Monday, June 22, 2015

A Fellowship of Light

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. (1 John 1:3-4)
Fellowship, intimate relationship with God, is what salvation is all about. On the night before he was crucified, Jesus prayed, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). “Eternal life,” which is the life of the age to come, is not merely something that is gained by knowing God, it is knowing God, and knowing Jesus the Messiah, who is himself life. Knowing God is the essence of eternal life.

John and his associates experienced this fellowship with God, but he also wanted those to whom he ministers in this letter to experience it, too. And he wanted to experience it together with them, for our fellowship with God unites us together in holy community with each other as well. It is in this community that we find our joy complete — loving God and each other, and being loved by God and each other.

That is why John writes this letter. Yet there is an issue he must address and it has to do with light and darkness: “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 5:5). “Light” is about what is good and true and just. Darkness is about what is evil. John the Gospeler writes:
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19-20)
Darkness is incompatible with light, evil is incompatible with good, for light overcomes darkness and good overcomes evil. When we have fellowship with God, he will not lead us into darkness but into light, and into good, not evil. John brings out an important implication:
If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:6-7)
Our “walk” is our manner of living. If we profess to have fellowship with God, who is light, yet we practice sin and live in darkness, our claim is hollow because we are not living it out. The truth of our relationship with God is not just theoretical, something to know, but it is also practical, something we do. In John’s day, as in our own, there were people who thought it was sufficient to know or believe certain things about God, and if one had this knowledge, one knew God. But John shows us that if we are not living out the truth, we do not know God.

Now, our fellowship with God is not based on what we do but is revealed in what we do. A life marked by what is good and true and right — in a word, by godliness — is not the cause of divine fellowship but the fruit of it. When we have fellowship with God, even our doing is a gift of his grace. So if we walk in the light that God is in his very being, our fellowship with him becomes evident.

It is not only our fellowship with God that John has in mind. It is also very much about our fellowship with each other. The body of John’s letter is about how walking in light and keeping God’s commandments demonstrates that we truly know God and share in the divine life he brings. God’s commandments are here summed up very simply as faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and loving one another (1 John 3:23). If we have no love for each, we are living in darkness. But when we walk in love, we show that the life of God, the life of the age to come, is at work in us.

John adds that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, and this is very important, for it is this that enables us to walk in the light and share the life of God together with each other. For we are yet learning to walk in the light and live the life of love, and we often fail or fall short. But there is no condemnation in Christ, who manifested the love of God and gave himself up to the cross for our sake.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Drawn Up Into the Divine Dance

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)
Our fellowship, says John, is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus. The Greek word for “fellowship” is koinonia, and speaks of partnership and participation, of community and what is shared in common.

The Trinity is its own community, its own koinonia. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit have joyful and eternal fellowship with each other. Early Church Fathers referred to their relationship as a perichoresis, a divine interpenetration or interweaving with each other. Three persons, perfectly united in One — God.

How is it, then, that we could even begin to have fellowship with the Three-in-One? What could we possibly have in common that would enable us to enjoy partnership and participation with God? The answer is found in Jesus the Messiah. 
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. (1 John 1:1-2)
John and the apostles experienced him in his humanity. They could see him, hear him, touch him — he was as real to them as they were to each other — yet they came to understand that he is the Word of life who was from the beginning, who was with God and, indeed, is God (John 1:1). They recognized him both in his divinity and in his humanity, the two perfectly joined together in one — Jesus the God-Man.

Our fellowship with God, however, is not simply that Jesus participates in human nature with us. It goes much deeper than that: Through Jesus the Messiah, we participate in the divine nature.
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:4)
The Greek word for “participate” here is koinonos, from which comes koinonia, the word for “fellowship.” In Jesus the Messiah, we who were created to be like God in the first place now share in the divine nature — he gathers us up into himself. By his divine nature, the life of Messiah at work in us by the Holy Spirit, we participate in holy community with God, drawn up into the divine dance of the Three, to enjoy loving fellowship with them forever.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Random Thoughts

