Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 12 (KJV)
A CONQUERING FAITH
DEVOTIONAL READING: John 14:15–24
BACKGROUND SCRIPTURE: 1 John 4–5
1 JOHN 4:2–3, 13–17
2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.
15 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
17 Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
1 JOHN 5:4–5
4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.
5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.—1 John 4:16b
Unit 3: Faith Gives Us Hope
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. Tell how to recognize “the Spirit of God.”
2. Define the differing senses and references of the words Spirit and spirit.
3. List three ways he or she can better model God’s love.
HOW TO SAY IT
Thessalonians Thess-uh-low-nee-unz (th as in thin).
A. On Incarnation and Reincarnation
One topic given particular attention during studies at Bible colleges is that of the incarnation. That topic addresses the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the Son of God putting on flesh to become the person Jesus of Nazareth. Today’s text is considered in such studies.
A teacher of such a course was surprised one day when a student (who claimed to be a Christian) announced that she was the reincarnation of someone who had lived about 100 years earlier. The teacher’s response noted the lack of support for this view in historic Christian thought, the pagan origins of reincarnation theory, and a consideration of Hebrews 9:27: “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” The dialogue further included considerations of reincarnation in terms of what the Bible says about each person’s responsibility before God.
In the end, however, the student remained adamant in her belief. Her rejoinder included the exact phrase “regardless of what the Bible says”!
As wrong as the reincarnation theory is, things gets more bizarre still when a cult leader announces himself to be the reincarnation of Christ. For example, the leader of Divine Love Path in Australia claims to be the reincarnated Jesus and says his partner is Mary Magdalene.
Although Scripture refutes reincarnation, it’s possible to go too far the other way and deny the incarnation of Christ in the process. This is seen in early Christianity’s having its hands full at times dealing with heretics who denied the one real incarnation, which took place in the person of Jesus. How successful we will be in resisting and opposing such heresy may very well depend on how firmly we grasp the truths of today’s lesson.
B. Lesson Context
Five of the books of the New Testament are attributed to the apostle John, one of the original 12 disciples (see Matthew 4:21–22; 10:1–4). His five books are the Gospel of John; the letters (also called epistles) that we designate as 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John; and the book of Revelation.
History strongly associates John in his later years with the church in Ephesus. Tradition says he died in the AD 90s. His three letters were probably written in the region of Ephesus for churches in the area, and thus would date from the AD 80s or 90s. John would have been an elderly man at that time. The dignity of his age peeks through in 1 John, where he addressed his readers as his “little children” numerous times.
The idea of overcoming, or being victorious, is a favorite theme of John’s. In 1 John 2:13–14 he discussed victory over Satan. In 1 John 4–5, he wrote about overcoming the pressures of the world. As we consider this in today’s study, we must be careful to distinguish among three ways the Bible speaks of “the world”:
•As planet Earth in its physical sense (examples: Acts 17:24; Romans 10:18)
•As the world’s human inhabitants (examples: Luke 2:1; John 3:16)
•As a system of values opposed to God’s (examples: John 14:17; Colossians 2:20)
In his first letter John wrote of Satan’s system for opposing the work of God on earth (1 John 2:15–17). In this sense, a person of the world lives for the pleasures of the flesh, but a dedicated Christian lives for the joys of the Spirit.
When John wrote his first epistle, Christianity had existed for more than 50 years. His audience faced the pressures of heretical ideas and uncertainty about their salvation. The ideas that would become full-blown gnosticism in the second century AD were already threatening Christianity. One of gnosticism’s heretical beliefs was that salvation came through knowledge (Greek: gnosis, from which we have our word diagnosis). They also believed that Christ was a spirit who didn’t exist in bodily form. The spiritual was viewed as always good, and the physical was viewed as always evil.
I. The Condition
(1 JOHN 4:2–3)
A. Recognition (v. 2)
2. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.
