My favorite of all the apostles is John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
Some people give him a bad rap for calling himself that, saying it’s arrogant. I disagree. I don’t believe this title for himself is any indication he thought he was the only one. Rather, I believe it reveals how certain he was that Jesus loved him and everyone else, including you.
I love John’s Gospel, his three epistles, and Revelation. One of my favorite passages is from 1 John 4:7-21. It’s all about God’s love for all of His children and how we should love each other in the same way. There’s not a hint of arrogance here.
There are a number of things I love about John’s writings:
He reminds his readers that he was an eye witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That means he writes with truth and authority of what he knows to be true.
He clearly sets out the evidence for Jesus’ divinity. Especially in the Gospel, where we see the “I am” statements of Jesus.
He focuses, particularly in the epistles, on the love of God. In fact, he says “God is love” twice in 1 John 4.
He reveals the power and purpose of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. It is by the Spirit that we overcome sin and know we are God’s children.
He provides believers with an assurance of salvation.
It is this last point that I’m focusing on today. Early in the history of the Christian faith, deceivers had come into the church who taught that one had to achieve sinless perfection to be saved. John wrote his first epistle to combat this heresy. The same type of heresy has crept into many legalistic denominations even today. By outwardly following the rules, such people claim to be without sin. But as John writes:
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”
1 John 1:8-10 (NIV).
John here provides assurance that the fact that the believer sometimes sins does not negate their salvation, because Jesus is faithful and forgives our sin. One dictionary definition of assurance is “full confidence; freedom from doubt; certainty.” Throughout this epistle, John provides further assurance that those who trust in Jesus can be certain of their salvation even though they are not sinless and perfect.
The word know appears 42 times in this short epistle.
John wants to make sure believers know that God loves them and that they can rely on His promise of salvation. In each of the chapters of the epistle, John includes his assurance:
“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”
1 John 3:21-24 (NIV).
“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.”
1 John 4:15-16 (NIV).
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”
1 John 5:13-14 (NIV).
None of us is perfect and completely sinless. If we were, we would not need a savior. But we do need Him, and we thrive best knowing that He is faithful in His promise of salvation for those who believe.
Now don’t get me wrong. John does not advocate living a life in which we sin willy-nilly simply because we know we can be forgiven. Those who truly believe in Jesus, and trust in Him for salvation, will desire to keep God’s commands. His Spirit living in our hearts will help us to overcome the temptations of the world and to love as He has commanded.
Are you struggling today with worries that you are not good enough, that you’ve sinned too much, or that God will give up on you and you will lose your salvation? Meditate on John’s words, inspired by God, and know that these worries are unfounded. It is the struggle itself that proves you are alive in Christ.
Remember, God is faithful in His promises. He has promised eternal life to all who believe in Jesus and allow His love to live in them. He has not hidden the truth from us, but has made Himself known through His Son and the witness of the apostles so that we can be assured of our place in His Kingdom.
Linda L. Kruschke is the author of My Name Is Beloved, winner of the Unpublished Memoir category of the Oregon Christian Writers Cascade Writing Contest, as well as self-published author of two poetry books. She is a wife, mother, active member of her church, and former Bible Study Fellowship leader. After struggling through years of major clinical depression and finding God’s healing grace, she is now a fearless follower of Christ, living in the assurance of her salvation and God’s love. She is an overseer of this blog–brokenbelievers.com.
Sometimes it’s best to use bullet points; they help me think.
“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.
I want to do what is right, but I can’t.
I want to do what is good, but I don’t.
I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.
But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.”
Romans 7:18-20, NLT
“How can you be so inconsistent? I feel like there are two ‘Bryans,’ I don’t understand how you can live like this.”
This is what a dear friend said to me recently. I was flabbergasted. I didn’t know how to answer. It was a bit embarrassing, but I couldn’t respond. Later, the Spirit ministered to me while praying about it.
The Lord spoke, “He has no idea how bad you really are. Don’t you dare defend yourself!’
I now realize I should have said this to my friend. “You’re absolutely right, I am a bit of a flake. But you only see the veneer, deep down I’m much worse than you will ever know. I can’t defend my actions, and I desperately need a Savior. Would you pray for me to work this out?”
The daily struggle with sin is sometimes more visible than we would like. Even as a believer I can and do sin. That should surprise no one, and yet, I am the most surprised when sin inevitably breaks out. (Inconsistency is a factor in Bipolar disorder, but this is more than that.)
I’ve recently realized that in spite of almost 50 years of following Jesus that I’ve sinned more as a believer than I have ever done as a ‘worldling.’ I’m kinda embarrassed by this.
In Romans 7 we are confronted with a man who is constantly disappointed in himself. It can be wrenching to read– partly because it is so real. It describes us too well. At times the Word is like looking into a mirror.
