Month: January 2020

The Next 10-weeks…

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You might not be aware of this, but this blog is the result of our church (Reconciliation Road Church – http://www.recroadchurch.co.za) having an in-house Bible Reading Plan where for the last 7yrs each month we choose a book of the Bible or a theme that we read through together as a church.  These devotionals on this blog are just a support to that personal Bible reading.

For the next 10-weeks, we as a church (starting today) are following the NEW CITY CATECHISM designed by Tim Keller and Redeemer Church (NY).  So these devotionals will pause until that is finished.

However, I can highly recommend that you download the free APP and follow along with the Catechism which we believe is going to help our congregation grow deeper in God and they contemplate and pray into the truths of Scripture regarding our faith.

You can download the app on the Google Play Store or Apple Store by clicking on this link – http://newcitycatechism.com/mobile-apps/

We will resume our normal BRP and devotionals after the Catechism ends around the 1st of April 2020.

God Bless

GARETH

 

Warnings & Encouragement for the Journey (2 John 1-13)

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John’s second letter is written to a local congregation (‘the elect lady and her children’ – the bride of Christ). The apostle has been encouraged to have come across some of the congregation who are ‘walking in truth’ as God wants of us (2 John 4).

The Christian life is often depicted as a journey – a path that is to be walked out. Although salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, this does not result in inactivity. Movement, even intentional effort is implied by the word picture John and other writers of Scripture used for the Christian life.

John uses ‘walk’ three times in this short section each time, indicating that progress and intentional effort in a certain direction are expected of believers.

It is a great encouragement to know that all believers in Jesus are on the same road/journey. We might be at different points along the way, but we share the same road!

Roads have borders that define the road’s edge; in this instance, it is the commandments of God define the roadway that God has laid out for us to journey along. We are to be those who ‘walk according to His commandments’ (2 John 6), commandments which have not changed since the beginning but commandments which we ‘should walk in’ (2 John 6).

It is safe to summarise the two borders of the Christian road as love for God (1 John 5:2-3 & Matthew 22:37) and love for people (2 John 5 & 1 John 3:11).

In 2 John 8, the apostle shares wisdom for the journey with these believers and with ourselves;

Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” (2 John 8)

This one verse is richly dense with meaning! In it, we find assurance and warning and encouragement.

1. Warning! ‘We are to watch ourselves.’

Don’t go off the path; don’t get distracted or diverted by the schemes of the enemy. Obeying God’s commandments & listening to the Holy Spirit will keep you on the road. We have a responsibility to do this ourselves, but we are helped greatly if we have others around us who can spot if we are veering towards the edge of the path. It’s your responsibility to watch yourself, but it is wise to enlist the help of some brothers or sisters who will love you enough to keep watch too.

2. Warning! ‘So that we do not lose what we have worked for.’

There are serious consequences if one does not adhere to the first warning. You can lose something; you can have regret even as a believer. But what can you lose?

The apostle says that we can loose ‘what we have worked for’. And what have we worked for? Well, we know that we haven’t worked for our salvation! Jesus did the heavy lifting, not us; Jesus did what could not do. So what is in focus here is not us losing salvation which was given to us not by works but by grace alone so that no person can boast (Ephesians 2:4-8)!

In what way have we ‘worked’? Well, we have worked out the impact of our salvation (Philippians 2:12-13), we have worked harder than anyone in response to the grace of God in us (2 Corinthians 15:10). We worked in that we have responded to God’s free gift in giving us salvation. We have worked in that we should ‘work for’ our reward…

3. Encouragement: ‘But may win a full reward.’

This is what God’s desire for us, to give us our full reward that He always intended to give us. God is so good; He saves us not on the basis or our work/merit but purely by grace. Then God inspires us, works in us by the Spirit (Philippians 2:12-13) changing us at the level of our desires so that we now want to do His will and obey His commandments. And then God plans to reward us for walking the road He has laid out for us – incredible!

If you have believed in Jesus, your salvation is secure, guaranteed! But whether or not you will ‘walk God’s road’ obeying the Holy Spirit’s promptings and God’s commands is not guaranteed. And so, the possibility exists that some of your reward that God wanted to give you may be lost, that we by our lack of response, our lack of working and walking God’s ways may lose some of what He had always intended to give to us – rewards.

John doesn’t want this for the believers he is writing to, and God doesn’t want it for you either. So take heed of the warning, watch yourselves and ask others to watch you too. Invite people into your life who can speak with a loving honesty and who in turn will be blessed if you do the same for them.

Know Three Things & Do One (1 John 5:19-21)

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The apostle John’s longing has been that those who have believed in Jesus would KNOW that they have eternal life through faith in Jesus (1 John 5:13).

