Bible

Bible Studies For Life

Rich Elligson

Richard Elligson

Richard Elligson is Professor of Missions and Chair of Theology at The Baptist College of Florida.  Archives

Session 1

September 5, 2021

SURE OF FORGIVENESS

1 John 1:5–2:2

It was Benjamin Franklin who glibly stated, “Nothing is certain except death and taxes.” While that rings true to most of us, there are some other certainties when it comes to God. Faith in God is not a blind leap, but a willful decision based on evidence and born out through generations of changed lives. What a blessing to know that we can count on God and His word! The next few lessons remind us of some certainties we can count on…beyond just death and taxes. The first is the certainty of forgiveness for those who repent. But this certainty does not come because of our repentance; rather, it is guaranteed by the person and work of God.

The character of God insures our forgiveness (vv. 5-7). No book of the Bible is more simple, more straightforward, or more applicable than the epistle of 1st John. While John the Beloved was a devoted follower of Christ, he was first of all a simple fisherman. The Holy Spirit inspired him in his customary simple language and short sentences. But simple should not be confused with gentle. This little book carries quite a punch! The primary declaration of verse 5 is the purity of God. He is entirely light, and as such, is entirely devoid of any darkness at all. The argument that follows is quite logical: if we say we walk with Him, yet remain in darkness, then we are lying! Why? Because our darkness would violate the purity of His character. It should be noted that the verbs in these verses indicate continual present action. The idea is not that one sin keeps us out of heaven, but rather the continued lifestyle of darkness contradicts the constant character of God as light. We can’t have it both ways! Simply put, walking in darkness cannot coexist with walking in the light. The good news is that God desires us to walk with Him in the light and has made that possible through the sacrificial blood of Christ that “cleanses us from all sin” (v. 7). For reflection: If the character of God guarantees that forgiven sin must stay forgiven, what implications does that have for the eternal security of the believer?  

The justice of God insures our forgiveness (vv. 8-10). The Greek word translated “confess” in verse 9 literally means to say the same thing; or to agree with. Hence, confession is admitting to God what He already knows! The apostle Paul reminded us that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). To confess that we have no sin, then, is to lie. To confess that we are indeed sinners may be an ugly truth, but it is truth nonetheless. The good news is that when we confess our sins, Christ is both faithful (willing) and just (able) to forgive our sin, (remove the consequences) and to cleanse us (purify us) from all that defiles us. Hence, not only the character of God guarantees our forgiveness, but the righteous attributes of God assure it as well. For reflection: Why do you think John added the phrase “His word is not in us” in verse 10? What does His word have to do with all this?

The advocacy of God insures our forgiveness (2:1-2). Chapter 2 begins with the voice of experience. Six times in this little book, John addresses his readers with such tenderness. He is the aged elder, and they are his spiritual progeny. Clearly, his desire is that believers not sin at all. But the voice of experience tells him two things. First, even the most committed follower of Christ still has a sin nature that wars with the spirit (see Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7:14ff). Simply put, Christians aren’t free from sin; they are forgiven! Second, when a believer sins, Christ is our advocate (literally, comforter, helper, or intercessor), who steps in on our behalf and represents us. How can He do this? Because He is “the propitiation for our sins” (v. 2). The word propitiation has several shades of meaning. It includes the idea of mercy place,as well as atoning sacrifice. In any case, He is the recipient of our judgement as well as the bestower of mercy to us. Again, our forgiveness is guaranteed because He Himself paid for it! For reflection: If Christ is the propitiation “for the sins of the whole world” (v. 2), does that mean that everyone is going to be saved? Why or why not? 

Session 2

September 12, 2021

SURE OF A RELATIONSHIP

1 John 2:3-11,15-17

In most religions, there is no concept of a personal and vital relationship with God. Yet rather than portraying God as a harsh dictator demanding submission, or a pantheon of spirits that requires appeasing, or a great “force” from which we all come and will all ultimately go, the Bible teaches that Almighty God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, is knowable, approachable, loves us as a father loves a child, and actually desires a relationship with us. While this truth is astounding to those outside the faith, it is a great source of encouragement to those of us who follow Him.