Romans 7 describes what is wrong with us, for we are attempting to keep the law from our own efforts. We slide from grace when we attempt to stand before God in our self-righteousness. (We have a strong tendency to do this at times.)
“We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.”
We have a problem when our heart doesn’t match our actions. It gets a little hairy when our sin is visible to others. We feel like hypocrites and our testimony is official ‘toast.’
Sometimes, we’re reasonably certain we’ve shamed Christ in some irrevocable way. But do understand a lot of this can be satanic, for he indeed is “the accuser of the brethren,” (Rev 12:10).
Whenever we stand before God, we should never come with our list of great things we have recently done for Him. It won’t be accepted. They are at best, filthy rags. They’re not fit for a King’s court. But yet we keep coming, parading our dirty, grimy rags.
I wonder when we boldly ‘strut’ into His presence if the angels don’t ‘roll their eyes?’
We forget that only Christ’s righteousness is accepted. Heaven is satisfied with His atoning blood that covers every sin. The tension we feel in Romans 7 is there because it turns us away from our self-efforts. Our ‘confusion’ over this chapter indicates the depth of our attempt to be righteous on our own.
“The greatest enemy to human souls is the self-righteous spirit which makes men look to themselves for salvation.”
“Heaven is where the unveiled glories of the Deity shall beat full upon us, and we forever sun ourselves in the smiles of God.”
Ezekiel Hopkins, “A Puritan Golden Treasury”
Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the groom is with them, can they? As long as they have the groom with them, they cannot fast. (Mark 2:19)
This was Jesus’ idea. He was bringing correction to the lives of those who were very serious, and especially those who felt the most religious. Often, our native tendency is asceticism. We evaluate ourselves religiously by our prayers and our fasts.
For serious people, we have a serious religion, and we focus on doing a serious religious activity, for that is what our serious faith demands.
Jesus pointed out that mournful faces are not indicators of a pious life. How can His disciples mourn when Jesus the bridegroom is nearby? His disciples are going to a wedding, not a funeral!
Without question, the New Testament believers are to know repentance and self-examination. We should grieve over our sins, but that grief is to be based on hope and joy. Jesus changed everything.
If you are saddened by sin, that sadness must be tethered to joy and not to despair.
The disciples could not mourn and fast while Jesus was present. He does not wish His disciples to go mourning and fasting when they have no occasion for such exercises. His words are a defense of Christian joyfulness. Christ wants His friends to be glad. There is an utter incongruity in a sad and mournful Christian life. It does not make sense in light of what Jesus has done.
Our sins have been forgiven–erased, cleansed, and washed away. We have been dipped into the righteousness of the Son of God. The fierce enemies of our souls have been eradicated by Jesus. All of this is to bring out a song from a grateful heart. We revel in the smile of Jesus and walk under the banner of beautiful love. We have His forgiveness and have been given His favor. We should be radiant!
I pray that you will rejoice in this wonderful day He has made.
Tough love is a love that won’t let go. Sometimes, it has to be ‘velvet on an iron fist’. It is caring enough not to be manipulated or controlled. The truth must be spoken— and spoken in love. The best thing I could do is to let Mr. Manning speak for himself. I hope it blesses, and perhaps you’ll purchase his book. I don’t think it will disappoint. No copyright infringement has been intended. It has been reprinted for ministry purposes only. If this small portion piques your interest, buy the book from your local bookstore. — Bryan
Excerpt of Chapter 7, by Brennan Manning
The temptation of the age is to look good without being good. If ‘white lies’ were criminal offenses, we would all be in jail by nightfall…
Impostors in the Spirit always prefer appearances to reality. Rationalization begins with a look in the mirror. We don’t like the sight of ourselves as we really are, so we try cosmetics, makeup, the right light, and the proper accessories to develop an acceptable image of ourselves. We rely on the stylish disguise that has made us look good or at least look away from our true self. Self-deception mortgages our sinfulness and prevents us from seeing ourselves as we really are–ragamuffins.
One of my indelible memories goes back to April 1975 when I was a patient at an alcoholic rehabilitation center in a small town north of Minneapolis . The setting was a large, split-level recreation room on the brow of a hill overlooking an artificial lake. Twenty-five chemically dependent men were assembled. Our leader was a trained counselor, skilled therapist, and senior member of the staff. His name was Sean Murphy-O’Connor, though he normally announced his arrival with the statement: “It’s himself. Let’s get to work.”
Sean directed a patient named Max to sit on “the hot seat” in the center of the U-shaped group. A small, diminutive man, Max was a nominal Christian, married with five children, owner and president of his company, wealthy, affable, and gifted with remarkable poise.
“How long have you been drinking like a pig, Max?” Murphy-O’Connor had begun the interrogation.
