1 John 2

Read 1 John 2.

It can be difficult, at times, to know whether someone who claims to be a Christian really is one. So many people claim to love Jesus, to have believed in him, to be his followers. I find that whenever I meet someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus, I want to believe their claim.

This passage gives us some objective things to look at to evaluate someone’s profession of faith in Christ. The word “claims” is used in verse 6 and verse 9 to describe someone who says they know Christ. So how do we know if someone is truthful when they say, “I know him” (v. 3), “claims to live in him” (v. 6), and “claims to be in the light” (v. 9)?

The answer is to look at how they live. Does a person claim to know Jesus, to live in him, and to be in his light? If that person’s claim is true he or she will:

  • keep his commands (vv. 3-6)
  • love other Christians (vv. 9-11)
  • won’t love the world (v. 15b)
  • will be loyal and active within a local church (v. 19).

In addition to these things, those who truly love and know Jesus are committed to the truth (vv. 20-27). That is the basic commitment and the other things flow from it. When we love Jesus, we love and are committed to his truth. That truth is what causes us to keep his commands, love other Christians, etc.

How is your love for Christ? Does it cause you to live obediently as Jesus did? Does it compel you to love other Christians, to turn away from the temptations and pleasures of this world, and to be active in our church? These are not conditions we meet to prove that we follow Jesus; they are the natural response of someone who has the “anointing” (v. 20, 27) which is the power of the Holy Spirit within. If you lack these things, you don’t need to try harder, you need to be saved! Turn from your love of this world and receive the gospel message; it will transform you so that you show the marks of spiritual life listed in this chapter.

1 John 1

Read 1 John 1.

Our faith is primarily about God. He is our Creator; we belong to him and are accountable to him for how we live this life. Due to Adam’s choice to sin, none of us is capable of pleasing God by living up to his perfect righteous standard for how to live and worshipping him wholeheartedly. As a result, we are under his wrath and hopelessly lost for eternity. But, because of his love and mercy, God the Son came into the world to live a perfect life and die as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Once we trust in him by faith, God credits his perfect righteousness to us–we call this justification. At the same time, he credits us with the death of Christ and, on that basis, forgives us for our sins based on the death and resurrection of Jesus for us.

More could be said, but that’s a basic outline of our faith. The major goal of it is to glorify God by reconciling us sinners to him through Christ. That reconciliation is the major benefit to us of God’s grace in the Christian faith and the end result of that reconciliation is eternal life.

But there are other benefits to being a Christian and John led off with one of them here in 1 John 1:3 when he wrote, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us….” To put this verse in other words, John wrote about the gospel so that (among other things) the readers might have fellowship with John and all other Christians.

The word “fellowship” is a much-used, little-understood word in Christianity. Its basic meaning is “sharing.” When we talk about it as a core result of being a Christian, it means that we share a new kind of relationship with other Christians. It is a kind of relationship that non-Christians are not capable of having because it is a spiritual relationship, a deep bond that genuine believers in Christ share.

And why do we share this deep bond? It is because we are all connected in a “fellowship” relationship with God. As John wrote in the latter half of verse 3, “And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” It is God’s grace to us in Christ that connects us to the Triune God, giving us a new fellowship–a family relationship with God that we never had before Christ and could not have without him. Because we all share that, we now have a basis for sharing a deep connection to one another in Christ.

The result of Christian fellowship is joy; according to verse 4, “We write this to make our joy complete.” The rest of this letter is going to spell out the marks of genuine faith in Christ, starting with truth (“…walk[ing] in the light,” v. 7a). But before describing what a genuine Christian looks like, John began with one of the motives Christians have for sharing the gospel–“so that you also may have fellowship with us” (v. 3b).

Do you want a deeper friendship, a stronger, more spiritual connection to other people? Then share the gospel with others! The salvation we share by God’s grace is the only true common ground that can unite humanity. It–and only it–can bridge cultures, languages, ethnic backgrounds, and anything else that divides humanity. This is not the only reason to give the gospel, or even the main reason, but it is an important one. Faith in Christ unites those who belong to Christ and gives us a basis for true fellowship. The more we reach others with Christ, the greater and broader and deeper our connection to other people will become.

John 21

Read John 21.

After his resurrection, Jesus made several appearances. We read about an important one today here in John 21. The purpose of these appearances, of course, was to demonstrate his resurrection. But although he spent extended time with the disciples, he did not resume his previous ministry, nor did he overthrow the Roman government and establish his kingdom as the disciples expected (see Acts 1:6).

This must have been unsettling to the disciples. Jesus was alive and he showed up at times, but he didn’t stay around; instead, he would spend time with them, then disappear. What was the plan going forward? They did not know.

