Of confidence and asking

Scripture

Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.
1 John 3:21-22

 Observation

  • “Dear friends” (2:7, 3:2, 21) is a change from “Dear children” which was used in previous verses (2:1, 12, 14, 18, 28, 3:7, 18)
    • “Dear children” is a common expression used by teachers to call disciples “children”
    • “Dear friends” seems to be used interchangably with “Dear children”; however, the meaning is different, the word agapētos (ἀγαπητός, meaning beloved, esteemed, dear, favourite, worthy of love) is better translated as “Beloved” (NET), it is a reminder that they are loved, they are not rejected by the author or by God
  • “if our hearts do not condemn us” this is the premise that has been established previously – that our hearts have no right to condemn us; since God doesn’t, our hearts can’t
  • “we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask”, the effect/benefit of having this confidence before God is that we “receive from him anything we ask” (John 14:13-14; 1 John 5:14); note that “before him” in 1 John 2:28 is spoken in future terms of Christ second coming, but it seems here to be a present thing
  • “because we obey his commands and do what pleases him”, because is the causal link to the receiving above
    • “obey his commands”, another recurring theme of obeying Him from 1 John 2:1, 3-5 (which is written from a more negative point of view – to not sin by hating your fellow Christian);
    • “do what pleases him”, the following theme from 1 John 3:7 (written from a positive point of view – to do the things that please Him by laying down our lives for our fellow Christian)

Building on the instruction “to lay down our lives” for our fellow Christians, the author points out that doing so, we will be sure of our belonging to God and be confident of our standing before God because we don’t condemn ourselves. The benefits of not condemning ourselves and standing confidently before God is that we “receive from him anything we ask”. This is because we seek not to grieve God and seek to please Him – the fight on two levels.

Even though it seems like the author is advocating for faith by works, it clearly is not. The author writes this letter to combat the Gnostic teachings of the time, which was gaining popularity; knowing that this letter sounds harsh, He reminds the reader right at the start that God is ready to forgive our sin (1 John 1:8-2:2) and then in the middle, He reminds the reader again that God lavshly pours love on them as His children (1 John 3:1) and at the end, states that the reason He writes this is that the reader can be confident of having eternal life (1 John 5:13).   

The key to understanding the paradox (of faith and works) is in this 1 John 2:8 “Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” The dichotomy of the Christian life is that the darkness in us is passing and the true light in us is already shining – two seperate things happening in us at the same time. While we are saved, we are not prefect yet, but we are being perfected. It is the process of becoming Christ-like (1 John 2:6) while being plagued by our carnal desires. Part of the process as outlined in 1 John is dying to sin and loving others, what underscores all that is beliving in the incarnate yet divine Christ.

Application

Ask for anything. When I hear that, it seems almost impossible. How could I possibly ask for anything?! Yet that is what it says. Anything literally means anything.

Prayer

Father, I come before you with a humble and grateful heart because I know that I still do sin and yet you still forgive. Daily I ask that you would forgive me. I come before you with confidence, knowing that my advocate is Christ Jesus. Grant me the boldness to be frank with you. I seek not to be my own Saviour but to obey you and follow your ways because I love you. I seek not to take your grace for granted but to have my faith worked out in my life. I want to be just like Jesus in all that I think, say and do.

Amen.

Disney Theology

“The reason religious leaders seem so variously drawn to and repelled by Disney’s work may be the striking presence of Judeo-Christian values, juxtaposed with a complete absence of any call or need to submit to God’s will. Walt’s religion is at the same time selfless and selfish. ‘Providence’ at my disposal; the infinite obligated to make my dreams come true. Perhaps only the rampant optimism and ambition of turn-of-the-century frontier America could inspire a belief system simultaneously virtuous and self-absorbed, values Walt derived from that idyllic portion of his childhood spent in Marceline, Missouri.

Disney’s target market – and it has proved to be a large one – is an audience of people who want to believe in something that doesn’t require anything of them. Thats the religion that we’ve all been dying for. So it’s a powerful thing. It engages kids very deeply and it offends no one, except the intellectual elite. Amazingly, Christians were some of Disney’s biggest fans because he held on to the values that were important to them. So they forgave the fact that God had gone missing somehow along the way, but that everything that God set up was still there.”
Phil Vischer, co-creator of VeggieTales (Quoted in Mark Pinsky’s book, The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust)

Vischer has articulated perfectly my take on much (not all) of Christian culture in this day and age. These days we’re seeing less Jesus centered theology and more Disney theology – all the values of Christianity without Jesus.

Apparently, Jesus is offensive but Christian values are appealing. I can get into schools to talk about the value of community and friendships, but not to talk about Jesus. I can tell people how unique and special they are and how they should be just what they are, but not mention the God who created them or the Jesus through whom all things are created.

The challenge is that the value of Christian values lies in Jesus.

“But just what is this Disney gospel – this blend of “faith, trust, and pixie dust”? It’s American cultural religion: belief in the ability of the self to overcome adversity, faith in faith itself, adherence to the American ethic of morality and hard work.”
Religion journalist Marcia Ford on Mark Pinsky’s book, The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust

I think one of the most clichéd existential Disney motherhood statements has got to be:

Be yourself.

Be just who you’re meant to be.

Be your own special and unique person.

It features as the moral of the story in many children’s shows and movies. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We have different gifts, preferences and quirks that make us exactly who we are (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12). It teaches us not to seek man’s approval (Galatians 1:10) and affirms the value of seeing one’s self as being “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) – just without acknowledging the Creator. Essentially, it builds confidence in one’s self (self-esteem). The world sees self-esteem as the answer to the problem of approval addiction, timidity and position/status envy. The Christian version sounds like this: “be who God meant you to be”. Sounds like modern individualism? It isn’t. St Catherine of Siena wrote that in the 1300s.

“God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus.”
Max Lucado

Interestingly, the bible says little about loving ourselves but much about God’s love for us and our love for others. Self-esteem doesn’t feature much in the bible. It would seem that who we are just isn’t that important!

But really, that isn’t the case. What is important in the bible is God-esteem. There is much to be said about how God sees us and the place (present and future) that we have in Christ. Numerous verses speak of His love for us (Romans 8:31-39), his actions of affection towards us (John 3:16) and our privilaged position in His eyes (Galatians 3:26; 1 John 3:2). Even Paul, who we can identify as incredibly special and unique refuses to esteem himself. He does so in 2 Corinthians 11:17-30 to show how ridiculous it is.

Our relentless pursuit then is not to be “who God has made you to be” (as Rob Bell’s counsellor puts it), but to pursue God Himself. The result of that pursuit is the person God has made me to be. He who makes you who you are, also makes you who you’re meant to be.

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
1 Corinthians 3:6-7 (See also Galatians 5:22-23)