When a person wonders if he is a true child of God, I often point him to John’s first letter because it lists many ways you can KNOW that you love God, that you know God, and that God knows you!
Because our church has been reading the gospel of John in preparation for our Sunday morning classes, I have been recently impressed with what John’s gospel has to say about the marks of a true disciple. I’ll give you a quick list of some I’ve noticed. I’m sure there are many more.
A TRUE DISCIPLE
- Receives Christ (1.12)
- Follows Christ (1.43)
- Is Born Again of the Holy Spirit (3.3, 5-8)
- Believes and Obeys (3.36)
- Worships in Spirit and in Truth (4.23)
- Believes the Father (5.24, 38)
- Beholds and Believes in Jesus (6.29, 40)
- Hears and Learns from the Father (6.45)
- Continues in Jesus’ Word (8.31)
- Hears the Words of God (8.47)
- Knows the Shepherd (10.14, 27)
- Keeps His Commandments (14.15-24)
- Abides in Christ and Bears Fruit (15.1-8)
- Loves His Brethren (15.12)
What strikes you as you look over that list? Do you see any common themes? Are you a true disciple?
In C.S. Lewis’s heart-rending book, A Grief Observed, he chronicles his intensely personal journey through the fog and madness of losing his wife to cancer. If you’ve never read it, it’s definitely worth the read.
This short paragraph caught my eye yesterday:
What do people mean when they say ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good?’ Have they never even been to a dentist?
We say, “God is good–all the time.”
Is God good because He always gives us good things? Does God want us to be always comfortable and pain-free? Does God want us to be always wealthy and healthy?
It’s a fact–God IS good all the time–but it’s also a fact that we experience periods of (sometimes intense) suffering on this cursed globe. Lewis lost his Joy, his best friend and lover, to cancer, leaving a gaping hole in his life and heart which took a long time to heal.
But does it ever heal? Scars remain.
A friend lost her dad this week. Another just lost her mom. There’s a time to rejoice and a time to weep, and sometimes the times for weeping seem to swallow up the rest.
But what does Lewis mean by “Have they never even been to a dentist?”
A dentist must hurt, must cause pain, must do things that feel violent. The patient, who was once convinced this small torture was a good thing, now just wants it to stop–let it be done! Yet, plead as he may, the dentist determinedly drills on, not because he enjoys to cause pain, but because he knows this pain is necessary in order for the patient to be whole and healthy again.
Our Lord, the Great Physician, knows our needs before we ask. He knows better than we.
When we pray for healing and grace, what do we expect? Do we expect all pain to suddenly vanish? When we pray for growth and patience and endurance, for what exactly do we ask? Do we think God will suddenly drop it in our hearts with no effort from us? When has anyone ever gained strength without exercise? When has anyone ever advanced without work?
Every one of us will endure pain and hardship. Wealth doesn’t shield a person from cancer. Health does not remove the pain of a rebellious child. The greatest relationship with your spouse will not shield you from the ultimate separation. This earth is still under a curse, evil happens, BUT God is in control! Do we trust Him?
Hebrews 12.3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Sometimes God is the good dentist.
I am meeting more people lately who are pure KJV folk. The more I look into the history of the English Bible, however, the more ridiculous the KJV-only position is to me. Consider the following historical points:
1382 – John Wycliffe published the first full English Bible that we know of. However, he did not translate directly from the original languages but from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, so it was a translation of a translation–hardly ideal, but the best he could do at the time. He worked before the invention of the printing press, so his version and early copies were entirely hand written!
1526 – William Tyndale, a contemporary and associate of Martin Luther, holds the award for the first printed English New Testament, and he translated from Erasmus’ Greek text. He produced it under great persecution, and the Catholic Church burned as many copies of his bible as they could find. Eventually, Tyndale was captured, held for over a year, and then strangled and burned at the stake after one last statement: “Oh Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”
1535 – Myles Coverdale, a friend of Tyndale, finished translating the Old Testament into English, and the first Bible was published comprising both old and new testaments together (the Coverdale Bible).
