I was speaking with an antiquities dealer in the Near East not long ago, and he said something that made an impression on me. He told me: “In my shop there are real antiquities, and there are fakes.” I asked him, “Why do you have fakes?” He replied with a smile: “Because some of them look better than the real thing!” That never occurred to me. Some people are going to purchase an item and display the purchase. It is less important that it is authentic, than that it looks good on the shelf. Sometimes fakes look better…
Though I love painted works of the Masters of art, I am not skilled enough to discern a real master from a well-made forgery. What I do know is this: There are REAL pieces and there are FAKES that are displayed as real.
Business Insider Magazine reported: “It seems like bigger and stranger art scams are revealed each year, from the man who sold more than 200 fake Alberto Giacometti statues out of his car in Germany to the Los Angeles art dealer who commissioned a fake Picasso and sold it for $2 million… During WWII, Dutch artist Han van Meegeren didn’t start out as a forger. He simply wanted to be recognized as a legitimate artist. In fact, he wanted the title so badly that he created his own works replicating Johannes Vermeer’s style and allowed them to be sold to unknowing buyers who thought them to be genuine. For a while he got away with selling the detailed forgeries for astounding prices, reaching the equivalent of $60 million for six fake Vermeer’s sold on the Dutch market, according to The Telegraph. But when one of van Meegeren’s paintings ended up in the collection of high-ranking Nazi officer Hermann Göring (an art expert), van Meegeren was arrested for treason for refusing to name the original owner of the masterpiece. The government of the Netherlands was among the other entities duped by van Meegeren.”
It is astounding to me that paintings that were forged could get past the eyes of one expert after another. It happened again just a few years ago, when actor Steve Martin bought an expensive forged piece of art and reportedly lost millions! If the forgers are that good at what they do, why not just create some new breath-taking pieces for us to share?
As shocking as that is, our lesson today from the first letter of the Apostle John opened with a story of “forgery” that we need to pay close attention to. He reminded…
Key Principle: There are people who fake faith, but there are also markers that indicate whether someone is truly part of the body of Christ.
A believer should have certain marks on their life that show they are following God, and being led by Jesus Christ. John felt it was necessary to help believers of the first century know the difference between real and fake faith. We want to explore the identification points (like “finger prints”) he left behind, and apply them to our time, and particularly to our lives!
Before we begin the lesson, we should take a moment and remind ourselves of a few facts we have received from historical record about the Disciple turned Apostle named John – to reacquaint ourselves with the writer:
1. He was the brother of James and the son of Zebedee from Capernaum of Galilee.
2. He was one of the fishermen called by Jesus to become fishers of men.
3. Peter and Andrew worked for his father’s fishing business.
4. He was likely the youngest of the disciples, perhaps merely a teenager at the time.
5. Perhaps because of his youth, he was very close to Jesus. John refers to himself in the Gospel of John simply as the “disciple Jesus loved.”
6. Jesus nicknamed John and his brother James “sons of thunder” because of the eager way with which they were wanted to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village that refused to offer Jesus and company hospitality.
7. He was the last surviving apostle. The best information says that he was well into his 80’s when he died at Ephesus. For obvious reasons, he was considered an elder statesman of the church in his later years. Note in 2 John, he is simply referred to as “the elder,” a term that could mean simply an older man. The term came to refer to the respected leaders of the church (and before that the Jewish synagogue).
8. He was also the only apostle to die of natural causes, if you don’t count the rigors that an extended exile and imprisonment may have had on him. All of the other apostles, according to tradition were martyred for their faith.
Three church historical writers add what may be a bit of “texture” to the history. These aren’t certain as facts, like stories from the New Testament, but they are old and have been a part of the church’s understanding of John for centuries:
• Eusebius (3 :28) tells another story of John which he got from the works of Irenaeus. We have seen that one of the leaders of the Gnostic heresy was a man called Cerinthus. “The apostle John once entered a bath to bathe; but, when he learned that Cerinthus was within, he sprang from his place and rushed out of the door, for he could not bear to remain under the same roof with him. He advised those who were with him to do the same. `Let us flee,’ he said, `lest the bath fall, for Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.”’ I love that story! It offers another glimpse of the temper of John. Apparently, Boanerges (a son of thunder) was not quite dead.
• Cassian tells another famous story about John. One day he was found playing with a tame partridge. A narrower and more rigid brother rebuked him for thus wasting his time, and John answered: “The bow that is always bent will soon cease to shoot straight.”
