It didn’t take long for people to develop wrong ideas about Jesus.
While we cannot guarantee what the issue is facing John’s community, we’re sure there was some kind of belief that stood opposed to the real death and resurrection of Jesus. That’s the reason John, or someone writing in his name, wrote 1 John. Again, we aren’t for certain, but the common thought is the letter defends faith in the risen Christ against the heresy of docetism.
The Greek word dokeĩn means to “seem” or “appear.” Docetism, therefore, was a belief that Jesus only seemed to have a physical body. He was a spirit being or an illusion, of sorts. That flies in the face of both our understanding of the Incarnation and even the faith that Jesus died and rose again. If he wasn’t a real person, how could he die?
That helps make sense of several themes in 1 John. It helps us appreciate some of the bodily language John uses. For example, one of my favorite Bible passages is 1 John 2:6: Whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.
In one sense, that is metaphorical. Jesus had a way of life that he walked. He once said, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matthew 11:30). His yoke is his way of interpreting scripture, how to love God with all your life. His yoke is his walk, which is a perspective, a way of viewing the world and my place in it.
Another way to understand that Jesus walked, is that he actually walked. He used his two feet and sense of direction to go to particular places. Where his kingdom perspective led him, he literally walked from place to place.
If Jesus only appeared to do things, I can let myself off the hook.
I don’t have to do some of those things he only appears to have done. But if I see Jesus reaching out his real hand to a woman shamed by her past that tells me something about him. And if I see him feeding his real hunger while sitting at a table with a hated tax collector that reminds me of what I am to be.
Jesus chose where he walked and with whom he walked. That was a part of his real life. In that light, you and I are no different than Jesus. You are a real person. You have a real life.
You must decide where you will walk, what you will do with the life God gave you. It’s easy to make it seem like believing in Jesus’ way is all that’s required of us. A full biblical understanding of discipleship, however, says that we make real choices about going to the places and people where and with whom Jesus walked.
During the season of Lent, our church hosted a Bible study written by pastor Adam Hamilton. I joked before that I was a little salty with Pastor Adam because he wrote the book before I did.
It was a study on five essential practices of the Christian life: worship & prayer, study, service, giving and sharing faith. In The United Methodist Church, when someone joins a local church, our membership vows include a commitment to each of those practices.
Another word for them is disciplines. But we don’t like that word. Not even spiritual disciplines. We have learned, though, that the more we practice such disciplines, the more our walk with God matures.
So, spiritual disciplines are always on my mind.
I’m always trying to figure out how to get the church more involved with them. For a while, I have considered my own book project that centers on our United Methodist membership vows. Since Pastor Adam beat me to it, maybe a daily devotional will do.
When we talk about spiritual disciplines or essential practices, it’s important to recognize them as a response to the grace of God. Because we know something about God, we respond. In that light, we don’t pray, for example, to get God to do something we want. We don’t go to church to make sure the Lord knows we’re still alive.
We’ve experienced the grace of God and we want to know Christ as Lord. That doesn’t happen by accident. So, prayer, worship, study, service, giving and even sharing faith become indispensable forms of knowing God more.
You can see all five of our vows lived out in a small passage from Acts 2. First, remember that chapter begins with the Holy Spirit’s anointing over the disciples. Divided tongues appeared over each of them and they began to speak in the languages of the gathered crowds of people in the temple. Right after that, Peter gave his first sermon and thousands of people believed in Jesus.
Here’s the line that gets me. It’s verse 42. As a result of what they had seen and what they heard from Peter, the people, “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
My first reaction to that verse is to bless God. My second is to ask a couple of questions. How would you rate the church’s devotion today to such things? What about your devotion? What about your church’s devotion to do these things together?
When I talk about these things, people often affirm to me that they, for example, pray every day. That’s great. Keep doing that. But are we devoted to praying together?
Because that’s the key to what happened in Acts 2. The people shared their faith together. The apostles’ teaching relates to study. The breaking of bread and the prayers is worship and prayer. What kind of service did they offer one another if Luke says they all had “the goodwill of all the people”? They gave all their possessions to ensure they could take care of one another. And their community grew because people learned what was happening there.
Our five commitments are there. They always have been.
This is the week after Easter. We’ve just experienced the glory of the resurrection. This feels like the perfect moment to respond to the power of God with a devotion to knowing God more. Is that something you are ready to do?