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Praise to God for a Living Hope April 21, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Peter 1:3-12.

Summary: Peter begins by acknowledging God’s goodness, as He has mercifully adopted all believers as His children; this stems from the fact that Christ has risen from the dead. Moreover, He will give them an inheritance that:

  • cannot come to nothing
  • cannot be stained with the smallest spot
  • is immutable

as it is safe in God’s hands. Since He preserves them until the time when they have full possession of that inheritance, they rest on His power – enabling them to be joyful while they are afflicted in many ways. Indeed, He has allowed them to be afflicted so that:

  • their faith, which endures and comes from heaven, may be revealed for what it is
  • they may be glorious in Christ at His Second Coming.

Now while they have not seen Christ in the flesh, they promote His glory and delight in Him; moreover, they can view Him spiritually – and so they rejoice in God’s infinite and excellent goodness. They are certain that He will completely deliver them from their afflictions and give them full possession of their inheritance.

Peter then expands on this point by asserting that the Old Testament writers, who foretold the Gospel message, diligently searched the mysteries about salvation – as they desired to see the day of the Messiah. The Holy Spirit made them aware, though, that the day of the Messiah would not occur in their own times; thus, their writings were part of God’s plan to build up His church – as the apostles conveyed these writings to them. Peter concludes by asserting that the angels themselves delight in the Gospel message that was foretold by the Old Testament writers.

Thoughts: In verse 6, Peter notes that his readers are joyful in the midst of many afflictions. Leighton offers some challenging thoughts on this point:

It is not hard to have an occasional trial, with plenty of respite between attacks. But to be faced with one attack after another, to have them crowding in after each other, is often the experience of people who are especially loved by God. See Psalm 42:7.

Leighton’s thoughts compelled me to review the trials that I have experienced over the years. It is safe to say that I have endured the “occasional trial” that he notes, and I have been granted sufficient time after a given trial to process it and gain a better understanding as to how God worked through it. Yet I wonder if Leighton is correct in stating that God has a special affection for those whom He regularly tests. If so, then God has not shown that special affection to me. Should those believers who are only tested infrequently desire that God would test them more often? Should we heed the adage, “be careful what you wish for,” before praying to God in that regard? What if God – out of His sovereignty – has decided to test some believers more often?

In verses 10-12, Peter notes that the writers of the Old Testament sought earnestly to determine the time when the Messiah would appear. Leighton offers some thoughts on this point:

It was their constant duty to search into divine mysteries through meditation and prayer and through reading holy writers who already existed. Daniel did this: “In the first year of his [Darius’] reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years” (Daniel 9:2).

I must admit that even though I have read through Daniel, I completely overlooked that verse, and so I was unaware that Daniel actually studied Jeremiah’s writings. If we had lived in the Old Testament theocracy, then we would have a better grasp of the prophets’ longing to know when the Messiah would come to redeem Israel. Perhaps modern-day preachers are attempting to follow the example of the prophets by diligently studying the Old and New Testament to determine the time when the Messiah will appear again. Of course, one could argue that these preachers, including Harold Camping, are conducting fruitless searches, since only the Father knows when the Son will appear again. Also, none of the Old Testament writers knew exactly when the Messiah would appear – they simply knew that He would redeem Israel at some point; modern-day preachers would do well to follow their example in that regard.

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Concluding Remarks March 8, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 John 5:13-21.

Summary: John begins by stating that he has written this letter to those who have already been taught the knowledge of Christ so that they might enjoy a fuller confidence as to eternal life. In fact, his readers can dare to confidently call on God, since they will necessarily subject their own wishes to Him. When they pray, they will necessarily consider what God commands; thus, they pray for what they obtain.

John then tells his readers that in particular, if they see a fellow believer sin – without committing apostasy – then they should ask God to forgive their sins. Believers who sin without committing apostasy are not wholly falling away from God’s grace, since Jesus Christ asks Him to keep them; thus, Satan’s assaults cannot extinguish their spiritual lives. Indeed, God only repudiates those who commit apostasy; thus, his readers should not ask Him to forgive those who commit apostasy.

Now John stresses that while the whole human race – including those who commit apostasy – gives itself up to the bondage of Satan, his readers:

  • know that they have been born of God
  • have been illuminated as to the knowledge of God, since in Jesus Christ they have God manifested in the flesh
  • are united to God through Jesus Christ, since Jesus Christ is God and offers them salvation.

