Counterfeit Christianity
Tim Temple

Introduction

We often hear that Christianity has been rejected by the world on the basis of a caricature which has been mistaken for the real thing. Many people are not rejecting Christianity for what it really is, but for what they mistakenly think it is. We twentieth-century Christians tend to say that as though it had never happened before, but the fact is that this is something that has been true ever since the first century; it is not new at all. It was happening in John's day, just a few years after Christ went back to Heaven, and it has been happening in various guises all through the years.

The work of the Devil is always to distort and twist truth and make it appear to be something that it is not. Of course, we are experiencing that today all around us. As we have been talking about, it is the ministry of the Apostle John to call us back to original things—to fundamental issues—and to repair things that are broken just as may have been foreshadowed in the fact that he was mending his nets when Jesus first called him as a disciple.

In this letter from John, he is taking that twisted caricature of Christianity which existed in his day and which still exists in its own way today, and he is trying to straighten that out and to bring us back to the true picture of Christianity that God presents in His Word. That caricature of Christianity, for example, says that Christianity is primarily a religion that is concerned about the behavior and what people do. What we see in the Scripture is that real, true Christianity is concerned not with just behavior, but with being, with what we are as well as what we do. It is concerned with character because it is out of character that all behavior ultimately comes.

The caricature tells us that Christianity's attitude toward life is essentially negative: Don't do this; don't do that; stop doing this; stop doing that. The view of Christianity that the Bible presents is that in Christ we discover the real secret of fulfillment, and it is the most satisfying, freedom-filled life that we can possibly imagine, a life in which we simply respond to Christ's love for us. Jesus Himself said in John, chapter 10, verse 10:

John 10:

10…I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

The caricature says that the facts upon which our Christian faiths are based, such as the death and the Resurrection of our Lord, are historic—just legends that gathered around the person of Jesus after He was gone, spread by His followers. Christians are supposed to just accept these without any confirmation or support. The truth is that these are actions of God in time and space, history that can be just as easily verified on the same normal means of testing evidence that any other historical fact can be based on. They form a solid ground of faith based on history and things that actually did happen.

The caricature says that the goal of the Christian's faith is to produce a Heaven filled with starchy saints who sing hymns in a heavenly choir throughout all eternity, and that is all there is to it. The real article says that the goal of the Christian faith is to produce strong, manly men and sweet-tempered women and orderly, alert, admirable children who live together facing the normal difficulties that everybody else faces. Yet they have a confident dependence on the activity of a God Who is alive and living with us in the midst of those troubles. In doing that, the stage is set for our full enjoyment of Heaven when we get there. It is a relationship with God now that will just be continued in Heaven. That is what the truth is.

In the first chapter of John's first letter, we have been seeing John talk to us about this fellowship with the Father that is so readily available to us. You will remember that he illustrates that by the figure of walking in the light and the difference between light and darkness.

In chapter 2, which we began looking at last week, he comes to the practical goal toward which that walking in the light is moving. He talks about the conduct that comes from our fellowship with Christ—what results in the way that we live because we have fellowship with Christ. In verse 6, we saw the essence of that conduct. Verse 6 says:

I John 2:

6He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.

We talked last week about the fact of walking as Christ walked. In verses 7-11 he takes that phrase, “to walk even as he walked,” and he explains it, showing us that there is a sense in which that is the supreme goal in the Christian life—to walk as Jesus walked. I am calling it the thrust of obedience . We have talked about the test of obedience, and the true nature of obedience, and now we want to talk about the thrust of obedience.

The Thrust Of Obedience

I hope you catch the importance and the urgency in this term. This is where the rubber meets the road in Christianity. The things that I want to talk about in this passage are the real thrusts of our lives of obedience of walking in fellowship with the Lord. What God is saying is that the goal of the Christian life is to cause us to love as Christ loved. One of the most desperate needs of humanity today, whether they know it or not, is for love and acceptance and appreciation. Yet, one of the great paradoxes of our life as human beings, particularly true at the end of the twentieth century, is that we increasingly find it more and more difficult to give that kind of love and appreciation and acceptance to each other. Because so many other people have the same troubles, we find ourselves unable to have that love and appreciation which we want to. So there is this lack of fulfillment in the lives of many, many people in the world today. One of the great tragedies of human life today is a hunger for love on the one hand and the inability to express that love on the other hand.

