Written by Jenn Richter
The recipients of the first epistle of John were dealing with a serious division in their community, fueled by the infant cries of Gnosticism. This school of thought, which wouldn’t become fully fleshed out for another couple of centuries, declared, in essence, that spirit is good and matter is evil. Many believed that the Son of God could not have come in flesh because how could a good God inhabit an evil body? But by denying that God came to us in person, Jesus became once again just a man, with no power to change our hearts and lives, and God was once again The Spirit in the Sky, accessible only to those of superior enlightenment. They had tossed the central message of the Gospel out into the dust.
At the same time that they were declaring the body to be evil, the Gnostics were also using their beliefs to justify licentiousness. If only the spirit is important, they reasoned, what you do with your body doesn’t matter at all. When John writes this letter, he asks the people of the church to pause and back up a bit. There are three tests of a true Christian, he said. First, they believe that God became flesh and brought the message of God’s love to us in a sweaty, sometimes smelly body that was prone to bruise and bleed – just like us. Second, they acknowledge that Christ was a teacher and had plenty to say about what behavior is acceptable– and what is not. Because of their love for Christ and their recognition of what he went through to connect with us, they strive to follow his teachings. And third, they recognize that Christ’s most important lessons boil down to one tenet: Love your neighbor as yourself. If a person truly understands who Christ is, he will not use his connection with God to justify stealing from his neighbor, cheating on his spouse, lying to his boss … If a person claims to love God but continually mistreats God’s children, he is fooling himself; he doesn’t know God.
That said, John recognizes that we are all fallible human being. We make mistakes. Despite our best efforts, we all sin on occasion. John says, look, sin is real. And sin is destructive. Don’t go there. But if you do, remember … that’s why Jesus came in the first place – to pay the price for our sins and to set us right with the Father. But, he cautions, don’t get all high and mighty about this. Jesus came, not just for us, but for all of God’s children. None of us are so spiritual that we are exempt from Christ’s expectations, nor are any of us too human for his love to reach through and pick us up when we fall.
Quotes of the Week
“Some people confuse acceptance with apathy, but there’s all the difference in the world. Apathy fails to distinguish between what can and what cannot be helped; acceptance makes that distinction. Apathy paralyzes the will-to-action; acceptance frees it by relieving it of impossible burdens.” – Arthur Gordon
“As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way.” ― Mary Anne Radmacher
“Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.” ― Martin Luther
“God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.” ― Søren Kierkegaard
“We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.” ― Desmond Tutu
1 John 1:5-2:2 (NRSV)
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 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. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Questions for the Week
In what ways does your life display your love for Christ?
Have you ever had a believer in Christ show you unconditional love in a time of personal weakness? What difference did it make in your life?