1 John Part 1

Introduction

This is a brief study of the book of 1 John. In this study we will take a look at Chapter 1 and the first two verses of chapter 2. I find that it is very helpful to know a little something about the early history of Christianity as well as other pertinent background information. These are included within the study where appropriate.

This study is part of a larger study called “Knowing Christianity.” These series of studies is designed to familiarize you with Christianity so that you can more effectively share your faith with others and intelligently discuss Christian things with other Christians.?

Background

Author: Accepted since early church history that the author of this epistle is John the Apostle.

Date: Believed to be the latter part of the 1st Century. John was the last of the disciples (apostles) living at this time.

There were many false teachers within the church during this time (1st Century). These teachers introduced their own ideas of Christianity, which originated from the growing philosophical climate. A lack of love for fellow believers was also typical of false teachers.

  • The false teachers separated those who deceivingly followed them from the true fellowship of believers.
  • They were also harsh towards anyone who rejected their new teachings.

Confusion arose within the church regarding which teaching was correct. John, using his authority as an Apostle and eyewitness of Christ, wrote to settle the matter.

John may have been attacking the early stages of Gnosticism. Gnosticism held a dualistic approach to theology. They believed that:

  • Matter is evil
  • Spirit is good

The consequences of this is as follows:

The reconciliation of the humanity of Jesus Christ was compromised

  • Jesus didn?t really have a physical body. He only appeared to have a body.
  • The Christ spirit came upon Jesus immediately after his baptism and departed right before his death on the cross.

The consequences of Sin was compromised

  • The body had to be treated harshly (asceticism). See Col 2:21-23. This introduced an alternate way of handling sin in a person?s life. Instead of relying on the forgiveness and transforming the power of the Holy Spirit, the practitioners relied on religious acts to keep their flesh under control.
  • Sin committed in the body didn?t matter since it was independent from the spirit, which was good.

Consider that it has been more than about fifty years since Jesus Christ walked on the Earth. The evidence of the reality of Jesus Christ, His teachings, and who He was rested in the testimony of the Apostles. It is important to realize that Christianity is a historical religion. It is based on historical facts and events. Therefore, the eyewitness testimonies of the apostles and others that witnessed Jesus Christ?s ministry on Earth were crucial for the establishment of the validity of the Christian faith. Without this historical component of Christianity, it would become another religion based on stories and the ideas and ideals of men.

Christianity was a very young religion at this time. It was being attacked from all sides and within (as it is even today). The social pressures from Rome and the gentile society affected the early Christians as well as the Jewish nation. Philosophical ways began to develop resulting in “alternate Christianity.” This led to one of the greatest threat in early Christianity known as Gnosticism, which was based on a knowing or transcending knowledge.

Today?s Christian Perspective

Christians today who are content with normal daily activities and the rituals of going to church on Sundays, participating in church activities, and adhering to the teachings of the religious leaders within the church organization will have barely a clue as to what Christianity is all about. Until you experience the pressures of adhering to the Christian way of living or examine the history and events of those who have, you will not be able to conceptualize the impact of the heart of Christianity on everyday life.

Christianity is more than a religion or a set of rules and doctrines. It is much more than going to church on Sundays. The first century Christians met out of a need and desire to fellowship. Jesus Christ, through the teachings of the apostles, was at the center of their faith and activities. There were no chicken dinners, fashion shows, trips to amusement parks, and the like. Instead, there were meetings in people?s homes (sometimes secret meetings), trips to the lion’s den, trips to prison, and the ultimate trip to death simply because of their Christian confession and loyalty.

The Core Of Early Christianity

The heart of early Christianity was the person of Jesus Christ. This included the deity of Jesus Christ as well as his humanity. The Christians held sacred the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament) because of its prophecies of the Messiah and the link of Christians to the people of God. The early Christians also held sacred the epistles of Paul and eventually the canon (our New Testament). There were other extra-biblical writings as well.

