|Grace and works||WhyProphets.com|
Are you saved?
According to the Bible, we have fellowship with God as long as we keep the commandments. As soon as we sin, we lose that fellowship. Without that fellowship, we are not saved. So the idea of being saved once and for all time is false. Our salvation relies on us daily keeping the commandments.
As for friendship with Jesus Christ, this is a confusion. Constant companionship of the Holy Ghost is a blessing for all worthy members of the church. But that is not the same as being called a friend of Jesus. That was reserved for those who had proved themselves (such as the apostles) and only applied insofar as they obeyed his commandments:
|John 14:15, speaking to the apostles: "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you."|
Another confusion is treating the love of god as the same as grace. God loves us whatever we do - we just need to accept it. It requires no more effort than that. But his grace - to be saved - requires us to do what we can, even though it will not be enough.
For more on this topic, see the "Born Again" FAQs.
Gaining a closer relationship with Jesus Christ
Recently, a "Born Again Christian" asked me how close was my relationship with Jesus Christ. I replied that I stand in awe. And I know that the Lord loves me. I gave examples of others whose relationship was particularly personal and moving. He responded by suggesting that this was just an emotional response to an intellectual knowledge. He said that a daily two-way relationship was different (and, by implication, closer).
Our relationship with Christ is important. (For related issues, see "Born Again" FAQs). While studying the Bible on this topic, I kept being drawn back to the epistles of John. John, you will recall, was "the disciple whom Jesus loved". He wrote more about loving Jesus than any other apostle or prophet. If anyone ever understood what it means to have a close relationship with Jesus, it was John.
What is our correct relationship with Christ?
The relationship John describes is based on an intellectual realisation - that Jesus died for us. It is a relationship based on emotion- the emotion of love. It is a day to day relationship, partly because from day to day we sin and lose our relationship, and need to repent and regain it. There is no suggestion of "once saved, forever saved". Indeed, the whole epistle seems written to combat that heresy.
As I re-read and pondered the sacred words, I found things I had not noticed before. It appears that John was writing to the "Born Again Christians" of his day - trying to shake them from their complacency. I am always grateful for feedback from "Born Again Christians". It invariably draws me back to the Bible, and deepens my appreciation for the gospel of Jesus Christ. But sometimes, as in this case, it makes me fear for their salvation.
|The first epistle of John - a warning to "Born Again Christians"|
The author of the epistle is generally accepted to be John the disciple. In his own gospel, generally considered the deepest and most spiritual of the four - he does not identify himself by name, but refers to himself as "that disciple whom Jesus loved". As the longest surviving of the original apostles (and the one to whom the great vision was given on Patmos) he is in a unique position to truly understand the gospel. This is not to say hat other apostles did not understand it, but each adds his unique insights. Paul, for example, had a deep understanding of the law of Moses (and hence tended to emphasize its fulfillment). Matthew appears to have a special understanding of he Old Testament prophecies. John has a deep insight into the love of God. To understand the love of God we should read Paul. But we should also read John.
It seems important to John to establish his credentials at the start (see 1 John 1:1-4). Why? No other apostles go to such lengths. Either people doubted him, or he had to prepare the people to hear something they did not want to hear.
The time of writing
The New Testament canon is dominated by the writings of Paul. Paul wrote many deep and profound things - all of them true. But it is the nature of prophecy, being both unfamiliar and challenging, that people will misunderstand it. The apostles frequently warn against "false teachers", "wolves among the flock", "antichrists", etc., who distort the intended message. Which is why the apostles had to keep writing their letters, to correct misunderstandings. John is writing many years after Paul. (According to some scholars, the epistles are not only written after his gospel, but after the book of Revelation as well). John is writing to those Christians who, like today, are especially familiar with the writings of Paul. Just as with the epistle of James (who wrote on the importance of works), it seems that he apostle John was trying to correct those who had misunderstood Paul's words.
The intended audience
John makes clear that he is writing to established members of the church - those who are (or consider themselves to be) "saved":
(1 John 5:13) These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God
(1:7 and 3:11) - the intended audience had heard the gospel "from the beginning"
(3:1-2) The intended audience is the sons of God (e.g. they have been born again).
The intended audience is frequently referred to as "brethren", and he frequently implies that they consider themselves "of the Father" and say that they have fellowship with God (1:6-8).
So the intended audience is "Born Again Christians".
The message is clearly spelled out from the beginning (1:5):
This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
So there is no darkness - no sin - in God. In this context, the next verse (1:6) makes a bold statement.
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.
Now this is interesting. It appears that some of the intended audience ("born again Christians") say they have fellowship with God - a close personal relationship - and yet they need an apostle to tell them that they don't.
The implications of this verse are tremendous. Every "born again" I have ever met accepts that he sins. In other words, there is some darkness in him. Yet here John is saying that this makes them all liars!
What does John hope to achieve by writing this letter?
(2:1) My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
In other words, his message to Christians everywhere is repent! If we do not repent, then we do not have fellowship with Christ. We are no longer saved. So, if a born again Christian sins every day, he loses his relationship with Christ every day, and must repent every day.
How to be saved
John tells us how to have eternal life (i.e. how to be saved) in 2:24-25;
Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.
