The Last Hour.

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. – 1 John 2;18 ESV

What a foreboding statement. At this point in his letter, John seems to take on a tone of seriousness and soberness. He addresses his audience as children, exposing his pastor’s heart and his feelings of compassion and responsibility for them. He wanted them to know the reality of their circumstances and understand the seriousness of what they saw happening around them. What they were experiencing was NOT to be unexpected or surprising, because of the times in which they were living. It was the last hour. How does John know that? Because “many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18 ESV). As the gospel advanced, the opposition increased and it continues to this day. And it is not just an opposition to Christians. It is an anti-Christ sentiment. It isn’t even an opposition to God. There are many who, like the individual referred to in chapter one, claim to have fellowship with God. They claim to know Him. But they deny Jesus as Christ. They are anti-Christ, and therefore opposed to the good news as preached by Jesus Himself and carried on by His disciples. Like the original recipients of John’s letter, we are living in the last hour, the last days. This was a common designation for the days that followed Jesus incarnation and resurrection. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:2 ESV). Paul warned Timothy, “that in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Timothy 3:1 ESV). Peter tells us, “that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires” (2 Peter 3:3 ESV). But Peter also knew that the last days would also be accompanied by a great movement of God. He had seen it and experienced it. On the day of Pentecost, he had been part of the small band of disciples who had been dramatically and miraculously transformed by the coming of the Holy Spirit. And he knew that their experience had been promised by God many years earlier through the prophet Joel. “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17 ESV). Peter worked this Old Testament prophesy into the message that he gave to the crowd of people who had gathered as a result of the disciples speaking in languages they didn’t know. It was the last days. God was at work. He had sent His Son. He had died, was raised again and now His disciples were spreading the good news regarding the salvation made available through Him. But there was going to be opposition. There was going to be an anti-Christ sentiment rise up and spread. The world would oppose their message. Satan would stand against the gospel and its offer of a restored relationship with God. We are living in a war zone. Satan, the god of this world, has blinded the eyes of the lost. He wants to keep them in the dark regarding the hope available to them through Jesus Christ. So he offers them alternatives and seemingly viable options. But they are all anti-Christ, other than Christ. They provide options that leave out Christ.

But like the believers to whom John was writing, we have hope and we have help. We have the Holy Spirit. John wrote, “But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ” (1 John 2:27 NLT). What we have to realize is that virtually everything around us is anti-Christ. The world and the things it offers us provide a constant temptation to turn from Christ to something else. Satan wants us to find our hope in the things of this world. He wants us to find our satisfaction from the things of this world. He wants us to seek our joy from the things of this world. He wants us to find our significance from the things of this world. But these things are all lies and illusions. They are poor imitations of the real thing. John reminds us, “And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life” (1 John 2:25 ESV). That should be our focus. Everything here is temporal, not eternal. It is fading away. But our hope is sure. Our salvation is secure. Our eternal future assured. And we know that the last days will have a last day. There is an ending to this story. There is a final chapter to God’s story of redemption. Jesus Himself told us, “And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven” (Matthew 24:30-31 NLT). These are difficult days, but we serve a great God. We have His Spirit within us and His promise of eternal life to motivate us. We can not only survive, we can thrive. We have already overcome the evil one because of what Christ has done for us.

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Truth Is NOT Relative.