However, at the center of Christianity were the person, teaching, ministry, activity, and validity of Jesus Christ. Christianity did not arise out of a new way of doing things or the development of a new God. Its core was the person of Jesus Christ. Before there was a standardized or established Christian theology, there was Jesus Christ. Christian Theology, for the most part, developed out of a need to defend the person of Jesus Christ from various pagan and inner-Christian attacks.

Therefore, Christianity without Christ is not Christianity at all. A life without Christ is not the life of a true Christian. One may attend church each day of the week but that doesn?t preclude the necessity of life in Christ and knowledge of him. Christianity must include Jesus Christ at its center.

Questions

  1. Is Christianity just a religion to you?
  2. Do you consider Christianity valid based on historical data as you would any other historical event?
  3. What is the core of your belief system? Is it Jesus Christ or is it adherence to your church?s doctrine?
  4. Do you believe that Jesus actually existed on the earth? Why do you believe this?

THE DEITY of Jesus Christ (1:1-4)

It must be understood that there were many that opposed the fact that Jesus was indeed deity. There were disputes for centuries regarding the deity and the humanity of Jesus Christ. Many of these disputes or oppositions took the form of false teachings within the church. The History of Christianity and the church reveal that there were people who believed that:

  1. Jesus was not really human in the strict sense
  2. Jesus was not deity
  3. Jesus Christ was an imaginary figure that the Christian religion was based on.

John establishes the deity of Jesus Christ by the following statements.

  1. “Was from the beginning”
  2. “Word of life”
  3. “Was with the Father”

“Was in the beginning” in verse 1 can be interpreted two different ways.

  1. It refers to the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel
  2. It refers to the pre-existent Christ

It seems consistent among the sources that I have used regarding the above that “Was in the beginning” refers to the same “beginning” as in the Gospel of John 1:1. This eludes to the pre-existent Christ and thus his deity.

Questions

  1. Can you confidently and with understanding declare that Jesus is deity?
  2. Do you know what it means to say that Jesus is God?

The Humanity of Jesus Christ

Again it must be realized that the reality of the existence of Jesus Christ was frequently under attack. Was he a real person who actually walked on the Earth? Was he indeed a historical figure? These were the questions that many people had and that many false teachers fed upon in their errors concerning the reality of Jesus Christ. John declares that:

  1. “We have heard”
  2. “We have seen”
  3. “Our hands have handled”

He basically gives evidence that Jesus was actually a living person on the Earth and not a fantasy or myth as some would suppose. The crucial thing is that they handled him (touched him).

John wants his preaching to result in people who would be in fellowship with himself who in turn is in fellowship with God and Jesus Christ. Note the inclusion of “His son” in verse 3. This further establishes the deity of Jesus and His relationship with God the Father.

Fellowship: Implies intimacy. It means communion, close relationship, participation, sharing.

Questions

  1. Are you in fellowship with God or are you in fellowship with your church?
  2. Is Jesus real to you or a myth?

Fellowship With God

How can we have fellowship with God? Here are some points to consider.

Know that God is light and that there is no darkness in Him. This establishes knowledge of the true character and WAY of God.

Walk in the light and not in darkness.

Light: Intellectually “light” means biblical truth. Morally it means holiness or purity in relation to God as the standard.

Darkness: Intellectually this means error or falsehood. Morally it means sin or wrongdoing.

Light may be thought of as the character of God and darkness as the character of sinful man.?

“Walking” and “To Be”

Walking implies a mode of living or a way of life. Walking upright for example implies that your way of life is upright or consistent with God?s ways.

“To be,” means that you are a certain way by nature. John doesn?t say to be perfect or sinless in the absolute sense because that is impossible of humans. However, we can turn over a new WAY of life that is consistent with and according to God?s way–God?s character.

Therefore, our values, behavior, attitudes, commitments, outlook, and passions must be in line with God?s character?God?s way. God?s character and way are revealed in the Holy Bible by the inspired writing of men.