More thoughts culled from my random file. About divine love, relationship with God and new life in Christ. Some have come to me in moments of quiet reflection, some in interaction with others. Many have been tweets and Facebook updates. Some have been posters. Offered as “jump starts” for your faith.
  • The sacraments (e.g., baptism and communion) are not merely outward signs of an inward faith but the outward signs of an inward grace. Though our faith in Christ may often be weak, the grace of God towards us is always strong.
  • Discipleship is learning to live in the fellowship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • Eschatology is not about the end of the world but about the end of the age. It is about the new creation, which has already begun for us in Jesus the Messiah.
  • A new twist on an old saying: Pray as if everything depends upon God. Work as if everything depends upon God.
  • Fear is at the root of all kinds of issues, and it is a terrible bondage. It is an “orphan” spirit, desperately looking for, and never finding, a father. However, God has not given us the spirit of fear that leads us into bondage again but the Spirit of Adoption by which we cry out, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). And when God’s love is perfected in us, it casts out fear. When we fear, it is because we are not trusting in the love of God.
  • We were conceived in the divine love and fellowship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • At the cross, God did not pour out his wrath on Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ poured out the wrath of God on sin, death and the devil.
  • In King Jesus the Messiah, all are made new. Come to him. Trust him. Follow him.
  • We are created for greatness, though it often comes in ways that seem small and insignificant — but that is because we have gotten things upside down.
  • If God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, how in the world could anyone ever be insignificant?
  • Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Do thou likewise. Therein lies greatness.
  • All that belongs to the Father belongs also to the Son. The Spirit reveals them to us — and we are caught up into divine fellowship.
  • God is Love. Love pours himself out for others. And so Love fulfills all.
  • God is love. In God, there is one who loves, one who is loved, and one who is the love between them. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • There is not a soul in this world who does not long for the glory and presence of the Lord. Many just do not realize it yet.
  • God is love, and a consuming fire. He burns away everything that cannot be loved.
  • The love of God never gives up on us, never ceases to work for our good. Even in hell, God is love.
  • The Christian life is infinitely impossible to live on our own — but intimately available to all in Christ who is our life.
More random thoughts …

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Prevailing Unity of the Trinity

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, though they are three in number, yet they are one in nature, one in substance. They dwell in each other, participate in each other, have intimate fellowship with each other. The early Church Fathers thought deeply about these things and theologians have referred to the mutual fellowship and participation of the Three as perichoresis, the interweaving of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a sort of divine choreography.

The Three are glorified with the same glory, which is the greatness of their goodness revealed. In his divinity, the eternal Son of God always possessed this glory, but in his humanity, which happened in time, this glory was given to him.

The Three also love with the same love. There is only one love, for God is love and God is one. And it is out of the abundance of their love for each other that the world and humanity came into being.

In the garden of Gethsemane on the night before he was crucified, Jesus prayed for the same unity for his disciples, and all who believe through them, that we may all be one. This is not only unity with each other but also with God — for there is no unity apart from God, who alone is one.

Just as the Father is in Jesus the Son, and Jesus is in the Father, so Jesus prayed that we may be in the Father and the Son. Jesus is in us just as the Father is in him. We are in the Father, Son and Spirit, and they are in us. So we are taken up into the divine interweaving of their fellowship.

The glory Jesus received from the Father is the same glory he shared with the Father before the world began (John 17:5). This is the glory he gives to us, so that we may be one, just as the Father and Son are one. It is a complete unity that Jesus prays for us, for the love the Father has for us is the same love he has for Jesus — love itself is one and cannot be divided.

The Church always confesses the mystery of the Trinity: One God, three Persons. And though Jesus has two natures, fully human and fully divine, we confess that these natures are perfectly united in one person. The unity Jesus prays for his disciples is the unity — the wholeness — of the Three and of Jesus in his divine and human natures.

The truth about all who are in Christ is that, though we be many in number, yet we are one. We are one body, and though the body has many members, yet it is still one body — the body of Christ. This unity is not something we must somehow accomplish for ourselves — it has already been done by Christ himself — but we must learn to live out this oneness by the power of the Holy Spirit.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)
The unity we have with each other is the same unity we have with the Father, through the Son and by the Holy Spirit. Thus we partake of and participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). What God is in his own being, he shares with us in grace. It is given to us so that we may enjoy fellowship with the Father, Son and Spirit, the same fellowship they have always enjoyed together with each other from before the world began. This unity is all-encompassing and is why Jesus came.
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)
In the end, heaven and earth, though they be two, shall be fully and completely one. And God shall be all in all. The eternal unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit shall prevail in everything.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Glory of the Three Revealed in Us

He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you. (John 16:14-15)
The ministry of the Holy Spirit in us and through us is all about King Jesus the Messiah. He speaks to the world through us about Jesus in regard to sin, righteous and judgment. He guides us into all Jesus wants to teach us. Everything he does is to glorify Jesus, showing the greatness of his goodness.

Whatever belongs to the Father belongs also to the Son, and the Holy Spirit takes what belongs to the Son (and the Father) and reveals it to us. The Spirit “takes” it because it belongs to him just as much as it does to the Father and the Son.

So the Three — Father, Son and Spirit — share all things in common and are made known to us by the Holy Spirit. This is by no means a lesser intimacy than the disciples enjoyed before, when Jesus walked with them. He could only be with them then. But the coming of the Spirit would bring a greater intimacy because Jesus would now be in them — and in us.

The Spirit does not just reveal Jesus to us but also in us. And Jesus does not just reveal the Father to us but also in us, through the Spirit. In this way, then, the glory of God is revealed to us, in us and through us. The Father reveals it by sending us the Spirit, who glorifies the Son, who glorifies the Father.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Spirit to Guide Us

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:12-13)
Jesus had been with the disciples for three years, teaching and training them, yet there was still much more they needed to learn. But now there seemed to be two problems. First, they were not yet ready to learn what else Jesus wanted them to understand. Second, Jesus would soon be going away, ascending to his throne at the right hand of the Father.