I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. – 1 John 2:21 ESV

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). That’s a rather exclusive, intolerant and non-subjective statement. Jesus claims to be THE way, THE truth, and THE life – not just one of many options or alternatives. Nobody gets to the Father without going through Jesus. And when John tells his readers that they know the truth, He is referring not only to the teaching concerning Jesus, but to the person of Jesus Himself. They know Him personally. They know Him as He who is from the beginning. He is the life. He is eternal life. He is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He is the propitiation for their sins and their advocate before the Father. They know THE truth. And anyone who teaches anything other than that is a liar. No matter how reasonable what they say may sound. There are not variations of the truth. There is only THE truth – Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul had to deal with this problem in the early days of the church. He wrote to the believers in Galatia, warning them, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7 ESV). There were those who were presenting a different version of the truth. They were selling a variation of the truth which was really just a lie. And Paul was very blunt in his assessment of these individuals. “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9 ESV). A contrary or contradictory gospel is a false gospel. Any good news that does not present Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life is ultimately bad news. And yet, we are so susceptible to subjective truth. So were the believers in Corinth. Paul had to reprimand them for their unhealthy tolerance of alternative truth narratives. “You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed” (2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT). Paul feared that their “pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent” (2 Corinthians 11:3 NLT). Rather than keep their focus on the truth about Jesus, they would allow themselves to be distracted and deceived by the lies of the enemy. If you recall, when Satan tempted Eve, he didn’t totally contradict the word of God, he simply twisted the truth and turned it into a subtly deceptive lie. He got Eve to doubt God’s word, not reject it. And that is what the enemy does with us regarding the truth. His goal is not to get us to reject it outright, but to simply distort it or dilute it by creating a more acceptable version. But if it denies Jesus as the way, the truth and the life, it is unacceptable. If it presents Jesus as one of many ways to God, it is a lie. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). So either He was a liar or He was telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And John has gone out of his way to remind his readers that they know the truth. They know Jesus. They know Him who is from the beginning. As a result, they know the Father. They have a relationship with God because of what Jesus has done. And their sins have been forgiven. They are strong. The word abides in them. And they have overcome the evil one.

The lies are all around us. The enemy is constantly attempting to get us to accept false versions of the truth – distorted variations on the theme. But we know THE truth. It is Jesus. Jesus the Son of God. Jesus, God in human flesh. Jesus the sinless sacrifice. Jesus the payment for our penalty. Jesus the resurrected Christ. Jesus our advocate. Jesus our coming King. He alone is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes into a right relationship with God the Father but through Him. There is no other truth. There is no other way.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. – 1 John 2:22-23 ESV

The world in which we live is diametrically opposed to God. Although it was created by Him, it vehemently resists His sovereign right to rule and reign. It rejects His Son as King and denies in any way that men are subjects of His Kingdom. In his letter, John goes out of his way to present Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. But he wants his readers to know that Jesus was far more than just a man who lived a good life and taught strong moral truths. He was “that which was from the beginning” (1 John 1:1 ESV). He was the eternal word of life and was made manifest, made visible, so that men could see Him. Not only that, He was the propitiation for the sins of man. His death satisfied the just demands of a holy God. And now He sits at the right hand of God the Father where He intercedes on our behalf, acting as our advocate or mediator. But the world would have us believe it is all a lie. The god of this world is doing everything in his power to dissuade us of any notion as to Jesus being the Son of God or the Savior of the world. He wants us to reject the very idea that we even need a Savior. To do that, he gets us to doubt the reality of our own sin. Sinless people don’t need salvation or a Savior. Rather than confess our sins, Satan would have us deny them. Rather than recognize God’s holiness our own sinfulness, Satan would prefer that we measure our righteousness by a more subjective standard. Morality becomes relative and unenforceable. Goodness becomes a personal matter. Right and wrong become totally subjective and subject to interpretation. Isaiah warned about this kind of attitude. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20-21 ESV). This is the spirit of the antichrist. It is the antithesis of everything for which God stands. No rules. No law. No judgment. No sin. No savior. No hell. And it is all a lie.

John tells his readers, “I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21 ESV). Those to whom he was writing knew the truth regarding Jesus. He was the Son of God. He had come to die on the cross on their behalf. His death had provided them with justification before God. They had enjoyed forgiveness for their sins, a restored relationship with God the Father, and were assured on eternal life. Just hours before His trials and crucifixion, while alone in the garden, Jesus had prayed, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3 ESV). This is at the heart of eternal life. An intimate knowledge of and belief in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world, and the Father as the loving source of that invaluable gift. Anyone who teaches anything other than that is not only sorely mistaken, they are deadly wrong. Jesus Himself boldly and categorically claimed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). There is no other way. There is no other path. There is no other option. Case closed. End of discussion.

