Is, was, the Old Testament so…old?
Before I launched off into my experience, I laid out three verses from the book of Proverbs. Here they are again:
21 For your ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all your paths. 22 The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them; the cords of their sins hold them fast. 23 For lack of discipline they will die, led astray by their own great folly. (Proverbs 5:21-23–NIV)
My experience related to verse 21. Let us look at our 1 John passage in light of Proverbs 5:22 and 23. It might be supposed that Old Testament passages were not relevant for the first-century church, and thus not legitimate for John to fall back upon. Such a supposition forgets that the arrival of Jesus Christ was the culmination of all God had been preparing the world for through the people of Israel. In his dealings with that nation his character was put on display in the context of and in contrast to that of Israel, specifically, and humanity, generally.
Those who were taking leave of the churches of John’s time were vacating far more than Jesus. By choosing things and styles of life which God had called out as evil deeds, they went in an entirely different direction. They headed back to the unredeemed mud of earth. It was not a new religion, not something enlightened, but something darkened, something lost. Desire-chasing was nothing new under the sun, but the way of life common to vast swaths of humanity. The people in those swaths God had seen, had loved and had sent his son to die for.
The difficulty comes when well-meaning individuals begin to apply this set of verses to those who are around them be they family members or peers. We may look at their behavior and say, “They are good,” or we may look at them and say, “They are bad.” Often we only see external snapshots. The good-behaving person may internally have dismissed God long ago. The misbehaving person may know terrible internal torment over their sins. We must be careful in our approach to others. It is easy to take these snapshots lay them alongside verse 6 and then attempt to extrapolate either their salvation or lack thereof.
That approach is not off-limits but is fraught with difficulty. See verse 6 is not about backslidden Christians. It is about those who were close to Christ but never in a relationship with him. Those individuals eventually struck out on their own crafting yet another designer religion which discounted misbehaviors. “You get heaven and your sins too. Woohoo!” That religion offered heaven at a cut rate. Purity, lawfulness, deeds of righteousness were taught as having little to no relevance and such they preached. That is the best fit for what verse 6 is colliding with.
How do you and I self-assess?
Most important is how we self-assess in this context. Do we hear the conviction of the Holy Spirit and then respond to it? Sure you may be morally on-track, but at tax time do you report all your income? Do you tell your children that the tuna is chicken so that they will eat it? How about tithing, gossip, two adults paying for one bottomless drink at a restaurant? There are many, many shapes and modes of sin. God convicts and directs away from these. Do you hear his direction? If not then worry about your salvation. Are you accepting it? If not then worry about your sanctification. Both of these are mission critical for eternity now and the Hollywood ending later.
Summary of the “brochures.”
John’s epistle is like a rack filled with brochures that answer the question: why be good? Look at these “brochures” if you will:
- Bring the ways of eternity to the present (1 John 2:8)
- Confidence from a meaningful relationship with God (1 John 2:24)
- Avoid shame with Jesus returns (1 John 2:28)
- A follower of Christ is in the family of God (1 John 3:2)
- Since Christ is sinless, we should be too. Be like Christ (1 John 3:6)