Now he goes on to write of three additional things that Christ Followers know also;

1.We know that we are from God.

So many personal problems begin when this truth is not firmly grasped and held on to by the believer in Jesus. The devil repeatedly tries to undermine the truth that we have been adopted as God’s beloved children through faith in Jesus (see John 1:12, 1 John 3:1).

Assurance, security, peace, acceptance, love, protection, hope for answered prayer…are all rooted in this truth. God being our Father changes everything – it’s a classic case of; ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’! Even better it’s not about who you are but who’s you are!

If you are battling with feelings of fear, anxiety, rejection, or loneliness or feeling under-valued or over-looked or unseen, you need to tap into this truth, again and again, the sons and daughters of God most high need never struggle with questions of this nature.

If God the Father loved you enough to send Jesus to the cross to die in your place for your sin while you were still His enemy, then having already done that, how much more will He not also along with Jesus give you all things? (Romans 8:32). Know these things.

2.the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 

Know also, however, that in this present age post-Christ’s resurrection but before His return the world around us is under the control and influence of the evil one – the devil.

Although the devil has been triumphed over by Jesus on the cross (Colossians 2:14-15), although his days are numbered, and his final destiny is the final judgement of God in the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20) – he still has power in this present age. And so the world is full of traps and temptations as the devil tries to derail people from faith, worship and trust in God.

Knowing that you have an ultimately defeated, but real enemy who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8) will help you to be sober-minded and alert. Remember that ‘He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world’ (1 John 4:4) – so do not live in fear but be alert to his cunning schemes and traps.

3. And know that Jesus is the one true God (vs20) 

The knowledge that we have a real enemy is sandwiched between knowing we are God the Father’s beloved children (vs19) and that we have believed in Jesus Christ the one true God and we ‘know him’ and so we can know we have eternal life with Him.

Don’t give in to doubts and lies from the enemy about who Jesus is – what you have believed is true, and you will be richly rewarded into eternity for holding on to that truth. There is no god besides our God, Jesus Christ!

Armed with the knowledge of these three things, John concludes with something we ought to DO.

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (vs21)

Don’t give your trust, your worship or devotion to anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ. But what is an idol? Is it just a statue of sorts?

An idol is anything that we seek to get significance, meaning, identity, belonging, purpose, security, peace or happiness from – someone or something that occupies the place of God in our lives. Mark Dever said; “Idolatry is sin in its purest form: it is trusting something other than God.”

The apostle closes his letter with a warm warning – keep yourselves from idolatry. Worship, serve and love God only!

What do you know? (1 John 5:13)

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What do you know? Not just what do you know about, but what can you be utterly sure about?

In South Africa, we are at the start of the academic year. We have thousands of people clamouring to get enrolled in schools and tertiary education facilities so that they can know more, get educated.

Some people know a whole lot about things that are pretty trivial to most. Like how to make perfectly square watermelons! Or what the weather will be in 6-7 days time in Outer Mongolia…

The apostle John wants those he is writing to, and by extension wants you and I to know something of significance. John wants us to know, to be assured that we have eternal life in Jesus Christ if we have believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.

And so he has written this whole letter of 1 John with this express purpose in mind;

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13)

‘These things’ refers to the whole letter, not just the sentences preceding it. John is saying in effect that the entire letter has for this purpose, that these believers might know not some obscure trivial thing, but that they might know that they have eternal life.

This is knowledge worth knowing! To be assured that you have been forgiven and released from your moral debt before God forever is a pretty big deal.

When a child or a person in my care is feeling the gripping hold of fear in some situation or another, my desire as a Father is to alleviate the fear, to neutralise it and to bring peace.

However, it is not always loving to assure someone. After all, to assure the drunken person that they can drive if they are careful is unloving in the extreme. And to falsely assure someone of their eternal destiny in heaven who does not have eternal life because they haven’t as yet trusted in Jesus – is the epitome of an absence of love.

On the other hand, to see someone wilting under the weight of anxiety because they are not assured that they have been forgiven of their sin is equally bad.

The apostle John is passionate about believers knowing that they have been forgiven, accepted and loved by King Jesus. Knowing that they have believed in Jesus and put their trust in Jesus, and knowing that Jesus is entirely trustworthy – he doesn’t want them to doubt for another minute or ever doubt again. He wants them to know that they have eternal life because of their faith in Jesus.

Have you believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of all of your sins? Because if you know that you have believed, Scripture wants you to know that you have eternal life. It’s secure, unchangeable, impossible to overturn – it’s yours, you can rest assured!

Why does this matter?