The fantastic news of Christianity is that a tremendous breakthrough has been achieved and a way has been found through the death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and our fellowship with Him to express that love that others want and that we want, a way in which we fulfill the demands that are made on us and at the same time have the needs of our own hearts met. Look how John describes this in chapter 2, verses 7-8. Here we find the instructions that we need. Look at verse 7:

I John 2:

7Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.
8Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.

Let's stop there for a moment. Those seem like strange words. An old commandment and yet a new commandment—what does he mean? What is it that is old and yet new? There is a clue here in his words. If you will notice again, he said: “…an old commandment which you have had from the beginning…” John uses this phrase several times in his writing, and it is usually a reference to the beginning of the Christian life. That is the case here. “Here is something that you have known since the beginning of your Christian life. It is one of the first things that you probably heard when you became a Christian.”

What is the most important thing that God has to say to man? Some people asked Jesus that question when He was on earth. In Mark, chapter 12, verses 29-30, when He was asked, “What is the greatest commandment in all the law?”, Jesus said:

Mark 12:

29And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:
30And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.

You have heard that, haven't you? As I say, it is one of the earliest things that we hear. It is a commandment that we have had, John said, from the beginning. If you think about it, that was the first commandment to be broken by the first human being in the Garden of Eden. Adam violated the first part of that commandment—the part about loving God—in the Garden of Eden because what did he do there? Adam chose to love his wife more than he loved God and to join her in the sin she had already committed and to cast his lot with her rather than with God, to obey her rather than God's command not to eat the fruit. So Adam was the first to break the commandment to love the Lord with all his heart and mind and soul.

The second part of it, the part about loving our neighbor as ourself, was violated by Adam's son, Cain, who murdered his brother. When God asked him about it, he calmly said, “Am I my brother's keeper?” There we have it. The oldest commandment that we have, the commandment that Jesus said underlies everything else, was broken by the very first people who were on the earth. John says in verse 8 that not only is this the oldest commandment which we have had from the beginning, he says in verse 8 that it is in some sense new. He says:

I John 2:

8Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.

Remember that John also wrote one of the four gospels at the beginning of the New Testament. You will remember in the gospel that he wrote, he was actually quoting here from the Lord's own words which John had recorded in chapter 13 of the gospel of John. Jesus said in John, chapter 13, verse 34:

John 13:

34A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

John, writing his letter to these people that had probably read his gospel, said, “I am writing to you a new commandment.” What was that new commandment? He told us in his gospel. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you that you love one another as I have loved you.” That last phrase of Jesus' words in John, chapter 13, verse 34, is extremely important. Notice he said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” To love one another was a part of the old commandment. Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. We have always known that. That is as old as the human race, but, “as I have loved you,” is new. That is something that hasn't been said before Jesus said it. This is a new type of love that doesn't come naturally for humans.

Have you ever thought about how difficult it must have been for the Lord to love the disciples? We have them on pedestals. We name churches for them, and we name cities for them, but think about these disciples. Here was Peter with his tendency toward boasting, hard to get along with, really unreliable when you come right down to it. He was quick to make promises that he and the Lord knew he would probably never be able to fulfill, and he fell flat on his face when it came time to fulfill those promises. Think about James and John. Mark, chapter 3, verse 17, says that Jesus called them “the sons of thunder.” We don't hear very much about that. I don't know why Jesus called them “the sons of thunder,” but I can guess. I know some people I would call “sons of thunder.”

James and John had something about their disposition that maybe made them get angry easily and quickly. We do know that they were somewhat spoiled. They had a mother who wanted the best for them. Remember, she is the one who came to Jesus and asked Him to let one of her sons sit on His right hand and the other on His left when He came into His kingdom. Mrs. Zebedee was a pretty bold woman. So James and John were spoiled, and they were probably quick to get angry and speak right out.

