This past week in the Peanuts comic strip, Linus has been stressing over a test that he has not studied for. On Wednesday, he found out that it was a True or False test. On Thursday, as he’s taking the test, he’s trying to figure out the pattern of true and false statements: it always starts with a true, followed by a false for balance, and so on. But on Friday, we found out that his strategy didn’t work out so well. Lucy asks him what’s wrong, and he replies, “I falsed when I should have trued.”
I feel sorry for the poor kid, but it is just one test in his educational career. He has probably learned his lesson and will study from now on.
Unfortunately, the flock to which John wrote his first pastoral letter, also has to take a true or false test – and if they “falsed when they should have trued,” there will be no re-test. To fail that test means eternal disaster.
In verse 20, John wrote, “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true.”
Who is the “him who is true”? It’s God the Father. Jesus has come to enable us to know the Father. Or as He said to His disciples in John 14:
“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
People could only see Jesus – the Son of God in the Flesh. God the Father is spirit, so He has no body which people could see. So Jesus is the way that we relate to God the Father. This is why ministers often use similes and metaphors to explain the mysteries of God when talking to children: something they can see reveals truth about something they cannot see.
But Jesus does more than just reveal the truth about God. He also enables us to be united with God the Father – to be “in him who is true” – and united with Himself, that is, with Jesus. If we are united with Jesus, then we are united with all of God. We are well-connected.
Verse 20 brings us full circle with the first verse of this chapter: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.”
If we believe that Jesus is the Son of God in the flesh, then we have been born of God. And if love God the Father, then we love Jesus, the Son.
And vice-versa. If we are in a relationship with Jesus – then we are in a relationship with God the Father. And we’re in a relationship with the Holy Spirit, to boot. That is the mysterious nature of the Trinity. Love one, love all.
Just in case anyone did not catch that or still doubted, John added that He – Jesus – “is the true God and eternal life.” Jesus – the Son of God in the Flesh – the true God. When we understand that, then what seems to be a bizarre final verse of this letter makes sense:
Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
Huh? John doesn’t end the letter with a nice benediction or a “hope to see you soon” or even a “sincerely yours” – he writes instead, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”
But if they believe that Jesus is the true God, then they must keep away from idols – which are false gods.
God’s people had a long and sordid history of idolatry – worshipping Ba-al, Ashtoreth, Molech, and a host of other pagan deities.
King David wrote in Psalm 40: “Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.”
We know that the first-century Christians faced the same temptation. When the Council of Jerusalem wrote to the new Gentile Christians, the Council told them to “abstain from what has been offered to idols.”
The Roman Empire had its own pantheon of idols, as well as Caesars who claimed to be gods.
These were false gods – and John may well have been warning his flock to stay away from them – while clinging to the true God in Jesus Christ.
Or John may have been writing about anything that the flock might be tempted to put their trust in instead of God: wealth, possessions, prestige, security, freedom, sex – the very same idols that still tempt us today.
John may also have been writing about those who had left the Church, who were teaching that Jesus was born either just a man – or who was God in only what appeared to be a human body. They rejected the idea of Jesus’ being both fully God and fully human. John may have been warning his flock to stay away from the idol of trendy belief.
Given the running theme in John’s first pastoral letter, that is probably what he means – but it’s not a stretch to extend the warning to cover the other two categories. They are all false gods of one kind or another – and we as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ should stay away from them.
Daily, we are called on to decide whether we will choose the true God – as He reveals Himself in Jesus Christ – or false gods. It’s not always an easy choice – but we must make the right choice. Don’t be like Linus and false when you should have trued.
Keep away from false gods – and cling to the One who is true.