This is part 3 of a series. Here are parts 1 and 2. [2:1] My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.  Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,  but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:  whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:1-6 ESV)
So far John has told us that the life of God was manifested in the incarnation of the Son - the one whom the apostles saw and heard and touched. It is this life-giving Son of God with whom John invites his readers to have fellowship (and thereby have fellowship also with the Father and the apostles themselves), and the message that this same Son of God and font of life proclaims through his apostles is the message that God is light. Fellowship with God through the life giving Son brings a life lived in the light, no longer hiding in the shadows, no longer needing to pretend at sinless perfection. Life in the light through fellowship with the Son (which is nothing less than participation in the very life of the Triune God) frees us up to confess our own sins with the assurance that the the Son will cleanse us with the fiery light of his presence.
But John has more to say. He is no encourager of sin. While it is true that to deny our sins is to deceive ourselves and to make God a liar, nevertheless, John has written in order that those who here his message may not sin. St. John’s writings thrive on these tensions.
Here at the beginning of chapter 2 the apostle tells us that his goal in speaking about the light and life and fellowship and forgiveness that has appeared in the manifestation, the incarnation, of the Son of God has been to keep us from sin. But ever mindful of his goal of encouragement he tells us almost in the same breath that if we do sin not only are we forgiven, but we are forgiven because Jesus Christ the righteous, the bringer of life, is our advocate. He stands in heaven not to plead with a harsh and uncompromising Father, but as the bridge between fallen humanity and divinity, the divine-human Son of God who in his death for sins by which he became a propitiation (that is one who bears wrath in our stead) has brought our human lives into the fellowship of the Godhead. And as if that weren’t enough, John then tells us that Jesus propitiatory death was no mere parochialism, it wasn’t the death of one man for a few friends, or a tribal God for a tribal people, but it was the world shaking death of the Son of God which is able to accomplish redemption for the whole world.
And how will we know that we stand covered under such a propitiation? (For we know that while Christ died as a propitiation for the sins of the whole world, there are those in the world who will reject such benevolence and refuse the fellowship offered.) We will know it by our actions. Now at this point we may start to get a little queasy; at times calvinistic Christians can seem almost allergic to talk about good works, righteous actions, or commandment keeping. Unfortunately this makes us allergic to parts of the Bible. While it is absolutely true that we can never put God in our debt by anything we do or don’t do, it is equally true that God cares deeply about our behavior and our behavior manifests the kind of relationship we have with God.
And so John says that we can know that we know this life giving Son, this God of light, this one who has become a propitiation for our sins by noting that we keep his commandments. This means no worm theology. This means it will not do to adopt the modern reformed asceticism that wallows in the mire of total depravity and radical grace, never recognizing that the life of one who has been put into the light is a life transformed and characterized by obedience, which is the harbinger of confidence that we do in fact know God. Knowing God manifests itself in a growing family resemblance. God made us in his image, and as we come to know him and to have fellowship with him that image, which has been marred by sin, begins to shine through brighter and brighter.
But John’s language gets even starker. He says that just as one who denies sin and the need for forgiveness, the need for a propitiation, deceives himself and calls God a liar, so the one who claims to know God but does not keep his commandments is himself a liar. For to know God is to be in the light because God himself is light, and no one who is in the light can continue to walk in darkness. Again, as we’ve said before this is not a call to doubt our standing with God any time we disobey. John has covered that. We have an advocate. Rather, John’s point is that my confidence in that propitiation, and my confidence that it covers my
sins is to be found in my obedience to his command, which is the evidence that I am in the light.
Again, the images swirl back on themselves. If I have life it is because I have heard the proclamation that God is light and been brought into the light and if I am in the light I will not walk as one in the darkness but according to light, just as He who is light walked among us (v.6), and thus I will keep his commandments. It’s a package deal: life, light, forgiveness and obedience. You can’t have any without having all.
