This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Selective Biblicism. Click here to see the entire series.
I John 4
This chapter contains some of the most famous and oft quoted passages in all of the Bible. John begins the chapter by speaking to his audience as “beloved” and he also addresses them in everybody’s favorite salutation, “little children”. What is not to love about this chapter? Here are some of the favorite verses:
Verse 1 says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” That verse is popular with charismatics in that it gives them a justification for the practice of speaking in tongues.
Verse 2 says, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;…” In addition to being popular with the charismatic crowd, this verse is also loved by evangelicals who relish the opportunity to emphasize the importance of walking the aisle and making a confession that Jesus is God. Anybody who does make the decision to walk the aisle and make the magic profession of belief is then deemed to be saved forever, despite the presence or absence of spiritual fruit in the future life of the confessor.
Verse 4 says, “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” I have heard Oral Roberts repeat that verse dozens of times. It supports the charismatic idea that all believers are in a daily battle with Satan himself and all that needs to be done to have victory over him is to speak that verse.
Verse 7 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and every one who loves is born of God and knows God.” This verse encapsulates the theology of love for evangelicalism. God loves us. We love God. We all love each other. As a result of all this love we all are guaranteed to be saved forever. Love, of course, is never defined. But whenever someone dies we are all able to rally together and confess how that person had loved somebody and, therefore, is surely in heaven today.
Verse 10 says, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” This verse is popular with the reformed branch of Christianity. They love to preach sermons on the doctrine of propitiation. They also love to emphasize the fact that God loved us before we loved Him.
Verse 11 says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” This verse is used by evangelical preachers in what is perhaps their best example of a strong exhortation. It is assumed that God loves everyone. Since God loves everyone it therefore follows that everyone ought to love everyone else. We end up with a big bunch of loving going on. Everyone feels warm and fuzzy. The band plays and songs are sung that whip us into an emotional fever of love. As a result, we can have confidence that if anyone dies, especially if he was a member of our church, he is in heaven as we speak.
Verse 16 says, “….God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” This is probably the most famous verse of all. God is love. What does that mean? Evangelicals rarely define it. We are left to ourselves to ponder the meaning of the verse. One thing we believe to be true is that since God is love, He must love us unconditionally. Since He must love us unconditionally, He loves us just the way we are. Since He loves us just the way we are there is very little incentive for change. All we know for sure is that since God is love, everybody gets into heaven (except Hitler, of course).
Verse 18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear,…” This verse is consistently used to reinforce the grandfatherly image of God. Since He is love and His love is perfect, there is no reason to fear. All we need to do is crawl into the lap of our grandfather and let him take care of things. When we feel fearful it must certainly be because we have wandered too far from our grandfather’s lap.
There is a kernel of truth in most of the things that are said about the verses quoted above. However, they are only half-truths. John has much more to say. By only reading and emphasizing the things that John says about love it is probable that his real message will be lost. Allow me to quote some of the other things that John has to say in this letter:
John has something to say about sin. In the first chapter he says, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;…If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us….If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” Those statements of John are not nearly as popular as his assertions about love. In fact, what John has to say about sin is downright unpopular, even disliked. The major problem comes when John goes on to define what sin is. He does not use the evangelical definition of sin which simply states that sin is something that exists out there somewhere (not intrinsic in our nature and being) that causes us to fall out of our grandfather’s lap. John says, “And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;…” (2: 3-4)
What is this? Does John believe in the law of God? (Isn’t that in the Old Testament?) It certainly seems to be the case. In fact, John not only believes in the law of God but he says that obedience to the law of God is one of the primary evidences of love for God. This assertion that the law of God is binding upon New Testament believers is too much for the modern antinomian evangelical to take. So, he ignores it. But John goes on:
“The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now….But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness…” (2: 9,11) How does one hate his brother? By not behaving lawfully towards him. For John, the law always determines the propriety of behavior. All behavior is either loving or hateful, depending upon its conformity to the law of God. Evangelicals, most of whom despise the law of God, have no means by which to determine the right or wrong nature of behavior (other than how it makes them feel) because they are largely ignorant of the terms of God’s law. So, they ignore these passages and rush to speak about an amorphous feeling called love.
For John, not all is sweetness and light in the local church. In fact, not all members of the local church are even true believers. He says, “…just as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.” (2: 18-19) Contrary to the erroneous belief of dispensationalists, antichrist lived in the time of John. In fact, there were many antichrists. They were the false professors in the church. They were known to be false professors because they did not remain within the church. No doubt they had been subjected to the discipline of the local church and had chosen to make a speedy exit when things got tough. Does that behavior sound familiar to anyone?
John goes on in his second letter to tell his “little children” how they should treat the people who had been drummed out of the church. He says, “If any one comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.” (II John 10-11) Evangelicals are accustomed to being mean to each other and occasionally using the “freeze out” treatment to punish someone they do not like. But what John is describing here is very different than that sinful behavior. John realizes that false believers exist within the church and he orders the true believers to shun them. How many evangelical churches practice that? Even worse, John clearly states that anyone who refuses to shun the apostate believer becomes guilty of the apostate’s sin. Wow!
Not only does John instruct his beloved little children that there were antichrists in their presence, he goes on to make the audacious claim that they were easily discerned! He says, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious; any one who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (3:10). In over thirty years of being a Christian I do not remember ever hearing a sermon on that passage. Why would that be? Let me suggest that the reason that passage is consciously ignored is because it makes the simple claim that it is possible to easily discern between true and false believers by their obedience to the law of God. Today’s preachers and teachers want everyone to be saved. Today’s elders walk and talk as if it is practically impossible to discern between true and false believers. After all, they say, it is not our position to judge anybody! Instead, they choose to emphasize the love passages, which they erroneously interpret to convince themselves and others that everybody is saved, even if they never bring forth any spiritual fruit. John does not share their opinion. Those portions of John’s letters are ignored.
Lest you think I am reading into the text, here is one verse that proves the point. John says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments” (5:2). Could it be any clearer? Why do we persist in believing that people are saved from their sins when they hate the law of God and make no attempt to even understand it, much less practice it? The heresy of antinomianism has destroyed our ability to discern between right and wrong, good and bad, true and false believers.
I will wrap up the teaching of John by quoting I John 4: 20 where he says, “If some one says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” This verse tragically condemns most of evangelicalism. Hatred for the brethren (properly defined as not behaving lawfully toward one another) is endemic in our local churches. It is largely suppressed due to the cowardice of the elders in not wanting to deal with the sin of hatred and due to the ignorance of the terms of the law that define it. John could not be any clearer. Nobody can make great, showy, emotional statements about his love for God and hate his brother. If a professing Christian hates his brother that he sees every week, it is impossible for him to love God, whom he has never seen. That makes discerning true and false believers very easy.
John says a lot about love. However, without reading and understanding what John has to say about sin, it is impossible to know what he is talking about. Evangelicals have made the conscious decision to ignore half of John’s message in order to reinforce their own corrupt doctrine of love. As a result, a false god is constructed and worshiped. This false god is not able to save anyone from his sins.