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James & John Demanded

By Dennis Pollock

There is a big debate raging in the church today which centers around whether Jesus and Paul preached the same gospel or two different gospels. Previously this was never really a serious issue. Mainstream, orthodox Christians have always felt that Jesus and Paul were on precisely the same page. But today, there are millions of believers who think differently. They suggest that Jesus preached the law and Paul preached grace. They say this because, in their minds, Jesus had way too much to say about our behavior and obeying the commands of God, whereas they (wrongly) assume that Paul simply taught us to “only believe” and thereby insisted that behavior is unimportant. As long as we believe in Jesus, living upright, godly lives is an option, not a necessity.


In this devotional study I want to look at two other apostles who weighed in on the subject of behavior, James and John. In his little epistle, the apostle John had a lot to say about behavior and keeping the commands of God. In fact he emphasized this so strongly and passionately that the only way to keep right on believing that behavior means nothing to God as long as we believe, we would need to avoid this epistle altogether. Let’s take a look at a few of John’s exhortations for believers to live upright lives.


We don’t have to wait long. In the very first chapter, John writes:


If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth (1 John 1:6).


Expected to Obey


John seems like he can hardly wait to make it clear that Christians are expected to obey God and live lives of love and holiness. Here he announces that some people will “say” that they have fellowship with God, but in truth will walk in darkness, and that in such cases they are liars. What are they lying about? They are lying about what they are saying. They say they have fellowship with God, but in truth they have no fellowship with Him at all. And why not? Because they are walking in darkness! These people would fall under the category of “believers.” Anyone who says that he has fellowship with God and Christ surely must believe that there are such Persons as God and Christ. He is orthodox in his beliefs but not in his lifestyle.


These people not only believe that God and Christ exist; they declare that they are their personal friends. They “say” they have fellowship with Him. But John writes that what they are saying is a lie. The fact that they are walking in darkness, living wretched lives of sin and disobedience, is proof positive that they have no fellowship with God whatsoever. Whatever fellowship they thought they had with God was a fantasy and a delusion. Such people who walk in darkness have no relationship with God, regardless of their church attendance, their Christian T-shirts, their Christian bumper stickers, and the fact that they go around announcing that God is good all the time.


John goes into even more detail in the second chapter. He writes:


Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:3-4).


Commandment Keepers


John declares unequivocally that the acid test of whether one is a true believer is that he keeps God’s commandments. Commandment-keepers are Christians and Christians are commandment-keepers. But John is not satisfied in insisting that Christians follow the laws of God. He goes on to declare that anyone claiming to know God, but refusing to obey Him, is a liar. Again, if you “claim” that you know God, you surely must believe in God. It would be ridiculous for me to “claim” that I know John Doe, if I don’t believe that John Doe exists. Whether I really know him or not might be debatable, but if I go around claiming that I know him, I surely must believe that there is someone named John Doe.


Yet for the “only-believe-and-don’t-worry-about-behavior” crowd, this kind of believing is all that matters. If you believe in Jesus, you don’t have to love Him, you don’t have to follow Him, and you certainly don’t have to obey Him. It is enough merely to believe in Him. John says differently. He says all your fancy talk about believing in Jesus is a bald-faced lie. “Liar, liar, pants on fire!”


A few verses later John writes: “He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now” (1 John 2:9). To declare yourself to be in the light of God, and yet have a bitter hatred toward your brother is, once again, to be lying. Or as John puts it: “he is still in darkness.” Do you notice a pattern in these verses? Again and again John begins these statements with “he who says,” “he who says,” “he who says.” John apparently was seeing in the church people who professed to be Christians but who displayed hatred for one another, who lied, stole, got drunk, and were sexually immoral. All the while they were “saying” they were Christians. John tells them that they are deceiving themselves.


Practicing Righteousness


At the end of chapter two, John emphasizes: “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:29). Practicing righteousness is not an option for super-saints. It is simply what people do who have been “born of Him”. It is the hallmark of a genuine born-again follower of Christ.


Just when you think John has surely said all that needs to be said on this subject, he goes deeper still. In chapter three of his short little epistle, he announces boldly: “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him” (1 John 3:6), and then goes on to say: “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9). John is so tough and so insistent about Christians turning away from sin that it is enough to make us wonder whether any of us has truly been saved! But I am convinced that John is not demanding some kind of sinless perfection, but rather declaring that when the new birth has truly happened, we will not be able to continue in our selfish, sexually immoral, hateful, greedy lifestyle that marked us before knowing Christ. In essence he is agreeing with Paul who tells us: “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).


James Chimes In


If at this point you have decided that John was a fanatic and his writings have no place in the word of God, then I must ask, “Is this true of James as well?” Because James makes the same point from a slightly different angle, writing: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves…” and later writing: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe–and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:19-20).


Those who want to be hearers of the gospel but have not the slightest intention of actually obeying the words of Jesus or the commandments of God are deceiving themselves, according to James. They are in the same place as the demons who believe in God, but never obey him and tremble at the judgment they know is coming to them. Sadly, it would seem that in one respect the demons are a little bit wiser than these “only-believe-and-live-as-you-like” “Christians.” At least the demons have enough sense to know that their judgment is sure and to tremble about it, while these “only-believe-and-live-as-you-like” Christians don’t even realize the terrible danger they are in.


Whether you read the words of Jesus or Paul or John or James, they all say the same thing. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved, but know that with salvation comes a new lifestyle of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. No, you won’t be perfect, but as Paul writes: “sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace."





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