Anybody? Really?

3 John says this: “Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.”

Taken in context, there is at least one radical thing this means.  There might even be two radical things this means.  I’ll be interested to hear thoughts about that.

The context is that John’s writing about his plan to deal with an unloving person who calls himself a follower of Christ.  This guy isn’t being hospitable and open.

It seems clear: He’s saying that this guy isn’t a real follower of Christ.  He’s a poseur, an imposter.

The people I had a virtual temper tantrum about yesterday, those knucklehead folks that were out protesting when they should have been doing something to help a situation, in my opinion this applies to folks like them.  Or those boneheaded “Christians” who show up to protest at veternan’s funerals.  Or funerals of people who die of AIDS.

It’s kind-of reassuring and refreshing.  I’m called to love these people but I don’t have to identify myself with them.  I don’t have to answer for their foolishness.  They are doing evil.  They are not from God at all.

The other ramification, equally radical: there are millions of people who are from God who don’t even know it.  Some of them might even hate God, but they are still doing good.

I think that sometimes we Christians want to claim a monopoly on goodness.  If there’s not a cross on it, if it wasn’t purchased at a Christian bookstore, if it wasn’t endorsed by some pastor, then we are unsure about whether it was good.  It seems to me that this verse flies in the face of that.

What do you think?


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

6 thoughts on “Anybody? Really?”

  1. Hey Jeff,

    i read your “pissed off” piece and decided it would be better to walk a wide berth around that one. Sometimes it’s just best to stew in one’s own juices for a while. For what it’s worth, i’m feeling your pain.

    This post has struck a nerve; not a bad one, just a nerve. As you know, i’m big on understanding what is of value to God. 2Timothy 3:2-5 says,

    “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,
    2Ti 3:3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,
    2Ti 3:4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-
    2Ti 3:5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.”

    Specifically, verse 5 speaks of a “form of godliness”. i’ve been wondering a lot if that means ‘counterfeit’. We talked a little bit about how Galations 6 identifies 9 characteristics of relationship we commonly call the “fruits of the Spirit”. In a previous post of yours i asked if we can do those or have those without the Spirit. i believe the answer is “yes”, and that Timothy 3:5 is referring to just this sort of godliness without God.

    Paul identifies those 9 things specifically as godly because we have a way of immitating God for personal agrandizement. i imagine that there’s a bunch of others that we label as “good” which qualify as subsets of the 9. The sad fact is that especially in the church this counterfeiting proliferates. 3John is a letter to other Christians about the behavior of other “christians”.

    John is trying for the sake of discernment to aid brothers in Christ. The ‘good’ and the ‘evil’ to which he refers is the fruit in the life of professing Christians. Though there’s a great deal of wisdom in the epistles, all of them are intended for a Christian audience. They aren’t meant for interpretation by or for the unregenerate. This is why 1Corinthians 1 states quite clearly that without the Spirit the things of God cannot be discerned.

    How many people do you know that have picked up the Bible and made comments about its “literary value”, or its “moral teachings”, yet denying its power to save? The Cross is a stumbling block and foolishness to the perishing and try as we might sometimes we can’t and shouldn’t try to reconcile the ‘good works’ of those without Christ as Godly works. Unless God is glorified, it’s all vanity.

    i’m not saying that those people aren’t doing a good thing. Results speak for themselves. A peson is fed, comforted, clothed, whatever…that’s a good thing. But it isn’t necessarily from God.
    Conversely, a claim that you are from God and owned by God also doesn’t guarantee that you’re glorifying Him. The fallout from claiming to be speaking or acting from God while doing something decidedly unGodly must anger Him like nothing else. Thank God for mercy!!

    That’s what i think.


  2. Thanks for that insight. There’s not only a lot worth pondering in your reply. There’s a lot of truth.
    I’m not going to comment on several paragraph of what you wrote because I whole-heartedly agree with them.
    One of the things that occurs to me, after reading your response, is that an interesting aspect of the quote that got this post started (Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.) is that it doesn’t set up a direct paralell.
    Writers of biblical times were incredibly subtle use of paralellism. John certainly could have written “Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does evil is not from God.”
    He also could have written “Anyone who does what is good has seen God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.”
    Yet the Holy Spirit, working through John, didn’t guide him to write either of these two directly paralell statements.
    If this observation is meaningful, the result is that nobody is claiming that simply because we have done good somebody has seen God.
    It leads me to wonder: What’s the difference between seeing God and being from him?