Our relationship with God is demonstrated by our obedience (vv. 3-6). There are a lot of reasons to obey God. Animistic religions teach that obedience is necessary to keep away evil spirits. Hinduism teaches that obedience to that which is right assures positive karma, needed for advancement in the spiritual journey. Islam suggests that God relishes the idea of punishing sinners, so obedience is motivated by fear. Verse 3 is a direct reflection of the words of Jesus in John 14:5, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Hence obedience to God’s commands, according to the Bible, is rooted in the love we have for Him. Two important points are made. First, those who truly love Him in the purest of ways demonstrate that love by pleasing Him with their obedience (v. 5). Second, those who claim to be in true relationship with Him will intentionally imitate Him (v. 6). In general, that means to act in all ways as He acted. But in this context, we cannot neglect imitating the way that He loved. This too, is stated by Jesus in the Gospel of John: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34). In this case, even the loving is done in obedience. For reflection: How does our relationship with God differ from other relationships we have? Can God be treated as a business partner? Colleague? Friend?

Our relationship with God is demonstrated by our love (vv. 7-11). Not only does our obedience in loving God demonstrate that we have a relationship with Him, but our love for one another does as well. Verses 7 and 8 seem almost contradictory. The command to love one another has always been a part of God’s charge to His people (for example, see Prov. 17:17; Is. 1:17; Zech. 7:9 et al.). Since God is love (1 John 4:8), this is nothing new. Yet there is a new emphasis to loving one another in the New Testament, made obvious in the true light of Christ’s teachings (the gospel) and His sacrificial death on our behalf. Not only does our love for one another demonstrate our relationship to God (see John 13:35), but failure to demonstrate that love is an absolute indicator that one has no relationship with Christ. Five times the word darkness appears in these verses; twice, it is related to hating one’s brother. The resulting consequences? Darkness causes one to stumble (v. 10), lostness (v. 11), and blindness (v. 11). For reflection: What do these verses say about the capability of believers to hate? Are there things or people that we do need to hate? Why?

Our relationship with God is demonstrated by our allegiance (vv. 15-17). The final indication in our text that we have a relationship with God is found in the believer’s disregard for the world. These verses do not refer to the physical world we live in, but rather the term (cosmos) refers to the unregenerate philosophical system that governs it. The world is worldly rather than spiritual. As such, it is filled with selfish lust and unbridled arrogance (v. 16) that stand counter to the self-control and humility God desires. As a result, God utterly detests the world and all that it stands for. His warning to separate oneself from the corruption of this world is a reminder that all of it—the world, and its lust, and its pride—are all temporary and passing away, while those who are committed to God will continue forever with Him (v. 17) For reflection: How does our allegiance to God and disdain for the world show up in everyday life? Is this a conscious decision or does it come naturally?

Session 3

September 19, 2021

SURE OF THE TRUTH

1 John 2:18-29

Perhaps no story more clearly defines mankind’s attitude toward the concept of truth than that which occurred in the court of Pontius Pilate on Christ’s way to the cross. When questioned by Pilate if Jesus was a king, Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Scoffing, Pilate retorted, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38). Like Pilate, many question the very nature of truth. Is there such a thing? And if so, how do we know what is true and what is not? Our passage this week reminds us that truth does indeed exist, can be known, and must be embraced.

The truth is always under attack (vv. 18-21). The truth has been under attack ever since the serpent lied to Eve in the garden. While the overall theme of 1 John is solidifying believers in fellowship with Christ and the church, John revealed the struggle the early church had with false teachers. All of the heresies swirling around denied some aspect of Jesus Christ, either His fully deity or His full humanity. In every case, the truth of who Jesus is and what Jesus accomplished on the cross was under attack. Only John applied the word antichrist as a title, and only in his letters. But the concept was revealed as early as Daniel and culminates in Revelation. The word itself simply means “against Christ.” John used the term in verse 18 both specifically (“Antichrist is coming”) as well as generically (“many antichrists have come”). Most scholars believe that the long succession of false teachers and prophets foreshadow the rise of the Antichrist during the end times Tribulation period (see 2 Thess. 2; Rev. 13). In these few verses, we see four characteristics of those who are “against Christ.” First, their prominence indicates we are nearing the last days (v. 18). Second, they have always been among us (v. 18). Third, their false teachings distinguish them from true believers (v. 19). Fourth, the Holy Spirit enables us to remain faithful to the truth (see John 16:13). For reflection: If John suggested we are in the last days, how do you explain the nearly two-thousand years that has since passed?

