Alien Grace Intruders from Another Dimension!

flatland1

As part of His teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us this bit of observation:

14 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
Matthew 6:14-15

In his little book called “Flatland”, Edwin Abbot describes a world in which two-dimensional characters live within a two-dimensional plane and can thus only perceive each other as lines. If a three-dimensional character such as a sphere intersected their world, they would have the strange and perhaps miraculous experience of seeing a dot appear before them, which gradually grew into a line, and then once again shrank to a dot and disappeared. In order to understand this, the inhabitants of Flatland would have to be lifted up out of their two-dimensional plane so that they could see the true nature of the sphere, and then it would be simple and obvious.

We have a similar problem here. We are by nature judgment driven law-loving sinners. We measure everything by its adequacy. We strive through our deeds to prove our worthiness to each other at all times. In other words we live in a universe governed by a vast division between moral good and aesthetic good. We live in a world where the air we breath is all about doing the good we must, and avoiding the damaging pleasures we long for, and of fearing the consequences for failure. Standards of excellence, judgment, failure, and fear are our flatland.

In this statement of Jesus, we have an otherworldly object intersecting our flat moral world. When we try to interpret it from our flatlander perspective, it makes no sense at all. We think, “I thought God was a forgiver, an unconditional lover of sinners. Yet we have this moral imperative to forgive, on which our own forgiveness from God hinges. So my forgiveness hinges upon how well I forgive! What could this mean?”

If you step outside of the world of threat and expectation and the earning of spiritual wages, you can see something. First, this is not an imperative. It is an observation. If you live and breathe and think and exist in an environment where you believe in the power of Christ’s blood shed for sinners, you have escaped the two-dimensional prison. You really have come to believe, not simply that you alone are forgiven, but that there is a possibility of real lasting definitive forgiveness at all. You believe in substitutionary atonement. You have the perspective of knowing that a huge penalty can be paid for sin by someone else in place of you. As a corollary you believe that this kind of thing works, in general. So you have a way to see that for someone else who believes this, it also works. You can trust that their faith is also real. So you have entered this little universe with them where forgiveness and acceptance wins the day, all the time and in general. Unconditional love has become your new perspective.

The people still dwelling in flatland see this, and they are scandalized by this forgiveness. They think it means that people are being allowed to get away with sin. They think it is antinomianism, because they can only interpret grace from inside the flat world of threat and coercion and fear of punishment. But once you escape the prison of ought, you see people from the perspective of mercy and love, and you see that threat is not a motivator but a prison. You know you abide in love and forgiveness, and you have become a citizen of the world where this is the new rule. You forgive others because you believe in blood-bought forgiveness, in general. So you think this is what defines everyone else, not their guilt.

If you don’t forgive others, you think it is their failure that defines them. That means that, in general, you don’t believe in the the power of forgiveness and the power of the gospel. You haven’t by faith been introduced into this grace in which we stand (Romans 5:1-2). But if you do forgive, it means you have entered the realm where forgiveness works — for you and for them. You no longer have the need to see others as defined by their lack of moral success, because you see them as being defined by the love which God has for them.

Jesus + Anything = Nothing

Is all this extra stuff really helpful?

Is all this extra stuff really helpful?

Here is some counsel I gave someone who is a true and beautiful believer but who is having trouble, perhaps because of some bad teaching in their past, accepting that their faith in Christ is true:

When Jesus died and said “it is finished”, it was finished. It is not dependent on some change in you. It doesn’t matter if you soften your heart or change your thoughts or believe it in some perfect way. You either reject His offer or accept it. If you are seeking these things, if you are not saying “No! Jesus go away!”, you accept Him. I am giving you permission to say, “I believe, I truly believe.” Because you DO truly believe.

The voices telling you that you don’t believe are wrong. None of this would matter to you if you didn’t. And what you believe is a humdinger, because simply by not rejecting Him, you have believed in the One who eternally saves you. You are completely and utterly safe. It isn’t a safety of your own crafting. It is a safety that He has established for you as a gift by grace.