And what is it that we have "heard from the beginning"? In general sense, it is Jesus Christ. How does Jesus Christ abide in us? (3:11)
For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
John made this extremely clear in the famous passage in 4:7-8:
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
What kind of relationship?
John says that we should be "in" God (see also the gospel of John, 17:20-23). What does that mean?
(2:5) But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
So, we know we are in God because we have love that results from obedience. E.g. an emotional response to an intellectual knowledge or act of will. But once "in" God, do we then need to work at doing good, or does it flow naturally? The next verse gives the answer:
(2:6) He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
We are told we ought to live like Jesus - it is not something that comes naturally. It is something we need to be told to do. Of course, it can eventually become habit, but for now we do need to be told.
Love and the commandments
Love means keeping the commandments.
(5:3) By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
(2:3-6) And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
(2:29) If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.
(3:10) In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
John sums up the commandments as love. So it is easy to spiritualize his words, and say that by "commandments" he does not really mean commandments. But John gives example after example - he does indeed mean commandments.
What kind of commandments?
(2:15-16) Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that [is] in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
These are familiar commandments - no committing adultery, not lusting, avoiding pride - plain simple sins.
See what John says. If we sin, the love of the Father is not in us. And if the love of the Father is not in us, we are not saved!
It is summed up in the next verse (2:17): "he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever"
And in the final verse of that chapter (2:29) If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.
Doing righteousness. That is what makes you saved. (But yes, I know we all sin - I will turn to that in a moment).
As Jesus said, all the law and the prophets are contained in this golden rule of love. Love does not replace the commandments, it just makes the commandments easy. As Paul says, we are released from the burden. Not that the burden is no longer there, but it has become easy. As Jesus said, "my yoke is easy and my burden is light".
When we look at Jesus' words, and then at all the apostles and prophets, the doctrine becomes clear. But if we focus on just one (e.g. some follow Cephas, some follow Paul) we are likely to get some parts wrong.
Those who think they are saved
(2:6) He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
If we don't do good deeds, our hearts will condemn us. We cannot hide this from God. (3:18-22)
My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.
The only way to be saved is to show love, not by words, but by deeds. If one day we do not show love by our deeds, then our heart will condemn us and we will not be saved.
Hence being saved requires daily effort.
Can we be saved if we are sinners?
(3:8) He that committeth sin is of the devil
Jesus did not come to say "your sins don't matter". He came to destroy sin! (3:8)
(3:9) Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
In other words, the moment you sin, right then, by definition, you are no longer born of God.
(3:6) Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.
Are you a sinner? Then do you really abide in God? Do you really know God?
(N.B. This now makes sense of John's later statement that (4:12) "No man hath seen God at any time." Obviously many people had seen Jesus, and he that has seen Jesus has (in effect) seen the Father. But that is not what John means. He has said that if we sin, then we have not seen (i.e. known) him. All have sinned, so none of us have really seen him "as he is". If we think we really have a close relationship with God despite our sins, we are liars.)
You say you are born again, but...
(2:4) He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
(2:9) He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.
(2:15) Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
(3:6) whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.
Is it enough to confess with our mouths?
It is sometimes said that if we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, we are saved. If so, then the demons are saved. For they confess that Jesus is the Son of God - and even worship him! Remember the man with the unclean spirit? (Mark 5:6-8)
|But when he saw Jesus afar
off, he ran and worshipped him,
And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.
For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit.
So, was the demon saved? He worshipped. He confessed that Jesus is the son of God. Clearly there is more to it that that. In a case like this it is always wise to go back to the words of Jesus, the master teacher. This is a well known parable, from Matthew 7:22-29:
|Many will say to me in that
day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?
and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name
done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:
For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
Note that in both cases the men called Jesus "Lord, Lord". The foolish man could even prophesy and cast out devils! No must have felt he had a very close relationship with Jesus. But despite his wonderful works, he did not do all of Jesus' sayings (this, you will recall, was part of the sermon on the mount - plenty of commandments here).
So obedience to the commandments is more important than believing we have a close relationship.
What is meant by "confess that Jesus is the Son of God"?
It may help to look more closely at 1 John 4:12-16.
(4:12-13) If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
So, who receives his spirit? Those who love! That is, those who keep his commandments.
(4:14) And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
John can say this because he has personally been with Jesus in his mortal ministry. Others can say the same because they have also known God - the Holy Ghost. Hence Paul could say (in 1 Corinthians 12:3) "no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost."
(4:15) Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
Remember that the devil, legion, confessed that Jesus is the son of God. This passage, then, must refer to speaking from experience, which comes from love:
(4:16) And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
Love, as shown above, implies keeping the commandments.
(4:17) Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
As he is, so are we. Jesus is without sin (the whole message of 1st John, remember?). So, to have boldness in the day of judgement, we must also be without sin.
So where is our hope?
How can we be without sin?
(1:9) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
But until we confess and repent fully, we are separate from God.
(2:1) My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous
It is the same old gospel that Jesus taught. Be righteous - e.g. do the good works he taught - and if you slip up, repent!
The bottom line
Christ does not save us in our sins, but from our sins.