This statement immediately follows John’s stress on the need for discernment (1 John 4:1). One vital doctrine of Christianity is that of the divine-human nature of Jesus (John 1:1–18), and the situation in John’s day called for the need to emphasize the fact that Jesus became flesh (see Lesson Context and 2 John 7).
But why was Jesus’ having had a real, physical body important? Until the destruction of the temple in AD 70, animals were sacrificed yearly there on the Day of Atonement to remind the Jews that the shedding of blood was necessary to atone for their sins (Leviticus 16; compare Hebrews 9:22). Those sacrifices pointed to the sacrifice that Jesus would one day offer as He gave himself on the cross (Matthew 26:28). If Jesus did not come in the flesh, then He didn’t have a body to sacrifice or blood to shed. Thus, it was essential that Jesus be not only fully God but also fully human in order to make salvation possible (1 Timothy 3:16).
Thus John provides a method by which to identify false prophets in this regard: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God. This test complements Jesus’ own words in Matthew 7:15–17 and 24:23–26 regarding the need to identify false prophets.
What Do You Think?
How would you answer someone who claims that 1 John 4:2 contradicts Matthew 7:1, which says we are not to judge?
What passages in addition to 1 Corinthians 5:9–13 and 2 John 10–11 help frame your answer?
B. Reality (v. 3)
3a. And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.
As the church was born, the believers in continued “the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). But several decades later when John wrote his letters, certain people were disseminating false teaching about Christ and departing from the apostolic faith (see Lesson Context).
3b. And this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come.
The word antichrist occurs only four times in the New Testament, and only in John’s letters (here and 1 John 2:18a, 22; and 2 John 7). Bible students often try to identify this opponent as a singular individual, possibly the “man of sin … the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, … shewing himself that he is God” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3–4 and/or as the (op)poser mentioned in Revelation 20:10.
However, these identifications run into great difficulty, given the fact that John also speaks of antichrist in the plural as he states that “even now are there many antichrists.… They went out from us” (1 John 2:18b–19). As we consider how that fact dovetails with the verse before us, we should note that the Greek word behind the translation spirit occurs about 380 times in the New Testament. As such, it can refer to different things depending on context. Here, the word spirit refers to those who claim to have the inside track on divine communication (see also 2 Thessalonians 2:2).
3c. And even now already is it in the world.
The spirit that was already at work in John’s time thrives yet today. The Lesson Context explains the differing senses that phrase the world can take throughout the New Testament. But we want to zero in on how John uses the term, given that about half the occurrences of the phrase the world in the New Testament are in John’s inspired books, which themselves constitute only about 14 percent of the New Testament.
The world to John usually refers to sinful humanity. In this sense, the world (that is, humanity) is largely opposed to God (John 3:19). This is the world that has strayed far from its Creator.
II. The Encouragement
(1 JOHN 4:13–17)
A. Holy Spirit (v. 13)
13. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
A careful reading here might surprise us, because John wrote not only of the Spirit dwelling in the heart of the believer (he in us) but also that we dwell in him. God gives His Spirit not only to dwell in our hearts but also to make it possible that we dwell in the heart of the Father.
This is similar to Jesus’ saying, “Abide in me, and I in you” (John 15:4). Our relationship with God is not a one-way street. As God gives us His Spirit, we give God ourselves—we dwell in Him. Paul, in addressing the Athenians, quoted a pagan philosopher as saying correctly that “in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
When a person is guided by the Holy Spirit, he or she produces the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–26). Thus that becomes a test (contrast Matthew 7:15–20).
B. Confession (vv. 14–15)
14. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.
The we refers to the apostles, whom Christ chose as His special messengers (1 John 1:1). Of the original apostolic band, John was likely the only one still living when he wrote in the AD 80s or 90s. He knew that his time was short, so he felt compelled to testify yet again before the grave took him as well.
Jesus revealed the Father to sinful humanity as a loving God who has never given up on His lost children, the world in rebellion against Him (John 3:17; 1 John 4:3, above). There was nothing accidental or incidental about Jesus’ mission; He was sent to save. Nothing was more important or central than that for John.
15. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
A purpose running throughout this letter is to answer the implied question, “How do I know I am in a true, saving fellowship with God?” (see 1 John 2:5, 6). John answers this in several ways, and the verse before us provides one of those answers. The confession Jesus is the Son of God reflects belief. Even so, we realize that John is not suggesting that confession based on belief is the whole plan of salvation—even demons can make such a confession (see Matthew 8:29; compare James 2:19).
What John is talking about, rather, is embracing Jesus as the authoritative Lord of one’s life while rejecting any influence the “spirit of antichrist” (1 John 4:3, above) might have to offer. To confess Jesus in this sense is to follow Him exclusively in a trusting relationship of faith and service. Such a person lives in the presence of God and allows God’s Spirit to live in his or her life at the deepest level (compare John 20:31). Other things follow confession in the plan of salvation (see Acts 2:38–39; etc.), but confession is foundational. A
In my role as a minister, I’ve observed a few addiction interventions. One intervention was called because the addict had been driving drunk on several occasions. He denied that he had an addiction. He’d never been arrested or involved in an accident, so his behavior couldn’t be too bad—or so he thought.
Members of the man’s family told him how his increasingly erratic behavior was affecting them. One by one, they declared their love for him and in vivid terms expressed the emotional pain his behavior was causing. But it was the threat of losing everyone and everything he held dear that finally brought him to acknowledge reluctantly his need for treatment.
Human sin called for an intervention, a vivid demonstration of God’s love and holiness. The mission of Jesus was that divine intervention, as it demonstrated both God’s love and His holy nature. God warns of the judgment that awaits if we do not respond to His loving and holy Son. Will you remain in denial of your own sin or seek treatment from “the great physician”? —C. R. B.
C. Relationship (v. 16)
16. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
John is often called “the apostle of love,” and with good reason: he uses the word love by proportion more that any other writer of the New Testament. More than 30 such uses are found in this epistle of 1 John—that’s more than once every hundred words! He alone uses the phrase God is love (here and in 1 John 4:8). His intent is to assure us of our standing with God as His love dwells within us. Here the word we includes all who believe in the Son. We become stronger as the love of God is shed abroad in us by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5).
In the verse before us, the love that God hath to us explains more fully how we dwell in Him. This is a description of relationship. When we understand and accept that love, our relationship is determined. It is a relationship of loving trust, so much so that John can say we live in God and He in us. As we love Jesus, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15; 15:10; 1 John 5:3). Love for Jesus is not based on emotion but on commitment. An indication of this commitment is our love for fellow Christians (1 John 4:19–21). A person can’t love Christians without loving God and can’t love God without loving the family of God.
This fact cannot be separated from the thought of 1 John 4:15, our previous verse, which conditions our relationship to God with our acknowledgment of Christ as His Son. We cannot accept Jesus as the Son of God without understanding the loving sacrifice His cross represents, a defining expression of God’s love for us. When we understand and receive the love of God, it makes us into persons of love as well.
What Do You Think?
In your prayer life, how should you balance the fact of God’s love with the fact that He is holy?
How do passages such as Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 1:15; and Revelation 3:7; 4:8 help frame your response?
D. Judgment (v. 17)
17. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
Christians have nothing to fear about the day of judgment because the judge has already proven His love for us. Those who have reason to fear that day are Satan and anyone—from any era and any nation—who follows the spirit of antichrist (1 John 4:3, above; Revelation 21:7–8).
God will not reverse course and punish those upon whom He has lavished His love. We can have confidence in this fact as we experience the love of God and express that love to others (compare 1 John 2:28; 3:3, 19–21; 4:18, not in our printed text).
III. The Faith
(1 JOHN 5:4–5)
A. Continual (v. 4)
4. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.
The Christian life begins with faith and ends with faith (Romans 1:17). But faith is more than just emotions or intellectual assent (see James 2:14–26). The person having only an emotional or intellectual experience of faith has a dead faith. Such a person knows the right words, but does not back up those words with actions that overcometh the world. The faithful mind understands the truth; the faithful heart desires the truth; and the faithful will acts on the truth. John describes this faith as being born of God (see 1 John 5:1–2, 18–19).