John concludes by inferring that his readers must carefully continue in the spiritual worship of God.

Thoughts: In verses 16 and 17, John states that believers should not pray that God would forgive those who commit apostasy. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 16:

But again, you may ask what evidence tells us that someone’s fall is fatal. If we could not be certain of this, the apostle would not have been able to say that they were not to pray for a sin of this kind. It is right, then, to decide sometimes whether there is still hope. With this, indeed, I agree, and it is evident beyond dispute from this passage; but as this very seldom happens, and as God sets before us the infinite riches of his grace and bids us be merciful according to his own example, we should not rashly conclude that anyone has brought the judgment of eternal death on himself. On the contrary, love should make us hope for good. But if some people’s impiety does not appear to us anything other than hopeless, as though the Lord pointed it out by his finger, we should not argue with God’s just judgment or seek to be more merciful than he is.

This is a difficult passage and I did not find Calvin’s explanation to be entirely satisfactory. My fundamental problem with this passage is that believers often struggle to discern God’s will, as our sinful nature makes it difficult for us to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. How can we be certain that someone is in a “hopeless” state? Shouldn’t we err on the side of caution and pray for them, especially if they are not in a “hopeless” state? What if our sinful nature causes us to mistakenly infer that someone is committing apostasy? Of course, I can understand Calvin’s argument to some extent; perhaps we waste our time praying for apostates when we could be praying for believers who have committed less egregious sins. In any event, I view this passage as a call for believers to pray more earnestly for each other.

Now that I have completed my stroll through 1 John, I would say that John differs from Paul in that he does not divide this letter into a “theory” section and a “practice” section. Instead, my impression is that John focuses on a single question, “how do you know that you are in union with God the Father and God the Son?” and then expounds on the proper answer to that query; arguably the most important facet of that answer entails seeking the good of others. I should also note that John does align with Paul in extolling the supremacy of Jesus Christ at various points in this letter; moreover, he stresses that anyone who denies His supremacy is not in union with God. As for my main takeaway from this letter, I would say that: I need to be more zealous for the good of others, especially those whom I dislike.

Faith in the Son of God March 5, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 John 5:1-12.

Summary: John begins by stating that those who hope to receive from Jesus everything that has been promised concerning the Messiah:

  • receive the Spirit of regeneration
  • seek the good of others.

Those who seek the good of others exalt God, and their hearts are prepared to obey the commands of righteousness. Indeed, it is not wearisome for believers to obey God, as they have the power of the Spirit of regeneration. Since believers seek salvation from Jesus as the Christ and effectually lay hold on Him, the Spirit of regeneration empowers them to conquer whatever is against Him.

John then states that the Spirit of regeneration makes believers certain of the following fact: the real substance of the shadows of the law appears in Christ. God confirms this fact by employing the harmonious testimony of the Spirit of regeneration and the pledges of salvation. Now since believers accept the testimony of people in worldly affairs, they cannot reject the testimony of God regarding Christ. Indeed, those who reject the testimony of God regarding Christ are guilty of extreme blasphemy – as they charge Him with falsehood. On the other hand, those accept the testimony of God regarding Christ receive the free gift of salvation. John concludes by stating that:

  • those who do not seek life in Christ do not have life
  • those who do seek life in Christ have life.

Thoughts: In verse 3, John states that the Holy Spirit gives believers the ability to enjoy God’s law. Calvin offers some insights on this point:

After saying that it was impossible for the law to confer righteousness on us, he [Paul] immediately puts the blame on our flesh. This explanation fully reconciles what is said by Paul and David, who appear to be wholly contradictory. Paul makes the law the minister of death…David, on the other hand, says that it is “sweeter than honey” and “more precious than gold”…But Paul compares the law with corrupt human nature; hence arises the conflict. David shows how people think and feel when God has renewed them by His Spirit.

It is safe to say that in this life, any believer will experience both the struggles of Paul and the joys of David regarding God’s law. For example, I can recall situations where I chose to seek the good of others in spite of the best efforts of my sinful nature; although I was initially plagued by doubts and misgivings, I eventually found great satisfaction in the knowledge that I made the right choice in those situations. That feeling of contentment only flows from the Holy Spirit, since He – unlike my sinful nature – desires that I delight in seeking the good of others. I do hope that as time passes, the Holy Spirit will enable me to experience fewer doubts and misgivings when similar situations arise in the future.

