Have you been taught that the Bible is Divinely inspired, inerrant, infallible, and that you should believe every word that it says? If you believe this, you’re going to be totally led astray by one well-meaning yet most unhelpful theologian: the disciple John. John was one of the Twelve and a member of Jesus’ special inner circle of three favorites: Peter, John and James. At least it’s commonly assumed these three were His favorites, because they were the only ones He invited to come and witness the Transfiguration. When you see a man receiving such special favor from God, you naturally figure he really knows his stuff. And this is where you figure wrong, for God’s pleasure with us has nothing to do with how well we understand Him, but with the depth of our desire for Him.
We can be totally confused about everything, yet if our souls earnestly desire to please God, then He is going to be quite pleased with us. So just because you see God blessing someone with special insights, you shouldn’t assume that person is responding to those insights well, nor should you assume that they are a trustworthy teacher. John is not a trustworthy teacher. One minute he’s telling us solid truths, the next minute he’s making statements that are absolutely wrong. Some of the things that John says are so obviously wrong that we have to wonder how he didn’t see the error of his own logic. Yet we don’t wonder this because we’ve all been taught to trust in the man’s social connections instead asking the Holy Spirit for wisdom. It’s time to stop following the herd down the road of spiritual foolishness.
The Bible didn’t magically float down from Heaven one day. It is a compilation of manmade documents, and like all manmade things, it has some glaring flaws. Be clear on this: God certainly isn’t the One who told us to turn a collection of old manuscripts into a sacred idol and then pretend that every word in it is some infallible truth. We decided to do that because we are idiots. God preserves some historical records to use as teaching tools in our lives and the next thing you know we’re waving a book in His face and saying, “You have to do what this says. You can’t say anything that’s not in here. You can’t talk unless I open this and read it. I don’t need You because I have this.” Really?? And the best part is that while we’re telling God what He can and can’t do and cherishing some pile of paper more than we do the magnificent Holy Spirit, we actually claim to be honoring God. Such defiance is its own reward. If you won’t listen to the Holy Spirit, then your precious Bible is all you’re going to have to guide you in life, and God will ensure that demons use those sacred pages to either rip you apart with condemnation, or turn you into such a pompous fool that you won’t even hear what’s wrong with your own teaching.
God is not a book, and the Book is not a god. You need to treat the text of the Bible the same as any other sermon you hear or blog you read about spiritual matters: you can’t accept any of it as true until you receive confirmation from the Holy Spirit. Your pastor is not the Holy Spirit. If he wants to deify the Bible and encourage you to make it your primary guide in life, then that is his problem. Why should you join him in his foolishness? The disciple John is not the Holy Spirit. He is just a human being who once lived on this earth and wrote some letters which everyone saved just because John knew Jesus.
We have five books by John in the Bible: the Gospel of John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation. At some point, foolish Christians decided that John was above ever making a mistake and labeled his writings as perfect. And if you’re going to believe such a foolish theory, then guess what? You’re not saved, you’ll never be saved, and you don’t really know Christ at all. This is what John teaches you in 1 John. According to him, we’re all going to Hell because it is impossible for a legitimate Christian to sin and it is impossible for you to love God if you don’t utterly love every other Christian on the planet. Does this sound right to you? Do you think even John passed his own invented criteria for salvation? Of course he didn’t. John was as flawed as the rest of us. So why does he make perfection a requirement for salvation? Obviously his ego had run amuck. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen a spiritual leader let his popularity go to his head. This is why you cannot trust people. You can’t trust John and you can’t trust us. You can’t trust anyone but God. There is no perfect Book in this world which only contains perfect truth. The fact that we would ever claim that our Bible is inerrant just shows how spiritually deluded we’ve become—first to perpetuate such a ridiculous theory, and then to blindly accept such teaching without questioning it. As a Christian you must question.
Now because it’s considered blasphemy in the Church today to criticize any author of the sacred Scriptures, you naturally want to some evidence of the claims we’re making about John. If his theology is really so far out of whack, let’s see some proof, right? No problem. John makes this very easy.
“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” (1 Jn. 2:3-6)
So according to John, if you do not obey God’s commandments, you are not saved. Which commandments do you have to obey? Well, John is a Jew who grew up under the Old Covenant. And since he isn’t specifying, we can only assume that he means all of Yahweh’s commandments. At this point the New Testament hadn’t been compiled yet, so John’s only source of Scripture would have been the Old Testament. Even though Christ overturned the Old Covenant and said that we no longer have to bother with things like the Sabbath and unclean foods, John is taking us back there, because John says we ought to walk “In the same manner as He walked” and “He” is a reference to Jesus. Jesus “walked” under the Old Covenant and obeyed Yahweh’s Old Covenant commandments. He also did a lot of intentional breaking of those commandments while He was on earth. So when John blends the concepts of obeying Old Covenant Laws with the obedience of Christ, we end up very confused. Jesus didn’t always stick with Yahweh’s original set of rules. In fact, He had the audacity to declare the dietary laws to be null and void during His time on earth—a rather brazen act. And as for His crucifixion—that sacrifice didn’t even come close to meeting Yahweh’s requirements for an atonement offering. So what kind of convoluted advice is John giving us here? He says we must obey Yahweh’s commands by imitating Someone who didn’t always obey Yahweh’s commands. Where does this lead us besides nowhere?