This would indeed have been a problem, except that Jesus promised that the Spirit of God would now come to be in the disciples as well as with them. And now Jesus himself would likewise be in them as well as with them — through the Spirit (see Ascension and Pentecost). The Spirit would be a paraclete. Paraclete is a Greek word that is variously translated as Advocate, Helper and Comforter. And now Jesus calls him the “Spirit of Truth.” The Spirit of God who would soon come upon them would guide them the rest of the way, leading them into all they would need to know. He would show them the truth.

Today, we almost always think of truth in propositional terms, and there is certainly a propositional aspect to the truth about Jesus the Messiah. However, the New Testament understands truth to be a person — Jesus himself. Earlier, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He does not simply show us the way — he is the way. He does not merely bring us life — he is life. He does not just teach us the truth — he is the truth.

When the Holy Spirit guides us into “all the truth,” then, it is all about Jesus. Indeed, he reveals to us Jesus himself. That is why the Holy Spirit does not speak on his own, independently of the Lord Jesus. He speaks only what he hears and tells us the things Jesus wants to say to us. That is the same way Jesus himself operated. Jesus did only what he saw the Father doing (John 5:18), exercised no judgment independently of what the Father judged (John 5:30), spoke only what the Father told him to say (John 12:49-50). The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are always in agreement.

Jesus also said that the Spirit would tell of what is to come. It is unclear exactly what this refers to. Perhaps prophetic understanding in general. Perhaps revelatory understanding about the things the disciples themselves were about to see and experience. Perhaps the many things Jesus still had left to teach them, unfolding for them in the days ahead, revealed to them, and through them to us in the Scriptures. The overall point is that the Church will never be at a loss, for the Spirit is always here to help us understand.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Spirit and Sin, Righteousness and Judgment

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is all about King Jesus the Messiah. In the Upper Room on the night before he was crucified, Jesus described three things that the Spirit would do in and through the disciples when he came upon them. We will look at these over the next few days. First, there is this:
When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16:8-11)
When the Spirit came on them, he would show that the world had been wrong about Jesus of Nazareth. One of the points of the Gospel According to John was to draw the distinction between those who received the Lord Jesus and those who rejected him, but especially that John’s readers might be among those who received.
He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:11-12)

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. (John 3:18)

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
Bringing out the truth of these things would not simply be the work of the disciples but that of the Holy Spirit working through the disciples. In one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to the disciples, he said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:21-22). Imparting the Holy Spirit to them was very much part of sending them out to testify about King Jesus.

When the Holy Spirit came, Jesus said, he would prove the world to be in the wrong about three things: sin and righteousness and judgment.
  • About sin, because they did not believe on Jesus the Messiah. Yet he is the one who came to deal with the problem of sin and destroy its power. The unbelieving world crucified him, yet it was at the cross that Jesus broke the power of sin — for the sake of the world.
  • About righteousness, because Jesus has ascended to his throne at the right hand of the Father. His kingdom establishes the righteousness and justice of God in the world, and will continue to do so until it is complete. “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet,” so that in the end, God will be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:25, 28).
  • About judgment, because the “prince of this world” has now been condemned. This was a reference to satan. The cross was not God’s judgment upon Christ but Christ’s judgment upon satan and all his works. Earlier that week, when Jesus came into Jerusalem for the final time, he said, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:30-31). The power of the devil was broken at the cross, and the principalities and powers of this world were disarmed.
The Holy Spirit has come to reveal the truth about these things through us as well as to us.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Ascension and Pentecost

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)
It is more than appropriate that Ascension and Pentecost occurred just ten days apart. It was necessary in order to bring heaven and earth together. Jesus, the God-Man, fully human as well as fully divine, ascended to the throne as King of Heaven and Earth. In him, humanity is eternally and irrevocably a part of heaven. But that is only half of the story. The other half is Pentecost. On the night before he was crucified, Jesus spoke to the disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit:
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:15-18)
Jesus would be going away. Yet, paradoxically, he would also come to them. He would not leave them on their own, as orphans. The Father would be sending the Holy Spirit — the Advocate, the Helper, the Comforter — not only to be with them, as he already had been, but to be in them. And so Jesus himself would be not just with them but in them, because the Spirit of God, who is the Holy Spirit, is the Spirit of Christ.
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:9-11)
Because of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, Paul can speak of Christ himself dwelling in us, for it is the life of Christ that the Spirit ministers to us: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Elsewhere Paul speaks to us of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). The Lord Jesus dwells in us by the Holy Spirit.

This could not have happened if King Jesus had not first ascended to his throne. For both the Ascension and Pentecost are part of the victory of God and the reconciliation of heaven and earth. Jesus the God-Man ascended to heaven and the Spirit of God descended to earth. As the Holy Spirit does his work and all the enemies of God are put under the feet of King Jesus, the connection between heaven and earth will be made complete and, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:28, God will be “all in all.”