Then there was stubborn, unmoveable, doubting Thomas. “I have got to see it to believe it.” Then there was mousy, retiring, introspective Philip and the practical, hardheaded Andrew and all these others. They were human just like us. They had their own failings. There was Judas, of course, whom the Lord knew from the very beginning was working against Him. There were even occasions when the Lord, almost in exasperation, said, “How much longer do I have to put up with you?” So, if you think these men were easy to love, you are mistaken, You know that you are hard for the Lord to love, and I know that I am hard for the Lord to love, and we all know that it hard for us to love each other. We are talking about some very tough material here, aren't we? But the wonderful truth is that Jesus did love all of those men in spite of their failings, and He loves you and me in spite of ours. He was sometimes disappointed in them and irritated by them. He was exasperated by them sometimes, but He loved them in spite of that.

He said to those men, and the Holy Spirit had John record it for us, “A new commandment I give unto you that you love one another as I have loved you.” That last phrase contains the wonderful process that John is explaining to us in I John, chapter 2. How did Jesus love those men the way that He did in spite of what they were? How does He love us in spite of what we are? In Romans, chapter 5, verse 5, Paul says, about those of us who have trusted Christ as Savior:

Romans 5:

5And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

That is the way the Lord loved the disciples because the Scripture tells us in John, chapter 3, verses 34-35, that the ministry of the Holy Spirit was given to Jesus without measure, and so it was the Holy Spirit who indwelt Jesus while He was on earth just like He indwells us. The Holy Spirit gave Jesus the ability, from a human standpoint, to love these disciples and everybody else He had to put up with. What the Scripture tells us is that that same kind of love of God (It is not love for God; it is God's kind of love.), the love that God has, the love that God exercises, is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and it is possible for us to love each other. It is possible for us to forgive each other. It is possible for us to respond in a loving way to each other as fellow disciples of Jesus Christ because we have the same power to love the unlovely that Christ had when He loved those unlovely disciples and all those other unlovely people that He had to rub shoulders with when He was one of us humans. That is the only way that anybody loves anyone really—the way that God loves, the way that God gives us the ability to love. The fact is that you and I can share the same life of Christ with each other because we share it with Him.

John tells us in chapter 1 that we have things in common with God, and now He tells us that we are to have things in common with each other. Our fellowship is with the Father and with Jesus Christ His Son. John says, “I am writing these things to you so that you can have fellowship with us.” So this relationship that we have with the Father and the Son, this vertical relationship between us and the Father and the Son is also, as Jesus says and John repeats, a horizontal relationship between me and you and you and her and you and him and all of us together, loving each other as Christ loves us. So that is the new commandment. The old commandment they had from the beginning. We are our brother's keeper. That is the answer to Cain's question. God didn't record His answer, but I am sure He probably said, even though it is not recorded, “Yes, you are your brother's keeper.”

I am my brother's keeper, and you are your brother's keeper. It does concern God how we treat each other and how we relate to each other; but we have never found a way to do that successfully until we find it in the sharing of the life of Jesus, our fellowship with the Son of God. That is the new commandment. In the light of that new power, it is now possible to perform the old commandment. That is what John is saying. Notice there in verse 8, he says, “The darkness is now therefore passing away.” We live in that darkness of limited human abilities that make it impossible for us to love the people around us. I think that is why so many people reject at least this part of Christianity because of all this talk about loving everybody and turning the other cheek. There are people who are just not going to put up with that. It is not all that unrealistic because it is hard to relate to other people, isn't it? People rub us the wrong way. How can we love each other?

Here it is. The darkness of that kind of inability is passing away because we have fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, and the God kind of love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Illustration Of Conduct Of Obedience

That is the instruction that John gives us about this conduct of obedience, but now in verses 9-11, he gives an illustration of it. First, he states the concept in verse 9 and then in verse 11:

I John 2:

9He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.

I John 2:

11But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.

We have just been saying that our purpose in the Christian life is to love as Christ loved. If that is true, then our progress in the Christian life can be measured by asking ourselves, “What is my attitude toward my fellow believer?” In fact, John says that if you hate somebody who is supposed to be your brother—you are really talking about a brother in the human sense and the spiritual sense—you can be sure that you are not even saved. You are in the darkness until now he says. In verse 11 he says that he is in darkness and walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness is blinding his eyes. You see, it is possible for a person to not even realize that he is not a Christian. It is possible for him to think that he is a Christian because of all the things that he is doing because his eyes are blinded and he can't even see where he is going.