To overcome is to work actively against the flawed principles by which the world lives (Colossians 2:8, 20–23; see 1 John 4:3, above). The outworking of such principles may be expressed in many categories (see Mark 7:20–23; Romans 1:29–31; Galatians 5:19–21; 1 Peter 2:1). We can sum these up by saying that the world’s values are polar opposites to God’s command to love one another. When we practice love, we join with Jesus in saying, “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
What Do You Think?
What are some ways to encourage a person of dead faith to embrace Christ anew?
How do you do so without resorting to a legalistic list of dos and don’ts?
B. Foundational (v. 5)
5. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, both of which mean “savior.” In several places in addition to the verse before us, John stresses the fact that the Savior is the Son of God (1 John 1:7; 3:8, 23; 4:9, 15). The designation Son of God refers to Jesus’ “only begotten” status in relation to the heavenly Father (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18).
This claim directly opposed those of the first-century Roman world who considered Emperor Augustus and other emperors to be sons of a god. Jewish leaders of the day didn’t like Jesus’ claim any more than their Roman counterparts did. So they demanded that Jesus should die for blasphemy in that regard (Matthew 26:62–66; compare John 10:31–36).
On what it means to overcome the world, see again the Lesson Context and commentary on 1 John 5:4. Both this physical world and its unholy value systems will pass away. But the person who obeys God will live forever (1 John 2:17). John further describes the victory to come in Revelation 3:5, 12, 21. Those who believe the truth about Jesus and act on that truth share in that victory.
What Do You Think?
What is a small way to engage with the world this week instead of retreating from it?
Would you describe this as being “in the world” but not “of the world” (John 17:11–18)? Why, or why not?
REKINDLING THE FIRE
Newlyweds often want to be together continuously. When issues of everyday life begin to intrude, however, distance can result. For example, if children enter the picture, caring for them can shift the nature of the marital relationship. A couple may decide they no longer love each other because of such shifts.
If they are wise, however, they will seek the guidance of a trusted counselor who will help them to “rekindle the fire.” The counseling may result in both parties realizing they should act in loving ways even when (or especially when) they don’t feel like it. This is wise. Since hearts, minds, and bodies work together, then acting in a loving manner (as we know we should) can pull our hearts and minds along the same path.
This applies to the church as well regarding interactions among all Christians. When we find ourselves not “feeling our faith,” then acting in the loving ways that we know a faithful Christian should can rekindle the fires of faith. When we focus our attention on living the faith, we will find ourselves overcoming the pull of the world that would draw us away from Christ.
When was the last time you experienced this kind of victory? —C. R.
We can have victory and overcome the world only through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We can overcome as we allow the Holy Spirit, sent after Jesus’ ascension, to empower us to do so. God put this plan into action even though those created in His image rejected Him time after time (John 1:10–11; 3:16).
Despite this rejection, God still seeks to save people from a fate of eternal death (2 Peter 3:9). God’s plan for this still centers on the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of His beloved Son, Jesus. The plan remains the same today as in the first century AD; it has not changed. In His life, Jesus proved His identity; in His death, Jesus paid the penalty for sin; in His resurrection, Jesus defeated the power of death; in His ascension, He reigns forevermore.
At His second coming, Jesus will rid the world of sin and welcome His children home. Hallelujah! What a Savior we have! Those facts allow us to have confidence as we face the challenges of the world. And as we obey Jesus, we can assist others to do so as well.
What Do You Think?
Which part of today’s lesson do you struggle with most? Why?
What action will you take this week to remedy this problem?
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your love expressed in sending Your Son to die for the sins of the world! Empower us to overcome the world and model Your love to others. As we do, may we look ever forward to the day of Your Son’s return, when we will share in His glory. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
C. Thought to Remember
The only way to overcome the world is through faith in Jesus.