Saturday, November 15, 2014

Essential Forgiveness

We are reading I John, a letter that sent a strong message of approval to Christian leaders mentored by the Apostle John. John affirmed the faithfulness of Church leaders who had been confronted with the trauma of apostasy and aggressive anti-Christian heresy. He discerned their need for a nurturing message of spiritual truth. In this sense, John's message was similar to that which Jesus gave his disciples in the hours before His arrest. It was relational rather than doctrinal. In fact, John explicitly tells the leaders that they do not need doctrinal instruction. Post-crisis, they needed to remain firm in the doctrine they already possessed. Their doctrinal stability would in turn allow them to remain in fellowship with God. 

Children, Fathers and Young Men

John finds an innovative way to isolate and insulate their intimate walk with God. He instructs the leaders to acknowledge three distinct roles they performed before God as they built His church, among them their role as little children. As argued in a previous blog entry of mine, this is a hugely important devotional point for all Christians, not just leaders. We must return to happy contentment in the Father's provision of the Son. Our efforts in gospel outreach must regularly loop back to our collapse as humble recipients of the forgiveness that flows from the Cross. 

Turning away from straight prose, John asks them to recall their three main roles: first content and vulnerable as children, next deliberate and wise as fathers, and finally, bold and decisive as young spiritual warriors.

I am writing to you, little children,
    because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake.
I am writing to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
    because you have overcome the evil one.

I write to you, children,
    because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
    because you are strong,
    and the word of God abides in you,
    and you have overcome the evil one. 1 John 2:12-14 (ESV)

In their role as fathers, the leaders have known their ancient Father. They are conduits of the wisdom tempered by relational depth with God. In their role as warriors, the Apostle affirmed their spiritual victory over those who had betrayed the Christian brothers through a wrenching and financially lucrative apostasy from the faith. Although apostates are often not saved, in this case John repeatedly shames the darkness present in hating one's Christian brothers, as was apparently done in this situation. Of course no unregenerate person has any Christian brothers. By labeling the apostasy a failure to love the brethren, the Apostle also reminded the leaders of this always present temptation for Christians.

Spirit of Adoption

In the leaders' role as children, they have by way of overwhelming forgiveness, accessed intimacy with the Father through the Son. In his epistle, the Apostle John's expansive treatment of forgiveness and the more than sufficient satisfaction of the atoning work of Christ was meant to calm and resolve any sense of missteps or regrets the leaders might have entertained now that the climax of the crisis had passed. In fact, it is this forgiveness emphasis that made his affirmation of the leaders and their spiritual victory so unambiguous. All was forgiven. This could be seen as a way the roles bolster each other. Another might be that in order to rejoice as children, they must employ the courage needed to wisely and decisively separate from heresy. Heresy, John teaches, abruptly cuts off true fellowship with God.

Not surprisingly, because of the frequency of the little children teaching in the NT, it is this role that continues to be invoked several further times in the letter. The wise Apostle is telling them, "Don't let the ragged shadow of the crisis eclipse vulnerability before God." In the NT, both crisis and success can distract from this childlike reality of vulnerability. In the Gospels, Jesus had once cautioned His disciples, "Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." Luke 10:20 (ESV)

First Love

As we've observed in previous posts, the church in Ephesus did sadly lose their first love:

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 
Revelation 2:2-4 ESV 

This is of course, a temptation for all churches and all Christians. Our identity as content little children, closely related to the spirit of adoption, is essential in walking with God. The expansive realities that our sins are more than sufficiently cleansed and that because of that forgiveness we have full and deep access to our Heavenly Father, provide a healthy happiness that is the basis for the more mature aspects of our Christian experience. Childlike vitality that is content in God's blessing gives a joyful energy that helps leaders face the rigors of embattled spiritual leadership even in situations of apostasy.

© Jodie Sawyer, 2014

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