John could have used other sins, I think, as illustrations of this concept, but I think he used this one because it is so inclusive. All of us have to deal with other people. All of us may not have the problem with this sin or that sin, but all of us know what it is to not be able to get along with other people, so maybe that is why he chooses this one. It is so inclusive. Also, he probably chose this one because it is not one of the biggies on the list of sins—murder, rape, etc. Look what he chooses as an example of the kind of sin that would tell if someone is a believer in Jesus Christ—hatred of our brother. That is pretty sobering, isn't it?

The word blinded in verse 11 is a word that means “to make insensitive.” Obviously, we can see that in terms of human vision. A blind person's eyes are insensitive to the light that shines into the lens and the cornea. It makes a person insensitive. To use it the way John does implies that a person who lives in this way, hating his brother and not trying to do anything about it, ultimately comes to the place where he can no longer respond.

There is something unique about hatred in this life. It grips the heart and hardens the heart so that the heart is not even able to be softened by any force if this is carried far enough. It is not to know where you are going and where that hate is leading, John says. Our papers and our newscasts are filled with appalling, senseless violence—students shooting each other, mothers killing their own babies, rape, arson, all kinds of things that just don't make any sense. We ask ourselves, why do these things happen? Why do we hear so much of this? Why do things just keep getting worse and worse all through the years? Where is all of that coming from?

Do you remember what Jesus said in Matthew, chapter 24? Jesus said, “When wickedness abounds, the love of many shall grow cold.” Here is an inevitable consequence of individual dislikes and hatreds and mistreatment of other people. When enough people begin to live and act that way, the moral life of a nation deteriorates. We become insensitive as a nation, as a people, and wickedness abounds. The dignity and respect for the rights of other human beings that is given by God to human beings, unsaved and saved, grows cold and unresponsive and, as a result, we have the outbreaks of senseless violence and injury.

John is tracing that same thing from a spiritual standpoint. He says that a person who hates his brother is in darkness and does not know what he is doing and he does things that he doesn't even realize the seriousness of. He has no idea where it will lead, no understanding that this action that he has taken can lead in the long run to murder, heartache and heartbreak.

The question that I am sure someone wants to ask right now is, what does he mean by hate? Surely that is not something of which I am guilty. What does he mean by hate? We know what he is talking about—dislike, this aversion to someone, maybe even hostility to another person. Hatred can be expressed in two different ways. It can be active in that we indulge in vicious talk about that person or even take actions against that person. We can hit them, we can throw our garbage over their fence or mistreat them in some other way, take some active way of mistreating them physically or emotionally, but hate can also be passive and still be hate. We can slander them behind their back or we can express hatred by indifference, coldness, isolation, exclusion—just cutting them out of our lives or refusing to have anything to do with them, a lack of concern for other people.

Somebody has well said that the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference. Many times indifference in itself can be an expression of our dislike and our hatred for another person. What hurt the Lord the most when He was here on earth was not the active opposition of the people who were trying to put Him to death; what seemed to grieve Him the most was the hardness of the hearts of people who saw Him do what He did and heard Him teach what He taught and maybe followed Him a little while, then twisted off and didn't follow Him. They were indifferent to Him. That is what hurt Jesus the most, and that is what hurts us the most.

That is the concept in this illustration. John says that hatred is a good barometer—coldness, indifference, dislike, the way we treat other people—of our fellowship with the Lord.

Contrast - The Lack Of Hatred

In verse 10 he gives the contrast, the lack of hatred, that a Christian will have. Look at verse 10:

I John 2:

10He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.

Let's think carefully about this statement. John is not saying that if we love our brethren, it will enable us to abide in the light. What he is saying is that if we abide in the light, the result of that will be loving our brother, not that we grit our teeth and keep a stiff upper lip and try to love other people and be nice to other people so that we will be in the light, but the other way around. We try to do always those things that please Him. We walk in a conscious realization that we are in fellowship with the God of the universe and our life is based on simply enjoying that love and fellowship with Him and not doing anything to dim the light of that fellowship. If we live that way, we will be loving our brother. It is one of the automatic results of walking in the light.

