October 13 2011

How God proves his existence

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The call to prove God’s existence is a common challenge put to Christians. And fair enough. If you told me there was a world-wide flood going to wipe me away and my only hope for survival was to leave everything I knew and get into this giant boat sitting in the middle of a field, I would probably ask for some proof that you were right, and not just crazy. Especially, if I couldn’t see any growing storm clouds or at least, if I had never experienced a flood. The request for proof is understandable. However, at times, it is still foolish. There may be a flood coming and the fact that you can’t see the clouds and you lack experience of floods, doesn’t change reality. You just may be blind, or inexperienced.

So the question remains. If requiring proof of God’s existence is understandable, then how does God meet that basic need?

IS PROOF RELEVANT?

Some Christians make the point that you can’t really prove anything and so the expectation of proof is unrealistic. If you required scientific 100% proof for every decision, you wouldn’t do anything. You wouldn’t sit on a chair because you couldn’t prove it won’t break, you wouldn’t eat food because you couldn’t prove it wasn’t laced with poisonous iocane powder, etc. Basically, day to day, we live by faith. But it’s not blind uninformed faith. It’s faith in our experience and faith in what people tell us and faith in our understanding of the world. We make decisions based on what we are convinced of. And so, for all intents and purposes, that is what most people mean when they say they want “proof” of God.

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There are some hard-core atheists that expect that Christians should provide scientific proof of God’s existence and acknowledge that even if all the weight of the evidence pointed towards God’s existence, they would still reject the idea of a God, simply because if there is any other possible explanation then that is preferable (I have heard Peter Singer express this view). This sort of blind commitment to atheism is to me a complete rejection of logic, science and common sense and in the end, a lot more “religious” than the most committed fundamentalist there is.

So should we throw out the word “proof” altogether? Well, I don’t think so. It’s such a part of our cultural language. If you want to return clothes you have to provide “proof of purchase”. If you want to buy alcohol you have to show “proof of age”. If you want to get a passport you need “proof of ID”. If you go to court you are innocent until “proven” guilty. Maybe we just have to think about the way we define “proof” and see if we can apply that to the existence of God.

PROOF #1 – JESUS’ RESURRECTION

I started thinking about writing this blog after I remembered how the bible uses the term “proof”. In Acts 1:3 it says, “After his suffering, [Jesus] showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” and then in Acts 17:31 “For [God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

Both of these passages refer to the resurrection of Jesus as the clearest and most convincing proof of God. The resurrection vindicates all that Jesus taught about himself and about God and is the best evidence for the reality of God and the truth of the gospel. Many philosophers and theologians, both secular and Christian, have realized that the historical truth of the resurrection is the cornerstone of Christianity. If it didn’t happen, then Christianity completely falls apart, but the fact that it did happen proves Christianity is true.

Now this is clearly not the sort of proof that a scientist would consider valid. It is not reproducible and therefore can not be tested. It happened once, but if it truly did happen then once is enough. The resurrection is such an unbelievable event that Jesus knew that his disciples needed proof of its reality. He showed himself to them and allowed them to physically touch him and see him interact with physical things (like eating fish) to prove that he was physically and tangibly alive. This was proof to them and the message that Jesus was alive was the driving force behind the explosion of Christianity in the first century. All of the eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus went to their graves (mostly through murder and execution) professing that the resurrection was a true event.

This event happened. The proof that it happened was shown to the disciples by Jesus himself. They in turn wrote down their eyewitness account for us to read and be convinced by. Now this may not sound like a convincing proof to you but it’s like the question, “Can a man walk on the moon?”

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Think about that question. How would you answer it? Most likely you would say “yes”. But if someone asked you to prove it you would point to the fact that man has indeed walked on the moon. Six times in fact. The first time was in 1969 and the last time was in 1972. That’s the proof. It’s happened. The answer to “can man walk on the moon?” is yes.
But why do you believe that it happened? For many (including myself) all six moon landings happened before I was born, and even if they happened when I was born, I didn’t experience it myself. The idea that man could walk on the moon is absolutely crazy and unbelievable, and yet most of us (other than the rare conspiracy theorist) believe that it 100% happened purely on the basis of the reliability on the account. We read the eyewitness accounts of the astronauts, we see the photos, we watch the video, we listen to the famous words, “that’s one small step for man…” and we are convinced. No matter how unbelievable it may seem, we can confidently say that man can walk on the moon and it has been proven.