In verses 6-8, John states that both water and blood testified to Jesus being the Christ. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 6:

I am sure John here is referring to the fruit and effect of what he recorded in the Gospel story, for what he says there – that water and blood flowed from the side of Christ – is no doubt to be seen as a miracle. I know that such a thing does naturally happen to the dead, but it happened because God planned that Christ’s side should become the fountain of blood and water so that the faithful would know that cleansing (of which the ancient baptisms were types) is found in him, and so they might know that what all the sprinklings of blood had indicated was now fulfilled.

Calvin also states that it is unlikely that John was referring to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River when he mentioned “water”; initially I was skeptical of Calvin’s point, but since John does not explicitly mention Jesus’ baptism in his Gospel, I decided to concede it. As for Calvin’s point that blood and water can “naturally” flow from a deceased person, I was reminded of The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. In the first chapter of that book, Strobel interviews Dr. Alexander Metherell, who describes how a pericardial effusion and a pleural effusion occurred in Jesus at His crucifixion; this caused blood and water to flow from His side when a Roman soldier pierced it. In some sense, we can be thankful that modern medicine has allowed us to gain a scientific understanding of the death/resurrection of Jesus. Of course, this did not preclude God from using pericardial and pleural effusions to symbolize the fulfillment of the Old Testament law…

God’s Love and Ours March 1, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 John 4:7-21.

Summary: John begins by exhorting his readers to exercise mutual love, as those who do not exercise mutual love lack the true knowledge of God. Indeed, the principal evidence of the free love of God is the fact that He exposed His only Son to death for the sake of believers. God freely loved believers; thus, He sent His only Son to reconcile them by His death. Since God freely loved believers, they should seek the good of others – proving that God remains in them.

John then states that the apostles recognized the glory of God in Christ, as God sent Him to reconcile believers. Thus, those who truly believe in Christ:

  • are united to God
  • will know His love toward them
  • necessarily seek the good of others.

John notes that God has abundantly poured out His love to believers, and so they resemble His image; thus, they can confidently go to His tribunal. Since believers are assured of God’s love toward them, they have a peaceful calmness – as fear stems from unbelief.

John then reiterates that since God freely loved believers, they should seek the good of others; indeed, anyone who claims to love Him while not seeking the good of others is a liar. John concludes by stating that God has previously commanded believers to seek the good of others.

Thoughts: In verse 10, John states that before we loved God, He loved us and sent Jesus Christ to expiate our sins. Calvin offers some head-scratching thoughts on this point:

But here there seems to be some inconsistency, for if God loved us before Christ offered himself to die for us, what need was there for another reconciliation? In this way the death of Christ may seem to be superfluous. To this I answer that when it says that Christ reconciled the Father to us, it refers to our apprehension, for as we are conscious of being guilty, we cannot conceive of God except as one displeased and angry with us, until Christ absolves us from guilt.

While it is true that at least some sinners are terrified of God’s wrath before their conversion, Calvin seems to present an unbalanced view of our relationship with God. In particular, I believe that while God did love believers before they loved Him, their sins were still odious in His sight. Any sin incites the wrath of God, as He is holy and cannot tolerate sin. Thus, He was “displeased and angry with” believers before their conversion, regardless of their conception of His wrath. Of course, my interpretation raises the following question: how can God be both loving and wrathful toward believers before their conversion? Perhaps we are called to remain in that tension – instead of following Calvin’s example by attempting to resolve it. Hopefully I am not misunderstanding Calvin on this point…

In verses 20 and 21, John states that anyone who claims to be a believer – yet does not seek the good of others – is a liar. I find this to be an extremely challenging point, since I know that I often entertain negative thoughts about others, including other Christians. When I read through Calvin’s commentary on these verses, I was hoping that he would:

  • allude to the difficulties that all believers face in terms of living up to this exhortation
  • state that those who strive to live up to this exhortation are truly believers.

Yet Calvin did not state anything along these lines; thus, I am faced with a very high bar, and I do wonder if I will be able to clear it. Hopefully this will spur me to pray more intensely for God’s strength to live up to this exhortation. I also sense that I should pray that God will allow me to capitalize on opportunities to seek the good of others in both big and small ways.

Test the Spirits February 24, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 John 4:1-6.

