By Pastor Glenn Pease
The story is told of how years ago a hard shell Baptist returned to his community after visiting Jefferson, Texas, and he reported to his neighbors that he had seen ice made there in July. It is claimed that the first artificial ice in the United States was made in Jefferson. When the word of this got back to the church he attended, he was promptly charged with lying, and was going to be expelled from the church. One of the brothers suggested, however, that in all fairness they should make an investigation first. So the deliberating body appointed this concerned brother to go to Jefferson and investigate. When he returned he reported that as amazing as it sounded he actually saw ice made there with the temperature nearly 100 in the shade. The church voted to expel both members for lying.
They were certainly uncharitable and unfair in the this decision, but they were wise to be so concerned about the matter of lying. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle which fits them all." We generally think of Eve's sin of disobedience as the first recorded sin of the Bible, but there is one before that. The first sin in the Bible is a lie. It was the lie that they would not die, as God said, if they ate of the forbidden fruit. The significance of this is magnified when we go to the last chapter of Revelation and discover that the very last sin named in the Bible is also the lie. In verse 15 we read of those who are shut out of heaven, and the last on the list is "Whosoever loveth and maketh a lie."
In between the first and last reference there are many texts warning about the sin of lying. In Prov. 6:17 a lying tongue is among the 7 things God most hates. In Prov. 12:22 we read, "Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord..." Many were the miseries suffered in the Old Testament because of lying prophets. Satan is the father of lies, but man has been of considerable help in multiplying them. It was so much a part of the pagan way of life, out of which the early Christians came, that it was a sin yet wrestled with in the church. Paul in Eph. 4:25 admonishes them, "Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor." A Christian is one who must shed the rags of deceit and falsehood, and be clothed in the garments of truth.
The Apostle John is very concerned about this matter because the Gnostics, like many false teachers since, were masters at the use of the big lie. John does not hesitate to expose them as liars, and warn believers that if they follow this false doctrine, they too will be liars. In verse 5 John laid down the fundamental concept of God that becomes a standard by which to judge all truth and conduct. God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. In reference to the current problem in that church it would mean-God is truth and in Him is no lie at all. The Scripture clearly states it is impossible for God to lie. He has nothing in common with a liar, therefore, a liar cannot have fellowship with God.
Who then is the liar that John has in mind? He is the one whose profession does not match his practice; whose claims do not coincide with his conduct; whose words do not harmonize with his walk. The man who says, "I have fellowship with God," but who walks in darkness, is a liar, says John. The son of thunder has not lost his forthrightness, but now it is under control, and serving the purpose of warning believers in love. The danger is a real one yet today, and it will be for our profit to do some self-examination on this matter. We want to consider first the danger of the lie in our talk, and then the demand for truth in our walk.
I. THE DANGER OF THE LIE IN OUR TALK.
John says, if we say we have fellowship with God, we are making a great claim, and if we do not back it up with action, this is where the lie begins. If the man who walks in darkness does not profess to be in fellowship with God he is still a sinner not doing the truth, but at this point, at least, he is not a liar. The lie that John is exposing here is the one that is most dangerous, and we can see this by considering what the Gnostics taught. They said that spirit is spirit and flesh is flesh. God as Spirit is concerned only about the spirit. The flesh is totally corrupt and evil, and has no part in the spiritual life. They had a dualism that left the body out of one's relationship to God altogether. This kind of thinking leads to a Jekyl and Hyde type of living where the man serves God with his spirit and Satan with his body.
What made the Gnostic heresy so dangerous was the fact that they used the same concepts as true Christians, but the perverted them. Salvation they said is all of grace and no works whatever. Any work of the body was of no value in the spiritual realm. Therefore, it makes no difference what you do with the body. You can give your body completely over to sin, and not be any the less spiritual. In fact, you would be more spiritual for recognizing the body is irrelevant to fellowship with God. If good works are no help to salvation, then evil works are no hindrance to it.
You can easily see how this subtle lie could be appealing to the pagan mind who wanted salvation in Christ, but who wanted also the old pleasures of his pagan life. The same heresy is at work today. The father of lies may have a new label and a new approach, but the lie is still the same. Christianity is all a matter of talk and thinking is the foundational principle of this big lie. It is all a matter of creeds and words and not action. This error has invaded orthodox movements over and over again, and left them as dead orthodoxy. All of the truth is there, and everyone has the proper vocabulary, and so all are convinced they are in the kingdom of God. Words become everything. If a person does not use the right words, you doubt his salvation, even if he lives a life dedicated to Christ. But if a man is practically indifferent to the work of the kingdom, and lives a mediocre life of godlessness, he is on the in group because he has learned the code.
