Stop Foreclosure–1 John 2:26

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. –1 John 2:26

As I drove across town today, I saw a sign, hand-lettered and bold in black on yellow, reading, “Stop Foreclosure Now.” I didn’t call the number on the sign, just as I have never called any of the numbers that promise to repair bad credit. Despite my lack of direct experience in this area, I have a sneaking suspicion that if you were to call the number, you’d discover that the  cure is worse than the disease.

Why, then, do these people attempt to convince us that they can repair our credit, insure our cars, extend our warranties, enhance our diets, or stop the specter of foreclosure in its tracks? I think it’s pretty obvious. While they might have nothing that you and I truly need or want, we have something that the advertisers very badly want: our money. In a world where basic needs were long ago met by businesses, today’s merchants need to create new needs that they can proceed to meet. You didn’t know that you needed 112 channels of digital TV, but you apparently do.

Why this diatribe about advertising and phony needs? I’m guessing that John met his share of “Stop Foreclosure” salesmen in his day. In his case, of course, without the benefits of a sub-prime mortgage crisis, he dealt with spiritual charlatans. In order to understand this single verse, in which John gives yet another reason for writing, we need to try to understand the nature of those leading John’s readers astray. If John is writing “these things” in response to those leading people astray, then his words must be some sort of remedy to the false teachings. Since John writes about eternal security in the preceding verses, then I think it reasonable to assume that somebody was trying to undermine that teaching.

Today, false teachers attempt to convince us that we cannot rest assured of our reconciliation to God, that God’s grace is insufficient, that Christ’s sacrifice cannot effect our salvation. Why would somebody teach such doctrine? I would suggest that they do it for the same reason that other advertisers create needs. These false teachers seek to lead us into legalism with themselves as the lawmakers. They strive to use us for their own ends. This is exactly the opposite of what Jesus did when he came in the flesh and the opposite of the message of love, grace, and hope that John preaches. If that can’t get you excited about your faith, then you need to re-read 1 John up to this point.

Message Control–1 John 2:24-25

See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—even eternal life. –1 John 2:24-25

What a difference a few words make. Typically I do not spend a great deal of time in this space considering the intricacies of the Biblical text, partly because I am not a Greek or Hebrew scholar and partly because I don’t find that sort of close reading particularly helpful to leading a better Christian life most of the time. Today, however, I find myself compelled to consider the text a bit more closely.

As what a seminary professor friend of mine called a three-and-a-half-point Calvinist, I struggle with a text like this, which seems to suggest that the doctrine of eternal security is in error. Yet the plain English of this passage would lead me to such a conclusion. “See that what you have heard in the beginning remains in you,” John says, and then you’ll stay in good graces with God. This isn’t really compatible with the typical eternal security argument that says “If you’re truly saved, then you’ll remain saved.” This verse suggests personal volition. “See to it,” it commands. This isn’t some passive thing. John’s words here cannot be twisted to mean “As you watch these things remain.” No, he says, “See to it.” We’re supposed to do something. We’re supposed to keep what we heard in the beginning within us.

Here’s where the perils of translation come in. The Greek simply doesn’t say what the NIV translators have provided here. In fact, no other translation I have seen renders this verse in such a way. All of the others describe a much more passive event. Let’s look at a few:

What you have heard from the beginning must remain in you. (Holman) –That might just express a natural law as in “Gravity must remain in force.”

let that abide in you which you heard. (NASB) –Here we’re enjoined simply not to drive out what we’ve heard rather than actively keeping it in.

let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. (NKJV) –This is again a passive command.

While I cannot drive out God’s blessings, I can squeeze it out of the forefront of my life and my mind. I can let the thousand demands of life, the thousand calls of the flesh drown out the Word of God, which I heard from the beginning. When that happens, and it happens to all of us now and again, then we are estranged, temporarily, from the Son and the Father. We don’t risk losing eternal life, but we do squander the portion of earthly life God has given us. Therefore, whether I “see to it” or simply “let that abide,” I cannot afford to allow the message of the Gospel to be moved out of its central place in my consciousness.

Oprah Patrol–1 John 2:22-23

Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. –1 John 2:22-23

Well here I go. I’m about to prevent myself from ever appearing on Oprah. I’m sure that she was hanging out up there in Chicago, finger poised over the phone, ready to call me and invite me to jump on the couch and proclaim my love for Penny. This is going to blow all of that.

<Deep breath.> All beliefs are not equally valid. (Did you hear that, Oprah?) I’ll even go one step further. Not only are all beliefs not equally valid, whether or not you believe them sincerely, but all beliefs that somehow invoke the name of Jesus do not make you a Christian.

Yesterday, I heard Gene Robinson, the openly homosexual Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, talking about a Jesus who didn’t sound like the savior of the world. Robinson’s Jesus taught about love and provided an inspiring moral example, but he didn’t seem to die for my sins or provide a singular route to God. (Robinson also noted that his prayer life includes very few words, which I found rather odd, but I suppose that’s his business.)

Talk to your neighborhood Muslim and you’ll hear of a respected Jesus, a prophet who called people to monotheism and did a lovely job of delivering God’s message (once Mohammed got it all untangled in the Quran). This is a Jesus, but it’s not Jesus as the Christ, the anointed one, the one and only Son of God the Father.