A belief in Jesus that is accompanied by a rejection of sin is nothing less than a lie. A belief in God that does not include His Son as Savior is close, but not good enough. “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23 ESV). One of the most important questions Jesus ever asked His disciples is recorded in the gospels. He started out by asking them, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13 ESV). They provided a number of options, clarifying the range of perceptions held by the common people of the day. But then Jesus posed a question for which the answer remains the most significant one any man or woman will ever have to give. He asked, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15 ESV). Forget about everybody else. Don’t worry about what everyone else is saying. What do you say? Who is Jesus to you? And we know by Jesus response that Peter gave the right answer. He simply stated, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mathew 16:16 ESV). Which is why John could say that anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ is a liar. To deny Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, is to deny that He was God. It is to deny that He was sinless. It is to deny that we are sinners. It is to deny that we need saving. It is to deny that God is holy. It is to deny that punishment for sin is possible or even probable. It is to deny the resurrection. It is to deny eternal life and the reality of heaven. And it is to deny the existence of hell. That is the spirit of antichrist. And it is all around us. But we know better. We know Him. We know the truth. We have the light. And we have the life. Let us live like it and love like it. Let us walk as Jesus walked. In the truth of who He is and what He has done.

The Folly of What Is Fading.

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – 1 John 2:17 ESV

This world is temporary and transient. But for most of us, it has become our only perception of what is real. Here in this world we can see, touch, smell and experience what appears to be reality. We can enjoy a good meal, watch a beautiful sunset, feel the love of another human being, and experience a thousand other moments of legitimate joy and pleasure. And there is nothing wrong with any of those things, until we allow them to replace or distract us from what is truly real. John’s whole point in this passage has been to warn believers of the danger of the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride we get from our possessions or positions. When we turn to those things in order to find our sense of worth and value or to feed our need for self-importance and self-indulgence, we have lost sight of reality. Those things we lust after, long for, and find satisfaction in are temporary and not timeless. John says they are fading away. Not only that, he indicates that our desire for them should be diminishing as well. As believers, we should have a growing sense of eternity, that our destiny is out ahead of us. This world is not our true home. We truly are just passing through on our way to somewhere else.

The writer of Hebrews spoke of this very attitude when he wrote about the saints of the Old Testament. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:8-10 ESV). Abraham never got to live in a city with foundations – on this earth. But he does now. His faith was in something he couldn’t see. He trusted the promises of God in spite of the fact that those promises so often appeared to be unfulfilled. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:13-16 ESV). Moses, Abraham, Sarah, Abel, Isaac, and Jacob – they all lived by faith, setting their hopes on things they could not see. “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT).

The danger we all face is to confuse our present circumstances with future reality. Nothing here lasts. New cars become old ones. They lose their value as soon as you drive them off the lot. New outfits become outdated in no time at all. New homes slowly fall apart. New toys lose their novelty and appeal. Even the bodies we live in are growing old and giving out on us. But Paul would remind us that these bodies are indeed temporary. They are not built to last. But we are. We are eternal creatures. Our souls are eternal and not temporary. Paul refers to these bodies as tents – much like what Abraham lived in. They are not our permanent home. “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.” (2 Corinthians 5:1 NLT). We are to live in this world with a sense of expectation in what is to come. Like Abraham, we are to see ourselves as temporary residents here. Our home is elsewhere. “So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:6-9 NLT).

Our goal is to please Him. That is exactly John’s point when he says, “whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17 ESV). We are to live in this world with a determination to do what is pleasing to God, not ourselves. We are eternal creatures. We have an eternal destiny. This world is fading along with its desires. Which is why Paul warns us to live our time here wisely and carefully, with a full awareness that how we live our life in the here and now directly is directly tied to our view of the hereafter. “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body” (2 Corinthians 5:10 NLT).