I hope you can see where I’m going with this example. I think in the same way that we can say man has walked on the moon, we can say that Jesus rose from the dead and therefore his teaching and message about the reality of God and everything else are reliable. We believe that Jesus’ resurrection has been proved by his appearances and interactions with his disciples who then went on to proclaim and record their eyewitness account of that fact. Their account is still available to us in the gospels and in the book of Acts, and it is just as reliable today as it was when they wrote it. Now some may try to argue against the reliability of the gospel accounts, but I recommend you research the topic yourself to see that they weight of evidence greatly points to their reliability (check out “The Christ Files” if you’re interested). Either way, the issue then becomes “are the accounts of the proof of the resurrection reliable”, not “is there any proof of the resurrection”. The proof is there. Like the moon landings, the resurrection happened. You can either disbelieve the accounts or you can accept them for what they are – reliable records of historical events.

Now, although the resurrection is the primary proof of God that there is, there are also two more proofs which we can personally experience that do not rely on a historical record.

PROOF #2 – EXPERIENCING GOD

The first is the experience of the Christian themselves. Now I admit that this proof is not convincing for those who aren’t Christians who are looking for proof of God before they choose Christ or not, but that doesn’t make it any less of a proof. It simply means that it’s a proof for an audience of one, which incidentally, the person asking for proof is an audience of one and often they aren’t asking that you prove God’s existence on a global universal scale. They’re just asking you to prove it to them, and so the subjective, outwardly untestable, personally experienced proof is just as satisfactory.

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It’s like the old saying, “the proof is in the pudding”. This is actually a misquote. The original full saying is “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”. This makes more sense. It’s saying the reality of the pudding – it’s temperature, taste, whether it’s laced with iocane powder, etc – can only be proven when it is eaten. You could put it through the lab and test it with every scientific instrument, but the best proof of the pudding is in the eating.

This is true for God as well. I can’t speak of other Christians experience, but my experience of God is so real and tangible that it is the greatest reason why I don’t doubt the existence of God. I see and sense God’s daily interaction with me, I experience his guidance, his comfort, his joy and his strength. I notice his leadings as he directs me in life and I know through and through when I am stubbornly working against his Spirit. God’s presence is so real to me, and has been from the very day I gave my life to following and trusting Jesus, I can not deny the reality of my experience. It can be a very hard experience to explain or describe to those who do not have a relationship with Jesus, but those who have responded to the gospel often know exactly what I mean with no need for explanation.

It’s very much like trying to explain colour to a blind person. There is no language that can communicate it and there are no proofs that can convince the blind person that colour exists (other than the proof of a reliable account as mentioned earlier). You can’t prove colour to the blind, but if a blind person receives the gift of sight and looks around then you won’t need to prove colour. Colour will prove itself to the individual.

Is the proof that this person experiences any less valid simply because it can not be tested by blind people? Of course not! In some ways, my experience of God is like that. I wish my non-Christian friends and family members could experience God in the way I do. If they did, it would make believing in God’s existence a given rather than a possible option, and all arguments about which position is more logical completely null and void. As the great evangelist Billy Graham said, “I can tell you that God is alive because I talked to him this morning”.

A clear place where the Bible uses this sort of argument is in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, where Paul says,
“If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

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The terrifying reality if you do not see or experience any “proof” of God, is that you may be blind and perishing in your blindness, and it will take God to shine his light in your heart, remove the “veil” that blinds you and give you “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” If you realize that you are in this position and you are seeking God, but you just can’t see him, then I encourage you to ask him to remove your blindness, like blind Bartemaeus in Mark 10:46-52, call out to Jesus and say, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Maybe Jesus will be merciful and reveal himself to you, giving you every bit of proof that you need.