Then there’s Oprah, who, in her numbingly New Agey conversation with Eckhart Tolle, self-proclaimed spiritual guide, encourages us to get in touch with our “Christ Consciousness.” In Oprah’s eyes, everyone has has a little sliver of Jesus inside them–sort of like the spleen, I suppose–and what we need to do is get in touch with that sliver. Jesus was really in touch with his Christ Consciousness, which is what made him so great. I guess all that cross stuff was just an unpleasant end to the story.

John doesn’t have much patience for those who either deny Jesus or deny the true Jesus, calling them liars. I’m not a liar, and presumably, if you’re still with me, neither are you. That’s good, but it’s not enough. The question for you and me is what we do with the Jesus we acknowledge? Certainly it’s better not to be a liar than to be one, but if that’s your only claim to fame, it’s rather like being noteworthy for not smelling bad. What will you do with Jesus beyond acknowledging him?

A Terrible Thing to Waste–1 John 2:20-21

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. –1 John 2:20-21

My 9:00 am Comp class is driving me crazy. More accurately, some of them are driving me crazy. Several of these students are quite diligent and dependable. I have no complaints about them. Some days I wish I could tap four or five of them on the heads and say, “Let’s go.” The others probably wouldn’t even notice that we’re gone. Half of the others are absent on any given day. In fact, it’s a good day when I have half the class present.

It wouldn’t be so bad having these students lurch through the semester if they could already write at a competent college level. Many students come to college believing that because they made decent grades in high school English they can do anything that English education is ever likely to place in their way. After all, how hard can it be to write an essay. You just state a thesis, copy a few paragraphs from the Wikipedia article, and then throw in a few personal opinions. That ought to get you at least an A-, right?

That’s my problem with the students in my Comp class. They behave as if they know everything that they need to know, yet they demonstrably don’t know those things. In fact, the ones who know the most are the ones who show up every day and actually engage in class.

How often, though, do Christians behave in just the same way. Our attitude, at least some of the time, is that we already know it all. If we don’t know it, then it can’t be very important. So let’s just get on with the pot luck dinner. And here, the know-it-all believer seems to have a prooftext to support that self-satisfaction: “You know the truth.”

Just like my students don’t know it all, we as Christians cannot think we know it all, despite what John seems to say. After all, if John meant to say “You know it all,” then wouldn’t he have been wasting his time by writing the letter, telling them what they already knew. I don’t for a moment believe that John intended that his readers knew it all.

What frustrates me most about my students is that they have potential. If they were simply dumb as walls, then I wouldn’t mind them wasting their (lack of) potential, but they aren’t stupid. They’re just lazy. Similarly, God must look at us, anointed and possessed of the truth, and lament our lack of development. Our waste is far more serious than that of my 9:00 am students.

Clock Watchers–1 John 2:18-19

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. –1 John 2:18-19

Years ago, I walked through China Town in San Francisco. Across the street from a particularly scary-looking Chinese Restaurant, I saw a particularly tacky-looking gift emporium, one of those places with a lot of very thin T-shirts and assorted souvenirs to amaze and delight you. Stretched across the front of this joint was a large vinyl sign reading, “Going Out of Business Sale.”

There’s nothing all that unusual about a business going under. There was nothing very unwelcome in this particular place going under. What struck me as unusual, however, was the condition of that sign. Faded and frayed despite hanging in a relatively sheltered place, it looked as if it had been marking that spot for several years.

The proprietor, conceivably, might have argued that his sign was not deceptive. “After all,” I can imagine him claiming, “someday we will go out of business and we are having a sale, so . . .” Despite such a protest, I couldn’t help but laugh at the transparency of this little ruse. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that this same store still has such a sign hanging over the front door, although I’m fairly certain that the sign I saw has long ago disintegrated.

I’m reminded of this today as I read John’s words: “this is the last hour.” If this is the last hour, in the normal sense of the words, then I’d really like to inspect John’s watch. Rather like the alarmists who correctly predict five of the last three economic downturns, John seems to be either casting a very big net or missing the prediction altogether.

What do we make of that? Did John miss it? Or are we in the midst of an exceptionally long “last hour”? Perhaps we were in the midst of the last hour but then somebody hit the pause button on the VCR.  I don’t find any of those interpretations very convincing, but on the other hand I struggle to consider John’s writing authoritative and reliable if he can manage to be so far afield on this matter.

Perhaps when we get to heaven, we can ask John what he meant by “the last hour.” Until then, though, we should consider the importance of this notion to our lives today. The question I would ask is this: Would you behave differently if you knew that Jesus would return this afternoon? I’m guessing that you might; I’m sure I would. Although I am planning for retirement, at least a dozen years away according to the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System, I should be living each day as if I am in the last hour, as if Jesus could return at any time.

Unfortunately, we all too often live our lives in a strange sort of middle ground, without the urgency of the last hour or the foresight of the long-term retirement plan. Instead, we should attempt to live with both of these forces, the long term and the short, simultaneously in our minds.

…and my lungs and limbs and all the rest of me.