  • God, your Father, wants you to live in the good of what Jesus bought for you with His precious life, death & resurrection.
  • God, your Father, wants your life to be characterised by hope, joy and peace not robbed by anxious worry!
  • Knowing that you already have eternal life frees you from striving – you are a recipient of God’s grace, and so rest and worship and thanks are the only appropriate response.
  • God, your Father, wants you to look ahead to death and life after death with utter confidence knowing whom you have believed and knowing that He will never disappoint you just like God never let down our fathers in the faith (Psalm 22:4-5)

The apostle John was the last surviving eye-witness of Jesus. He knew the ONE whom he had believed in; he had first-hand experience; he was certain.

And John wants the same for you and I. What do you know? Know this, that He who has trusted their lives to Jesus will be saved and will live with God forever and ever.

Exercise:

Go back through the letter for all the indicators John has mentioned (1 John 2:3, 3:10, 3:19, 3:24, 4:7, 4:13, 4:15, 5:13) that help us to know we are truly saved, truly God’s children.  Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help you to know your eternal state before God!

Assurance! (1 John 4:13-21)

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In John 15:1-5 Jesus implores His disciples to ‘abide’ in Him promising them that if they do, He too will ‘abide’ in them and that they will have lives that are fruitful in abundance.

Since ‘abiding’ in Jesus was urged by Jesus, and because it promises much – it is reasonable, therefore to ask how one might be assured that they are genuinely ‘abiding’ in Jesus.  

On the one hand, it is good to be assured, and on the other, if one is not truly abiding in Jesus, it would be good to know while something can still be done about it.

The apostle John tells us that we can know that we are abiding in Jesus and He in us because we have the Holy Spirit within us – “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of his Spirit.” (1 John 4:13).  

John says that we know we are in Christ because we have Christ’s Spirit in us! Something tangible has happened to the person who has believed in Jesus. Such a person is not just left with an esoteric memory of a moment when they put their faith in Jesus – they have tangible evidence of God’s Spirit in them!

Similarly, Paul described the Holy Spirit to the Ephesian church as the seal that guarantees our future inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of the believer was an assurance, a guarantee of what was to come. It would not be much of a guarantee if the Holy Spirit’s presence was not tangible to the believer.

I believe that what John is referring to is one of the Holy Spirit’s greatest works within us. The Holy Spirit assures the believer in Jesus that they truly are God’s child and that they have an unshakable future hope!  

The apostle Paul said it like this; “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8:15-17)

Assurance is one of the major themes in the whole letter of 1 John (see 1 John 2:3, 3:10, 3:19, 3:24, 4:7, 4:13, 4:15, 5:13) and here again, John writes how the Holy Spirit’s work and presence in the life of the believer results in a certainty and a firm belief or assurance;

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.” (1 John 4:16)

As a Father, I remember many situations when all I wanted was my children to know that I had the situation under control. I wanted fear and anxiety in them to subside and for peace and security and assurance to fill their minds and hearts, putting them at ease. I hear, in John’s writing, that our Father in Heaven wants the same for all those who have believed – assurance, peace, the absence of fear and worry and anxiety.

We have been loved by God’s perfect selfless love by the King of kings and Lord of lords. So all fear and insecurity have to melt away in the presence of such love and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit who keeps reminding and revealing to us the magnitude and perfection of God’s love for us His beloved children.

Friend, if you have believed in Jesus, you have been granted the right, and the privilege of becoming the child of God and that is what you are (John 1:12 & 1 John 3:1). You have been given the indwelling Holy Spirit to remind you of these truths and to make the love of God real and tangible so that you rest secure in your heavenly Father’s love forever!

So, pray now and ask for the Holy Spirit to overwhelm you again with the love of God (Romans 5:5) & to fill you with the assurance that you are God’s beloved child forever.

Family Resemblance: Love (1 John 4:7-12)

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In the preceding verses (vs1-6), John has made it clear that false teaching is invariably linked in part to erroneous teaching about who Jesus is and what He came to do.

Then starting in vs7, the apostle John contrasts false teaching with authentic godly life that results from right teaching and right believing.

Those who have accepted the Gospel, those who have been loved and accepted by God, in turn, love others with the same type of love with which they have been loved (vs7).

The connection between love for God and love for people is so strong that the apostle writes that anyone who doesn’t love other people can’t truly love God!

The Gospel doesn’t leave us unchanged; it doesn’t just cause our sins to be forgiven; the Gospel melts our hearts and changes our lives and our relationships.

True faith in Jesus Christ has to have an outworking. The overwhelming characteristic John highlights is love – because ‘God is love’ (vs8). Therefore, we will love if we are truly God’s children (‘born of God’ vs7) because God is love.