Summary: John begins by telling his readers to examine everyone who boasts that he is endowed with the gift of the Holy Spirit to perform his office as a prophet; this stems from the fact that many impostors have adulterated God’s Word. He then presents the following rule by which they can distinguish between true prophets and impostors: only true prophets will confess that God the Father sent God the Son, who has eternal divinity, to become a real man. On the other hand, impostors, who do not make this confession, belong to the kingdom of Antichrist, which is carrying on its evil work in secret; it has yet to openly exalt itself.

John then states that believers belong to the kingdom of Christ; they will certainly conquer these impostors, since God is more powerful than Satan. John concludes by stating the following facts:

  • since impostors have Satan as their prince, unbelievers will acknowledge their teachings
  • since true prophets submit to God, believers will acknowledge their teachings while unbelievers will reject them.

Thoughts: In this passage, John exhorts believers to assess the veracity of anyone who claims to be a prophet. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 1:

But here a difficult question arises: If everyone has the right and the liberty to judge, nothing can be settled as certain, but on the contrary the whole of religion will be uncertain. My answer to this is that there is a double test of doctrine – private and public. The private test is that by which everyone settles his own faith, relying wholly on the doctrine that is known to come from God…The public test is the common consent and polity of the church…it is necessary for the faithful to meet together and seek a way by which they may agree in a holy and godly manner.

One can infer that the outcome of the “private test” for each believer will impact the outcome of the “public test.” Since Calvin states that the outcome of the private test hinges on “the doctrine that is known to come from God,” I wonder if he is referring to the pure Gospel message. Now it must be noted that rational believers have offered varying interpretations of the pure Gospel message; for example, Catholics and Protestants still debate the salvific role of faith and works. This implies that two rational believers can each perform a private test and obtain a different result; consequently, I wonder if believers can “agree in a holy and godly manner” when performing a public test. Perhaps Calvin assumed that only believers whose private tests yielded results that were similar to that of his private test would participate in a public test. Of course, other Protestants disagreed with him on various points; did he engage them in any public tests?

Love One Another February 20, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 John 3:11-24.

Summary: John begins by telling his readers that his teaching regarding brotherly love should not have seemed new to them. He then cites the negative example of Cain to show that the world will hate them gratuitously; since Cain was ruled by impiety, he murdered his brother, Abel – who was ruled by piety. Now those who are endued with benevolence and humanity are blessed, while those who cherish hatred are miserable. Moreover, those who cherish hatred are murderers, and they are condemned before God.

John then cites the positive example of Christ to spur his readers to forget themselves and seek the good of others; He testified to the depth of His love for them by not sparing His own life. Thus, whenever they see an opportunity to help others, they should feel sympathy with them and help them – based on their love of God. He exhorts them to prove their love of God by their deeds.

Now John states that by seeking the good of others, his readers will show that the truth of God lives in them. On the other hand, those who cherish hatred can be divided into two groups:

  • those who are condemned by their own hearts
  • those who are judged by God, who judges more severely than their own hearts.

Yet those who seek the good of others can:

  • testify with their hearts that they are conscious of what is right and honest
  • pray to God because they sincerely worship Him.

Indeed, believers are commanded by God to:

  • embrace Christ as He is set forth in the Gospel message
  • seek the good of others.

John concludes by stating that those who keep these commands are united to God, because the Holy Spirit rules their lives.

Thoughts: In verse 12, John cites Cain as a negative example for his readers in terms of dealing with others. This reminds me that Jude also cites Cain as a negative example for his readers in his letter; also, the author of the letter to the Hebrews cites Cain as a negative example for his readers. Since Cain is apparently consistently condemned in the latter portion of the New Testament, his story would have been familiar to the readers of these letters. It is likely that first-century Christians regarded that story with a mixture of disgust and horror, since Cain committed the first recorded act of murder. Thus, they would have responded appropriately to the above-mentioned citations of Cain. On a related note, one could infer from these citations that Cain was not ultimately saved. It should be noted, though, that the Lord did protect Cain from harm in Genesis 4, so his ultimate destination remains a mystery…

In this passage, John exhorts his readers to seek the good of others. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 17:

The fourth is that no act of kindness pleases God unless it is accompanied with sympathy. There are many apparently generous people who do not feel for the miseries of their brothers. But the apostle requires that we have pity, which happens when we feel sympathy with others in their distress just as if it were our own.