Walking in the light doesn?t mean a sinless life. Walking in the light means a way of life consistent with God?s way. Regarding sin, the blood of Christ has cleansed those who walk in the light.

Implications of true walking in the light as described above:

  1. Righteousness by the law is negated
  2. Religious actions and protocol prove inadequate
  3. Works unto salvation prove inadequate because we cannot save ourselves

Walking in the light is not a set of rules and protocol that you have to follow. I can summarize it by saying that it involves being free in the Spirit of God so that the Holy Spirit guides you. You become so engrossed in the things of God and so sensitive to Him that He influences you in a great way. Your life is therefore consistent with His way, though you may slip and succumb to the desires of the flesh. However, as we said, walking in the Spirit is not a life of perfection.

Verse 9

Confession implies saying the same thing about sin as God does. It means to view sin the way God sees it. It implies fellowship and a mind consistent with godly things.

There were those who taught that Christians transcended sin. Denying sin implied salvation independent of God. A realization of our sins meant a realization of the true salvation provided by God through Jesus Christ. We do not transcend sin. We need the savior. Without the blood of Jesus that cleanses us from sin, we remain in darkness and impure separated from God the Father.

Verse 2:1

The ideal way is not to sin. However, we do not have a license to sin even though God has taken care of our sins through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the propitiation (appeasement, satisfaction) or our sins. Jesus has paid the price for our sins so that we can be righteous before God.

Verse 2:2

“The Whole World” This does not mean every individual in the world. This is a generic term that indicates that salvation is available to all in the world through all won?t accept this salvation. See John 3:16.

Summary

God is light and in him is no darkness or evil. Jesus Christ is the Son of God and deity. However, Jesus Christ was total humanity in that he was a man walking on the Earth. That doesn?t negate his divinity though. Fellowship with God means walking in the light. We walk in the light by governing our lives according to the “way” of God. God?s way can be discovered in his written Word?the Holy Bible.

No one is without sin. However, we are washed by the blood of Jesus Christ from all sins. We do not transcend sin being that sin does have a negative effect on our lives. We must confess our sins and God will forgive us our sins. Salvation is for all that would accept it.

 

 

Verse 2:3

How can we be certain that we know God? John gives what seems to be a straightforward and simple answer. He says that we know God if we obey his commandments. Does this mean that if I follow the Ten Commandments and the rest of the law then I can say that I know God? No. That would be contrary to what Paul preached concerning the law (See Galatians 2:16). First we have to consider the meaning of the key word in this scripture, which I believe is the word “know.”

The Greek word translated “know” here means “grasping the full reality and nature of an object under consideration.” The word know also implies an understanding of or grasping of. Therefore, to know God implies that you understand His ways, He of great reality to you. It also implies closeness since fellowship is included here.

 

Obedience and Knowing God

We also must consider the implications of keeping God?s commandments and even what that means. Knowing God is not based on obedience but is demonstrated by obedience. Consider what Jesus said in John 14:15 and 15:10. If obedience were the basis of knowing God then the adherence to the law would be the mode of righteousness. However, the law cannot make us righteous.

 

Obedience and Trusting God

Consider this. Most people will do what their doctors tell them because they believe that the doctor knows what is best for them and is telling them something that will be beneficial of not life saving. Most people will do what they are told by their lawyer for example. They trust that the lawyer knows more about the legal aspects of the situation and is therefore looking out for their best interest. Why do we do what they say? We trust them! We obey these and others because we trust them. Why then should we obey God? We obey God because we trust Him. We believe that God loves us and looks out for us. We believe, or should believe, that God is on our side and what he says will be good for us. Therefore, we do what he says because we trust him and love him.

 

Love and Trusting God

So what does loving God have to do with trusting him. We must consider what it means to love God. Our definition of love is to have affection for someone, to be intimately concerned about a person?s well being, to personally care about someone, or to be infatuated by someone. However, this definition does not neatly transfer over to our relationship to God. For example, how can we be concerned for the well being of God? How can we care about God? Therefore, our love for God must be something else.