Using this illustration again helps us to see the point. When we walk in a lighted room, we don't stumble over the furniture or over things that have been left on the floor because the lights are on, and we can see where those things are. The same thing is true spiritually. When we walk in the light, we don't have to stumble over the difficulties that for an unbeliever would bring hatred. True, those difficulties are there, but when we are in the light of fellowship with the Lord and when we are in the light of the Word of God, we see that the difficulties are there. The Word of God tells us what to do about them rather than stumbling over them and becoming angry and filled with hate or avoidance or indifference. We know how to deal with these difficulties. We are walking in the light. That is what verse 10 says.

For example, Jesus taught in Matthew, chapter 18, verse 15, that if our brother sins against us, that is one of those difficulties, that is one of those sources of hatred. He mistreated me. Do you know what he said about me? Do you know what he did to me? Do you know what he did to my son? Do you know what he did to my wife? That is a source of hatred, isn't it? Do you know what the light of God's Word says? Notice:

Matthew 18:

15Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

That is not easy to do, but at least it is something to do. Notice what it involves. It involves personal contact. It involves fellowship in the broadest sense of the word. Don't let that thing fester. Don't turn away from that person and never speak to them again. God says the opposite of that. “Go and tell him his faults.” It says go and tell it between you and him alone. Do you know what that means? We read that verse as if it said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell anybody who will listen to you what your grievance is.”

I am convinced that one of the massive problems in the Church of Jesus Christ today is the ignoring of that verse. There are too many people who know this verse and simply will not do it, and that has brought about divisions and strife and misunderstandings from the beginning of Christianity.

Matthew, chapter 5, verse 23, says:

Matthew 5:

23Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
24Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

That is the light of God's Word about how we are to relate to other people. We don't have to stumble over that. James makes an interesting statement in chapter 5, which is often taken out of context and misapplied:

James 5:

16Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

I believe James is talking about exactly what Jesus was talking about in Matthew, chapter 5, and Matthew, chapter 18. We have to make personal contact about these things. We have to have open communication with each other. We have to get it on the table and deal with it. God says through James, “You will be healed if you will do that.” But we don't want to do that. That is too difficult. That is too embarrassing, so we stumble along in the darkness. Scripture is full of instructions about other actions and reactions—husbands making a study of their wives and living with them on the basis of that and loving them because they know what their wives need, wives submitting to husbands as they submit to the Lord, parents loving and nurturing children and children obeying parents, employers treating their employees fairly and wisely and employees serving their employers faithfully whether they are treated right or not, citizens praying for those who are in authority over them, authorities ruling wisely and well for the good of their people, not so they can just get elected another time. The Word of God gives light on the way we are to live and all these things that come from walking in the light of fellowship with God and the light of His Word will bring healing if we obey them. They are the opposite of hatred and injury.

Make no mistake about it. Christians can temporarily walk in darkness. Back in chapter 1, verse 6, he says, “If we say we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness…” He is talking about Christians there. Even though continuing to walk in darkness is a good indication that a person may not be a believer at all, it is possible for Christians to walk in that darkness if we turn the light off.

Another way we know that is that the Scripture is full of instructions to Christians about not doing these things, putting away malice and hatred and all of those other things of that kind. A Christian can walk in darkness, but he is no longer a child of darkness and he no longer has to walk in darkness. He has the light that he can choose to turn back on by confession of sin and being restored to the light. The light of God's love is come into our hearts. If a Christian insists on walking in the darkness, the Spirit of God, if he is truly a Christian, will inevitably deal with that Christian. Sometimes it may be harsh dealings with that Christian, bringing him back to the place of forgiveness of sin and confession of sin and restoring of the light.

Conclusion

The wonderful truth is that because we have trusted in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we have come out of darkness into His marvelous light as Peter words it in his first epistle. In that light we can see what the problems are and we can see how to deal with the problems that otherwise would bring hatred and rejection and lovelessness. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in that light there is no cause for stumbling. If we walk toward one another in the light of fellowship with God, in the light of God's kind of love that is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, there is no problem that can't be worked out. It may take some time. It may take some discussion. It may take some active energy, but there is no problem that God will not work out if we walk toward each other in the light and in the love of the Holy Spirit shed abroad in our hearts.

The world is hungry today to see that kind of love, and when they see little glimpses of it, it makes the newspapers and the newscasts. God is even more hungry to see His children dwell together in unity and in love. He is hungry to see the hunger of the world satisfied by the actions of Christians whose hearts reflect the light of His truth.


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