Self-glorification.

For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. – 1 John 2:16 NLT

John provides us with a third and final symptom of someone who is having a love affair with the world or, better yet, a love affair with self. Each of the three reflect an unhealthy infatuation with self that simply uses the world as a means to feed our sin nature. The world, while more than willing to accommodate our self-infatuation, doesn’t do so because it loves us, but because it hates us. In this case, it willingly feeds our ego and helps create in us a false sense of inflated self-worth and pride based on what we own or what we have accomplished. What we have achieved or accumulated in life become the measuring rods of our success. The old adage, “clothes make the man” becomes true in our life. The cars we drive becomes a symbols of our success. Our homes become not just places of shelter, but visible representations of our status in society. As with the second one, the desires of the eyes, this one can be subtle because God does not forbid us from having nice things. He does not say, “You shalt not buy a new car.” He has not made material possessions off limits. But the issue here is pride or self-glorification. It is about making much of self. And when we begin to use position or possessions to determine our self-worth, we are treading on dangerous ground. Self-glorification is a subtle, yet dangerous pursuit, and the enemy has been feeding man’s built-in tendency towards it since the beginning. When Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the garden, he used the phrase, “you will be like God.” The fruit wasn’t the real temptation. It was the possibility of possessing what God possessed. He was tempting them to become their own gods. At the heart of John’s warning regarding the pride of life is self-glorification – wanting what only God should have. It is about seeking glory for yourself. It is about seeing yourself as the center of your own universe. And Satan feeds this desire by telling us lies about ourselves. His goal is our independence from God. Self-sufficiency is his objective. He wants us to live as if we don’t need God. And he uses the things of this world to convince us that we are something special. We end up wanting what only God should have: glory. And Satan whispers in our ears that we deserve it. We have earned it.

It is interesting to note that King Solomon took seven years to build the Temple, the house of God. But he took 13 years to build his own palace. Some time later, when he was visited by the Queen of Sheba, she was blown away by all that she saw. “And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her. And she said to the king, ‘The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard. Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness’” (1 Kings 10:4-9 ESV). Do you notice that the queen seems to be worshiping Solomon and not God? She is blown away by Solomon, not Solomon’s God. She is impressed with Solomon’s wisdom and wealth. In reality, she seems to saying that God was fortunate to have someone like Solomon to lead His people.

When the people of Israel were getting ready to enter into the land of Canaan, God gave them a warning. He had already promised that He would give them the land, but He wanted them to be extremely careful. So He said, “when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you – with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord…” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12 ESV). Interestingly enough, God’s warning ultimately had to do with worshiping false gods. And it would begin as soon as they began to forget the Lord their God. When they began to believe that their houses, vineyards, cities, and material possessions were their own doing and had not been provided by God, they would forget Him. Self-worship always leads to false worship. We end up making much of the things God has provided rather than making much of Him. The glorification of self is a dangerous pursuit. Our confidence is to be in God, not self. Our hope is to be in God, not things. Our sense of worth is to be found in God, not material possessions. May we share the perspective of the apostle Paul: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13 ESV).

Self-indulgence.