1539 – King Henry VIII commissioned Coverdale to print “The Great Bible” in English, which became the standard text read in English churches. Was this an answer to Tyndale’s last prayer?
1560 – John Knox and the Church of Geneva published the Geneva Bible, which became the standard for several years. The Puritans and Pilgrims brought the Geneva Bible to America, making it the first bible to grace the shores of this land. This was Shakespeare’s bible, as he quoted extensively from it. We might consider the Geneva Bible to be the world’s first “study bible” as it had extensive helpful notes in the margins.
1611 – The first King James Version was printed, the product of about 7 years’ work of 50 scholars. It was heavily influence by the Geneva Bible, but they also took into consideration all the other existing English Bibles and the original languages.
1769 – The KJV was revised (the Oxford Standard Edition) with over 100,000 changes to the original 1611. Most of the changes had to do with spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, but several were significant changes. The KJV Bibles found in most bookstores today do explain to the reader that it is really the 1769 Oxford Edition, instead claiming the 1611 heritage, usually with no mention of the extensive revisions.
Isn’t it interesting that the Bible of the early protestants was the Geneva Bible and today the KJV-only advocates are largely protestant churches?! The early protestants hated the KJV, and the Catholic Church hated the Geneva Bible because of some of the comments in the margins.
Don’t let anyone tell you that the KJV was the first Bible written in English–it wasn’t by a long shot. Neither was the KJV a perfect translation. If it had been, why would it need so many revisions over time?
That’s not to say the KJV is a terrible translation–far from it. It contains the pure gospel just as a good modern translation does, as long as the reader can understand it 🙂
Goodspeed, Edgar J. How Came the Bible? Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN: 1940.
In this final installment of this legalism series (see the past few posts), we examine one more problem legalists face. Some defend legalism by saying, “Well, it’s not a bad thing to try to follow God’s commands exactly.” However, this obscures the real problem, which is a failure to rely entirely upon the Lord for salvation and direction. Ironically, while claiming to follow God’s law as closely as possible, the legalist raises himself up in pride above God’s law.
Remember, we come to these thoughts in the context of John 9.
Legalists Put Their Theological System over Jesus
Jesus didn’t fit into the Jew’s theological system. Already they had figured out some things from prophecy concerning the coming Messiah, and Jesus didn’t fit the description. They may have thought the Messiah would be someone they could control or influence—they surely hated to relinquish control! Because Jesus didn’t fit their mental projection of the Messiah, they turned their backs on Him and cast Him away. As far as they were concerned, He was a cancer that needed to be cut out.
Many theological systems exist today under the label “Christianity.” What system do you hold? It is not wrong to have a system—to try to figure out what the Bible teaches on who God is, who man is, how God and man work in salvation, etc. But, since there are so many systems (and flavors of each system), we should walk carefully lest our system become more important to us than God! Yes—it is possible.
Legalists today claim to know Jesus and follow Him, but they care more about their interpretation of God’s law than about the Lawgiver. They care more about their understanding of how God works in salvation than about submitting to the Savior. They care more about their theological system than about submitting to and loving their brethren.
This can get tricky, because God calls His people to be careful with whom we associate, to be on the lookout for false teachers, and to have nothing to do with certain kinds of people (i.e., Rom. 16.17-18; 2 Tim. 3.1-5). We must be wise in the word in order to know who to imitate and who to avoid. However, when we think so highly of our understanding of the word of God that we categorize most others as in the category of “lost” or “in sin” because their theological system is different…we should examine our own hearts!
Again, how do I stand before God? Only by the blood of Jesus! Only by His grace and mercy! How does anyone else stand before God? The same way! “Let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14.3-4).
Do I really think I understand God’s word and will perfectly? No. Yet I believe God holds me in His grace despite my misunderstandings. Why do I not believe the same about my brother? Let me not put my theological system ahead of my Lord and Savior.
We are following points from John 9, in which the Pharisees angrily grilled a poor guy whom Jesus had completely healed, told him that Jesus was not a good man, and cast the fellow out of the synagogue. See the past four posts for the first installments of this series. Shall we continue?