• It is Jerome who tells the story of the last words of John. When he was dying, his disciples asked him if he had any last message to leave them. “Little children,” he said, “love one another.” Again and again he repeated it; and they asked him if that was all he had to say. “It is enough,” he said, “for it is the Lord’s command.” I love that story. As a Pastor, it showed he cared how the people God entrusted to his care treated one another.
Take a moment and look at the beginning of 1 John. The opening of John’s letter explained three essential truths to understanding the early church:
• First, he addressed the message around which believers rallied.
• Second, he openly discussed the problems they faced.
• Third, he offered a brief description of his recipients – those who were truly following Jesus in his time.
His interest, as an aging Pastor, was that he frankly and openly addressed the body of believers with both excitement about his message and candidness concerning their current troubles. His opening idea is an honest assessment that still rings true… The church isn’t a perfect organization; it is flawed people with a wondrous message of the Perfect One.
With enthusiasm, John opened with a message about their message – a few words about the Gospel that caused them to gather together as one.
John essentially wrote: “Our work is all about Jesus (1:1-5)!” He offered five truths about the message that binds believers together:
First, the Gospel is ETERNAL TRUTH. It was always true. We didn’t create the faith; we discovered it. (1:1a).
1 John 1:1 What was from the beginning…
Second, it is HISTORICAL. It was a real encounter. We didn’t imagine a spiritual event; rather we but experienced Him. (1:1).
1 John 1:1b “…what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—
Third, it was DIVINELY SHARED. It was uncovered by God (He made Himself known). We didn’t sculpt its features; we merely shared our experience with you. (1:2).
1 John 1:2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—
Fourth, it was PURPOSELY COMMUNICATED. We shared what we found to offer you relationship both to us and to God (1:3).
1 John 1:3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
Fifth, it must be STRENGTHENED. Growing in Christ will reinforce assurance of the Gospel in us. (1:4).
1 John 1:4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.
Sixth, it has an OBVIOUS EFFECT. The Gospel is unique and profound; it stands out and cannot be mixed with other messages (1:5).
1 John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.
Review those truths for a second. John said: “Our message is one that existed from the beginning – but for a time was obscure. We heard it audibly, saw it physically, and handled it personally- we have a relationship with God through personally experiencing the Person and work of Jesus the Messiah. We shared with you the way to God just as He, the “life-giver,” revealed the path to us. We continue to offer the message of a growing relationship with God. We offer this letter to continue your growth in Him and help complete the work, bringing you to greater assurance in your life in Christ. Here is the truth: The encounter with Jesus changes you, and that profound change should be unique and obvious before men.”
The message that drew us together is from the Creator. It is a message that changes, and should excite us as we gaze at it. John wanted the wonder of the message that God has set us free to again cause us to think about God’s goodness.
That was the opening, but that wasn’t the problem. Our message never is. He openly discussed the fact that some were claiming faith, but their life didn’t show it to be truly theirs.
All of us who know Jesus openly acknowledge we have this profound problem… There are imitation followers (1:6-2:11). They say they have embraced the Gospel, but their life doesn’t show the obvious and profound change that should accompany belief and surrender to Jesus. We have people in our midst that TALK FAITH but don’t WALK FAITH. Some may not realize it. Others do it intentionally.
To make the point very clear, some mechanics of Bible study may be in order. Let’s try to see if we can cut through the verbiage and see a pattern that will help us follow John’s line of thinking. Look at the rest of 1 John 1. Notice a phrase that emerges and is repeated. In verse six (1:6) you may note the phrase: “If we say…” You will see it again in verse eight (1:8) and verse ten (1:10). Follow the words into the second chapter. A similar phrase carries the issue over in verse four (2:4) with the words: “one who says” – repeated again in verse six (2:6) and in verse nine (2:9). We can easily see John is making clear that people say things that don’t reflect their true inner state. He used descriptions of them like “liar” in 1:6, “self-deceived” in 1:8, as well as those who “make God a liar” in 1:10.
Now go back to the first chapter. In contrast to the WORDS of some “so-called” followers of Jesus, John made clear that ACTIONS were used to measure the reality of their true faith. He used terms about their actual lifestyle like “if we walk in darkness” in 1:6 or if he “does not keep His commandments” in 2:4. Just by that brief overview, it becomes possible to recognize the central idea: People CANNOT ask us to believe they are truly followers of Jesus if their lifestyle reflects the value system of the world.
In the opening to his letter, John made the clear point that anyone can claim to be a Christian, but their life choices show whether that claim is true. If being a Christian strictly means “being a follower of Jesus Christ”, only those who are walking along a path Jesus would walk can honestly say they are Christian. It is the walk that validates the talk.