So, Peter being the natural leader that he was, announced his intention to go fishing (v. 3). The other disciples who were with him followed (v. 2, 3b). We do not know if Peter did this to pass the time, to resume something familiar in his life, or if he was dabbling with the idea of returning to his previous occupation.

Regardless of why, he was no good at it anymore. Verse 3b says, “…that night they caught nothing.” Hard to stay in business if that happens to you often. While it probably wasn’t unprecedented for Peter before he became a disciple of Jesus, it was far from normal. After their failure to catch any fish, Jesus revealed himself by giving them a miraculous catch (vv. 4-7).

Although they now had plenty of fish to eat themselves and to sell, Jesus had already made breakfast preparations for them (v. 9). He fed them (v. 13), then turned to the matter of Peter’s restoration.

While it is true that Peter had seen Christ before this, it is also true that the memory of his denial of Jesus was still fresh in his memory. Until Jesus addressed it, Peter’s denial would be a barrier to Peter becoming the leader Jesus had appointed him to be. In this passage, Jesus asked Peter to affirm his love–his commitment–to Christ three times, one that corresponded to each of his denials of Jesus. Each time he affirmed his love for Jesus, Jesus commanded him to care for his followers. The point was made that Peter’s denial was forgiven; now he must do what the Lord commanded by caring for God’s people (v. 15c, 16c, and 17d). The final command to Peter was to be ready to die for Christ (v. 18) but to follow Jesus anyway (v. 19).

Do you have any failures in your past that are impeding your present ability to serve Jesus? Take a lesson from this passage. Jesus was gracious toward Peter; he knew that Peter was repentant for denying Christ but that he felt lingering guilt about doing it. Jesus refocused Peter’s attention, calling him to commit to Christ in the present and stay committed to him in the future, even though it would cost him his life. The issue wasn’t that Peter had failed Jesus and so he had to go back to fishing because he couldn’t be an effective apostle. The issue is that he needed to focus on following Jesus–doing what Christ commanded him to do today.

So it is for any one of us. If you are consumed with regret or sorrow over failures in your life, let this passage be restorative for you. No matter what you’ve done, it isn’t as spectacularly bad as denying you even know Jesus while he was being treated unjustly. If Jesus forgave and restored Peter to useful service, he will do so for you, too. Forget about the failures of the past; focus today on following Jesus and doing what he commands right now. That’s the way forward if you’re his disciple.

John 20

Read John 20.

This chapter recounts the fact of Christ’s resurrection (vv. 1-9) and the proof of that resurrection through Jesus’s appearances to many disciples (vv. 10-29).

Despite the unprecedented display of power that was Christ’s resurrection, the disciples were very much afraid of the persecution that could come from being Jesus’s disciples. Verse 19 says that they met “with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders….”

Jesus found them, however, and miraculously entered their meeting behind those locked doors (v. 19b). Then he “… breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” This refers not to receiving the Holy Spirit in the sense of salvation; it refers to the spiritual authority they would have as Jesus’ disciples once he went away. We see that in the next verse: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (v. 23). What power did the disciples have to do this? They had the power of the Holy Spirit and the delegated responsibility of the Lord.

There really was no reason to fear “the Jewish leaders” because Jesus had triumphed over them in his resurrection. As his followers, the power that raised him from the dead was now working in them to prepare them to be the leaders of his church.

When we live in fear of others on this earth, we are showing ourselves to be incomplete disciples. We are incomplete in the sense that we do not trust the Lord enough to rescue or preserve us from the hands of sinful men. But we have the Holy Spirit and the promises of God when we serve him, so we need to stop considering the bad things that might happen as we worship and witness for the Lord. Instead we need to remember that Christ has overcome all spiritual powers and sinful powers. We have the ability, though his power then, to serve God, worship God, and witness for God. Let’s believe the promises of spiritual power and go to work harvesting the Lord’s people for his church.

John 19

Read John 19.

Pontius Pilate was a Roman. He was assigned a powerful position in the Roman Empire over the area of Judea so he had to keep tabs on potential threats and problems in his region. But there was really no reason for him to fear anyone in Israel. With Roman soldiers at his disposal, any uprising by the Jewish people could be easily squelched. Any political would-be leaders could be dispensed with easily.

It is surprising, then, to read in verse 8 that “Pilate… was even more afraid” when he heard that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. I would expect a man as Roman and as powerful as he was to laugh at such a claim.

Pilate, however, did not laugh.

He seems to have taken the charge very seriously. In verse 9b he asked Jesus where he was from and in verse 10 he scolded Jesus for not answering him. When Jesus finally did answer Pilate, stating that all the power he had was allowed him by God (v. 11), Pilate did not react as one who was insulted. Instead, “From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free” (v. 12). It took some political bullying by the Jewish leaders (v. 12bff) to get Pilate to send Jesus off for crucifixion (vv. 13ff).