I found Calvin’s point to be challenging, as I can identify with the “apparently generous people” he mentions. I have participated in several service projects over the years, but I have rarely felt genuine sympathy with those who I have served on those occasions. Perhaps my background has influenced me in this regard; since I did not grow up in a disadvantaged situation, I have difficulty identifying with the struggles and problems of those who I am serving. I usually assume that their disadvantaged situations stem from their mistakes. Now if my background has influenced me in this regard, then the Holy Spirit will need to work in me so that I can feel genuine sympathy for those who I serve. This will require a great deal of prayer – especially on my part – and grace from God.

Children of God February 16, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 John 2:28-3:10.

Summary: John begins by stating that everyone who lives righteously has been born of Christ.

John then states that God the Father has benevolently declared believers to be His children; since the world does not know Him, though, it treats believers with ridicule and contempt. Although believers are surrounded by miseries, they know that when Christ is revealed in the power of His kingdom, they will share the divine glory – as they will see Him as a friend. This hope leads them straight to Christ, who is a perfect pattern of purity.

Now John asserts that everyone who wholeheartedly runs into evil transgresses the divine law. Yet Christ was sent by God the Father to destroy the reigning power of sin; indeed, there is no room for sin wherever Christ diffuses His efficacious grace. Moreover, those who are made one with Christ do not consent to sin; those who consent to sin lack the knowledge of Christ.

John then notes that everyone who is conformed to Christ will manifest their new life by their good works. On the other hand, everyone who is conformed to the devil – who has been an apostate since the creation of the world – will manifest their servitude to him by their perverse deeds. Yet Christ came to take away sins; thus, all of God’s children lead righteous and holy lives, as the Holy Spirit has a sovereign presence in them. The hearts of God’s children are effectually governed by the Holy Spirit; thus, they follow His guidance. John concludes by stating that God’s children will fear Him from the heart and walk in His commands, as they are endued with benevolence and humanity.

Thoughts: In this passage, John describes the attributes of a child of God. This reminds me of a recent sermon by one of our pastors. During that sermon, he showed a slide with two images; one depicted a father leading his child on a walk along a beach, and the other depicted the Sun. He then asked the congregation to determine the image that served as the best approximation of their conception of God. After giving this some thought, I concluded that the image of the Sun was the best approximation of my conception of God. In particular, I have a strong sense of God’s power and majesty as revealed by His creation. I can also sense God’s power as revealed by His guiding me through various difficulties over the years. Yet I rarely sense that I am one of God’s children. For me, it is simpler to think of God as my Lord than to view Him as my Father. Now I should note that our above-mentioned pastor exhorted us to view God as being both powerful and fatherly; this sounds like a worthy – albeit difficult – goal to pursue.

In verse 9, John states that if the Holy Spirit dwells in a person, then they will not continue to sin. Calvin offers some challenging thoughts on this point:

Here, the apostle ascends higher, for he plainly declares that the hearts of the godly are so effectually governed by the Spirit of God that through an inflexible disposition they follow his guidance…Moreover, it is easy to refute the absurd argument of the Sophists that the will is taken away from us. They are wrong because the will is a natural power. But nature is corrupted; so the will only has depraved inclinations. Hence God’s Spirit has to renew it in order that it may begin to be good.

I am quite eager to meet Calvin in the next life so that I can discuss free will with him. Now it certainly seems that if believers are led by “an inflexible disposition,” then they do not have free will; this viewpoint would align with that of the Sophists, which Calvin belittles. If the will is renewed by the Holy Spirit, does it retain the power to make choices that contravene His desires? Attempting to resolve this apparent paradox has been a can of worms for me since I began pondering this issue as an undergraduate. I certainly hope that God will explain the relationship between free will and predestination to me at some point…

Warning Against Antichrists February 12, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 John 2:18-27.

Summary: John begins by telling his readers that they are living in the time in which Christ will appear for the redemption of the world. Now they had been warned from the beginning about the disorder of the church during this time; some sects have already arisen that are forerunners of a future Antichrist. The members of these sects had been counted among the number of the godly – yet they had never been members of the church, as their faith was not genuine.

John then reminds his readers that they are made wise by the illumination of the Spirit. To strengthen them against the fallacies of the above-mentioned sect members, he presents the following rule:

  • anyone who denies that the Son of God has appeared in the flesh is a liar, as he also denies the Father
  • anyone who acknowledges the Father in the Son rightly confesses God.

John now exhorts his readers – in light of the fact that they have been rightly taught the pure Gospel of Christ – to continue in it. Indeed, God will dwell – through His Son – in those who persevere.