Legalists Refuse to Worship Jesus
Tragically, the Pharisees’ self-righteousness translated into a full rejection of their Lord. They refused to worship Him. They wouldn’t come to Him in the first place because they didn’t believe they had need. Only the sick run to the doctor for healing. Those who refuse to admit there’s something wrong or are so prideful they think they can fix it on their own will shun the healer and not accept treatment.
But they worshiped God, didn’t they? They worshiped the God of the Jews—wasn’t that enough for them? Here’s the main issue: they claimed to worship God, but their rejection of Jesus proved they were only doing what they wanted to do in the first place.
The world’s religions are all based on this mindset! People worship the way they want to worship. They devise their own gods. They modify the rules as it suits them. You can tell the Pharisees did not really worship God, because God was putting His Son in their faces, and they turned their backs on Him. “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3.19). The Jews rejected Jesus, their light.
Can someone claim to worship Jesus but really not worship? Absolutely! A disgusting teaching over the past few decades, called “No Lordship Salvation,” says someone simply has to accept that Jesus is Savior to be saved—he doesn’t need to understand that Jesus is Lord. Do you see how this teaching claims to leads people to Jesus but really ends up producing a non-worshiping religious “convert”? People claim Christ all day long as their Savior, but when they do not submit to what He says, they reject Him as their Lord. We should examine ourselves to make sure we don’t find ourselves in that camp.
Legalists Claim Self-Righteousness
A legalist condemns righteous brethren because he thinks too highly of himself. He has not humbled himself before the Lord, and he trusts in his own power and understanding for his salvation. This is a human heart issue. In our sin, our selfishness and pride run rampant—and we can’t even tell! Blindness begets blindness. We need Jesus Christ to knock us off our high horse (like Saul of Tarsus) and shine His bright light into our hearts (2 Cor. 4.6).
The Pharisees in John 9 said several times, “We know…” (John 9.24, 29). They insisted, “We are disciples of Moses” (John 9.28), meaning they were the ones who knew God’s word better than anyone.
Jesus characterized the Pharisees as those who paraded their righteousness before men in order to be recognized (Matt. 6.1-2, 5, 16). He called them “hypocrites” in each of those verses, which meant they were pretending to be righteous when they really weren’t! What a shock it will be to many when they discover Jesus’ assessment of them—that they really are not righteous.
Stop acting like you are holier than everyone else! God knows the truth, and so do you if you really dig down into your own heart. Without Jesus Christ, you are putrid, pathetic, and powerless. Just admit it. In a breath, James writes, “Submit yourselves therefore to God” and immediately afterward, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4.7-8). Again, he flows from, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you,” to, “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers” (James 4.10-11). Our lack of humility leads to personal sin and to speaking evil of our brethren.
Don’t claim self-righteousness (Luke 18.9). Depend fully and solely upon the righteousness of Christ! When we realize we stand holy before God because of Jesus’ work and not our own, we understand our brothers and sisters do too. We are all saved by grace—not by our own works of righteousness.
Legalists Condemn the Righteous
Akin to the previous thought (that legalists lack compassion), they tend to go the extra mile and downright condemn others—even righteous brethren. We don’t see this from how they treated the formerly blind man; we see it in how they treated Jesus, THE Righteous One. Boldly, they said:
- “This man is not from God” (John 9.15).
- “We know this man is a sinner” (John 9.24).
- “We do not know where He comes from” (John 9.29).
How could they make such a snap judgment on Jesus Christ? They stood in the presence of holiness, of the great teacher, of the healer of the blind (which had never been done before in all of their history), and they flatly condemned Him, placing Him in the same category as all the sinners they looked down upon. Incredible!
Jesus told His disciples, “If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of His household?” (Matt. 10.25). In other words, those who follow Jesus will receive the same rejection from those who rejected Christ.
Today, many legalists claim to follow Christ.