Now, I realize a problem here. If you don’t see proof that God exists, then how can you call on God to take away your blindness. It seems a convenient argument that anyone could use. Someone could say, “Oh, you would believe in the Mighty Chicken God if you weren’t blind to his glory. Pray and ask the Chicken God to reveal himself.” Now, I’m not going to pray to a giant invisible chicken just on the possibility that he exists and the fear that I might be missing out on something if I don’t pray to him, so I don’t expect anyone else to pray to Jesus if they’re in the same position.

My encouragement is not to the person who can’t see anything, but to the one that God is already working with. God begins to remove the veil and open our eyes, and we start to see things of God and if you are in that position then I encourage you to work with God, rather than against him. Hebrews 3:7 (quoting Psalm 95) says that the Spirit of God is calling to people saying, “If today you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts”. If you hear him, then respond. If you do, you will experience the proof of God that only those who know Jesus can experience. Like the kid covered in chocolate pudding, you will be able to know for yourself the words of Psalm 34:8,
“Taste and see that the Lord is good!”

But what if you don’t hear his voice? What if you can’t see the glory of God in the face of Christ? Is there no experiential “proof” for this person? Will God’s existence ever be proved to them?

Well, the reality is, not in this lifetime.

PROOF #3 – DEATH

Scientist are often looking for experiments that are reproducible in order to prove something. Well, when it comes to God, there is one experiment like that. It’s called death. Every person who has died has without fail, come face to face with God, proving in the most real way possible that he exists. It is an experiment that is reproducible and it will work every time. If you want me to prove that God exists, then all I have to do is say, “Sure, no problem. Just die.” You may not be very obliging, but that matters very little seeing as you’re mortal and will one day partake in the experiment whether you like it or not. As Paul writes in Romans 14:10-12,
“We will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: `As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, `every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
and in Hebrews 9:27 it says,
“Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”

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Everyone will stand before God, either as his friend or his enemy. Either forgiven or still under judgement. Everyone will see and know that God is real. The proof will be in the pudding for everyone. Of course, like my last point, this “proof” has a problem as well. The problem isn’t that some can experience it and others can’t – everyone will experience this one – the problem is obviously that on this side of death, we can’t access the results of the experiment. What we really need is someone to have died (really died, rather than just had a near-death experience) and then come back to life so that they can set the record straight about life and God and everything else. Of course, they would have to show us convincing proofs that they had actually risen from the dead, and then we would have to have some reliable record of what this person said so that all people for all time could know the proof that God exists as well…

Gee, that would be sweet…

CONCLUSION

In the end, this blog is not written to non-Christians who are looking for proof of God. It is written to Christians, who have for the most part, gotten into the habit of avoided using the word “proof” when it comes to God. Or, on the other hand, Christians focus on all the evidence in nature and science to show proofs of God. As much as I think that all those are wonderful evidences for God, I don’t think they are good enough. They are not proof.

In my life there are only three major proofs of God: The resurrection of Jesus, my own taste of God’s goodness and the experience of meeting your Maker when you die. One is in the past, one is in the present and the last one is in the future.

I hope you see and experience the first two, before you experience the third.

(2588)

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October 9 2011

iWaste – a reflection on Steve Jobs

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Today I saw on the front page of the Saturday Age, an reference to the Insight article on the life and death of Apple genius, Steve Jobs. It caught my eye because of the heading, “The Man Who Changed Mankind”. Now, to be sure, his creations have changed many ways that many people communicate in the West and across the globe. I own an iPhone, I am writing this blog on my iPad and earlier today I was looking at buying an iMac. Steve Jobs has definitely impacted my life.
But “changed mankind?” I know it’s just sensationalist journalism, but I think it does reflect how impressed the world was with Steve Jobs.

Steve had everything the world values: Friends, family, money, power, creativity, intelligence, perseverance, moral values, respect and a legacy that effected the world. He was truly “successful” in every way that the world defines that word.

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And yet with all his success he still had no power over when his time was up. He had everything that people are working so hard to achieve, and yet, in the end, he still died and all his success is snuffed out like a candle. Like every other person who has died before him, he died and met his Maker – a Maker that he didn’t believe in and a Maker that was in no way prepared to meet.

