about class warfare.

But hey, we frequently see Christians doing it too.

  • God’s secret plan for your life!
  • God’s hidden plans for the End!
  • Mysteries of Ezekiel—revealed!
  • Seventy-six promises of God “they” don’t want you to know!

How dare those [LESS-THAN-CHRISTIAN EXPLETIVE]s not want me to know God’s promises!

Okay, calm down there little buckaroo. Again, it’s about playing into people’s fears and the things we covet. It’s about trying to grab our attention with the word “secret,” or suggesting there’s forbidden knowledge which we really oughta have access to. You know, same as the serpent tempted Eve. It’s all clickbait.

And many of these things aren’t really secret. They’re just not widely known. Or they are widely known, but either you’ve never heard ’em before, or didn’t believe them (and still kinda don’t).

Problem is, often Christians will claim to have access to secret knowledge. And if you want those secrets, it’ll cost you.

Well, God’s about revelation, not secrets. He’s about sharing the mysteries of salvation and his kingdom to everyone with ears to hear. God wants everyone to know Jesus is Lord: Who he is, what he teaches, and how to follow him and be saved. Jesus told us to tell everyone: “Go make disciples of all the nations” and all that. Mt 28.19 “All nations” means all. (Of course if your ears are closed, that’s on you.)

Yet throughout human history, even predating the bible, there have been folks who specialize in secret knowledge. The Greek word for knowledge, γνῶσις/gnósis, is where we get our own word “know.” And if you’re someone who knows things, it means you’re a γνωστικός/gnostikós, a gnostic. (The opposite of agnostic, someone who’s entirely sure they don’t know things.) Today’s gnostics don’t always call themselves that, ’cause the word tends to only be used with religion (and agnostic with non-religion). Still, it’s the same idea.

Ancient gnostics.

In the Persian Empire, Greek Empire, and of course Roman Empire, there were mystery religions, founded by gnostics. They claimed they had all the secrets of the universe. They knew how it was created, how it works, and how it could work for you. So if you wanna get your hands on these secrets, they’ll totally give ’em to you: Join their group. Take their seminars. Do their rituals. Unlock your potential!

Once you were in, you’d find there were multiple levels. And they all cost money.

A brand-new member was on the bottom level. Might’ve paid for and participated in a few ceremonies, rituals, and secrets. Whereas a 33rd-level member had participated and paid for a bunch. Of course the sect’s leaders were on the top level, and claimed you might reach their level some day… but they were always inventing new levels, and claimed they were always attaining new levels themselves. It’s like a college you can never, ever graduate from, so you never stop paying tuition and buying books. (And after you complete a course, you aren’t entirely sure about what you just learned.)

Where’d all these secrets come from? Duh; the leaders were making ’em up. But gnostics claimed they came from the gods.

Which gods? They usually liked to pick obscure ones. Greco-Romans had already heard all the myths about Zeus and Hera, Apollo and Dionysus. So gnostics told ’em the secrets of gods they knew very little about. Like Osiris and Set and Isis, or Ahura Mazda, or Rama and Krishna and Vishnu. Or some obscure middle eastern deity called YHWH—who, according to their sect of the Nazarenes, is one God, yet mysteriously three. That paradox, gnostics got an awful lot of mileage out of.

Gnostic teachings are a hodgepodge. Same as today, they borrowed a little of this, a little of that, from any and every religion, plus popular culture. A little Greek philosophy, a little Hinduism and Zoroastrianism and Egyptian religion and Greco-Roman religion and Judaism and Christianity. But once the gnostics got done with it, all the “Christian” ideas were corrupt. (In fact a lot of historians wonder whether Mohammed ibn Abdullah encountered gnostics instead of real Christians, considering what he taught about Christian beliefs.)

Every so often the news media reports on some recently-discovered gospel. (Often they weren’t all that recently discovered. It’s just your average person—and your average reporter—has no idea there are any other gospels than the four in the New Testament. So when they find out, they react, “Why doesn’t everyone know there are other gospels?” and report it like crazy. Anyway.) There’s the gospel of Thomas, of Judas, of Mary Magdalene, of Jesus’s wife, of Peter and Pilate and Nicodemus and whoever. Every last one of them were written by gnostics: They claim to have secret knowledge about Jesus which we Christians lack. And when you read them, most of the time they make no sense—because to decode them, people need the writings of their sect’s interpreters. Which cost money.

