Monday, February 8, 2010

1 John: A manual on discernment

I recently figured out that the book of 1 John in the New Testament is a handbook for discernment and the discerning of spirits. As apostasy was creeping into the church, it became very important for the saints to know how to tell the false from the true. The gift of discernment became very important. How could they tell what doctrines were of God, which were of men, and which were of devils?

John tells them often that there are many deceivers, false prophets, and false spirits in the world, and his epistle is full of hard and fast indicators for the saints to use in sifting truth from error. He speaks of important indicators such as love, compassion, keeping the commandments, bearing testimony of God and Christ, awareness of the Fall, and so forth.

I found it very helpful to go through the book of 1 John (and even 2 John) with a highlighter and mark in one color all the verses that set forth these tests for discernment. When I was done, half of the content in 1 John was highlighted. (I recommend this exercise for everyone.)

Here are some things I picked out:

18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. (1 John 2:18-19)
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)

…He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. (2 John 1:9)

10 If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:
11 For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. (2 John 1:10-11)
We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:6)
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us….
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)
14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.
15 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. ( 1 John 4:14-15)

Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: (1 John 5:1)

2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. (1 John 4:2-3)

For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. (2 John 1:7)

23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: [but] he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. (1 John 2:23)

He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. (1 John 5:10)

22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:22)
But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. (1 John 2:5)

And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. (1 John 2:3)

He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked. (1 John 2:6)

Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: (1 John 3:6)

We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not. ( 1 John 5:18)

Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. (1 John 3:7)

If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him. (1 John 2:29)

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3:9)

2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
(1 John 3:2-3)

…And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us. (1 John 3:24)

In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. (1 John 3:10)

He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:4)

Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God… (2 John 1:9)

…whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him….
8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning… (1 John 3:6,8)
6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another… (1 John 1:6-7)
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

…God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (1 John 4:16)

And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also. ( 1 John 4:21)

…If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:12)

2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. (1 John 5:2)
3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. (1 John 5:3)

He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. (1 John 2:10)

In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9)

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1 John 3:16)

We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. (1 John 3:14)

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18)

15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world….. (1 John 2:15-16)

He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now….and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:9,11)

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (1 John 4:20)

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (1 John 4:8)

…He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.
15 Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him….
17 But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? (1 John 3:14-15,17)
4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.
5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-5)
Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. (1 John 3:21)

Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. (1 John 4:13)

14 And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:
15 And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. (1 John 5:14-15)
12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:12-13)
Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. (2 John 1:8)
Now, we might be inclined to say, “These aren’t real tests; anyone could fake these things. I know a number of good people who aren’t members.” I say that the tests still stand because though it might be easy to fake it through one particular test, it becomes harder to fake all of them together. It becomes even harder to fake all of them together over a sustained period. It becomes impossible to fake all of them when faced with a personal trial. And it is impossible to fake all of them when the saints are being persecuted. When the going gets tough, the fakes are revealed.

We also might be inclined to think that these sayings mean we are allowed to condemn people, but that isn’t true. Rather, they are to help us be able to detect those influences would lead us astray (false prophets, false spirits, deceivers, etc.). It also means that we watch ourselves according to these principles and monitor the condition of our own hearts. This is why John tells the saints, “Look to yourselves” (2 John 1:8). I know John’s words are true. I monitor my own attitudes and thoughts a lot, using those principles to measure and evaluate them. I’m not perfect at it, but I’ve been able to catch myself going astray many times and by repenting, I’ve gotten back on track. The times I wasn’t able to catch myself, others with discernment (like my bishop) were able to catch me. Eventually I realized my fault and repented and got back on track.

Another way that John’s writings may bother us is through the simplicity of his words. Life is black or white to him; there are no shades of gray. Does this mean that he didn’t understand the complexities of people, things, and choices? Does this mean he didn’t recognize that so often we are confronted with mixes of good and evil?

I think he was perfectly aware of all of that, and I think that is precisely why he wrote what he did—to help us cut through the mess and see clearly. Let other people say we are unsophisticated. We are not in the business of making excuses for sin. A sin is a sin. We are in the business of proclaiming salvation from sin through Christ and the necessity of repentance. And we each have a duty to forgive others their trespasses.


Clifford said...

I have been reading my way through 1 John and I appreciate your insights on his short but powerful epistle.

Deals to Meals said...
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