For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. – 1 John 2:16 NLT

Self-indulgence: indulging one’s own desires, passions, whims, etc., especially without restraint. The second description John gives us to let us know if we are having a love affair with the world is a craving for everything we see or, as the ESV puts it, “the desires of the eyes.” But as I stated in my last post, this is really all about love of self. While it appears to be a reciprocal in nature, it is really one-directional. The world, under the control of its Satan, is only more than happy to oblige our obsession with self and give us what we think we want, need or deserve. It gladly feeds our insatiable appetite for more, like a drug dealer supplies the fix for a junkie. No love is involved. And in the end, a love of self becomes self-destructive. Which is why Jesus warned us that the world would hate us. It seeks our destruction, not our delight. So when we turn to the world to help us fulfill our craving for all we see, it is more than willing to play its part. In fact, it feeds the monster inside us through a steady diet of images and messages designed to tease us and tempt us to have what we don’t really need. Having spent 29 years in the advertising business, I am quite familiar with an old adage that says, “advertising is designed to get people to buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have to impress people they don’t like.” Sadly, there is a lot of truth to that claim. Ads for products and services are designed to get us to become dissatisfied with what we DO have and desire something we DON’T have. A newer car. A bigger home in a better neighborhood. A different perfume that will make us more attractive or a new outfit that will make us more popular. In longing for these things, we make them little gods, expecting them to deliver to us and for us the contentment, joy, satisfaction and sense of self-worth we long for. And it is not that these things are bad. In fact, this symptom of worldly love is quite different than the desire of the flesh we talked about yesterday. That is when we desire or crave something God has forbidden. We say yes to what God has no to. But the desire of the eyes is when we say yes to what God has NOT said yes to. In other words, we indulge our desires without including God in the decision. And for most of us, we do it quite often. Just think about all the purchases you make without giving God’s input a second thought. Would He want you to have that new car? What would He think about your purchase of a new outfit or a new set of golf clubs. It is not that these things are evil or wrong. It is a question of whether they are truly needed. They are typically wants and desires, not necessities.

Over in the gospel of Matthew, we have the words of Jesus warning us to avoid the love of money, because as believers, it is impossible for us to serve two masters. We will end up loving one and hating the other. Then Jesus says, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25 NLT). Then He uses the birds and the flowers as examples of God’s ability to feed and care for His creation. It is all a matter of faith. Do we trust God to provide what we really need or are we going to give in to our natural desire to purchase our satisfaction and contentment from the temporary things this world offers. Jesus would tell us, “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:31-33 NLT). There is nothing wrong with buying a new dress, a new flat screen TV, a more reliable car, a more comfortable home or new carpet for the living room. It is a matter of motivation. So often, we are driven by our sin nature and we don’t even know it. We are struggling with discontentment and dissatisfaction with life, so we become easy targets for the advertising messages designed to feed our ego, stroke our pride, and make us the center of our world. The danger is that we are to keep God at the center of our world. We are to seek His Kingdom, not our own. We are to fulfill His desires, not our own. Self-indulgence is self-love without restraint, without oversight. It would be like a child let free in a candy store without their parents and with free access to all the treats on the shelves. The outlook, from the child’s perspective would be bright, but the outcome would be less than happy. God longs to be involved in every area of our lives. He wants to be included in our decisions. He wants to be consulted in what we do and how we spend our money. Because He cares. He knows our hearts. He can see the inward motivation and help us steer clear of self-indulgent behavior that is ultimately self-destructive.

Self-gratification.

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life —is not from the Father but is from the world. – 1 John 2:16 ESV