Yes they were all about making money. Not truth. Not a greater relationship with God. They could give a rip about these things. But they’ll sure pretend to.

And yeah, you can likely think of religions today which are likewise all about making money. Including individual Christian churches—if not entire denominations. They promote the fact they’ll teach you stuff none of the other Christians will; that other Christians are even hiding from you, ’cause they’re the ones who are greedy or corrupt. But y’notice every single one of their “unlocked secrets” have price tags: Gotta buy this book, attend that seminar, get tickets for the big conference, pay admission fees… because it’s “truth.” Think of it as your investment in heaven. You gotta give a little, but you gain a lot. Right?

Still, if these “secrets” came from the Holy Spirit, and he gives them to people for free, where’s the “freely ye have received, freely give” Mt 10.8/vs> principle Jesus teaches?

Anyway. Gnosticism, and all the ridiculous untruths and half-truths gnostics peddle, are the primary reason John had to write his first letter.

It doesn’t start the usual way a letter in Roman Empire days was written. Usually they’d begin, as Paul’s letters did, with the author and recipients. And maybe 1 John originally had those things too, but they got trimmed off. Problem is, now we’ve no solid proof John bar Zebedee wrote it. I mean, it reads like John’s gospel (which doesn’t have John’s name on it either) and covers a lot of the same topics, so people figure the two pieces have the same author. Anyway for convenience I’ll call the author “John.”

And if John wrote it, it was written to a first-century church to teach ’em some really basic stuff about Christianity, as opposed to the junk gnostics were peddling. This way the people could accurately identify themselves as Christian, who share a relationship with God and the apostles, 1Jn 1.3 and have life in God’s son. 1Jn 5.13 This church might’ve been John bar Zebedee’s church in Ephesus; and that kinda makes sense, considering all the gnostic groups in Ephesus. But gnostics were all over the Roman Empire… and they’re still around, which means 1 John comes in handy to just about every church.

Revelation isn’t for the select few. It’s for all.

Contrary to popular belief, Christianity isn’t a knowledge-based religion. It’s not about having correct theology. Yeah, theology’s important, ’cause we’re wrong and need Jesus to set us right. But we’re not saved by theology. We’re not saved by having secret knowledge which no one else does. We’re only saved by God’s grace.

The old cliché goes that Christianity isn’t a religion, but a relationship. That’s partly true. It’s definitely a relationship. But if we’re not religious about our relationship it’s gonna suck. If we’re truly serious about God, we gotta be somewhat religious. So Christianity is a religion too. But relationship’s at the center of this religion. It’s not what we know, but whom.

This is why John began the letter, not by appealing to beliefs and knowledge, but personal experience. He had it. We should have it too.

1 John 1.1-4 KWL
1 About the living word: He’s in the beginning.
We saw him with our eyes. We saw him up close and our hands touched him.
2 He revealed life. We saw it, witnessed it, and report it to you:
The life of the age to come which is with the Father, revealed to us.
3 We saw it, heard it, and report it to you all, so you can also have a relationship with us—
and our relationship is with the Father and with his son, Christ Jesus.
4 We write these things so our joy might be full.

Christianity is an experiential religion. We have a relationship with the Father. And John invited his readers to have a relationship with “us,” meaning the apostles who had an existing relationship with the Father. He wanted them to have a relationship with him too. He wanted all of us to collectively see Jesus.

Yes, see Jesus. No, I’m not getting all mystic or Pentecostal on you. This is John’s point. He wrote this “so our joy might be full”: He wanted our experience to be as full, as rich, as thorough, the same, as his experience. It’s not enough for the first apostles to see Jesus and tell Jesus-stories to future generations: They fully expected for us to see Jesus, to have our own Jesus-stories, and share those stories too. (Not to make ’em bible, but as testimonies.) They expected us to see Jesus too—either at his second coming, (which they assumed could be any day now) or in one of Jesus’s many, many appearances in the meanwhile.