You begin by not rejecting His finished work that He already accomplished. Your fruit will roll out from that very simple trust, and if it doesn’t, or it takes its sweet time, it still doesn’t really matter. You are forgiven everything. Forever. Your past secret shame is forgotten; He refuses to remember it, and everyone who might do so is a sinner too and has no right. You are eternally loved. You are really really safe. By the simple belief in Christ that you already have, you are the bride of Christ and dearly cherished by Him. He Himself longs to hear your prayers and He Himself dearly loves you.
So, take heart, you are really His child, and everything is going to work out beautifully. He is on your side. He loves you.

Adding to Jesus’ Work

I wanted to post this here to give it a little bit of analysis. If we add anything to what we must do to be saved besides belief in Christ, we create a work. Belief is key, because it says I trust in a world and a work and a significance and a rescue that someone else created. I didn’t invent it or craft it, because I have given up on being my own God. I simply receive it. It is important that your idea of saving faith be stripped bare of any task on your part, because you do not save yourself. Jesus saves you. If you add to His work you taint it and ultimately disqualify yourself, because Jesus + Anything = Nothing. If I say, Jesus saves me for my past sins, but if I commit adultery in the future I will lose my salvation, then it is no longer Jesus who saves me. It is my avoidance of adultery which saves me. This does not mean that I condone or even overlook adultery. It means my mind is not set on not committing adultery because I am not precluded from the favor of God because of my lack of success with sexual purity. Rather, it is the help and favor and pleasure of God for me and my belief in it that helps me against my immoral proclivities. The mind set on the flesh is death, and the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:6).

Assurance and Confidence

you-keep-using-that-word1We have assurance and confidence in our salvation because of this. If I thought, I am saved by Jesus + successful fruits and/or sanctification and/or discipleship, then I am making my salvation hinge on what I do instead of on Jesus’ work. “Jesus plus” theology says I forge my own salvation with Jesus’ help, in other words, and thus if I screw up a la Romans 7:14-25, I lose my confidence not only in my own authenticity of faith, but in Jesus’ power to save. His saving power was supposed to cleanse me but it didn’t – if you add to mere belief in His death for you. However, that is not the nature of our confidence. Our faith is that Jesus saves sinners while they are yet sinners by dying for them (Romans 5:8). So when I say I believe in Christ, I am saying that I do not save myself. I am saying that Jesus, and only Jesus, saves me. I cannot undo His work or break His power over me to save. I have confidence in the day of judgement because I have come to know and believe the love that God has for me in Christ’s propitiation.

This kind of pure faith in Christ, that He alone saves you without any help or success from you, is the free-gift salvation that alone produces true fruits. The fruits are quite secondary to faith, however. Once you realize the degree of forgiveness and freedom you truly have in Christ, His love is intoxicating and absorbing. Suddenly you find that you are excited about it all the time. You dwell on it mentally. You abide in Him, and He in you. You start to have a tremendous love for others despite their imperfections, because you have tasted the power of grace. If you take away from the notion that the blood of Jesus washes us from all sin, and add some kind of personal task into that as having a cleansing power, you destroy the true hope that inspires genuine purity (1 John 3:3).

Forgiveness is the Power

People want to take a statement like “the blood of Jesus washes us from all sin” (1 John 1:7) and make a work of it. They want it to mean, if you believe in Jesus, you better prove it by not sinning. Or at least sinning less, or not having any “habitual” sin. However, in context, it is set as the root of a community which sins and maintains authenticity and confession about their sins. (1 John 1:5-10) It means, an overarching and enduring forgiveness. People hate the idea that salvation only means forgiveness. People want it to result in works and fruits, they must have human skin in the game. “God may love you enough to forgive your sins, but He loves you enough to want you to forsake your sins too.” This is a none-too-subtle backdoor to works salvation. But once you make the cleansing that the blood accomplishes more than forgiveness, you have suddenly changed the gospel so it has no power of salvation, and no anchor for the confidence and hope that inspires purification. Salvation really does mean a strong and enduring forgiveness, an unbreakable unconditional love. Salvation means that, however Romans 7:14-25 is playing out for you, there is always, right now, NO CONDEMNATION. None. Not one shred of condemnation. That means you are always in a current state of 100% forgiveness. Right now, the slate is wiped clean for you because you believe the blood of Jesus cleanses all sin. You can start all over with your 1,000,001st chance to walk in the Spirit instead of the flesh. This is what He wants. He is the author and finisher of your faith (Hebrews 12:2).