John then notes that he is warning his readers about the above-mentioned sect members so that they will ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in driving them away. John concludes by stating that the Holy Spirit has already suggested these teachings to them, as He is a seal by which the truth of God is testified to them; thus, they should remain in the revelation that He has made to them.

Thoughts: In this passage, John exhorts believers to persevere in the midst of a rash of defections from their ranks, as this is a necessary aspect of the end times. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 22:

I readily agree with the ancient writers who thought that the reference here is to Cerinthus and Carpocrates. But the denial of Christ extends much wider…The two I have named gave the title of Christ to the Son of God but imagined him to be only human. Others followed them, such as Arius, who, while giving him the name of God, robbed him of his eternal deity. Marcion dreamed that Christ was a mere phantom. Sabellius imagined that he did not differ from the Father in any way.

Many cults are distinguished by their incorrect doctrines regarding the Trinity. Some cults deny the existence of the Trinity and assert that God is a single Person. Other cults acknowledge the deity of Jesus Christ while denying his humanity, while some cults acknowledge His humanity while denying His deity. Now it should be noted that even members of orthodox churches have great difficulties comprehending the truth of the person and work of Jesus Christ; thus, it is not surprising that cults would develop their own interpretations in this regard. It should also be noted that some cults actually espouse the correct doctrine regarding the Trinity; their errors in terms of theology and practice are quite subtle.

In verses 26 and 27, John states that believers have already been instructed by the Holy Spirit in terms of how they can identify genuine and counterfeit believers. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 27:

In short, he had no other aim but to strengthen their faith as he recalled them to the examination of the Spirit, who is the only fit corrector and approver of doctrine and who seals it on our hearts, so that we may certainly know that God is speaking…When he adds not counterfeit, he is pointing out another function of the Spirit, and that is that he gives us judgment and discernment, so that we are not deceived by lies or should hesitate and be perplexed or vacillate in doubtful things.

Here, Calvin focuses on the intellectual aspect of the Christian life; I believe that I have made great strides in this area over the last few years. In particular, I believe that the Holy Spirit has enabled me to gain a deeper understanding of a slew of Biblical passages and theological concepts. I wonder if it is a stretch to claim that the Holy Spirit resides in my brain – guiding its processing of information that it gleans from the Bible, sermons, videos from the Veritas Forum, etc. Now I should note that I rarely sense the work of the Holy Spirit in terms of shaping my feelings and emotions. Perhaps the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is guided by their personality type…

Walking in the Light February 2, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 John 1:5-2:14.

Summary: John begins with the following announcement: God is pure, and He makes all things clear by His brightness; thus, He hates an evil conscience and wickedness. Thus, if a person claims to possess the Gospel, yet the power of fellowship with God does not shine in their life, then that person does not act truthfully. On the other hand, those who conform to God are in union with Him; moreover, the expiation of Christ – as effected by His death – allows them to obtain God’s favor.

John then states that if a person claims to lack a corrupt inclination and refrain from actions that render them guilty before God, then they are lying. They blaspheme God and reject the great truth that everyone is guilty. On the other hand, God – based on His justice – will be propitious to those who acknowledge themselves as sinners; moreover, He will renew and reform them.

Now John testifies to his readers that his teaching is meant to help them abstain from sin; yet when they contract new guilt on a daily basis, they can flee to their advocate – Christ, who is innocent and offered Himself to obtain God’s favor for them. Moreover, the expiation of Christ extends to all who embrace the Gospel by faith.

John then asserts that those who strive to shape their lives in conformity to God’s will obtain the living knowledge of God. As they make progress in the complete keeping of God’s law, they also make progress in loving Him wholeheartedly. They can enjoy fellowship with the Father and with the Son by being like Christ. On the other hand, those who boast that they have faith while lacking piety are charged with falsehood.

Now John notes that his teaching concerning love had been heard by the faithful from the beginning, since the Gospel is God’s eternal truth. Moreover, God renews His teaching concerning love by daily suggesting it; indeed, if holy love continually exists among believers, then they will be truly united to Christ, and their knowledge of Christ alone will be sufficient to dissipate darkness.

John states that if a person is a stranger to love, yet claims to love their brothers, then they are blind. Even if a person has a specious appearance of excellency, yet does not possess love, then they are ruled by their sinful nature. On the other hand, if anyone acts in love, then they are not blind.

John addresses his readers by assuring them of the free forgiveness of their sins based on the expiation of Christ. John concludes by stating that the Gospel is right for the following members of his audience:

  • the old – because they learned about the eternal Son of God through it
  • those who are in the flower of their age – because they receive strength from Christ to defeat Satan through it
  • the young – because they have been adopted by God through it.