John didn’t tell us he saw Jesus to brag, “Look what I saw. And now I have secrets I can impart to you.” He told us so we can seek him ourselves. Experiencing Jesus isn’t limited to the first century, to the few people who hung out with him in Judea, who are all dead now. It’s for everyone.

And by the way: If John bar Zebedee didn’t actually write this letter, it makes this teaching all the more profound. Because it means a whole other guy had a personal experience with Jesus. Not one of the Twelve, not one of the 120 people at the first Pentecost; Ac 1.15, 2.1 this author might not even have been born yet. But he saw Jesus, and had stuff to share with his church.

He’d hardly be the first. Paul experienced him too. 1Co 15.8 And Paul was hardly the last, for we have stories like this all throughout Christian history. Loads of us have seen Jesus. Because he wants a relationship with his current followers, same as his relationship with his first followers. God’s kingdom is coming into the world, so from time to time the kingdom’s people are gonna see our King.

But I’m gonna go back to calling the author “John” now. John, who had seen Jesus, recognized the Son of Man has been revealed to all. You, me, everyone. So get to know him and follow him, and the Spirit will direct us towards the truth and the light.

Relationship before knowledge.

Trouble is, we Christians regularly get this ass-backwards. We think our priority is to get the doctrine right. Then we’ll have an authentic relationship with Jesus. ’Cause once we know our bible really, really well, we’ll know how he works, and that’s just as good as knowing him. Worked for the Pharisees, right? Jn 5.39

Okay, apply this thinking to anyone else, and you’ll realize how dumb it is. George Washington, fr’instance. Let’s say I study the man like crazy. Say I read his diaries, all his letters, all his declarations and presidential statements. (True, Alexander Hamilton wrote a lot of them for him, but then again Jesus didn’t write his own gospels.) Say I read everything others wrote about him; checked out his personal belongings in the Smithsonian and at Mount Vernon; learned loads about him. Do I have a relationship with him? A very one-sided one; he doesn’t know me. And because I’m not interacting with the living man himself, I only know his public façade. Not so much the inner man.

And yet that’s how a lot of Christians claim to know Jesus. True, we have the Holy Spirit in us, but how many of these Christians actually talk with the Spirit, instead of unidirectional prayer? So they study him without speaking to him, learn of him instead of truly following him, learn theology instead of obedience, and don’t actually interact with their living Lord.

John emphasized interaction, relationship, experience, because this informs our beliefs. We don’t know Jesus by reading and studying; we know him by being with him, watching him do his thing, and imitating his example. Without this relationship, it’s so easy to go wrong. Or be misled by gnostics.

And Christians do this all the time. They haven’t experienced Jesus, so they don’t get why he does as he does. They guess. And guess wrong. Way too many people use as the basis of their understanding, “What would I do if I were Messiah?” and project our motives upon him. That’s not following Jesus; that’s putting on a Jesus hand-puppet and following an imaginary friend. We’re not Jesus. We don’t yet have his nature. We’re still self-centered and sinful. Our priority isn’t love; most of the time it’s power. It’s why Christians prefer to emphasize God’s might instead of his love, joy, patience, and grace.

When you experience God, what do you see? Usually his love. His power too, but he doesn’t need to act in power all the time. But he does act in love all the time. He is love, y’know. 1Jn 4.8

When we don’t experience God, we’re gonna drift towards our own motives, not God’s. Yeah, our theology might be orthodox, but our interpretation and practices will be all askew because there’s no fruit of the Spirit in any of it. Both solid Christians and heretics read from the very same bible, but heretics go to outrageous extremes while the rest of us don’t. Why’s that? Well, we have the experiences; we know what God’s love looks like. Heretics haven’t, or confuse it with one of the many other definitions of love. They spin the bible to match their limited experience—and no surprise, go wrong. And when we talk about experience informing knowledge, they object: “We don’t interpret God based on subjective experiences! We only interpret him based on bible.” As if that’s what they’re truly doing.

I’m not dismissing knowledge, folks; not at all. I did go to seminary after all. I’m all for it. But priorities, people. Knowledge is no substitute for relationship, and relationship comes first. Always. It really informs how we read the apostles. And knowing God means we’re far less likely to fall for gnostic bushwa.