Surely they don’t reject Him, do they? Yet they reject many of the followers
of Jesus, and in condemning their brethren they reject the Lord. Jesus preached that when we reject our brethren we reject Him:
Then [the goats on the left] also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ (Matt. 25.44-45)
Here in John 9, we see how they treated the new follower of Christ: “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out (John 9.34).
Yes, modern legalists still condemn their righteous brethren in the name of religion. They stack rules upon rules, claiming to completely understand the righteousness of God. Some demand fasting, abstaining from certain types of foods, forbidding marriage, commanding Sabbath day observance. Some command abstaining from all alcoholic beverages, tobacco, dancing, and gambling. Don’t get me wrong—many abuse those things and sin in their excesses, but God has not forbidden them. We have no business condemning a brother for chewing tobacco or drinking wine.
Continuing from the last post (Legalists Overlook the Power of God), recall that Jesus had just completely healed a man born blind (John 9)–and the Pharisees were none too happy about it…
Legalists Lack Compassion
Instead of wrapping this man in their arms, welcoming him to wholeness, and rejoicing that he could now SEE CLEARLY like the rest of them, the legalists grew bitter against him! They pressed him. Harried him. Demanded he denounce Jesus for breaking the Sabbath. When the man continued to stand up for Jesus, they cast him out of their synagogue.
As you read through the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), you’ll see this ongoing theme—the Jewish leaders looked down upon the common people, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, because they were sinners. Because the legalistic leaders considered themselves righteous, they thought highly of themselves and poorly of the others. In their minds every evil thing which happened to other people was a direct result of their sin. “They should have known better.” “They shouldn’t have done it.” “They got themselves into that mess, and they can get themselves out.”
They kept those sinners at arms-length, refusing to get close. When Jesus ate with the tax collectors and sinners, they questioned His disciples about it: “Why would He do such a thing?!” (Matthew 9.10-13).
Will we lack compassion if we give ourselves to legalism? We will! We will follow in the footsteps of our Pharisaical forefathers. We will pass by on the other side of the road, keeping as much distance as we can from the dirty, the lowly, the sick, the broken, the depressed. “If they just had more faith [like me], they wouldn’t be in that predicament.” “If they just started following God’s rules [like I do], their lives wouldn’t be a shamble.”
If we find ourselves thinking this way in our hearts, we should examine ourselves to see how we think we are being saved. Do we think God saves us because of how good we are? Do we think God loves us because of the great gifts we give Him? Do we compare ourselves to others?
LEGALISM is a sinful, destructive mindset, obscured behind a façade of religious zeal. In John 9, Jesus stood toe-to-toe against a bevy of Jewish legalists (Pharisees) in order to save one man from his physical and spiritual blindness. The chapter reveals several hallmarks of legalism, which serve as warnings and as guideposts for our own spiritual evaluation. “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor. 13.5)
Legalists Overlook the Power of God
Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth (John 9.1-7). No one could falsify that supernatural event (though the Pharisees tried: John 9.18), and you would think no one would want to falsify it. However, the Pharisees frantically sought to discount and reject what Jesus had done! Why? They insisted Jesus “is not from God, for He does not keep the Sabbath” (John 9.16). They felt they knew the law better than anyone, they oversaw the synagogue (the Jewish place of worship), and they couldn’t allow someone to “work” on the day of rest.
Isn’t it sad those legalists, depending on their law-keeping, completely dismissed the outstanding healing Jesus had performed? What will we miss if we, also, give ourselves to legalism? Will God perform a miracle in front of us and we claim, “No, that can’t be true—the age of miracles is past”? Will God save a woman from deep darkness and depression and we refuse to believe it, saying, “She was too far gone to be saved…that’s impossible”?
Some today (am I among them?) put God in a box of their own making and don’t give Him the glory for amazing events that happen. “That’s just coincidence.” “He just has good luck.” “Time and chance happen to all.” Are we missing great acts of God because we “already know” how God works? Worse, are we giving glory that belongs to God to chance?
Perhaps the greatest acts of God today are when He works through the gospel to turn the sinful hearts of men and women to Himself. Trust Him to do it. Look for His power even today in His kingdom. We serve an incomparable God!