Max winced. “That’s quite unfair.”
“We shall see. I want to get into your drinking history. How much booze per day?”
Max relit his corncob pipe. “I have two Marys with the men before lunch and twin Martins after the office closes at five. Then . . .”
“What are Marys and Martins?” Murphy-O’Connor interrupts.
“Bloody Marys–Vodka, tomato juice, a dash of lemon and Worcestershire, a splash of Tabasco; and Martinis, Beefeaters gin, extra dry, straight up, ice cold with an olive and lemon twist.”
“Thank you. Continue.”
“The wife likes a drink before dinner. I got her hooked on Martins several years ago. Of course she calls them ‘pre-prandials.’ ” Max smiled. “Of course you understand the euphemism. Isn’t that right, gentlemen?”
No one responded.
“As I was saying, we have two martinis before dinner and two more before going to bed.”
“A total of eight drinks a day, Max?” Murphy O’Connor inquired.
“Absolutely right. Not a drop more, not a drop less.”
“You’re a liar”‘
Unruffled, Max replied: “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. I have been in business for twenty-odd years and built my reputation on veracity not mendacity. People know my word is my bond.”
“Ever hide a bottle in your house?” asked Benjamin, a Navajo Indian from New Mexico .
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve got a bar in my living room as big as a horse’s ass. Nothing personal, Mr. Murphy-O’Connor.” Max felt he had regained control. He was smiling again.
“Do you keep any booze in the garage, Max?”
“Naturally. I have to replenish the stock. A man in my profession does a lot of entertaining at home.” The executive swagger had returned.
“How many bottles in the garage?”
“I really don’t know the actual count. Offhand, I would say two cases of Smirnoff Vodka, a case of Beefeater gin, a few bottles of bourbon and scotch, and a bevy of liquors.”
The interrogation continued for another twenty minutes. Max fudged and hedged, minimized, rationalized, and justified his drinking pattern. Finally, hemmed in by relentless cross-examination, he admitted he kept a bottle of vodka in the night stand, a bottle of gin in the suitcase for travel purpose, another in his bathroom cabinet for medicinal purposes, and three more at the office for entertaining clients. He squirmed occasionally but never lost his veneer of confidence.
Max grinned. “Gentlemen, I guess we have all gilded the lily once or twice in our lives,” was the way he put it, implying that only men of large mien can afford the luxury of self-deprecating humor.
“You’re a liar!” another voice boomed.
“No need to get vindictive, Charlie,” Max shot back. “Remember the image in John’s gospel about the speck in your brother’s eye and the two-by-four in your own. And the other one in Matthew about the pot calling the kettle black.”
(I felt constrained to inform Max that the speck and plank comparison were not found in John but in Matthew and the pot and the kettle was a secular proverb found in none of the gospels. But I sensed a spirit of smugness and an air of spiritual superiority had suddenly enveloped me like a thick fog. I decided to forego the opportunity for fraternal correction. After all, I was not at Hazelden doing research on a book. I was just another broken-down drunk like Max.)
“Get me a phone,” said Murphy-O’Connor.
A telephone was wheeled into the room. Murphy-O’Connor consulted a memo pad and dialed a number in a distant city. It was Max’s hometown. Our receiver was rigged electronically so that the party dialed could be heard loud and clear throughout the living room on the lake.
“Yeah, who’s this?”
“My name is Sean Murphy-O’Connor. I am a counselor at an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center in the Midwest . Do you remember a customer named Max? (Pause) Good. With his family’s permission I am researching his drinking history. You tend bar in that tavern every afternoon, so I am wondering if you could tell me approximately how much Max drinks each day?”
“I know Max well, but are you sure you have his permission to question me?”
“I have a signed affidavit. Shoot.”
“He’s a helluva guy. I really like him. He drops thirty bucks in here every afternoon. Max has his standard six martinis, buys a few drinks, and always leaves me a fin. Good man.”
Max leapt to his feet. Raising his right hand defiantly, he unleashed a stream of profanity worthy of a stevedore. He attacked Murphy-O’Connor’s ancestry, impugned Charlie’s legitimacy and the whole unit’s integrity. He clawed at the sofa and spat on the rug.
Then, in an incredible coup de main he immediately regained his composure. Max reseated himself and remarked matter-of-factly that even Jesus lost his temper in the temple when he saw the Sadducees hawking pigeons and pastries. After an extemporaneous homily to the group on justifiable anger, he stoved his pipe and presumed that the interrogation was over.
“Have you ever been unkind to one of your kids?” Fred asked.