Below I've cited a number of verses, which are not cherry picked after much searching, but simply came out of my devotional reading today. Granted, I don't always read an entire epistle (I don't always read anything!), but tonight I did as well as a few other things. As I was reading I just started noting verses that stood out in light of a lot of the recent back and forth over grace, sanctification, the role of good works, etc. And I couldn't help but be struck by how far our discussions have moved from Biblical language. I dare say that many of the statements posted below would be sent up on reformed blogs in record time if they were spoken or written by a PCA/OPC pastor rather than being the words of Asaph or St. John. This is a problem. If we so fear the specter of "works righteousness" that we recoil at the thought that we can please God by keeping his commandments (1 John 3.22), or that a condidtional if can be placed before statements of God's blessing (1 John 4.12), both notions I've seen lambasted by contemporary reformed writers, we have swung the pendulum too far. God is our Father, as John is at pains to make clear, and just as a good earthly Father is gracious and forgiving, yet pleased by the intentional obedience of his children and willing to chastise disobedience (indeed to prevent complete dissolution of the familial relationship if rebellion is allowed to go unchecked), so our heavenly Father accepts and even demands our obedience as his godly (i.e. following in his footsteps) children.
“Mark this, then, you who forget God,
lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!
The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
to one who orders his way rightly
I will show the salvation of God!”(Psalm 50:22-23 ESV)
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.(1 John 2:3-6 ESV)
If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.(1 John 2:29 ESV)
Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.(1 John 3:7-11 ESV)
...and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.(1 John 3:22 ESV)
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.(1 John 3:15 ESV)
...if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:12b ESV)
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.(1 John 5:3 ESV)
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
(Psalm 46 ESV)
It's interesting that the names of all the children born either by Rachel or on her behalf (through Billah) have somewhat ambiguous names, while the children born to Leah and, for the most part even to her servant Zillah, have definitively positive names. Here's how it breaks down.
Seen, Reuben - Leah
Heard, Simeon - Leah
Attached, Levi - Leah
Praise, Judah - Leah
Judged, Dan - Rachel (Billah)
Wrestled, Naphtali - Rachel (Billah)
Good Fortune, Gad - Leah (Zillah)
Happy/Blessed, Asher - Leah (Zillah)
Wages/Payment, Issachar - Leah (for mandrakes)
Honor, Zebulun - Leah
(Judged/Vindicated, Dinah - Leah) [Note this is just the female form of Dan.]
May he add/taken away, Joseph - Rachel
Son of my Sorrow/Son of my Stregth, Ben-Oni -Rachel / Son of my Right Hand, Benjamin - Jacob
Rachel is a perplexing figure. Beloved and beautiful, mother to the the savior Joseph, yet tricky and rash in a way seemingly less virtuous than Jacob's wise-as-a-serpent cunning by which he evades those who would thwart the Promise or the Covenant. But then it's always ambiguous. She steals Laban's household gods, but is that a bad thing? She certainly doesn't seem to honor them, sitting on them when "the way of women" is with her (or so she says). Perhaps it was a last effort to cleanse her father's house of idolatry as she left? Or was it just a case of plundering a father whom she felt betrayed by? She certainly seems spiteful toward her sister at times, even naming one of her sons after her mental/emotional wrestling match with the envy she felt over her sister's good fortune in the child bearing department. I'm never sure what to think of Rachel.
And in Leah I can't help but see a bit of Mary and Hannah, the poor that are remembered and raised up by the Lord with children whose significance will astound.
Psalm 5.4 says this: "For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you." I think it is easy for us to read this as a truism. Of course God doesn't delight in wickedness. Need that be mentioned? For us it is definitional. No god could be properly called such if he delighted in wickedness. But it is important to remember that for David's audience and for most of the world prior to the resurrection such an idea would not be obvious. David was writing into a context where people, or their ancestors had worshipped Baals, Ashteroth and Molech, the latter of whom famously delighted in child sacrifice.