John has just issued a command: Do not love the world. Simple. Direct. Straight forward. But for most of us, it is easier said than done. Loving the world comes naturally to us. It is part of our nature – our sin nature. And the world is more than willing to accommodate and return our love. But at the end of the day, our love of or for the world is really self-love. It is motivated not by what we can give the world, but by what we can get from it. Yes, it is a reciprocal relationship. It is give-and-take. We give and we get. But for the most part, we give TO get. And John gives us three evidences of that give-to-get nature of our love affair with the world. The New Living Translation provides a very up-to-date and in-your-face interpretation of verse 16. “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.” I think this gives us a very clear idea of what John is attempting to say. He is providing us with three distinct characteristics that mark a love affair of the world or, better yet, a love of self. The first is “a craving for physical pleasure.” The NASB translates it as “the lust of the flesh.” The NIV reads, “the cravings of sinful man.” The ESV has “the desires of the flesh.” The word John uses that gives us any insight into what he is talking about is the Greek word sarx. It can refer to the human body, but in this case, John is using it to refer to “the earthly nature of man apart from divine influence, and therefore prone to sin and opposed to God.” It is our sin nature and even though we have been redeemed and renewed by Christ, it remains alive and well within us. Paul puts it this way: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17 ESV). He goes on to describe the very dark side of our flesh or sin nature. “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV). So when John refers to the craving of sinful man, the desires of the flesh, this is what he is talking about. The real issue here is self-gratification. What I like to refer to is saying yes to what God has said no to. Self-gratification is the act of pleasing or satisfying oneself, especially the gratifying of one’s own impulses, needs, or desires. If you look at the list given by Paul, it provides a comprehensive catalog of sinful actions and attitudes that have been forbidden by God. They are aptly summed up in the Ten Commandments. God has forbidden us to do these things. But self-gratification causes us to say yes to what God has said no to. Rather than obey him, we give in to our sinful desires. And the world is more than willing to accommodate us. It gives us exactly what we crave, but not because it loves us, but because it hates us. Jesus warned His disciples, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19 ESV). Self-gratification is ultimately self-destructive. Paul tells us the only way to protect ourselves from this dangerous human tendency is by living in the light, by listening to and obeying the wisdom of the indwelling Holy Spirit. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16 ESV).

The Spirit gives us the strength to say no to what God has said no to. He provides us with the capacity to turn away from self-love and self-gratification so that we can love others. The problem with a life of self-gratification is that it not only destroys us, it damages all those around us. Every one of the characteristics listed by Paul has a negative relational aspect to it. Jealousy, anger, immorality, impurity, strife, envy, and rivalries – they all involve a form of hatred toward others. They use and abuse others. But we have been called to love one another – as Christ has loved us. Yet the enemy is out to get us to say yes to what God has said no to and to say no to what God has said yes to. God had told Adam and Eve that one tree in the garden was a “no” for them. But Satan caused them to doubt God’s word. He tempted them to say yes to what God had said no to, and they gave in to their fleshly desires. What looked good to them ended up being highly destructive. The same is true for us today. Living a life of self-gratification appears to seductive and alluring. And the world whispers in our ear that what we desire is good and right. But God has said, “No!” He has something far greater in store for us. Whether we believe it or not, He is telling us that a life of selflessness is the key to fulfillment and satisfaction. A life of sacrifice is the path to joy and contentment. A life marked by a love for others will leave us feeling loved by God and more gratified than we could ever imagine.


Misplaced Love.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. – 1 John 2:10 ESV

John has made it perfectly clear that, as children of God who enjoy the love of God, we are expected to share that love with one another. We are to love as we have been loved. When we allow the love of God to flow through us, His love is perfected or completed in us. We become conduits of His love to those around us. Paul tells us, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). Jesus was the expression of God’s love. He made God’s love visible, tangible, touchable and knowable. In the garden on the night He would be betrayed, Jesus prayed to His Father, “I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them” (John 17:26 NLT). Jesus revealed God. That was an act of love. He shared God’s love with those who desperately needed it. And we are to do the same thing. But the problem is, we can easily misplace and misuse our love.

John warned his readers that love for their brothers and sisters was going to have competition. There was going to be the temptation to share their love in the wrong ways and in the wrong places. He wrote, “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world” (1 John 2:15-16 NLT). In reality, he warns them, love of the world is not really misplaced love, it is an altogether different kind of love. It isn’t God’s love flowing through us. It is a self-centered, self-absorbed kind of love that uses and abuses. It is a love of self, not a love for others. And it is the greatest danger we face as believers. It is why Jesus prayed, “I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one” (John 17:15 NLT). Jesus knew that we would be under constant attack and face the unrelenting temptation to love this world and the things it has to offer. The enemy wants to keep our focus on ourselves, on our personal pleasures, rights, and needs, all the while feeding our sense of self-importance. While God wants us to learn to die to self, Satan wants to keep us self-obsessed. The three areas John warns us about all have to do with self – “a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions” (1 John 2:16 NLT). In essence, it isn’t really a love of the world as much as it is a love of self. It is all about self-gratification, feeding our sinful desires; self-indulgence, fulfilling our insatiable appetite for more; and self-glorification, making more of ourselves than we do of others, or even God.