Our love for God is closely linked to our trust in God. Our love for God is based on the reality of Him in our own lives. To love God means that He is the most important thing in your life. To love God means that you are committed to doing His will. To love God means that you are committed to obey him. We love God because he first loved us. Our love for God is also out of response to his love for us. We cannot love on our own. The love for God that we have is powered by the love of God that is in us.

Review the article “To Love God” for more information about this.

 

Knowing God

Now we can say with a good degree of confidence that to know God is to obey God. We can?t say that we know God if we don?t do what he says, which implies trusting and loving Him. To know God is to love God, to trust God, and therefore, to obey God.

 

Verses 2:4-6

How can we discern if others know God? A hit can be found in what Jesus taught in Matthew?7:15-20. We can look at the fruits of a person. What does a person produce: life or death, good or evil? How does a person consistently conduct himself or herself: according to the world or according to God?s word? To keep God?s commandments can be understood as living your life according to God?s way.

Notice the correlation of the love of God and obeying him in verse 5. This follows our discussion above about obedience, trust, and the love of God. Also note that John correlates obeying God?s teaching with knowing Him. How can we know God?s teaching in order to obey them. John gives us the answer in verse six.

(1 John 2:6 NCV) Whoever says that he lives in God must live as Jesus lived.

Notice the phrase “lives in God.” This is an implication of living a life bound by God?s way. It implies a life that is submissive to the will and way of God. This will and way is seen through the teachings and acts of Jesus Christ. Notice what Jesus Christ said in John?5:19, 8:28, 12:49-50.

 

 

The Importance of Jesus Christ

We therefore can?t know God apart from Jesus Christ. We have to know what Jesus taught and how Jesus lived. From that we can learn how to conduct our own life and therefore be pleasing to God. In the process of this we know God because we know and fashion our life after Jesus Christ. Again we see the importance of Jesus Christ not only to Christianity but also to knowing God the Father.

 

The New and Old Commandments?2:7-8

(1 John 2:7-8 NIV) Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. {8} Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

John states that he is not writing a new commandment but an old one. He then states that he really is writing a new commandment. What commandment is he referring to and how is it both old and new? John also states that they have heard the commandment from the beginning. What have they heard from the beginning and what was the beginning?

The context here suggests that the beginning was the beginning of their Christian experience. They have heard a commandment from the beginning of their Christian lives. It could also refer to the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel, which they heard.

The message they have heard is most likely a particular Christian teaching. What is that teaching? We will discuss that shortly. This command was also new in the sense that Jesus brought newness to the command. It passed from the Old Testament to the New. It moved or translated itself from the Hebrew religion, if you will, to the Christian faith. Therefore, it can be seen as a new commandment being that it was in a new realm or context?Christianity.

 

The Message Heard from the Beginning

From the context of the subject verses and other scriptures, it appears that the message, and thus the commandment, that John is referring to is the commandment of love. We are commanded to love each other as well as God. Review the following scriptures.

  1. 1 John 3:11, 4:21
  2. 2 John 1:5,6
  3. Matthew 22:39-40
  4. Leviticus 19:18

 

The Darkness is Passing Away

Refer to the Gospel according to Saint John, which states.

(John 1:4-5 NIV) In him was life, and that life was the light of men. {5} The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

The light has invaded the darkness and as we know from Revelations, the light will prevail. Therefore, the darkness is passing away and being overcome by the light, namely Christ.

One way that we can view this is to think of the light as the kingdom of God and the darkness as the Kingdom of evil or Satan. The kingdom of God will prevail and the Kingdom of Satan will pass away and is passing away.

 

 

Living In the Light?Verses 2:9-11

Two conditions cannot exist. You cannot live in the light and at the same time hate your brothers and sisters. Let?s discuss the terms hate and brother (sister).

