Friday, March 07, 2008

Religious Worldliness

In 1 John 2:12-14 John tells the believers that he is writing to them for three reasons, reasons which define them as true believers over against the false ones he’s writing against.

a. Your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
b. You know him who is from the beginning.
c. You have overcome the evil one (you are strong, the word of God abides in you).

By contrast, it seems the false believers were in love with the things of the world, which john also describes in three ways. It seems to me that these in some way ‘map onto’ the three defining features of the believers above. They 'love the world,' i.e.

a. The desires of the flesh (rather than forgiveness, giving in to sin).
b. The desires of the eyes (living by sight, not by faith, focussing on what the eyes desire, rather than ‘desiring God’).
c. Pride of life (strong in oneself, rather than in the word, so proud like the evil one rather than experiencing victory over him).

But what’s also interesting is that there’s a definite allusion to Ezekiel 24:21 and the description of the temple which God was about to destroy (I’ve altered the order from Ezekiel 24 to highlight the connection with 1 John). The Israelites loved the temple, but it was a misplaced love, a foolish presumptuous faith that they’d be ok despite their sin. The temple is described as

a. The yearning of your soul.
b. The delight of your eyes.
c. The pride of your power.

This is especially poignant, given the connection in John’s gospel between faithless Israel and the ‘world’. And then there’s a further connection with Genesis 3:6 and the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

a. It was good for food (the desires of the flesh? Yes, food is good, but not when God says 'don't eat').
b. And a delight to the eyes.
c. Desirable to make one wise (self-sufficiency for life rather than God-dependency).

Does all of this help to explain, then,

1. Why loving the world is utterly opposed to being a Christian. It’s an inversion of the benefits found in Christ, a ‘false faith’ if you like?

2. How the sin of the Israelites in their trusting in the mere possession of the temple despite their ongoing sin, was a repeat of the mistake of Eve in the garden, and deserving of the same punishment (expulsion from the garden/ land)?

3. In other words, being like the world in the 1 John 2:16 sense, and like Eve in the Genesis 3 sense, and not at all like a true believer should be in the 1 John 2:12-14 sense, might at times look extremely religious and pious, but in reality be like the presumptuous ‘false faith’ of Ezekiel 24:21?

[Also, the connection with Ezekiel 24 (and 'world' in John's gospel) might suggest a 'run up to AD70' setting for the epistle. Could the false teachers and believers have been apostate Israelites or Judaisers? Like Israel in Ezekiel's day they loved the world and the things in it, i.e. they clung to the temple in false faith?]

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