When we love the world, we get something in return. It feeds our appetites. It fuels our desire for more. It makes us feel important, significant, and somehow accepted. But as John says, these things “are not from the Father, but are from this world” (1 John 2:16 NLT). This isn’t the love of God flowing through us. This is the love of self sucking anything and everything back into itself like a black hole. That kind of love becomes deadly and destructive. The Dead Sea is a beautiful body of water, but it is a beauty that is deceptive. It is a sea with fresh, clean water flowing in, but no outlet for the water to flow out. So it sits and stagnates, absorbing all the minerals and salts from the surrounding soil, creating a deadly environment where nothing grows. the water is undrinkable and incapable of sustaining life. What an apt illustration of the Christian who allows the life-giving love of God to flow into his life, but never shares it with those around him. His love of self motivates him to keep it to himself, and his desire for self-gratification, self-indulgence and self-glorification causes him to seek from the world a false kind of love that has no outlet and leads to death. We were meant to love. We were intended to share the love we have received with those around us. Jesus told the woman at the well, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14 ESV). Springs give life. They are fresh and refreshing to those around them. They restore and renew. They flow out, never becoming stale or stagnant, receiving a never-ending supply from a source that remains hidden from view. That is the life we have been called to live. But when we fall in love with self and allow ourselves to believe that the world loves us because it feeds our basest appetites, we misplace our love and run the risk of becoming life-robbing, rather than life-sustaining.

A Timely Reminder.

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. – 1 John 2:12-13 ESV

This section in the book of First John is a fascinating and somewhat perplexing one. Even the commentaries seem to struggle with exactly what John seems to be saying and to whom he is trying to say it. He appears to be addressing three groups of people: Little children, fathers, and young men. There are those who believe there three groups simply represent the various age segments within the local church. Like any fellowship, it would have had children, young adults and older individuals. There is another school of thought that believes these three groups represent levels or degrees of spiritual maturity. The term “children” would simple be a designation for those who were new in Christ. “Young men” would represent those in the church whose lives exhibit a degree of spiritual growth. “Fathers” would be those who were the more spiritually mature. The problem with either of these views is that John complicates any conclusions we may reach by what he has to say to each of the three groups he mentions. Our tendency is to focus on the three audiences addressed rather than the message being conveyed. It is not exactly clear who John is addressing, but it is crystal clear what he is saying to them.

Your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.

You know him who is from the beginning.

You have overcome the evil one.

Because you know the father.

Because you know him who is from the beginning.

Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

If you notice, virtually every one of these statements is a review of what John has covered in his letter up until this point. Forgiveness of sins, knowledge of the Father, spiritual victory, the abiding presence of God, and a knowledge of Jesus Christ – each of these was to be real in their lives and not speculative. These truths were not to be in doubt. Regardless of who is talking to, John is reassuring them that everything he has been telling them is “true in him and in you” (1 John 2:8). Your sins are forgiven. What a remarkable statement that most of us take for granted or for to grasp its significance. We have forgiveness of our sins – for His name’s sake. Not because we have earned it or deserved it. Not because we have lived righteous and sinless lives. Not because we have paid the debt for our sins. But because of His name. God came up with a way to protect the integrity of His name, His very character, by providing His Son as the sacrifice for our sins. His sinless Son took our place and paid our debt, propitiating or satisfying the just demands of a holy, righteous God. And we are forgiven. Our sins are forgiven. “He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins” (Ephesians 1:7 NLT). Done deal. Case closed. Sins forgiven. Past. Present. Future. For all time.