I can’t see it, but people tell me that my children look like me. The resemblance is there physiologically and in terms of things like temperament and personality. They share some of my DNA, and they grew up in close proximity and relationship. Similarly, the apostle John’s argument is that we who have truly been supernaturally born of God will resemble God because we have God’s DNA in us (1 John 3:9)!

True faith is not the attainment of knowledge, or experience but demonstrates itself as being true in God-like self-giving love.

And this is how we know what real love is – that God gave of Himself in sending His only Son into the world to save us (vs9). Love doesn’t start with us (‘I love God’); rather love was initiated by God when God loved us and sent His Son Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins (vs10)!

Brother or sister, we did not initiate reconciliation with God. We didn’t take the first step in love towards God. While we still sinners, still against God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Salvation is all God’s initiative; God has loved the unlovely and made us lovely and able to love others.

So, let you and I who have believed in Jesus love one another with the same love with which we have been loved – and as we do, God’s tangible presence will be experienced amongst us.

Reflection

  • Who are you finding hard to love right now?  Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you about this person and your present struggle.  What is the Holy Spirit speaking to you?  And what ought you to do now?
  • Look back on your spiritual journey of faith in Jesus – how have you changed when it comes to love for others?  Be encouraged.  We all mess up, but as you look back you will see progress.  Now ask the Holy Spirit to make you more and more like your heavenly Father.

Gullible? (1 John 4:1-6)

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Gullibility is a liability! Not everything that ‘sounds’ spiritual or deep is Godly or helpful. We live in an age of information overload, the access to options or alternate thought positions has never been easier.  

Therefore being able to discern right from wrong, good from evil is an important life skill. The apostle John writes warning believers affectionately; “Beloved, do not believe every spirit” (1 John 4:1) or as the NLT puts it; “Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit.”

In our day in the name of God, church leaders are sadly often in the news for telling those who follow them to perform all manner of crazy acts, claiming this is what God wants or torturing Scripture to say that what they are teaching is what Scripture commands!

Discernment, therefore, is a vital aspect of faith for all Christ-followers. But how does one discern orthodoxy from heresy?

1. Listen to God’s Holy Spirit!

 God’s Holy Spirit will always make much of Jesus, who He is and what He has done for us. So listen to the content and the focus of someone’s teaching and if Jesus is not the BIG IDEA, if anyone, anything is, then tune out! Remember that;

  • The Holy Spirit will teach us and will remind us of everything Jesus said. (John 14:26)
  • The Holy Spirit will testify about Jesus (John 15:26)
  • The Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth (John 16:13)
  • The Holy Spirit will bring glory to Jesus (John 16:14)

Hearing from the Holy Spirit is not for some elite group of Christians. Adam and Eve used to walk and talk with God in the Garden. Now that you have been reconciled to God through Jesus, you too can walk and talk every day with God. This is your joy and your privilege as a believer!  

Try this: As you read, or listen to anything/anyone – ask the Holy Spirit to confirm in your Spirit whether this is helpful or unhelpful in your spiritual walk.

2. Use the Weapon of Scripture

One of the primary ways God has put on display His will for our lives is in Holy Scripture. The more you read and internalise Scripture, the better equipped you will be to discern spiritual nonsense from the good stuff.  

So, if some teaching doesn’t line up with Scripture – toss it out! Our LORD did this when He was tested in the desert by the devil, and yet Jesus resisted him, Jesus exposed the falsehood through quoting Scripture to the enemy.

So read your Bible daily, commit to that discipline, and it will protect you in ways you cannot begin to imagine. Internalise Scripture, memorise Scripture – doing so is that arming yourself with the sword of the Spirit, taking the sword out of its sheath to protect yourself from enemy attacks (Ephesians 6:17).

3. Be in intentional Christian Community

Being on your own, isolated with your thoughts, leaves one vulnerable to false teaching and potentially being persuaded or lead astray. The people John was writing to had a relationship with the apostle John, and that relationship helped them to remain strong in the face of false teaching as they could ask John for his opinion. 

Who are you in intentional Christian Community with? Is the Bible and listening to the Holy Spirit a key aspect of that friendship? In Reconciliation Road Church we urge every believer to be in a TRIO or a COMMUNITY GROUP or to be in both if possible. Why? Because Community protects one, keeps us from the pain of being diverted from the path God has for us.  

Do you have an intentional Christian Community? If not, take a step and reach out to some other people.

May we, may you be fortified against gullibility. May you obey the Holy Spirit daily, devote yourself to Scripture daily and may you have an authentic and intentional Christian Community around you to protect you from dangerous spiritual gullibility.