If you examine your own attitude, it ought to scare you how strong the tendency is to move toward the Gnostic heresy. I hear men ridiculed and denounced who are giants of the faith, by men who are spiritual pigmies, and the basis is almost always the subtle Gnostic heresy that true spiritually is in words. Let us note carefully: the primary lesson John is teaching here is that the truth is in the walk. A statement of faith, or a claim to have fellowship with God, is in itself neutral. It is the action of the person that determines its truth. Our second point then is to observe-
II. THE DEMAND FOR TRUTH IN OUR WALK.
Saying the truth is a lie without doing the truth. Lack of action, or contrary action makes a lie out of what could have been true. The son in the parable that Jesus told said to his father, "I will go into the field to work." When he said it, it was a potential truth, but it became an actual lie as soon as he failed to act and not go into the fields. Truth is not in words but in actions. It was what he did that made what he said a lie. If he would have acted different, what he said would have been truth. Actions not only speak louder than words, but also much clearer. I can say I have fellowship with God, but if I go and walk in darkness I lie and do not the truth. Truth is not in words but in the walk. Truth is in action or it fails to be true. All we say becomes truth or falsehood depending on our actions.
Light must be seen or it is no different than darkness. Talk will never be an adequate means of communicating the truth of the Gospel. Jesus did not say we were to be the sound of the world. If that had been the case, the Gnostics would have been great, for they were all noise. Many of the present day believers also feel that sound is the key to evangelism. If we just get people to hear the Gospel; if we could only get Gospel blimps to fly over every city with loud speakers proclaiming the good news, then we could reach our world. There is so much truth to this perspective it is hard to see the fallacy of it. We need to face the reality that masses of people have heard the joyful sound that Jesus saves, and they couldn't care less.
It is time we see that Jesus meant what He said, "You are the light of the world." He said men are to see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. The Gospel needs to be seen, and so we must walk in the light and let our light shine that the truth might be seen and not just heard. Sound is essential for the truth must be heard, but it is inadequate without a visual demonstration of changed lives. Men must see the truth in action, for they are fully aware that talk is cheap. It costs something to walk in truth and apply truth in action, but anyone can talk about it. Some of the most eloquent praisers of spirituality were the Gnostics. If truth could be fully embodied with words alone, they would have been the elite they thought themselves to be, but truth can only be adequately and finally exhibited in action. In other words, if men cannot see truth in your actions, you just as well save your breath. It took the Word to be incarnated to adequately express God's love. The written word and spoken word were not enough.
Without the life of Christ in which He embodied all He taught in action, Christianity would not be what it has been. His talk without His walk would add another philosophy of religion to an already overcrowded field. Jesus not only spoke truth, He lived truth. He was truth incarnate, and truth in action. It is legitimate to test the truth that Jesus taught by the pragmatic standard, which is to ask, does it work? What does not work is not true. All the truth of God is truth that will stand this test if practiced, and it is our task to prove it to the world by doing the truth, and not just speaking it, for truth is not just what you say, but what you do.
Shakespeare said, "Be great in act, as you have been in thought." Again he said, "Action is eloquence, and the eyes of the ignorant are more learned than there ears." What a picture of what John is saying. Men will learn the truth faster and more surely by means of what they see than of what they hear. Whittier saw it to be true in his day and said, "Speak out in acts: The time for words has passed, and deeds alone suffice." The church in many ways is alive to this truth, but we each must be alive to it, and avoid the Gnostic heresy like the plague. We must never be content with verbal truth until it is backed up with vital truth, that is truth in action. The world is not interested in essays on piety. They want to see lives that exhibit the reality of the truths in those essays.
A man whose house is burning down does not care to listen to a lecture on the principles of spontaneous combustion. He wants help to get the fire out. His ears are not open to advice, but his eyes are searching for those who will act to help him. The world with all its problems is not listening for advice, but it is looking for demonstrations of victorious living that exemplify the teachings of Jesus. Our task is to talk, but with a matching walk that gets the attention of a looking world who want to see the truth of Christ in action.