Follow the terms: “If we say…”
Claiming we know Jesus isn’t the same as knowing Jesus. Saying we have heard of Him and know of Him isn’t the same as surrendering our daily choices to Him and reaching for His hand to daily lead us. When He leads, we will be changed. Where He leads, we will live a distinct lifestyle from the world around us. Don’t be duped by talkers that aren’t walkers…If we follow Him, we won’t think we are better than others, but we will know His cleansing of us changed the deepest hungers within us. John wrote:
1 John 1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
John simply wrote: If we claim to be a Christian but walk like we aren’t – we just aren’t being honest – with ourselves and others around us. The daily practice of our faith is essential evidence of its claim over us. 1:6-7.
John faced the reality that some boldly claimed they were fellowshipping with Jesus, but they were walking according to the pattern of the dark world of the lost. He simply argued that both cannot be true! (1:6).
John’s words are clear: When we choose to follow Jesus, we are choosing a path that affects our daily life. We are choosing to live in a way that He would live. We are choosing to lock arms with others who have made that choice as well. Our cleansing is from Him and not from our work, but our lives show the relationship with Jesus in a way as profound as light piercing through a dark room. There is little ambiguity in the lifestyle of those who walk in relationship to Jesus, for we fellowship with other believers and ever humbly thank Jesus for cleansing us from our sin (1:7).
John argued: “If there isn’t a noticeable distinction between the world’s values and your values, you need to be concerned about whether you are lying to yourself about your faith.
Christianity isn’t simple theological assent to a set of historical events – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus – it is surrender of choices to the One Who saved us. It is a change in life NOW, not simply a change in destination at DEATH. If that were not the case, John wouldn’t state that our faith should be seen in our daily walk.
Note that two issues were presented in the way we show our faith to the world.
• The first was a “walk in darkness” as opposed to a profound change toward a walk in the light of our relationship to Jesus.
• The second is our open willingness to walk through life together, counting on the cleansing work of the Savior.
It should be clear to the reader of his letter, then, that a Christian is one who was profoundly affected by their meeting with Christ, and is now a part of others who met Him. The fact is that Christianity wasn’t designed to be a lone journey. It wasn’t simply you and Jesus facing life. Coming to Christ means joining others who have come to Him, and seeking to reflect the powerful light of Jesus in a dark world.
The words of John penetrate deeply. Our nature has changed in our coming to Christ. Our hungers should change. Our companions should change as well. John continued with yet another lie some have been repeating within. He wrote:
If we claim we have no need of cleansing in Christ – we are self-deceived. We are in constant need for His forgiveness and renewal. 1:8-9
1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Apparently, John heard some in the faith community that were saying their salvation provided complete cleansing, so they no longer needed to battle with a sin nature in their daily choices. He remarked: “That is self-deception!” (1:8). There is a small possibility that John was addressing those who thought they never needed a Savior, but that doesn’t fit the context well, so I will simply dismiss that idea.
When we turn our attention to believers, however, there are two issues that often arise always when there is a call to holy living like the one John opened with:
First, that call has a tendency to distress some because they think that holiness implies perfection in our daily walk. Usually, this is a problem to the most responsible among us. (If you are the kind of person who apologizes for things someone else in your group did that had nothing to do with you, this may be a problem for you!)
The fact is that every believers fails to follow Jesus at times. We know that we don’t always do right, even if we are daily calling on the Spirit’s aid and working hard at submission. Does that mean we don’t really know God at all? Nothing is further from John’s mind. Encouragement to do right was not intended to make you feel worse. It wasn’t John’s purpose to cause guilt or angst, but rather to invite people to consistently and intentionally choose to follow Jesus in their daily life. The Gospel isn’t intended to spread guilt, but rather to bring us to freedom by bridging the gap fixed between God and the sinner. Telling people their value system would change when they are “in Christ” was a way to help them identify if they truly knew Jesus.
Perhaps a good way to think of the call to walk with Jesus is found in the imagery used by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament – that of a marriage. As believers, we are a part of the body of Christ, but we are also referred to as the “Bride of Christ.” This image makes our walk more understandable.
When we marry, we change our state from singleness, and become a part of the union with another. Our marriage is not only a singular choice, as in we “want to be married for a moment,” but rather the change of a state that must be demonstrated by continuous choice to act within that state. A marriage is not a simple attendance at a wedding – it is a daily choice to act out the vows made at the wedding ceremony. In the same way, the Gospel began a relationship, and it is one that implies ongoing choices to signal the initial choice was sincere.