The Destroyer of Relationships

DN-SN-84-01767Jesus + Anything theology is a destroyer of relationship. If you notice, the community of people who nullify grace are regarded in 1 John 1:5-10 as the darkness, as pretenders who don’t hold the blood of Jesus as powerful and therefore have no fellowship and no place to confess or to experience cleansing. There is only a platform for faking righteousness and posing. Jesus + Anything theology places the same “anything” on everyone else’s head that the person pretending success under it holds. So the “anything” stands as a judge and an ender for truly honest and authentic sinners. Proponents of Jesus + Anything kinds of theology cannot embrace fellowship with sinners, because their standards of successful sanctificatory justification stand as the basis of imperfect love which dismisses people in the spirit of Cain the murderer, not as perfect love which persists in relationship with the imperfect. Since they don’t really believe in a substitutionary sacrifice for themselves, they don’t believe in it for anyone else. This is all really terrible, because no personal holiness or success in sanctification matters at all if it does not foster love for our sinning brethren. If you are not attracting sinners and tax-gatherers and prostitutes then you are not really operating in the spirit of Christ, who loves sinners and died for them. Belief in God’s pure unconditional grace fosters this kind of love!

The Simplicity of Belief

There is no feeling or fervor or euphoria or even gratitude you must muster up to make your faith real. There is no love for sinners that makes your faith real either. You must simply know and believe in the love God has for you in Christ’s propitiation, whether you are feeling it or not. Since you are an ignorant rotten sinner, you probably aren’t feeling it most of the time. You are not the one who makes it real. He didn’t wait until your successful sanctification and fruits of salvation and euphoria over your forgiveness and then say, “It is finished!” He said it is finished just as He died on the cross. It is finished! Believe it! Rejoice!

John 1:13 – Born of the Will of God

Gospel of John

who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

who were born. This is the Greek word “gennao”, which means “to procreate”. Those who received Him are given the right to become (“ginomai”) children. this procreative becoming is a birth, a second birth. Jesus refers to this in his dialog with Nicodemus:

John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

So, those who receive Christ, who do not outright reject Him, become new people. They are new humans with new identities with new minds and new spirits that look at the world with new eyes. They have been newly conceived and are new persons that did not exist before. I think perhaps we don’t usually give enough consideration to the reality of the new birth. Something entirely new in us is created that wasn’t in existence before. We have been given an entirely new identity as Christians.

not of blood.  I thought that perhaps this could mean, not of physical, but rather of biological descent. After all bloodlines are very important in the Hebrew mindset. Jesus’ own bloodline was carefully documented in two of the synoptic gospels. Jesus did not pass on a genetic bloodline; His blood was spilt. His children are not born genetically of blood, but through His shed blood. I think this idea could be supported by considering that in context, we are talking about conception and birth and becoming children. So the mention of blood in the context of conception suggests that blood is being thought of in this way — as a genetic thread passed down from ancestors. Several commentators agree with this idea, such as Edwin Blum:

“The new birth does not come by natural descent (lit. ‘of bloods’)”. – The Bible Knowledge Commentary, pg 272

However, in the Old Testament, this is the meaning of the man’s “seed”. The blood is the life of the flesh, which sustains its life, even for beasts (Leviticus 17:11,14). So I think this reference in John 1:13 could really mean, not of the physical life of the man as beast. Truly, I’m not sure exactly what this means. It seems anachronistic to impose our ideas of blood as a carrier of genetic imprint upon this text. I’m not convinced that this was the meaning at the time this was written, and so I’m left with saying “I’m not exactly sure what this means.”