But maybe we can still salvage this. Let’s assume John is only talking about Jesus’ commands to us instead of assuming that he’s referring to Yahweh’s original set of Laws. Since the New Testament hasn’t been compiled yet, there is no place people can go to look up what Jesus’ commands were. They’d have to rely on word of mouth from His disciples. Assuming that John is only talking about the commands of Christ instead of referring to the entire body of Old Testament Laws is quite a leap to make, but we’re trying to save John’s reputation here. So let’s assume that what he really means is that we can only be saved if we perfectly keep all of Jesus’ commands to us. Wonderful. Jesus said, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Well, so much for that. You’re not perfect, which means you’re not obeying Christ’s commands. So according to John, you don’t know God at all, you’re just a liar.
According to John, this is the test Christians ought to use to determine whether or not they are really saved:
“By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” (1 Jn. 2:6)
Jesus was sinless. Are you sinless? Nope. Jesus only ever did exactly what His Father told Him to. Can you claim such flawless obedience? Nope. Sorry, but you’re going to Hell. John doesn’t leave you any out here. He’s not saying, “Of course we’re not perfect, but if we really know God, we’re going to want to please Him.” John is saying that if you’re not as perfect as Christ–if you don’t obey your Creators as perfectly as Jesus obeyed Yahweh, then you can just kiss off the whole idea of salvation. Do you think we’re exaggerating here? Let’s read more.
“No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; but the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of Yahweh appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.” (1 Jn. 3:6-10)
So then, do you sin? According to John, it is impossible for Christians to sin. The only souls who sin are the “children of the devil.” John says it’s quite simple to tell who is saved and who is of the devil: just look around you. Is someone sinning? Is someone falling short in the love department? Clearly they neither see nor know God. They’re just liars. According to John, the whole Church is full of liars because we all sin. We all feel less than loving towards some of our brothers in Christ. Yet this is a spiritual impossibility in John’s mind—Christians cannot sin, because God’s “seed” is in them. Don’t miss the extreme language:
“No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.” (1 Jn. 3:6)
So according to John, when you come to Christ, you receive full atonement for your sins, but then you morph into a being who is spiritually unable to sin and emotionally unable to feel anything less than love for your fellow believers. The problem with John’s theology is that he wants us to come out of the womb as adults. He doesn’t leave any room for the stumbling and struggling that is such a vital part of maturing in the faith. In real life, the maturation process is an ongoing journey. Just as young children whine and snivel about the restrictions their parents put on them, we Christians also whine and snivel at God as He guides us down an ever narrowing path of obedience. And just as our children intentionally disobey us at times, we also intentionally disobey God. We do things we know we’re not supposed to do. We ignore the Holy Spirit’s convictions. We have seasons of rebellion. Does this mean that we never knew Christ? Does this nullify our salvation and negate the spiritual progress we’ve already made? Of course not.
John wants the spiritual journey to be a simple black-and-white affair, but it’s not. It is complex and it unfolds differently for each person. God floods one person’s heart with love for his fellow man while a second Christian prays hard to be freed from bitterness yet continues to be weighed down with hate. One person finds it easy to forgive while another finds it impossible. If you’re currently struggling with loving people or drowning in temptations that you just can’t beat, reading John’s theology of salvation is only going to end up making you feel like a condemned failure.
The apostles weren’t perfect. They didn’t all know their Scriptures as well as we like to imagine. John is the one who gives us that authoritative statement, “No one has seen Yahweh at any time” (1 Jn. 4:12), and yet Yahweh Himself said that Moses spoke with Him face to face. Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel also saw God, and later on John himself would end up seeing God during his vision in Revelation. So realize that when you’re reading John’s letters, you’re reading the theories of a man who has some major flaws in his theology.
In the New Testament we find documents that are focused on describing historical events (the four Gospels & Acts), and then we find letters in which the apostles are sharing their own views on things. Naturally they feel their views are correct, but you need to approach their works as you would a sermon that your pastor gives on Sunday morning. Don’t expect perfection. When you come across something that bothers you, pause and ask the Holy Spirit for help. Remember that no human has a complete understanding of truth, even if their works have been preserved forevermore in a Book which has been given the “sacred” label. Remember that you will answer to Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in eternity, not to the apostles. So when John tells you that “the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen,” don’t just bow to his authority and let him redefine reality for you. Look into your own heart. Do you love your Creators or not? You know yourself better than John does. Ask the Holy Spirit if there is something He wants you to change about your life right now. If He doesn’t point out any specific thing, then don’t let John freak you out about your standing with God just because you don’t perfectly love other people.
John’s logic is extremely flawed. One minute he correctly tells us that, “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19), but then he leaps to the conclusion that there can never be any length of time between these two events. In real life God doesn’t always give us warm feelings towards our fellow man the instant we get saved. Often He leaves us stuck with bitter grudges and feeling like we are unable to forgive someone who really hurt us. Eventually He gets around to helping us see others as He does, but there’s no way to predict when this will occur in any individual’s journey. How you treat people is not the measuring rod for your salvation. Simply observing a man’s external behavior is not going to come close to giving us an accurate understanding of what is going on between that man’s soul and God. John’s fixation on righteous external behaviors, loving humans, and the perfection of Christ has caused him to veer off into some very absurd conclusions. John’s obvious belief that he himself is above sinning should strike you as arrogance run amuck. Anyone who thinks that real Christians can’t or don’t ever sin needs to revisit God’s definition of sin. Despite what John tells us, there is no such thing as a sinless, perfect Christian.