Now, every analogy breaks down at some point, and our relationship with God through Christ cannot be summarized neatly is a short analogy without some limitations, but hopefully this helps to make the general idea more clear.
Second, there are some who rebuff calls to holiness because they understand the Gospel to give them license to live according to their desires without penalty.
There is a theology that was born from the conflict inside the strong-willed believer. This is the person who is most opposite of the “constantly guilty Christian” we discussed a moment ago, for they seem to celebrate a theological concept that allows guilt to be set aside regardless of current lifestyle or behavior. You will find them in many church circles. They are people who believe in Jesus but feel no particular need to act on that belief – and they offer a theological reason why they feel as they do.
Here is their line of logic in a brief summation: The end of verse seven promised: “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” If Jesus saved me from all my sin – past, present and future – as one covered by His blood, I may continue on my way through life with a perpetually clean account before God regardless of my choices after I am saved. After all, since there is “no condemnation” for me, I am in Christ (Romans 8) and I am assured Heaven because of the finished work of Jesus, why should I fret over my failings? Isn’t His death supposed to make me secure in my life? With such a refuge, why would I care about what I choose today? My walk has no bearing on my eternity.
There is some truth to that position, but there is also a serious flaw. Here is the central issue: Within each of us is a deep inner hunger for license to “live for self.” Every believer faces it, and every day brings a new challenge to surrender will to the Master. When that urge gets paired with the knowledge that Jesus made me completely clean, it can produce in us a problem for our daily walk. My old nature, lurking beneath the surface of my trained veneer, is ever enticed to follow the siren call of the fallen world around me, that lives in perpetual rebellion against God. A theology of forgiveness that immediately frees me from the need to care about sin sounds like a gift to one who doesn’t want to push against a sinful nature.
In the letter, the Apostle John asserted a truth to bring people back to the main thought behind the Biblical presentation of salvation – the Gospel offers us a walk with God. It is an error to think the center of the message of Christianity is to provide Heaven for people; it isn’t. It is to reconcile people to God. The central message of the Gospel isn’t about Heaven – it is about a relationship with the Living God through Christ’s work on the Cross.
Believers must remember the focal point of our destiny isn’t merely a tearless gaze upon shining streets of gold, but a future time of unending intimacy with God!
It is true that Jesus paid for all of our sin, and we stand faultless before God when we acknowledge the payment as fully sufficient. At the same time, Jesus paid for our sins on the Cross with the primary purpose of pulling us back into an intimate and personal relationship with God. When we treat our cleansed state in Christ as a license for an indulgent but guiltless life, we miss the whole point of salvation. We were saved to walk with Him. Thinking of salvation as a ticket to do as I please is a form of self-deception.
As a result, God provided a way to deal with sin in a believer’s life that includes coming back to Him for a renewal (1 John 1:9). The process begins with confession – a mere open agreement with God that what I did was self-focused and pulled me from a proper walk with Him. Pretending that my state of righteousness has become a license is no way to honor God with my life.
Not only that, but when we live like we don’t need Him, we live a lie. For those who may argue they don’t need a Savior, they are just plain wrong (1 John 1:10). John wrote:
1 John 1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
You cannot claim to be able to live as you please and yet have a vibrant walk with God. By the same token, you cannot claim you follow His Word if you live a theology that invites self-will over surrender. John continued:
1 John 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. 3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.
He made clear that his desire was to share what he could to help the people grow in their faith and walk in truth. He wanted them to set aside sinful behavior and renew their walk with Jesus! He reminded them we have an advocate if we sin that will represent us (2:1) and He IS our payment (2:2). We can walk in assurance by walking in obedience.
When we try to hide that we have sinned, we disrupt, at least for a time, God’s use of our lives, and kill the growth of His grace within us! We remain in bondage instead of moving ahead in victory. It reminds me of a famous story:
“I PLEAD GUILTY!” The great “prince of preachers” Charles Haddon Spurgeon used to tell this story: “A certain ruler once boarded a galley ship. As he passed the crew of slaves, he asked several of them what their offenses were. Almost every man claimed he was innocent. They laid the blame on someone else or accused the judge of yielding to bribery. One young fellow, however, spoke out, ‘Sir, I deserve to be here. I stole some money. No one is at fault but myself. I’m guilty.’ Upon hearing this, the duke seized him by the shoulder and shouted, ‘You scoundrel, you! What are you doing here with all these honest men? Get out of their company at once!’ He was then set at liberty while the rest were left to tug at the oars.” The key to this prisoner’s freedom was the admission of his guilt.