Until I learn differently, I will tenuously hold that “born, not of blood” indicates a lack of need for genetic bloodline to be born of God. This would indicate that salvation is available to all, not just to Hebrews.

nor of the will of the flesh. I think this means, not by human sexual passion. Flesh has a “will” — the Greek word is “thelema”. It means, a determination, but also an inclination in terms of desire or pleasure. Putting together “will” with “flesh” means sexual attraction and drive, to me. So, while physically we are all born of sexual passion, the second birth which comes to those who receive Christ which is of God is not born of sexual passion, but of something greater.

nor of the will of man. The will of man is different than the will of the flesh. This actually indicates the will of “a man”, as in an individual male, typically a husband. This means, for those who are born of God, it did not happen because someone decided it was time to finally start a family. God decided to birth them as children of God.

but of God. It is quite something to say that someone is born of God. First, this is to be distinguished from Jesus Christ, who is the “only begotten” from the Father (John 1:14). As believers we are born of God, but we are not the only begotten.

However, we are saying that something very new and very different has been conceived in us. It was not conceived as a result of the random vagaries of genetic bloodline, nor of the sexual passion of our genetic parents. We were not conceived as part of our well-meaning but probably selfish and short-sighted planning of our human parents. God, who existed before time and planned out the existence of everything, conceived us. There is no place in this idea for a deist existence, in which God set things in motion which indirectly caused our existence to come about. We become children of God by His direct intervention and will as citizens of the realms of heaven.

So, by the outward free will act of receiving Christ, we walk out the conception and birthing of our new self at the initiative and choice of God. How can it be that a free will act is ordained by the will of Another? It just is! It is supposed to be a mystery.

Ephesians 1:4 He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

John 1:12 – The Right to Become Children of God

Gospel of John

 

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,

As many as received Him. There is no constraint specified as to who received Him. This doesn’t mean just Jews: “as many as” means, anyone who received Him.

So, He came into the world, and there is this notion of receiving. Somehow some people are receptive and some people are not receptive. This receptivity is the division. So the question is, what does it mean to “receive” Him?

Receiving is a more passive activity. It doesn’t say “as many as seized Him” or “as many as searched Him out” or “as many as took hold of Him.” It doesn’t say “as many as pleased Him” or “as many as made Him Lord.” These are intentional active things. Receiving means you are sitting there, and someone comes along and offers you something, and you say, “OK, thanks!”

The opposite of receiving is rejecting. We could rephrase this as “He came to His own, and those who were His own rejected Him. But as many as did not reject Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God…”

So we may want to nail down the meaning of “receive” to something more specific, but in this passage it is not given. The important core concept is extremely simple: either you reject Him or you receive Him. Maybe you misunderstand baptism or whatever, but these understandings will play out according to whether you reject Him or receive Him.You will look at the scriptures and listen to His teachings and form your opinions and rationalize things either as a receiver or a rejecter.

“As many” indicates a plurality. They, in community, are given the right to become children of God. He came to create this community, this family of children who believe.

to them He gave the right to become children of God. He gave the right. It is not earned, it is a gift. He is offering a free gift, and the only difference between the children of God and others is whether they receive it or reject it. It is a gift crafted and brought and offered from God by God’s initiative.

They are given the right to become children of God. It isn’t simply that they are given something which they have no honest claim to. They are given the circumstance in which justice demands that they be recognized as children of God. This is extremely powerful. It lifts the idea of being a child of God from religious mumbo jumbo to the level of forceful strong justice. It means that I don’t just say I am a child of God — justice demands that everyone in the universe recognize the claim of justice upon me, that I am a child of God. If you dispute my identity as a child of God, you commit an injustice, because I haven’t just been given the title, I’ve been given the right.

They are given the right to become children of God. I don’t think this indicates a gradual attainment, it means a sudden shift. It is the Greek work “ginomai” which among other things listed in the lexicon, means “to be assembled, to be, to be brought to pass, to be divided.” None of these are gradual transformation ideas. The thing this also indicates is that we are not just “called” or “named” or even “numbered among” children of God. It isn’t just “positional,” whatever that means. We become  children of God. This is a change of identity. It is related to the word “genetic” or “genesis” which relates this (especially because what we are becoming is a child!) to the idea of second birth. There is a very fundamental change indicated which is more than just a label.