Jesus famously said, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36). Sadly, Steve Jobs is a perfect example of that man. All of his wealth and success and global impact meant absolutely nothing when he stood before God to be judged. God was not impressed with all of the gadgets Steve has helped to create. He was not won over by Steve’s cleverness or intelligence or even whatever level of moral character he had. In the end, Steve stood before God simply as a human being with nothing in his hands other than all of his debt to God. Steve was judged by God not based on human materialistic standard, but on his holy standards based on how he lived up to the ultimate purpose and duty of a creature who is made in the image of God: Whether he loved God with all his mind and soul and strength, and whether he loved his neighbour as he loved himself.

Not just because he didn’t believe in Jesus and denied God’s existence, but like all of us, Steve’s life fell very short from God’s standard and he would have no excuse before a God who sees all and knows all.

Now in this way, Steve is just like all of us. As Paul writes in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The saddest thing is that Steve stood before God with no way of turning aside God’s judgement. He had no way of appealing. No argument for mercy. No hope for salvation. He did not know nor respond to the amazing and unique provision that God has provided for humans who find themselves facing death and judgement.

God came to earth 2,000 years ago in the man Jesus to specifically deal with this great problem that we all face. He lived the perfect life that we all should live and then he died a unique death. It was unique because in his death he didn’t face any judgement for his own sin (seeing as he didn’t have any sin to be judged). Instead he bore in his death the great judgement that is reserved for us. He took all our punishment and guilt and sinfulness and died so that those that put their trust in him would be able to stand before God with no judgement left. For those who turn to Jesus and trust in him, all of the judgement of God has been exhausted. This is the one and only hope that any human has to be able to meet their Maker and be welcomed into his kingdom. It truly is amazing that God would go to such lengths to make it possible for us to enjoy something that we don’t deserve, but that is what he has done and Jesus is the one and only way to receive it.

Sadly, unless Steve Jobs experienced some form of last minute conversion that no one knows about, I don’t think he went to meet God with any such hope.

All of his efforts in life were in vain. Like the book of Ecclesiastes so repeatedly says, all of his success was meaningless, like a vapour or wisp of smoke that comes and then disappears from vaporizers at https://www.grasscity.com/vaporizers/. No matter how impressive he may have seemed by our petty standard, ultimately his life was wasted.

The bible has lots to say about making sure we don’t waste our lives in the same way and I hope that we all heed God’s warning. I will leave you with these powerful and harrowing words from a story Jesus told in Luke 12:16-21…

Jesus told them this parable:
The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, `What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, `This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘
But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.

(This blog is dedicated to my friend and brother in Christ, Ben Mason, who died recently. He did not share the global success that Steve Jobs experienced. He was not wealthy or famous and no one other than a group of people even knew he existed. His life has come and gone and the world will not remember him. But he was a man that knew and trusted in Jesus, and because of that it makes all the difference. Because he was a Christian he stood before God as a man forgiven and innocent. Because he was a Christian all of heaven welcomed him and he could enjoy life with God forever. He was a man who had not gained the whole world, but in gaining Jesus, he saved his soul rather than lost it.)

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Ben, we will remember you and we look forward to catching up with you later.

(1625)

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October 5 2011

1 John Chapter 5 – Tricky passage explanation

This is a resource I wrote up for my Bible Study. We have been studying 1 John for the last few weeks and on the summary week (tonight) I took on the task of getting my head around some of the tricky verses that come up in chapter 5. If you don’t know the first letter of John, I highly recommend you read it and the following blog entry might not make much sense until you do.

For the sake of reference, here is 1 John chapter 5:

1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

6 This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.9 We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

16 If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. 19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

 

There are lots of tricky concepts in chapter 5 of 1 John (and indeed throughout the whole letter) but from this last chapter I want to offer some explanation for two of the most trickiest. 

  1. The testimony of the water, the blood & the Spirit. (5:6-12)
  2. The sin that leads to death. (5:16-17)

 

 The testimony of the water, the blood and the Spirit. (5:6-12)

 This passage gets us asking a few questions:

  • What is the “water” and the “blood”?
  • Why is it important that Jesus didn’t just come by water?
  • How do the water the blood and the Spirit testify about Jesus?
  • Why is it important that there are three that testify?