John repeated the claim he made in 1 John 1:6-7. He reminded: “If we say we know Jesus, but walk as though we do not – this is a lie! (2:4).
1 John 2:4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:
Obedience is the prerequisite for completion in His love (2:5), for what we truly believe comes out in our lives. It is not the Sunday church us, but the Monday morning us that our children read as the “real us”. In fact, to drive home the point, someone quipped: “A hypocrite is a person who is not himself on Sunday.” Another man, an obvious skeptic, who’d apparently seen hypocritical Christian behavior wrote, “A Christian is a man who feels sorry on a Sunday for what he did on Saturday and is going to do on Monday.”
We need to get past the surface of our lives and concern ourselves more with what God thinks than everyone else. We need to be honest. We aren’t nearly as good at covering our hypocrisy as we may think. Someone told me a story some time back that makes the point clear:
A 12-year-old boy was waiting for his first orthodontist appointment and was a bit nervous. Apparently he wanted to impress the dentist. On the patient questionnaire, in the space marked “Hobbies,” he had written, “Swimming and flossing.”
Yes, we really ARE that transparent sometimes!
John wasn’t done with the verbal misrepresentations of faith yet. He continued:
1 John 2:6 “…the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
He made the point that some say they live in relationship with Jesus. If this is true, it is proper to expect they live as He lived (2:6). There is a simple implied idea: We cannot live a different lifestyle with different priorities than Jesus but fit Jesus into that lifestyle – all the while claiming we are followers.
Unfortunately, hypocrisy is one of the most damaging events occurring in churches today. A businessman was returning home from a business trip. The plane pulled in, the passengers were dismissed and his wife met him at the gate. They made their way to the baggage claim area when an extremely attractive stewardess walked by. Suddenly, the husband came to life. Beaming, he said to the stewardess, “I hope we can fly together again, Miss Jones.” She grinned at him and walked away. Just then, his wife asked, “How did you know the name of that stewardess?” Husband plays it off, “Well, her name was posted up front in the plane, right under the names of the pilot and co-pilot.” You know what the wife said? “Oh really? How nice of you to notice… Tell me, what were the names of the pilot and the co-pilot?” BUSTED! The man’s hypocrisy was uncovered. His true motives were revealed.
Finally, John drove one final case home about people who speak in a way that shows something is wrong inside. He wrote:
1 John 2:9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
We simply cannot say they are walking in fellowship with God, but allow unrepentant hate to reign in our hearts with our brother. Only those who love their brother are really walking in the light where they won’t trip (2:10). The one who continually hates his brother is in darkness, and is blind and fumbling around. The bottom line is this: We can’t ask God to forgive us of our sin and not forgive those who have hurt us!
John reminded us of the wonder of the Gospel message, and followed that with a survey of truths that should indicate the difference between a real follower and a fake.
In the last part of the lesson, John reminded us of the flock – those who were truly following Jesus.
I love that John was a Shepherd. His writing wasn’t simply about the problems of the faith – but about the PEOPLE of God’s Kingdom. He knew were his words were directed, and targeted them to real people following a real Savior. He wrote:
1 John 2:12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
• I am writing to believers – those forgiven by Jesus’ work (2:12).
• I am writing to eye witnesses (he called “fathers”) because some were around to know Jesus himself (2:13a).
• I am writing to young winners that have seen victory in Him (2:13b).
• I wrote to discerning children who know what our Father is like (2:13b).
• I wrote to fathers with track records of following (2:14a), to young men who have been steadfast in peril and to all who have God’s Word hidden in their heart (2:14b).
There are markers that indicate whether someone is truly part of the body of Christ – or not. They aren’t just words – they are actions. They are choices that reflect values, standards and deeply held truths.
Christianity can be taught, but on closer inspection, it is mostly lived. Our commitment to Jesus makes our walk different. It isn’t FORCED. It is a joy. It can be seen in the way we make the most of today.
Famed educator Booker T. Washington recalled the “entrance exam” that earned him a place at the Hampton Institute in Virginia as a young man. The head teacher ordered Washington to take a broom and sweep the classroom. Because he knew this was his chance, he swept the room three times and dusted the furniture four times. When the teacher returned, she inspected the floor closely and ran her handkerchief over the woodwork. Unable to find a speck of dust anywhere, she said, “I guess you will do to enter this institution.” Washington later said that this was the turning point of his life. Don’t waste your time waiting and longing for large opportunities which may never come. But faithfully handle the little things that are always claiming your attention. F.B. Meyer.