Monday, May 27, 2013

Tuesday May 28, 2013 P3 - The best way to guard against idolatry

1 John 5:18-20 18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19 We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 And we know 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, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

Over the past few days we have been exploring the definition and danger of idolatry.  The Apostle John in 1 John 5:21 warns his readers to "guard yourselves against idols."  In this short series we discovered first of all that idolatry is whenever you exalt yourself, exchange God and elevate comfort above Him.  We then considered John's discussion of sins that do not lead to death and those that do lead to death as warnings for avoiding idolatry in 1 John 5:16-17.  Today we will finish up our series on idolatry by considering the best way to guard against it. 

Encouraging provisions of grace for guarding against idolatry
1 John 5:18-20 lays out positive encouragements for combatting the seductive danger of idolatry.  The overwhelming thrust is to love Jesus and hate idols.  How can you and I dear Christian guard ourselves against idolatry?

1. Presence of the Holy Spirit.  1 John 5:18a
1 John 5:18a reads - "We know that no one who is born of God sins".  The word translated "sins" is a present tense verb in the Greek that speaks of habitual sin or an ongoing lifestyle of sin.  Christians can still sin after salvation, as John mentions in 1 John 1:8-10.  However a true believer in Jesus Christ will not keep on engaging in a prolonged regiment of sinful behavior without falling under the Lord's discipline and without falling under eventual sorrow for their sin that leads to repentance. (2 Corinthians 7; Hebrews 12:5-6; 2 Timothy 2:24-26).  The Holy Spirit is the Agent of the new birth and he is also the One who prevents the Christian from falling into such a state that would result in the loss of their salvation. (John 1:12-13, 16:8-11; Ephesians 1:11-14)

2. The Preserving work of the Father.  1 John 5:18b
1 John 5:18b reads - "but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. "  With the Holy Spirit being the Agent who is present when a person is born again by grace through faith, the Father above is the Author of the new birth. (James 1:18)  Being that God is the beginner of salvation, scripture reveals that He is also the finisher thereof. (Philippians 1:6)  Now this is important to note, since the Father is the one who preserves the believer from drifting so far into sin as to result in irretrievable loss of their salvation. (1 Peter 1:5) 

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 notes:  
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.

3. Power of the scriptures.  1 John 5:19
1 John 5:19 states - "We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one." Three times in 1 John 5:16-20 we see this repeating phrase: "we know".  Question: how is it that you know anything about the necessary means for guarding yuorself against idolatry?  The scriptures.  The Word of God not only gives you the contents to understand the Christian life, but also the power needed to live it. (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:6; 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17)  The Bible reminds you of who you are and Whose you are.  Our trouble anytime we sin is forgetting who we are and Whose we are.  This is why we need constant, daily exposure to the scripture in order to combat sin and walk in victory. (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 119:11; 1 Corinthians 2:10-13)

4. Person of Jesus Christ.  1 John 5:20
Having seen the provisions of the Presence of the Holy Spirit, the Preserving work of God the Father and power of the scriptures as constituting the way in which we can guard against idolatry, lets consider one more provision of grace: The Person of Jesus Christ.  1 John 5:20 states - "And we know 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, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life."  Two other passages of scripture can be used to shed light on the significance of this verse.  The first scripture is John 17:3 - "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."  Then secondly, Hebrews 12:2-3 "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."  It is Christ Himself in Whom and by Whom we are able to guard ourselves against idolatry.  Whenever you think about it, the only reason why we can be tricked and duped is whenever we fail to take advantage of God's grace ever made available to us.  Thankfully even when we are faithless, He is faithful, for he cannot deny Himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)


P2 Why Idolatry is so bad

1 John 5:16-17 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

Review and today's focus
In yesterday's post we defined idolatry by three terms drawn from the scriptures: Exalting oneself, Exchanging God and Enthonement of comfort.  In today's post we will consider why idolatry is so bad? Answering such a question may seem easy. Yet idolatry is so powerful that it can dull our senses if not rooted out and replaced by a complete focus on Jesus Christ.  Jesus locates idolatry in the heart in Matthew 5:18-19 "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies". 

Warnings about Idolatry's dangerous lure
As you read John's 1st Epistle in 1 John 5:16-17, you discover various statements about sin that serve as warnings about the seduction and lure of idolatry.  In 1 John 5:16a we see mention made about "sin not leading to death".  Then in 1 John 5:16b we see reference to a category of sin by the intimidating title: "sin leading unto death".  Then finally, John mentions in 1 John 5:17 that in all reality, all sin is worthy of death.  It is in this three-fold manner of argumentation that John warns his readers about the dangerous and alluring road of idolatry.

Defining sins that do not lead unto death.  1 John 5:16a
The category of "sin not leading to death" can pave the way to idolatry.  John writes in 1 John 5:16a "If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death."  John reminds his readers of their need to be looking out for one another.  What happens when we see another fellow brother or sister doing something that could pose harm to themselves or other's in either the spiritual or physical realms?  Do we say anything?  Jude 22-23 states - "And have mercy on some, who are doubting; 23 save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh."  When dealing with sin in the church or in our own lives, restoration and mercy is to be the basis rather than retribution.  Galatians 6:1-2 tells us in similarly - "Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ." 