Even to those who believe in His name. “Even” to me indicates a lowest common denominator. There may be people who “make Him Lord” or take up their cross and become true disciples or plumb the depth of His propitiatory death in relation to the Levitical sacrifice laws, but if you just believe in His name, you are given the right to become a child of God.

If you receive Him, even simply believing in His name, then when it comes down to things like “propitiation” and “justification” and such, you are open to the truth of it and you say, “yes”. If you don’t receive Him, you resist. It is kind of like operating a car. You don’t need to understand how the engine works, but your driving skills aren’t what runs the car. Somewhere, under the hood, the engine is working correctly whether you understand how it works or not. Receiving Jesus implies the incarnation, the trinity, the wrath of God, penal substitution, faith, and all kinds of things like that. You may eventually come to understand some of that, and it will support your faith. Your belief in His name wouldn’t be worth a penny if those things weren’t all there and very true. If you truly and sincerely believe in Muhammed, it doesn’t work because those things are not in Muhammed.

Leon Morris notes that in antiquity, the “name” is not simply a convenient label. It isn’t as Shakespeare said, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. A person’s name stood for everything that the person was and did.
page 99 Morris

It is like a scene where someone wants to get into an exclusive night club, and they can’t. Then a celebrity comes along, and not only can they easily get in, but they are that person’s friend. When they say, “and he is with me,” then he is able to get, because the celebrity has a name and therefore has authority to enter. When we ascribe authority and power and honor to Jesus’ name, we let Him in, and we let in all that He represents.

Here we have the introductory statement of the idea that belief is powerful and central. Mere belief qualifies one as being a child of God.

John 1:11 – His Own did not Receive Him

Gospel of John

 

He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.

He “came”. In context, this is most profound. I’m sure that back in Jesus’ day, His coming seemed like a random guy had walked into town and started talking in parables and maybe healing some people, which would seem weird and not exactly Messiah-ish. It would be reasonable to be a bit skeptical and to think He is a strange character. I’m sure they were busy and that they would rather ignore all of this in order to get on with their day-to-day problems. There were others making Messiah claims during this timeframe, so perhaps they were suffering from Messiah weariness.

However, He “came” from the beginning of time, equal with God, the very Creator Himself, incarnated through a virgin birth as a baby. He came from eternity and infinity into time and space.

He came to His own. His own — what does that mean? Since I have read this before, I am pretty sure it means the Jewish nation. The promise of the Messiah who comes as a suffering servant and a propitiatory offering came through Jewish prophecy. The elaborate laws concerning sacrificial sin and peace offerings were all clearly foreshadowings of Him. The Jewish nation was set up to be the people through which the savior-messiah would come.

It is really fascinating to think that not only were the Jews God’s chosen people, but He actually came and incarnated as a Jew! So in the sense of the Jews being God’s chosen people, and in the sense that He actually became a Jew in the flesh, they were His own! They were His family, His nation, His people.

Leon Morris makes the point that this is the same expression used of John in response to Jesus word from the cross, when he took Mary into his own home. So we can surmise that “His own” indicates an intimate belonging as if saying “He came home, and his family didn’t receive Him.” He didn’t come as an alien; He was coming home. This makes His rejection all the worse. It is bad if a stranger disses you or rejects you or betrays you, but it is much worse if your own family does it.

did not receive Him. “receive” is the Greek word “paralambano” which means, to receive near, to associate with oneself. This idea of receiving or rejecting, of belief vs. unbelief, is very important. The Jewish nation which was His own people, did not recognize Him and did not believe in Him. They rejected Him. It was as stark as exile and murder. This was a violent and stark lack of reception. It was as if the bridegroom arrived at the wedding and the bride’s wedding party chased him off and shot him as he ran away. They didn’t receive Him – with extreme violence.

Notice also that it is interesting that while a few did receive Him, the verdict of the high priest and the other religious leaders who rejected Him seemed to carry the legitimate title of “His own”, because they were the ones who did not receive Him.