    I’d be interested in your insight, Garret, on clarification around a couple statements you made.
    I’m curious about “Though there’s a great deal of wisdom in the epistles, all of them are intended for a Christian audience. They aren’t meant for interpretation by or for the unregenerate.”
    That’s a fascinatingly strong sentiment. Certainly it’s worthwhile to observe that the epistles were all churches writing to churches. And I agree that the Holy Spirit’s discernment leads Christians to fuller understandings of what it all means. So I’m in agreement that there might be trouble in interpretation “by the unregenerate.”

    I guess my issue/qestion is around the question of interpretation “for the unregenerate.” My reason for wondering about this:
    Clearly, the epistles audience is larger than just the church being written to. (i.e. the audience intended for an epistle by The Holy Spirit is not only that specific church it was mailed to.)
    The question I have is there a biblical or logical principle that determines how widely we ought to generalize? It strikes me as arbitrary to say “Because the original recipient was this one specific church we’re going to assume that it’s appropriate to generalize it to today’s churches everywhere. It’s not appropriate to generalize it to a smaller auidence. Nor is it appropriate to generalize it to a larger audience.”


  3. I’m glad to see such a sentiment, Jeff. I don’t have any deep or wide insights, but it’s comforting to see an acknowledgment of the potential for goodness in non-Christians. It tends to make me more hopeful for ecumenical efforts, when paired with the Buddhist belief in the buddha nature of every person, with the Muslim reverence for the Ahl al-Kitab (“people of the book,” even if us Buddhists are left out of that), etc. It’s a step in the right direction for everyone.


  4. Ian,

    i’m excited that people want to make peace so far as it is within their ability to do so. However, Jeff’s post is about something specific to churches – Christian churches. 3John is more about discernment of spirits within the Body.
    Ecuemenism is wonderful in that it encourages us to understand and live out the reality that people don’t all believe the same things or practice faith the same way. There’s a great deal of shared wisdom and value between all humans. i attribute that to what God has placed within all humans as evidence of God (Romans 1).

    i was just having a conversation with a guy at work about that truth. He was reading an anthropology article which asserted that current human species originated from a single couple somewhere in Africa. That couple spread out, dominated, and populated the earth. He made the corrolation to Adam and Eve. We then talked about how the Eden story is common to just about every culture! Maybe it’s not so far fetched that this common experience should point us back to the God who created it.

    So who is this God?

    Has God manifested himself in fullness through all beliefs?

    Are Christian beliefs on the same par as others?

    Are all acts of goodness measured equally by God?


  5. Thanks for stopping by Ian. I look foreward to perusing your blog.
    Just for the record, folks like myself and “Outnumbered by 5” would be the last to deny that good is going on outside of Christianity.
    Some of my motivation in posting this was to recognize that there’s scriptural support for this idea.

    There certainly is a place for ecunemical efforts. There is lots of common ground for faith traditions to explore.
    I beleive that if we recognize that taking care of the dispossessed is an imperative that crosses traditions, we might get lots done. IT’s also good for us to work side-by-side with each other, and have real experience, in the trenches.

    However, sometimes, I notice that ecunemical movements get interested in denying the very real differences that exist within the traditions. I think that it not only disrespects my own tradition, but also other people’s, when we go too far in minimizing the important and fundamental differences in beliefs.


  6. Jeff,

    Firstly, the word “unregenerate” is kind of ugly. The connotation is harsh. It evokes a bit of visceral response by everyone – even Christians. It sounds so…judgmental!

    Is it meaningful?

    In a word, yes. It’s full of meaning especially when considering that the Bible is more than a work of fine historic literature. It’s the word of God, about God, for all. i’m not disputing that the content of the Bible in intended for everyone to hear. Reality check; it isn’t received by all as the word of God.

    For those who’ve received it, it has additional spiritual significance. It’s for those people the things of the Spirit are meaningful. To a person without the Spirit of regeneration in Christ a godly thing is indiscernible as “from God” or simply evidence of God.

    The “generalizing” of a specific message is one we must be careful with – agreed. Yet there is something even in a specific message that we ought to try to discern and apply – generally. It would be irresponsible and even silly to toss out a specific message to a specific church in the first century just because we don’t see the relevance at first blush. But context is key to interpreting. Sometimes the oddness in a directive found in the epistles is meant to instruct us in a broader way; not so much about practices, but about the character of God.

    As far as the “appropriateness” or “logic” behind generalizing: it’s often where we get into trouble. It’s largely the reason the Church is so fractured. It’s also why my personal sphere of essentials has shrunk over the years to about the size of a tennis ball. (It used to be the size of a bus)

    You’ll have to ask someone more learned than me about the hermeneutical questions you have.

    I LOVE that you’ve pointed out the minor detail of “from” and “seen”. I’m not a Greek scholar so I can’t with confidence comment on the actual words being used. The English there certainly does raise an eyebrow or two.

    Anybody got thoughts on that?


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