What caused Pilate to be so fearful of Jesus? Remember that anything Jesus said was God’s word by definition. Since it was God’s word, it had the power of God behind it. That power, plus the witness of the Spirit, gave Jesus’ words self-authenticating power. Pilate knew that he was hearing the word of God and, on some level, knew that Jesus was the Son of God.

Do you understand the self-authenticating power of God’s word? Unbelievers like Pilate may resist God’s word and evade accountability to it. But, because it is God’s word, they feel the conviction of sin within when they heard God’s word. They know through the convicting work of the Spirit that Jesus is truly God.

John 18

Read John 18.

In today’s chapter, Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane and tried by Pontius Pilate. Simon Peter moved like a pendulum from defending Jesus violently (v. 10) to denying him three times (v. 17, 25-27). Peter’s denial is famous because Jesus foretold it and because it was seemingly out of character for such an outspoken person. It seems to me that Peter’s attack on Malchus is less well known than Peter’s denial but his attack is important to the story in a few ways.

First, when he rebuked Peter in verse 11 for the attack Jesus said, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” This language of the “cup” you may recognize from the other Gospel accounts which recorded Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane. In that prayer he asked God, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39). He then repeated that prayer twice more according to Matthew 26:42, 44. So three times Jesus asked for release from drinking the “cup” which is a reference to the OT description of God’s wrath. Each time, however, he indicated his submission to the Father’s will.

Here in John 18:11 when Jesus said, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” we see that he was reconciled and even resolved to do the Father’s will. Although he expressed his desire to avoid it in his prayer, he would not tolerate the use of force as a means of avoiding the Father’s will.

Later, when asked about his kingdom by Pilate, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders” (v. 36b). This testimony to Pilate, then, explains even further why he rebuked Peter. The kingdom of God is not a political entity. We do not send armies to conquer foreign nations and forcibly coerce them into becoming “Christians.” Christianity is about listening to Jesus (v. 37: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me”) and waiting for him to supernaturally establish his kingdom on earth, as verse 36e says, “But now my kingdom is from another place.”

America was founded on many Christian principles, but it is not a “Christian nation” in the sense of being the kingdom of God politically. So we should never be so proud to be Americans that we fail to identify as Christians–citizens of Christ’s coming kingdom–first. We also shouldn’t spend so much energy and time in American politics. This republic will not last for eternity. It will be superseded by Christ and his kingdom. As citizens of that kingdom, we should spend more time and money on evangelism, church planting, and missions than we spend on elections and politics. Don’t look to engineer God’s will on earth through military and political action. Instead, offer the gift of eternal life in the kingdom of God to others. That will give them eternal life, a far better result than winning an election.

John 17

Read John 17.

This chapter records Jesus’s prayer for his disciples and the disciples who would believe through their witness (v. 20). The main subject of his prayer was unity (v. 11f, 21) and the standard for that unity was high: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (v. 21a). It is hard to imagine any group of Christians being as tight as the Father, Son, and Spirit are, but that’s what Jesus prayed for.

Such unity would be powerful, too: “…so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (v. 23). The unity of believers in Christ would be a powerful witness to the truth of Christianity.

I have heard many people bemoan the lack of unity in the body of Christ, and I understand and sympathize with them at times. Usually, though, the prescription that is given for a lack of unity among Christians is to dumb down our faith to the common essential elements. It is like ordering a cheese pizza for 5 people because nobody can agree on anything more than that.

There is a place and a value to discussing what theologians have called the “irreducible minimum” that anyone must believe to be considered a Christian. But Jesus did not pray that we would unify around the irreducible minimum. His prescription for unity was not about finding the least common theological denominator; his prescription was for us disciples to know the truth.

Just before he prayed “that all of them may be one” (v. 21a), he prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (v. 17). What sets us apart and unifies us is truth–the revelation of God’s word. What we need as disciples to unify us is not to avoid disagreements but to press into the scriptures together to find the truth.

Evangelical Christians have a remarkable amount of unity when it comes to the doctrines of the faith, if you think about it. We may disagree about baptism or eschatology, but we fully agree on the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture, the Trinity, the humanity and divinity of Christ, the depravity of humanity and our absolute need for grace, the importance and significance of Christ’s death and resurrection, and other factors. This unity has been worked out over the past 2,000 years or so, not by avoiding issues of conflict but by studying, discussing and debating, and accepting the scripture’s teaching on these things.

God is answering Jesus’s prayer here in John 17 but we need to keep coming to the truth–the word of God–to find our unity there.

John 16

Read John 16.