One of my pastors once pointed out that when Jesus died and was resurrected it was almost as if he pulled the entire world through the cross leaving it a new and resurrected reality on the other side. I find this to be a poignant and profound image. While the world is stil very broken and in need of redemption, the world after Christ is different than the world before Christ. On this side of the cross, in places where the gospel has penetrated, it can be taken as a given that God is one who does not delight in wickedness. The whole notion of the philosophical debate about the "problem of evil," or theodicy, is premised on this. But before the cross we had the Molech's, the Baal's, the Greco-Roman pantheon that delighted in wickedness of all manner. So we should not just gloss over such statements. It is not a given. We should give thanks that we know the true God, the God who does not delight in wickedness but in grace, mercy and love.
At the same time, reading on in the Psalm, we should remember that God delights to bless the righteous and humble the wicked. We should never be self-righteous, but neither should we engage in false humility. David is not afraid to pray that God would bless him for his righteousness/faithfulness and cast down/destroy the wicked. In our day it is fashionable to assume that there is some sort of neutrality whereby the righteous and wicked can peacefully co-exist (and the righteous aren't really righteous anyway because we are all depraved). However, David will have none of this. Living on the backside of the resurrection he has a full appreciation of the death and destruction that wickedness leads to, and while we know from his other Psalms and the historical books that he certainly would prefer to see the enemies of God converted rather than destroyed, he is not afraid to contrast his own faithfulness to the Lord with their murderousness and implore the Lord to bring destruction on them and remember his faithfulness.
This is not somehow sub-Christian. The Psalter is the Christian's hymnbook. We should simultaneously recognize God's grace and his disgust at wickedness. We should praise him for his holiness, thank him for his grace, pray for our enemies, and at the same time pray that he would destroy those who seek to do his people and his kingdom harm. God is not a genie in a bottle. You don't have three wishes and then it's over. You can ask him to convert your enemies, bless you and the other righteous (and yes it is okay to number yourselves among the righteous, otherwise you can't pray/sing the Psalms), bring the kingdom, and destroy those who delight in wicked. God can sort out the details. He knows that some of these requests feel mutually exclusive, yet he exhorts you to make each of them.
So thank God that you live in a world where the statement 'God does not delight in wickedness' is tautological, ask him to remember you, bless your faithfulness, build the kingdom, convert its enemies, and destroy those who love wickedness. And trust him to work it out.
1. The call for Abram to leave Ur wasn't really all that much of an uprooting. His father had already brought them away from their original home in Ur, quite some distance to Haran. With his father and brother dead, moving on wouldn’t seem that odd. So, not to undermine lots of sermon points, but it wasn't like Abe was leaving everything he’d ever known.
2. I think the key to understanding the Abrahamic blessing/covenant is seeing that when God blesses Abram it results in Abram being a blessing. This hasn't changed. When God blesses us, as he surely has all Christians, it is so that we can be a blessing. Abram was blessed so that he could be a blessing by bearing the chosen seed through whom God would bless the earth. That seed became Israel. Israel was blessed so that she could bless the world. When she failed to do so and became an insular, grumbling people God chastised her by allowing her to be overcome by the ungodly who, by the way, he is perfectly capable of using for his purposes. Nevertheless, despite their hardheartedness God did bring the seed through them in the most weak and lowly form imaginable. We should remember this. The church is blessed in order to be a blessing, and when we cease seeking for all the families of the earth to be blessed (including those in foreign nations that our secular government may have issues with), God is perfectly willing and able to disperse our influence and chastise us by means of the ungodly. The Abrahamic covenant has not been nullified but fulfilled. Christ came tearing down barriers and dividing walls in order that the distinction between Jew and Gentile, between God’s particular chosen people (through whom would come the Savior of the world), and all the families of the earth might be obliterated in order that God’s good news that sin has been overcome and that the way to peace between God and man has been opened might be made known. If we forget this, and become insular grumblers we stand in danger of God’s chastisement which may well come at the hands of the wicked.