Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 1, No. 5 Page 12 May 1999

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Standing Up For Jesus
(Part 3)

By David Anguish

What are we to do?  How shall we make headway in our quest to persuade others to follow Jesus in a world such as ours?  A world where all manner of religions, philosophies, and cults flourish.  A world which does not so much disbelieve Jesus as scorn him and all else that cannot be explained by human senses and reason.  A world where the church finds itself challenged by the work of false prophets whose error does not just misunderstand the teaching of Jesus, but which actually discredits the primitive view of him as Son of God.  A world just like that which confronted the earliest Christians.

That’s right.  Though this summary describes the world we face, it also describes the Greco-Roman world faced by Peter, Paul, James and John.  Thinking specifically of the latter, John’s writings, particularly his first epistle, were written against the backdrop of a world of diverse views and challenges.  The views he faced which would become gnosticism came from attempts to mix various religions and philosophies, each of which posed a challenge to Christianity in its own right.

That these views affected the church is seen in the themes stressed in 1 John.  He wrote to a church facing apostasy and false prophets (1 John 2:18-19; 4:1).  A major issue which challenged them revolved around questions about the nature of Jesus himself.  So, John wrote to reassure them, reminding them above all else that Jesus was the Christ (2:22; 5:1), the Son of God (4:15; 5:5), and that, indeed, he had come in the flesh, God incarnate (4:2); that he was preexistent (1:1; 2:13-14) and had died an atoning death (1:7; 2:2; 4:10, 14; 3:8, 16; 2:12) — in short, that he was the unique and divine Savior of the world (4:9; 2:22-24; 5:12).

Modern Christians neglect 1 John at our peril.  At a time when East and West are mixing as never before in recent history, when churches continue to splinter, when old heresies adorn themselves with new cloaks and proclaim themselves to be of the “New Age,” when would-be scholars would sway the populace to accept a view of Jesus more rooted in the gnosticism of Thomas than the gospel of John, there is much for us to learn from the pages of the precious little tract we know as 1 John.  In this article, we will focus only on what we learn about these things from John’s prologue (1:1-4).

Maintain the Right Focus

It is significant that, as John faced the heresy of his day, he began with a recapitulation of the historical truth which formed the basis for all the church believed and did.  “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life . . . what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, . . .” (1:1, 3, NASB).  With application to the specific challenge posed by the Jesus Seminar, we can say that we must meet our world as they did theirs by keeping our focus on the Jesus of history who is the Christ of faith.

Faced with myriad worldviews and “new ideas,” Christians are tempted to wring their hands in despair, lament that no believers have ever faced what we do now, and determine that we must therefore explore new answers and ways to meet our world.  We will do well to study the history of John’s world, much of which is evident in the New Testament itself.  From such study, we will learn that we face nothing now — in principle at least — which they did not face and conquer.  In this context, it is significant to notice John’s approach:  he does not adjust his theology, he argues for it.  His message may not have been the wisdom most people of his day sought (cf. 1 Corinthians 1-2), but it was the correct wisdom nonetheless, capable of equipping its student to powerfully refute his opponents (cf. Acts 18:24-28), provided that student had yielded himself to its tenets.  Now, as then, the challenges we face will be overcome when we stick to our guns and keep preaching.

No Short Cuts Allowed

First John 1:2 provides a verbal snapshot of the technique they used to stand up for Jesus in their day:  “. . . we have seen and testify and proclaim to you . . .”  “We have seen” translates he_rakamen, a verb which here refers to something which was seen in the past with effects lasting to the present.  “Bear witness” translates marturomen, a present tense verb which described the legal-like testimony Christians could offer in favor of their case.  “Proclaim” translates apaggellomen, another present tense verb having to do with a widespread sharing of the message.

These three terms suggest a progression which the church focused on disciple making should never interrupt.  Before we can tell others anything about Jesus, we must know our subject thoroughly ourselves.  Such knowledge may, as it did in John’s case, take the form of reassurance regarding faith’s rudiments, encouragement needed in times of many challenges.  It will always take the form of patient and consistent instruction.  Zeal is important, but zeal which is uninformed fails (cf. Romans 10:2).  The circumstance many face is like that faced by the street preacher who stuck to his preaching long after his audiences had passed from interest to scorn to apathy.  The persistent proclaimer was asked by a little boy why he persevered.  He replied, “I used to preach to try to change men.  Now I preach lest they change me.”  There is much to be said for learning and learning again the basics of our faith.

Second, 1 John 1:2 teaches us the importance of knowing the facts which provide the evidence for our case.  The New Testament writings are more reliable records than any other work of ancient history.  Their story is inherently consistent, various claims to the contrary notwithstanding.  They are corroborated by reputable external sources.  The story they tell hangs together and bears the ring of truth.  It can be defended, by far more than rhetorical assertions and certainly by more credible responses than those who determine to follow a so-called “religious way of knowing,” whose main line of defense is that they have something “better felt than told.”  We are to persuade men (Acts 17:2-4; 18:4; 2 Corinthians 5:14).  We must be diligent in learning the facts necessary to do so.

Third, we must appreciate the need to proceed in the order John declares.  Too often, we get in such a hurry to share our faith that we neglect the important steps of learning it and preparing to proclaim it.  Ironically, as the church has fallen into the trap of being more action oriented and less reflective, we have seen evangelism decline.  Good evangelists are good teachers.  And good teachers teach from the overflow.  But there must first be a stream before it can overflow.  We are not wise if we short-circuit this process.

No Excuses

Charles Colson has written:
   When I speak of the need for a Christian apologetic, I’m often approached . . . by those who say, “I wish I could make the arguments, . . . but I just don’t have time to read up on the issues.

    Sure, studying how to best articulate a Christian apologetic takes time.  But didn’t the apostle Peter command all of us to always be ready to give a defense of our faith?

    It is inexcusable for mature disciples to allow themselves to be intimidated.  The Christian world-view is not unscientific or anti-intellectual.  It is the only plausible explanation for the universe.

    And when it comes to a defense of the gospel, personal experience is not enough. . . .

    So we need to equip ourselves to offer a reasoned, coherent, thoughtful defense of the biblical world-view (Colson, The Body:  Being Light in Darkness, 196).

Provocative words.  So be it.  It is past time believers are provoked to do what the God they claim to so ardently follow calls them to do.  Let our provocation play out in the manner of Jesus and his original witnesses.  Our world needs us.  Let’s stand up for Him.

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