Thoughts: This passage reminded me of the song In The Light by DC Talk, especially since my roommate during my freshman year of college was a big fan of DC Talk. I recently perused the lyrics of that song; it seems that the lyrics are compatible with this passage, as they essentially state that apart from God, one cannot live properly. Phrases such as “I despise my own behavior” and “It’s a cancer fatal to my soul” illustrate the danger of not walking “in the light.” Yet it also seems that the lyrics do not address the necessary effects of salvation. The lyrics imply that walking “in the light” is equivalent to being cured of the above-mentioned “cancer” and not despising one’s actions; thus, Jesus is portrayed as a Great Doctor. Yet this passage also calls us to be like Jesus by loving God and loving our neighbors. Perhaps it is best to characterize this song as a valuable starting point for a seeker.

Perhaps the main point of this passage is that a genuine believer will obey God’s commands to love Him and to love their neighbors. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 3 of chapter 2:

But, some might assert, there is no one who does God’s will in everything; there would thus be no knowledge of God in the world. To this I answer that the apostle is not being at all inconsistent, since he has already shown that all are guilty before God. So he does not mean that those who keep his commandments wholly satisfy the law; no such instance can be found in the world. He refers to those who strive, as much as human weakness allows, to shape their life in conformity to God’s will.

Calvin stresses that if one truly walks “in the light,” then they will strive and aspire to obey God’s commands. Of course, an unbeliever could ask a believer, “how do you know if you are truly striving and aspiring to obey God’s commands? Isn’t the answer to that question subjective?” Believers typically respond to this query by stating, “I can see the drastic changes that God has effected in my life. Before I was a believer, I did Bad Thing X. I have not done Bad Thing X since my conversion.” The unbeliever typically responds by stating, “well, people can always change by their own efforts; how do you know that God helped you to avoid doing Bad Thing X?” Perhaps we, as believers, need to hew as closely as possible to Jesus’ radical lifestyle, as that would be a better testimony to a skeptical unbeliever.

It is clear that John establishes the following facts in this passage:

  • In order to have fellowship with God the Father and God the Son, one must first acknowledge their inherent sinfulness, which is an obstacle to this union
  • One must also acknowledge that the only way for them to have fellowship with God the Father and God the Son entails relying on the expiation of Christ
  • Those who rely on the expiation of Christ will constantly strive to love God and love their neighbors
  • Those who constantly strive to love God and love their neighbors have fellowship with God the Father and God the Son

Again, believers are faced with the challenge of constantly striving to obey the two greatest commandments. I recall finding 1 John to be an extremely challenging read during my previous excursions through this letter, and this passage highlights the main reason for my struggles – the facts that John establishes here strike at the very basis of my standing before God. I assume that all believers would benefit from reading this letter every now and then, as it would spur them to walk more closely with God. Hopefully I will make more progress on loving those people who are not easy for me to love.

Strolling Through the Book of Second Thessalonians May 8, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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I’ve recently started reading through the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians with the aid of a commentary by John Calvin. I should note that I’ve previously read through 2 Thessalonians. As in my recent stroll through the book of 1 Thessalonians, I hope to comprehend 2 Thessalonians as a whole. In particular, I would like to compare and contrast this letter with 1 Thessalonians.

I plan to blog about this experience as I read through both the epistle and Calvin’s commentary. Each post will correspond to a specific section in the NIV translation.

For starters, here are my thoughts on 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2.

Summary: In this passage, Paul wishes the Thessalonians – who are the work and building of both God the Father and of God the Son – His unmerited favor and its attendant blessings.

Thoughts: In verse 1, Paul greets the Thessalonians as a “church…in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

This salutation means that the Thessalonians…were the work and building of both the Father and of Christ. God adopts us for himself and regenerates us, and we are in Christ because of the Father.

It is clear, then, that Paul’s preaching of the Gospel in Thessalonica was an essential step in God’s “building” His church in that city. Of course, Satan then worked quite diligently to tear down this “building” by troubling the Thessalonians with various persecutions. Paul, though, did not want God’s construction work to be nullified; he wrote this letter and the previous letter to help maintain the structural soundness of the church in Thessalonica. Now I am unsure as to how long the Thessalonian church survived after Paul wrote these letters to them; knowledgeable readers should feel free to chime in.