John 1:10 – The Unknowing World

Gospel of John

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.

The world. There is a funny duplicity in the way John uses the word “world”. The world was made through Him. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. So we have a clue that John means something more than “mankind” or “human society” by this word “kosmos”, because he says that the “world” (meaning all things) was made through Him. Yet, the kosmos is said to be capable of knowing, of recognizing, perhaps even of worshipping Him. Are we prepared to say that the universe was making a moral error, and through some kind of sin was unwilling or unable to recognize Him? I don’t think so. So what does this word “kosmos” mean?

I’m speculating. I think that mankind is the teleological endpoint of creation. The raw laws of logic and mathematics, the finely tuned laws of physics, the existence of life, all point to and lead to mankind as the crowning achievement of creation. If mankind does something or knows something, it is the same as saying the universe at large does something or knows something, because mankind is the end towards which the rest of the universe was designed to lead and support. So if mankind did not know Him, it is the same as saying that the universe at large did not know Him. We find a similar idea in romans 8:

Romans 8:19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

He was in the world. This is quite extraordinary! The Logos-God, Who existed before time began, in Whom is life, was in the world! He through Whom the world was made, the very creator of the universe, was manifested in the “ordinary” world of men. To God, the society of men is important enough that the Creator of all things wanted to make a personal appearance to us. That is what Christians think. We think that people are important because God thinks they are important enough to come into in a very shocking and miraculous and direct way. As far as we know, God has not manifested Himself similarly to trees, to dolphins, to stars, to nebula, or anything else. The rest of creation is represented through us as it crown, and God appears to the universe by appearing to us.

The world did not know Him. Here is something just as extraordinary: the world did not know Him! They obviously did not recognize Him as being the eternal God who created the universe, which tells us He somehow masked His identity in ordinariness. Consider this verse:

Proverbs 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.

God conceals Himself. He created all things and yet has kept Himself invisible until Christ so that men must search and think and debate as to whether there truly is a God at all. This in itself is extraordinary! Christ breaks this paradigm, and shows us God directly manifesting in the world as a man. Yet Isaiah tells us:

Isaiah 53:2 He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.

So even though He has manifested directly to mankind, He did not appear as a glowing angel speaking with an otherworldly baritone with a halo floating above His head. He looked normal. Maybe He had less than perfect teeth. Maybe He didn’t have six-pack abs or great hair, but He had calloused hands and scratched and scarred arms. We don’t know, but we do know that He didn’t look stately or majestic and He certainly didn’t look supernatural. People who grew up with Him had trouble believing that He could really be the Messiah, much less the eternal Son of God.

So there was room, by God’s design, to manifest the light in a way that required searching and faith. He appeared in the world, and there was room for the world to ignore Him or to disbelieve. He made it so. Indeed, we know from this verse, that they did not know Him at all for being the light of God come into the world. They did not at all see Him as the timeless eternal God through whom the world was created.

John 1:9 – Enlightening Every Man

Gospel of John

There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.

In contrast to John’s function, which not to be the light but to give witness to the light, there is the true light. I think the reason he says “the true light” is because some people were saying things about John about which even John himself would disagree, that he was the messiah or the light.

Also, there are many messages fighting for the attention, thought, acceptance, and belief of men. There is only one true light, life from the Logos which is and is with God. This light which comes from God who is the Father of a Son and God who is the Son of a Father, is the true light.

Now in this section, we have the light coming into the world. The light, the supernatural God who created all things and is life (1:4), manifested in the everyday world of men.

In doing so, it did not simply enlighten those men who directly witnessed it. Somehow it enlightens every man.

On reflection this isn’t as strange as it might sound. If someone commits some crime and there is no retributive resistance, it shows everyone that it is possible to commit such a crime and get away with it. Maybe everyone doesn’t know this happened, but in principle everyone gets taught that this is so. This is the purpose of sometimes dense and hard-to-understand judicial decisions by the supreme court — even if very few people can grasp the issue and even fewer people are interested in following the issue, it sets the precedent for all men and in the end it affects the flow of human affairs. In the same way, the “true Light” coming into the world, even though it directly manifested to only a few, affects all because of the purity and the nature of its revelation.