 The first and most important thing to say about this passage is that although all this talk about water and blood is interesting, it isn’t actually the point of the passage. It’s easy to get distracted by the part of the passage that is the most confusing (and therefore the most interesting), but the most important thing is to see where John is going in all this. This will not only help us avoid getting distracted by peripheral issues, but it will also give us the context to help us understand why he is using such odd language.

 John states his main point in verse 13:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Whatever his argument is, the purpose of it is to help Christians have confidence in the truth of the fact that they have eternal life. In John 20:31, he writes that his purpose for writing the gospel record is so that people can HAVE life. In this letter, his audience is those who have now responded to the gospel and his purpose is that those that have life can KNOW that they have it. The next verse (v14) goes on to talk about the confidence we should have in prayer as a result of this “knowledge”, and the final verses of the letter (v18-20) are all about what we “know”. It even concludes with the purpose of Jesus coming is so that we may know him who is true (which is possibly why there is a final warning against idols – or “false” gods).

So the point of all these tricky verses is to give us confidence in the truth of who Jesus is and the truth of the life that he gives. Okay. So how does he get to that point?

Well, he sets up a picture of the Testimony of God (v9-10). The false teachers that John is refuting were teaching the idea that Jesus did not come in the flesh (see 1 John 4:2-3, 2 John 1:7). They believed that the flesh and everything physical was evil and so the Son of God could never have taken on a human body. They taught that Jesus only appeared to have a human body, but was really just a spirit. John believes this is completely anti-Christian (that’s why it’s the teaching of the antichrist) and throughout the letter uses lots of different arguments to show that it is false. 

In chapter 5 he sets up a picture of a courtroom, where the Testimony of God is given about the fact that Jesus is the Son of God and that life is found in the Son (v9-12). It’s not just John’s opinion, it’s God’s opinion and so we can have full confidence in it. In fact, John says in v10, if you don’t believe this testimony then you’re not calling John a liar, you’re calling God a liar.

So in this imaginary courtroom, John describes three witnesses who stand up and testify about this Testimony of God. The three are: the water, the blood and the Spirit.

Now, there are lots of theories about what the water and the blood mean. Some say it’s referring to the water and blood that spilled from Jesus side at the crucifixion (John 19:24), others say the water is his baptism and the blood is his death, still others try to argue that the water is the sacrament of baptism and the blood is the sacrament of communion (a big stretch if you ask me!).

For me, the best explanation is none of these. I think the best fit is the concept that the water is referring to Jesus’ physical birth and the blood is referring to his physical death.

Water is a common image used of birth and creation (think of the waters that the Spirit hovered over in Genesis 1:2) and in John’s gospel (3:5-6), John uses the concept of being “born of water” as a way of describing being physically born, or “born of the flesh”. In this passage, Jesus is telling Nicodemus that he has to experience two births in order to see thekingdomofGod. He has to have a physical birth (born of water) and he has to have a spiritual birth (born of the Spirit).

I think this is what John is meaning when he uses the same language in 1 John 5:6. Here he says that Jesus “came by water”, meaning Jesus had a physical birth. This is exactly the concept that the false teachers were denying, and John pushes the point by talking about “blood” – another fleshy concept that the false teachers would have hated. This is probably referring to Jesus’ physical death, a death that was proven when the blood flowed from his side. Blood is used throughout the New Testament as a reference to Jesus’ death (including in 1 John 1:7), and so we can safely say this is what John is meaning here.

It makes sense too. He is arguing that the Testimony of God is that Jesus came in the flesh and two of the witnesses are the physical birth of Jesus (the water) and the physical death of Jesus (the blood). But it’s not just historical events the witness to Jesus, but God himself proclaims this testimony about Jesus through his Spirit. This is why John says in 1 John 5:6-7 that the Spirit testifies along with the water and the blood. This could be referring to Jesus’ baptism (John 1:32-34) or more likely where Jesus says that he will send the Spirit of truth who will testify about him (John 15:26-27). Either way, John’s courtroom scene is completed with three witnesses – the water, the blood and the Spirit, and these three are in agreement (1 John 5:7).

But why is it important that there are three witnesses? Well for that we need to understand one of the most important Old Testament laws in regard to courtroom justice. In Deuteronomy 19:15 the law states that a truth was not able to be established if there is only one witness. There had to be two or three.