The truth is always found in Christ (vv. 22-26). Here, John focuses on the central truth of Christianity in general, and our salvation specifically: the person of Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The whole of the matter can be summed up in one question: Is Jesus Christ truly the Son of God who has come from God, to redeem us back to God? (v. 22). Notice that those who deny that Jesus is the Messiah, are denying the promise, and plan, and person of God the Father (vv. 22-23). Why? Because only God in the flesh could serve as the sinless substitutionary sacrifice for mankind’s sin. This is not an “either/or” but a “both/and” proposition. Notice how John emphasizes the issue from both sides: if you deny the Son, you cannot belong to the Father. But when you confess the Son, you are confessing the Father at the same time (vs. 23). This—the full deity of Christ—is likely what John was referring to as the message they received from the beginning (v. 24), which was under steady attack by false teachers (v. 26). For reflection: Have you noticed that no other religion (only Christianity) accepts Jesus as God incarnate? What do the rest say about Him?

The truth is always evident (vv. 27-29). Two key words are prominent in these final verses. The anointing John refers to is the indwelling Holy Spirit. He remains in the believer and teaches the believer the truth (v. 27). Both verb forms indicate a prolonged and continual action. The word remain (often translated “abide”) is used three times in these verses. In verse 27, the Spirit abides in us and we are to abide in Him. Verse 28, however, refers to the one appearing; therefore, we are to abide in Christ as well. Notice how John has woven the fabric of the Trinity in with the believer! The result? Since Christ is righteous, and we abide in Him, His truth is lived out in a life characterized by righteousness (v. 29). For reflection: Only John uses the phrase “born again.” Besides the Gospel of John, chapter 3, can you identify the other times he uses the phrase in this epistle?

Session 4

September 26, 2021

SURE OF VICTORY

1 John 3:19–4:4

 

Paul told the church at Rome that when faced with the tribulations of this world, “We are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37). Here, John uses the same expression for those who triumph over the false teachings and deception by those who are anti-Christ. So how do believers come out on top? John mentions three ways our victory is assured.

Because of His forgiveness (vv. 3:19-22). Verse 19 makes no sense unless we look back to verse 18: “Little children, we must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action.” How will we know we belong to the truth? By demonstrating love by our action. The act of replacing love-for-self with love-for-others is impossible apart from God’s sanctifying work in us. Yet even when we know we are saved, we are often dogged by guilt. That’s what verse 20 is getting at. While our guilt may weighs on us, God outweighs our guilt. How? Because His forgiveness is complete: past, present, and future sins have all been forgiven. His act of forgiveness is greater than any guilt we may feel (v. 20). Once we realize our own guilty feelings cannot condemn us, we are free to do the things we ought to do; those things that are “pleasing in His sight” (v. 22). For reflection: Think about some of the guilt you may have been carrying. Do you see how it keeps you in bondage? Yet if God has forgiven us, why can’t we forgive ourselves?

Because of His gospel (vv. 3:23-24). Here, John succinctly states our duty toward God and man. To believe in His name is to embrace all that His name represents. To confess that He is God’s Son is to accept His full deity. To call His name Jesus is to embrace His salvation (see Matt. 1:21). To refer to Him as the Christ is to acknowledge He is the Messiah, the anointed one of God. Calling upon the name of the Lord results in salvation (Rom. 10:13), and the Holy Spirit is given as an earnest and a seal (2 Cor. 1:22) once that commitment is made. Because the gospel is offered by grace and backed up by His indwelling Holy Spirit, we can be certain that the gospel is true. For reflection: How do you think false teachers today twist the gospel, and why do they do it?

Because of His Spirit (4:1-4). Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit would testify of Him back in John 15:26 was more than just a comfort to His disciples; it was a means by which true prophets would be distinguished from false prophets. Notice the instructions given. First, there is caution. (v. 1). Every believer should be cautious and discerning when it comes to those who are expounding spiritual things. Second, we are to test the spirits (v. 1); that is, to verify whether or not they are from God. How do we do that? By listening to the message! Only God’s Spirit will testify that Christ came in the flesh. False teachers, among other things, will always depict Christ as something other than fully God, incarnate (vv. 2-3). Remember, when it came to false teachers, Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruit” (Matt. 7:16). In other words, the messenger doesn’t validate the message. Rather, the message must validate the messenger. Finally, we should be encouraged. We are conquerors, because the Holy Spirit that indwells us is greater than any false prophetic spirit out there (v. 4). For reflection: How does verse 4 apply to spiritual warfare? How does it relate to James 4:7?

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