The true light came into the world. It is not by any man’s prayer, or thought, or coercion towards God. this isn’t the kind of thing a man would think up. The idea of God coming into the world was God’s idea. It was God’s initiative. As we’ll see, the world didn’t even recognize Him at all when He came. So we can’t say that the art and thought of men caused God to act. God acted by His own initiative. The Gospel, the coming of Jesus Christ, is God’s idea. We completely missed it and He forged so great a salvation all on His own. It is a gift which He crafted.

John 1:6-8 – John the Baptist

Gospel of John

1:6 There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.

There is no story given here, John simply cuts to the essential truth of things. There is no nativity scene, no story of John’s birth, no shepherds, no manger. So, being cut down to the barest truth, we can expect there to be something essential and true in this account of John’s coming.

Many things could be added about how John fulfills the role of the law (son of a levitical priest) and the prophets (eating locusts in the wilderness and being a witness who tells God’s prophetic message to the nation). However, there is no mention of these things in the gospel of John.

We do have the notion here that John was “sent from God.” The word “sent” is the Greek word “apostello” which suggests that he was entrusted with a message and sent. You don’t “send” someone except as a carrier of a message or as a representative.

So, he is sent with a role: he is a “witness”. Gr “Martureo”, to be a witness or testify. John loves these courtroom metaphors, which he used extensively in the epistle of 1 John. John the Baptist came as a witness for the defense. Here it says that he is sent to testify about “the Light”.

1 John 5:7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. 10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

The judge/jury is men: “that all might believe.” So we have the skeptical but possibly believing men putting “the Light” on trial, and John is sent to give witness in defense of the Light. This is a rather shocking but well-corroborated idea in John’s writings: God is put on trial and we are the judge.

It is interesting here that John does not say he came as a witness to give testimony about “Jesus” or even “the Word”, but “the Light”. As we saw in v. 1-5, the Word, God, the creation event, are all hidden from men. However, the life which is in the “Word” is the light of men, which means that it is revealed in a way in which normal people can apprehend it. Light would therefore indicate that which can be perceived, that which is not hidden. So there is a revelation which has come, and John has been sent to testify in its defense.

It is specifically observed that he is not the Light, but only testifies to the light. Clearly you cannot be the accused and be a credible witness in your own defense. John, representing the Jewish historical roles of the law (son of a Levitical priest) and the prophets (he came in the spirit of Elijah), was a witness for the defense of the accused, but was not himself the light which was under judgment.

John 1:4,5 – Life and Light

Gospel of John

In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. John 1:4

Everyone who is alive at all has the breath of life in them. Even microbes are alive. In a different sense all people are alive. However, there is a unique sense of the word “life” that was in Him that was not in men, or else there would be no sense in saying this. There is some sense in which men are in darkness as pertains to this sense of the word life, and so this life is unique to Him.

In another sense, the Greek way of thinking about the logos is that it is not alive, it is an impersonal force. Scientists even now are not looking for a designing intelligence, a living creative mind, at the root of existence. They are looking for impersonal forces and principles. However, they are looking for the wrong thing, because the logos has personality, and in Him is life. Life, not lifelessness, is behind the structure and direction of the universe.

Also, there is the inference that the things thus far — God, Word, personality, creation — are not apprehended by men. They are not the light of men because they are not seen or grasped by men. In a way men are in darkness because men have never really encountered the true God. However, this life is the light of men: they have now seen Him. So this is not light in the sense of Genesis 1, it is light which men perceive. It is the light of men. These other things may seem to be abstract musings to men, but they are hidden. No one has seen God (John 1:18) but the only begotten God (what a phrase!) who is in the bosom of the Father (again — wow!) has explained Him. Moses’ miracles are little magic tricks in comparison to this: God Himself has incarnated and walked among us, and has died for our sins. Jesus Christ is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature (Hebrews 1:3).