One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

This law is re-enforced by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17 when he teaches about how we should respond when a brother sins against us, and Paul uses this principle when talking about proving his ministry (2 Corinthians 13:1-3) and also when bringing a charge against an elder (1 Timothy 5:19).

The idea is that although one witness may be telling the truth, it can only be validated or established as true and reliable when “two or three” witness to it. This is possibly what Jesus is talking about when he says: “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)

In relation to John’s argument, it means that in the imaginary courtroom scene that he is describing “there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” Do you see what he’s arguing? It’s John’s way of saying that the testimony that Jesus is the Son of God is reliable and is an established truth that we can have full confidence in.

And this in the end is his goal remember? He writes all of it, painting this elaborate courtroom scene, so that we can have confidence that God’s testimony about Jesus is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

 

The sin that leads to death. (5:16-17)

Like the “water and the blood”, there are a few suggestions as to what John is talking about when he talks of the sin that leads to death. Some say it’s the unforgiveable sin of “blasphemy against the Spirit” Jesus talks about in Matthew 12:31-32 (a tricky passage in itself) or the sin of “lying to the Holy Spirit” that instantly kills Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11, or even the sin of taking communion without acknowledging Jesus which seems to have been judged by God with sickness and death in 1 Corinthians 11:29-30.

These are all big stretches to squeeze into the context of 1 John and so the best and simplest way of understanding what John is talking about is to look at the letter itself.

Just before talking about the “sin that leads to death” John writes in v12, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” This is the two distinct groups that he keeps going on about throughout the whole letter. There are two camps. In one camp is the Christ who gives life, and in the other camp there is the antichrist who gives death.

So what is the “sin that leads to death”? It is the sin that leads you away from Christ.

More specifically, it’s the sin that John keeps going on about – The sin of denying that the Son of God came in the flesh. This is the sin that leads people away from the truth of the gospel and so leads them to death.

Before talking about this sin, he encourages us to pray for a fellow believer who has sinned (v16). This fellow believer (or “brother”) believes the Testimony about God, has come to Jesus and has been given eternal life. This is a believer that John describes as being “born of God” (v18) and therefore will not continue sinning. John says that God will keep him safe and the evil one cannot harm him and earlier in the letter, John says that if a believer does sin then Jesus speaks on our defence and he atones for all of our sin by his death (1 John 2:1-2).

This is why, when we see a believer committing a sin, we are right to pray and ask God to give them life. God has promised to forgive them and give them life because all of their sin, past, present and future, has been dealt with by Jesus.

Then John makes a distinction. He refers to this sin that leads to death – this sin of rejecting Jesus consistently and deliberately – and he clarifies that he is not saying we should pray for that sin. Notice, he doesn’t exactly tell us we must not pray for that sin, but rather he clarifies, saying that the sins he is instructing us to pray for are specifically the sins of a believer. These are the sins we can have confidence God will forgive, and again remember, this is what this section of the letter is about – confidence in God.

That’s what John is referring to in the previous verses:

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15)

John is saying, when we ask God to forgive the sins of a believer and give them life rather than death, we can have confidence that he will give us what we ask. This is true, not because we are special, but because we are asking “according to his will” (v14). It is God’s will that he gives life to those that believe in Jesus. It is God’s will that anyone born of God will not continue to sin.

This is the sin that we should pray to God about. There is lots of sin that leads to death around us. Everywhere we look we see people rejecting Jesus, and John is saying we can’t have confidence that God will give life to every sinner. Maybe we should pray that God forgives. Maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe we should pray that people repent and that God has mercy. This passage actually doesn’t answer that issue. The point of John’s concluding words in 1 John is to encourage us to pray for Christians having full confidence that God will give them life.

The most important thing is to test our hearts and see which camp we are actually in. Are we committing the sin that leads to death by rejecting Jesus, the Son of God who came in the flesh? Or are we in danger of following false teachers who preach a false gospel about a false God?

We need to always be diligent to keep ourselves from these paths that lead away from eternal life and lead straight to eternal death. This is probably why John finishes this letter in with such an encouragement and a warning:

 “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true – even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:20-21)

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