“Glad you brought that up, Fred. I have a fantastic rapport with my four boys. Last Thanksgiving I took them on a fishing expedition to the Rockies . Four days of roughing it in the wilderness. A great time! Two of my sons graduated from Harvard, you know, and Max Jr. is in his third year at . . . ”
“I didn’t ask you that. At least once in his life every father has been unkind to one of his kids. I’m sixty-two years old and I can vouch for it. Now give us one specific example.”
A long pause ensued. Finally, “Well, I was a little thoughtless with my nine-year-old daughter last Christmas Eve.”
“I don’t remember. I just get this heavy feeling whenever I think about it.”
“Where did it happen? What were the circumstances?”
“Wait one minute!” Max’s voice rose in anger. “I told you I don’t remember. Just can’t shake this bad feeling.”
Unobtrusively, Murphy-O’Connor dialed Max’s hometown once more and spoke with his wife.
“Sean Murphy-O’Connor calling, ma’am. We are in the middle of a group therapy session, and your husband just told us that he was unkind to your daughter last Christmas Eve. Can you give me the details, please?”
A soft voice filled the room. “Yes, I can tell you the whole thing. It seems like it just happened yesterday. Our daughter Debbie wanted a pair of earth shoes for her Christmas present. On the afternoon of December 24, my husband drove her downtown, gave her sixty dollars, and told her to buy the best pair of shoes in the store. That is exactly what she did. When she climbed back into the pickup truck her father was driving, she kissed him on the cheek and told him he was the best daddy in the whole world. Max was preening himself like a peacock and decided to celebrate on the way home. He stopped at the Cork ‘n’ Bottle–that’s a tavern a few miles from our house and told Debbie he would be right out. It was a clear and extremely cold day, about twelve degrees above zero, so Max left the motor running and locked both doors from the outside so no one could get in. It was a little after three in the afternoon and . . .
The sound of heavy breathing crossed the recreation room. Her voice grew faint. She was crying. “My husband met some old Army buddies in the tavern. Swept up in euphoria over the reunion, he lost track of time, purpose, and everything else. He came out of the Cork ‘n’ Bottle at midnight . He was drunk. The motor had stopped running and the car windows were frozen shut. Debbie was badly frostbitten on both ears and on her fingers. When we got her to the hospital, the doctors had to operate. They amputated the thumb and forefinger on her right hand. She will be deaf for the rest of her life.”
Max appeared to be having a coronary. He struggled to his feet making jerky, uncoordinated movements. His glasses flew to the right and his pipe to the left. He collapsed on all fours and sobbed hysterically.
Murphy-O’Connor stood up and said softly, “Let’s split.”
Twenty-four recovering alcoholics and addicts climbed the eight-step stairwell. We turned left, gathered along the railing on the upper split level and looked down. No man will ever forget what he saw that day, the twenty-fourth of April at exactly high noon. Max was still in the doggie position. His sobs had soared to shrieks. Murphy-O’Connor approached him, pressed his foot against Max’s rib cage and pushed. Max rolled over on his back.
“You unspeakable slime,” Murphy-O’Connor roared. “There’s the door on your right and the window on your left. Take whichever is fastest. Get out of here before I throw up. I am not running a rehab for liars!”
The philosophy of tough love is based on the conviction that no effective recovery can be initiated until a man admits that he is powerless over alcohol and that his life has become unmanageable. The alternative to confronting the truth is always some form of self-destruction. For Max there were three options: eventual insanity, premature death, or sobriety. In order to free the captive, one must name the captivity. Max’s denial had to be identified through merciless interaction with his peers. His self-deception had to be unmasked in its absurdity.
Later that same day Max pleaded for and obtained permission to continue treatment. He proceeded to undergo the most striking personality change I have ever witnessed. He got honest and became more open, sincere, vulnerable, and affectionate than any man in the group. Tough love had made him real and the truth had set him free.
The denouement to his story: The night before Max completed treatment, Fred passed by his room. The door was ajar. Max was sitting at his desk reading a novel entitled Watersbip Down. Fred knocked and entered. For several moments Max sat staring at the book. When he looked up, his cheeks were streaked with tears. “Fred, he said hoarsely, “I just prayed for the first time in my life.” Max was on the road to knowing God.
An intimate connection exists between the quest for honesty and a transparent personality. Max could not encounter the truth of the living God until he faced his alcoholism. From a biblical perspective, Max was a liar. In philosophy, the opposite of truth is error: in Scripture, the opposite of truth is a lie. Max’s lie consisted in appearing to be something he wasn’t–a social drinker. Truth for him meant acknowledging reality–his alcoholic drinking.
The Evil One is the great illusionist. He varnishes the truth and encourages dishonesty. “If we say we have no sin in us, we are deceiving ourselves and refusing to admit the truth”(1 John 1:8). Satan prompts us to give importance to what has no importance. He clothes trivia with glitter and seduces us away from what is real. He causes us to live in a world of delusion, unreality, and shadows.