I think another sense in which He is the light of men, is that His very life represents the perfection of the law. He not only taught the perfection of the law, as in the sermon on the mount, but He lived perfectly according to the law, all the way to the death. He is, in word and deed, like a flashlight that is able to look beyond our pretense of righteousness and significance, to see our true disease. We think we do not need forgiveness, we do not need to be saved. We think we are just on the cusp of lasting reform. We think our sins are small and insignificant while our righteous deeds are weighty and significant. When we encounter the living Christ, we can see ourselves for the dead husks we are, and cry out for authentic living.

Finally, the logos life which is the light of men is light to men because He offers true reconciliation with the living God through His death and resurrection. In Him we have newness of life (Romans 6:4) because as He was raised from the dead, we too have newness of life. We see all the ragamuffins and riffraff, the sinners and prostitutes and tax-gatherers, flock to Him because He offered life first, and through this unconditional offer of eternal life, a new kind of repentance. Through the light of His perfect keeping of the law, and our thorough condemnation through this, we are able to receive the free gift of life in Him. So I think perhaps we can think that “the Light of men” is His perfect keeping of the law, and that “life” indicates justification and salvation.


The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:5

We have the idea here that the light is not contained or withheld or kept secret, but shines or spreads into places where it is not.

Darkness is personified as being possibly able to apprehend or comprehend the light, but does not. Possibly the darkness could seen as meaning men, since they in need of a unique kind of life which the Word possessed but they did not. It can be deduced from observing these two verses that light is lacking in men and so this deficiency of life and light in men is the darkness the light is shining into. This is corroborated by the apostle’s writing in 1 John:

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 1 John 3:14


8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. 9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:8-11

So we know that in John’s mind darkness and death are related to men who hate, while light and life are related to faith and love. This means that darkness isn’t just being personified, it actually signifies the state of rational men who hate and abide in death. The way of living and thinking of unbelieving men is the darkness, and they do not comprehend the light. They speak from and listen to the spirit of error, not the spirit of truth (1 John 4:6). These people are what he calls “darkness”, and these people are the ones who do not comprehend the light of Christ.

John 1:3 – the Word Who Creates

Gospel of John

All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.

All things came into being through Him. Now we have added the notion of creation. The word who is to become flesh (v.14) is the Creator. However, His activity as creator is not His identity. His identity is that He is God, and with God. Unity and division at once.

All things indicates things such as:
physical universe
rationality and rational constructs such as mathematics and logic
physical life
spiritual life
heavenly realm and heavenly creatures
Paul gives us a similar idea, a little more fleshed out:

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. 19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

Colossians 1:15

Apart from Him: There is no other agent of creation. No mysterious multiverse can account for the personal rational design that is in evidence in our existence. He is the sole creator, the one and only architect and builder of existence. Apart from Him nothing has come into being.

In the Greek, incredibly, there is no actual word for “create”. The translators inserted the words “came into being”. It just says, “All things were by Him”. I think we can read into this that while John strongly indicates that God created all things, His primary identity is not that of a Creator but of a Word who is with and was God. Like a cobbler who does not think of himself in terms of shoes but in terms of family and church and civic responsibility, but does a fine job of making and repairing shoes, so is God. He is the Father of a Son, and the Son of a Father, and similarly of fellowship with the Spirit:

John 17:24 Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.

Before any other thing came into being, there was the Logos and God, and there was love and satisfaction there. There was glory given; beauty and joy. He was with God, and He was God, and peripherally, He brought all things into being. Creation is something He did, but it is not His identity.

It is this God who is not defined in His role as Creator, that created.

God, then, is the one who brings everything else into existence, but who is not himself brought into being by anything. He is the uncaused cause. That is who he is. God is, essentially, The Creator, The One in Charge. It all sounds very reasonable and unobjectionable, but if I do start there, with that as my basic view of God, I will find every inch of my Christianity covered and wasted by the nastiest toxic fallout. First of all, if God’s very identity is to be The Creator, The Ruler, then he needs a creation to rule in order to be who he is. For all his cosmic power, then, this God turns out to be pitifully weak: he needs us. And yet you’d struggle to find the pity in you, given what he’s like.

Michael Reeves, delighting in the Trinity