Jesus was preparing the disciples for life without him. He spoke the words of this chapter just shortly before he was betrayed. He made disturbing prophecies about what they would face in the days ahead (vv. 2-3, 20-21, 32). Yet he also promised that they would not be alone; instead “the Advocate” (the Holy Spirit) would come and empower their work (vv. 7-11).

One aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work would be to guide the disciples as they wrote the Scriptures. That’s what the promise at the end of verse 13 meant when Jesus said, “he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” The disciples would not lead the church from their own mistake-prone thinking and human judgment. Instead, the Holy Spirit would guide them.

This is one reason why we value the Bible and believe it to be without error and fully reliable. It is not the collected opinions of a few good men. It is the written word of God recorded by godly man as they were guided by the Holy Spirit of God.

I’m glad you’ve been reading these devotionals and hope they have been truly helpful to your life. But my words are only correct and helpful as they correctly describe and apply THE WORD, the spirit-inspired scripture. It is what we need to become who Jesus called us to be, so value the Word and learn it for your own growth in godliness.

John 15

Today we’re reading John 15.

This section, John 13-16 records the final extended teaching Jesus gave to his disciples before his death. Here in chapter 15, Jesus told the disciples that they would bear fruit for him (vv. 1-17), be persecuted because of him (vv. 18-25), and testify for him (vv. 26-27). Each of these is demanding. However, Jesus does not command any of them. Instead, he describes them as products of being “in him.” If disciples “remain in me,” Jesus said, “you will bear much fruit” (v. 5b). Likewise, the world would persecute them “because of my name” (v. 21b) and they would testify “for you have been with me from the beginning.” So Jesus does not command us to do these things. Rather, his command is “remain in me” and all these things will flow out of that.

So what does remaining in Jesus mean? It means to keep believing in him, to maintain our faith in him and continue following him as Lord. This is another way of describing the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. That doctrine teaches that all those who are genuinely saved will continue from the time of their salvation until the end of their lives in faith and good works. Anyone who does not “remain in Jesus” then, goes to hell (v. 6). That person’s attachment to Jesus was superficial not genuine.

If you belong to Jesus, then, it will show in your life. Not every branch has the same level of fruitfulness but all the branches bear some fruit. Do you see the evidence of Christ’s work in your life? is there spiritual growth in your life so that you know Christ better and trust in him more now than in the past? This is a fulfillment of Christ’s promise in this passage. We can’t produce spiritual fruit on our own because “apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5b). Cultivate your connection to Christ by faith, then, and God will work on your life (“he prunes” v. 2) and through your life to make fruit through you for his glory.

John 14

Today’s reading is John 14.

We usually don’t expect a leader’s followers to be more successful than the leader himself. In the NFL, a great coach like Bill Walsh has had a number of his assistant coaches go on to become head coaches. None of them, however, had the kind of sustained success that Walsh had. Not even close.

Bill Parcells was another great football coach whose assistants became head coaches themselves. One of Parcells’s assistants, Bill Belichick is an exception to the principle I’ve been talking about. Belichick has been more successful than his mentor, Bill Parcells, but Belichick’s assistants who became head coaches have been failures. Being tutored by a great coach, then, does not necessarily set one up for success. Athletics is just one example. I think you will find this to be true in music, in business, and in ministry. It is rare that a student surpasses his master.

It is surprising, then, to read Jesus’s statement here in John 14:12b, “…whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these….” Jesus prophesied that his disciples would do greater things than he did, that we would be more successful than he was. What was he saying, exactly?

First of all, the next phrase explains why Jesus said this: “…because I am going to the Father.” Disciples do greater works than the Lord himself because the Lord himself did not remain here physically. That’s one reason, then, why Jesus said his disciples would do greater works than he did. Jesus preached to thousands early in his ministry, but only a handful of disciples remained even after his resurrection (see Acts 1:12-14). By contrast, the disciples of Jesus would reach thousands with the gospel (see Acts 2:41), so the raw numbers of believers were greater.

But verses 13-14 give a greater answer for why the disciples of Jesus did greater works. The answer is not that they were greater than the Lord but that their works were empowered by the Lord. As verse 13 put it, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” We are capable of doing more than Jesus did because he will work through us when we ask him to use us for his work. We have his empowering promise and we need it because he is almighty and we are weak and incapable without him.

Do you live and serve God in light of and based on this promise? Do you expect God to use you in service to him? Do you ask him to use you, in his name, to do great works for God? If something is lacking in our ministry for Christ, maybe it is that we just don’t ask the Lord to use us and keep his promise to do greater works through us. But Jesus said, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

Live by this promise when you share the gospel or open the word or do any kind of ministry. Ask Jesus to do powerful work through you that only he could do. He promised that he would! All we need to do is claim that promise by faith and serve God accordingly.