As you read John's words, they are dealing in areas wherein fellow believers love one another and are praying for each other.  Praying that God will grant repentance and softness of heart to those who are caught up in "sin's that do not lead to death" is encouraged and commanded by John.  As you look throughout his little letter, various sections serve to warn those who are committing sins that are "not unto death".1  As bad as those levels of sin are in 1 John, John is warning his readers of how such escalating levels of sin can drive people into the arms of idolatry.  God's mercy is shown in these texts.  Yet there is a classification of sin which reveals an invisible line that God draws - a line that John terms "sin leading unto death".

Defining the sin that leads unto death
The second category of sin leading unto death demonstrates the ultimate fruit of idolatry.  1 John 5:16b says these frightening words - "There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this."  What could a person do that would have God exercise such extreme measures?  What is the "sin unto death".  Having read commentaries on this text, and even listening to such noted Bible preachers and Dr. John MacArthur, there appears to be two prevailing opinions that have equal footing and scripture support.  In the Bible there are two sinful conditions that can lead to the spiritual or physical deaths of unbelievers and believers: apostasy for unbelievers and sudden physical death for believers. For those who want more details and scriptural study, I have included such details in the endnotes at the end of this post.2  

In the first possibility, the "sin unto death" for the unbeliever is primarily spiritual, whereas the "sin unto death" for the sinning Christian is physical.  Now when John mentions about "not making such a request for those who have committed sins unto death", it does not appear he is forbidding God's people from praying.  Rather all John is saying is that he has no instructions, no advice and no counsel to give from the Lord.  All we can do is pray God will grant persons who are unsaved another chance to believe and be saved.  If that unbeliever does end up believing on Jesus Christ, then clearly they had not apostasized.  Likewise too, for the Christian who has been unrepentant, there are those cases where they heed the Spirit's conviction and respond, prompting the urgent need for mercy and restoration. (compare 1 Corinthians 5 and 2 Corinthians 2). 

All sin deserves death
When you really think about what we just discovered about the "sin leading unto death", as well as those "sins that don't lead unto death", does it not make you marvel at God's mercy?  The road to idolatry is paved by sins not leading to death that point in the direction of sin leading unto death.  In one respect we can say the consequences and nature of some sins are worse (leading to death) than others (not leading to death).  However John is quick to point out in 1 John 5:17 "All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death."  In other  words, all sin, regardless of the category, is deserving of death.  Yet God in His mercy prefers and in the overwhelming majority of cases chooses to draw the line moreso on the side of mercy and patience rather than swift judgment.  The fact that I am here typing this sentence and that you are there reading it demonstrates the incredible mercy of Holy God.  Thanks be to God for the shed blood of Jesus Christ and the Father's Eternal purpose of grace that shields and preserves the child of God. 

As you can see, idolatry is bad because of what people do in pursuing it, and the merciful God that the heart of idolatry finds easy to exchange.  Why would anyone want to trade such a wonderful God for anything is what reveals the insanity and seductive danger of idolatry.  If pursued to its logical and spiritual end - idolatry can kill the person doing it: spiritually and even physically!  This is why John warns his readers to guard themselves against idolatry.  This among the other many reasons we could cite is why idolatry is bad.

Tomorrow we will consider one final question in this series on idolatry: What is the number one way to combat idolatry?


1. It is most likely that these sections in 1 John are written to those people in the church who are professing Christians but who never experienced genuine salvation. John is deeply concerned about such persons, since such activity not only hurts them but hurts the church. Notice the sections:
1. Warnings to Pretenders of the faith. 1 John 1:5-10
2. Warnings to Pleasure Seekers. 1 John 2:15-19
3. Warnings to Practitioners of ongoing sin. 1 John 3:18-10
4. Warnings to those who Persist in error. 1 John 4:3,6,8

Such sections in 1 John serve to depict persons who are participating in ever darkening and debasing levels of sin, who profess to be Christians and who need to know Jesus. The people to whom John is addressing are still alive, thus meaning that they have not yet committed a sin unto death. 

2. For those who are unbelievers, this extreme "sin unto death" is what we call "apostasy". Jesus refers to the sin as "blasphemy of the Holy Spirit" in Matthew 12:40-41. In this form of apostasy, the unbeliever, claiming to be a believer, ascribes the work of the Holy Spirit to none other than Satan himself. Hebrews 6 and 10 refers to those professors of Christ who "apostasize" (literally stand opposed), not being able to be renewed again unto repentance". In extreme cases, an unbeliever who persists headlong into rebellion against the appeal of the Gospel, will be left alone by the Holy Spirit's general call to repent and believe. Proverbs 6:14-15 issues this warning about such unbelievers -"Who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil, Who spreads strife. 15 Therefore his calamity will come suddenly; Instantly he will be broken and there will be no healing."
Often people will wonder and worry whether or not if they have committed the unpardonable sin. My answer to them is that if they are worrying, they clearly have not committed that sin and that furthermore, such an extreme sin is committed by an unsaved individual whom God has handed over to their degrading passions and warped nature of their minds. (Romans 1)  No true Christian can blaspheme the Holy Spirit,

The second type of "sin unto death" in scripture has to do with genuine Christians who sin so greviously and so persistently against Christ that they suddenly die, physically. Passages in the New Testament speaks about such Christians As Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 and some of the Corinthians believers in 1 Corinthians 11:30 who were "falling asleep" or "physically dying" due to having "crossed the line" with God. Proverbs 29:1 issues this chilling statement - "He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy." Can God do such a thing? Absolutely! Why? To ensure the salvation of the Christian.