Not only that, we know Him who was from the beginning. We know Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the creator of the universe. We have a relationship with the God-man, who left the throne of heaven and took on human flesh so that He might die as a substitute for our sins. And it is that relationship with Him that gives us access to the Father. We know the Father. We have an intimate and personal relationship with Him. We can come into His presence without fear of condemnation. We can have fellowship with Him and enjoy all the blessings and benefits that come with being a child of God. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:19-20 NLT).

And if all that was not enough, John reminds his audience that they are overcomers. He doesn’t tell them they WILL be overcomers some day. No, he tells them they have already overcome the evil one. They have experienced victory over the enemy. They have conquered sin and death, because of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Yes, they were still living on this earth and were faced with the prospect battling their own sin natures and a very real spiritual enemy in the form of Satan, but John wanted them to know that they were already victorious and strong, because the word of God was abiding in them. They had the promise of forgiveness of sins and the assurance of eternal life with God. “But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Corinthians 15:57-58 NLT).

In a way, these words are for all of us who have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. They are true of us whatever our chronological age or level of spiritual maturity. We are forgiven. We know God. We are strong. We are overcomers. And we will be victorious. Timely words. A much-needed reminder. Now let’s live like we believe it.

You Have Overcome.

I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. – 1 John 2:14 ESV

Life can be filled with setbacks and disappointments – even for those who believe in Christ and have a relationship with Him. in fact, difficulties can and are a regular part of the average Christian’s life. Which should come as no surprise to us, because Jesus Himself told us it would be that way. “In the world you will have tribulation.…” (John 16:33 ESV). But He also went on to say, “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” The Greek word for overcome is nikaō and it means “to conquer, to carry off the victory.” Jesus has overcome or conquered this world order, the domain that lies under the influence of Satan. Paul describes Satan very plainly and simply. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV). But the darkness has been penetrated by the light of Christ. And John would remind us that “the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8 ESV). The light of God, in the form of Christ’s righteousness, made available to those who have accepted His offer of salvation, shines in our lives. As a result, the light dwells in us, not just around us. God inhabits us, in the form of His Holy Spirit. And the reality is that we have already overcome the evil one, because Christ has defeated him. Our victory is assured because Christ’s death conquered sin and death once and for all time. Which is why Paul could so boldly declare, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-58 ESV). As believers, we don’t have to fear death. It is not terminal. It does not lead to a dead end. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Because God’s children are human beings – made of flesh and blood – the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14 NLT). There was a day when death would have brought us judgment and an eternity separated from God as a punishment for our sins. But because of Christ’s death on the cross, our sins have been paid for, our judgment reversed, our condemnation eliminated, and our death sentence has not only been commuted, but completely eradicated.

Twice in his epistle, John refers to young men who have overcome the evil one. They are young, but they are victorious. He does not address this statement to grey-haired saints who have lived long and battle-hardened lives. He confidently calls these young men overcomers. Why? Because their victory was achieved through Christ – on their behalf. Therefore, they can love unconditionally, as Christ loved. They can “walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6 ESV). They can live in obedience, humility, selflessness and sacrifice. Their lives, regardless of their young age, can exhibit strength that comes from the Lord. And as a result, they can model what it means to live in victory even in the midst of a world under the control and influence of the evil one. One of the greatest evidences of this victory is their willingness to do the will of God, rather than fulfill the desires of their own flesh. A love affair with the world no longer marks their lives. The things this world offers – “a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions” (1 John 2:16 NLT) – no longer holds them captive. Doing God’s will means more to them than succumbing to the world’s ways. God’s love shows up in a love for others rather than in a love for the world. Life becomes other-focused rather than self-centered. Sacrifice becomes the norm, not self-satisfaction. Humility becomes more attractive than hubris or pride. These kinds of people live with an eternal perspective that reminds them that “the world is passing away along with its desires” (1 John 2:17 ESV), but they will live forever. The darkness is passing because the true light is already shining. The world is passing away as well, because its days are numbered. And yet we underestimate the reality that we have overcome. Our victory is not only sure, it has already been accomplished. So we can live victorious, confident, and radically different lives. “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:1-6 ESV).