Hating Brother and Sister

We cannot take the term brother or sister as literally since that does not involve Christianity at all, though that is a true statement. The backdrop of 1 John thus far deals with fellowship with God and with Christians. Therefore, we should apply the term brother and sister to the Christian faith meaning brothers and sisters in Christ. Just as your blood brother or sister is part of the same family, your brother and sister in Christ is also part of the same family. Therefore, a true born again believer will not hate those of the fellowship i.e., family members. We will love those of the fellowship of Christ?the true Church.

The word hate should not be taken to mean to simply dislike. It refers more to a lifestyle than an instance. There may be people that we really dislike and some we cannot stand to be near or even think about. However, those are simply emotional states that need to be resolved (it is not good to hate in this regard because it has adverse effects on us personally). The hate referred to here deals with your normal mode of operation, the type of person you are. A hateful person, relative to Christian brothers and sisters, cannot be a saved person.

Loving your Christian brothers and sisters is an indication of a saved or regenerated person. If you claim to be saved, live in the light, and yet hate your fellow Christian brothers and sisters then you are not regenerated and therefore not a Christian.

 

Blinded By the Darkness

John states in verse 2:11 that the darkness has blinded those who claim to walk in the light and yet hate their brothers and sisters in Christ. I perceive this to indicate a mode of deception. One cannot be saved in a definitive sense and not experience it or display it in the experiential sense. That is, you can?t be regenerated and at the same time your actions and lifestyle do not show it. An example of this principle can be found in the following scripture.

(Matthew 3:8 NCV) Do the things that show you really have changed your hearts and lives.

See also Acts 26:20; Galatians 5:22-26; and Ephesians 5:9-10.

The principle here is that those who are of Christ will do the things of Christ. Those who are of darkness will do the things pertaining to darkness or evil. The Spirit produces fruit and if that Spirit, the Spirit of God, is in you then you will produce fruits of that Spirit according those listed in Galatians?5:22-23. Those who do not have the Spirit of God and think they are redeemed are deceived and show forth their true nature by the fruit that comes from them. They do not the things that come from the Spirit of God, though a counterfeit may be evident. They do those things that come from the Spirit of this world, the spirit of darkness.

 

Lifestyle

Please note again that we are talking about a lifestyle and/or a mode of operation of a person. We are not referring to individual incidences in a person?s life. All have sin and come short of the full glory of God. We all will do things that are not consistent with the Spirit that is in us. However, our general mode of operation is that of the Spirit of God.

An overall view of a person?s life will reveal what spirit is on the inside. Jesus reveals a principle in Matthew 7:16-20 that shows us that a person can be known by what they produce. We can know what is in a person because what is in will come out (see Matthew 12:34-35).

 

Salvation Indicator

John seems to imply that the indicator of a person?s salvation is the love of the Christian brothers and sisters. This, of course is not an exclusive determinate or indicator since our perceptions of a person are not certain and there are other things that may be involved with a person?s behavior. However, the principle is a very good one. Whatever is in a person will come out. If the Spirit of God is in a person because of salvation then that person will tend to do those things that are consistent with that Spirit.

 

Walking in the Darkness

A person who is in the darkness is blinded if they think they are in the light. They are deceived. The only hope for these people is that the light would illuminate their understanding and they would come to that light.

I believe that God will not hide himself from a person to hold back the truth. I believe that if a person seeks God then he will reveal himself even to salvation. There are many people who were saved because they sought God out?not that they knew they were seeking God the Father revealed in the Bible. Some of these people were searching for the meaning of life, the truth God, happiness, etc. In the process, their seeking led them to the true God and therefore the Christian faith.

Walking in darkness is, in many cases, a religious state of deception or a personal state of denial. Religion may have people blinded from the truth by its many traditions and rules thus neglecting the word of God and the way to salvation (See Matthew 15:6). Personal denial of the truth is a state where a person does not want to admit that their life is leading them to death. This can also be a state where a person won?t receive the fact that they can?t save themselves (this is related to the religious deception).


1 John Part 2 (2:3-11)
(C) 1999 William R. Cunningham


1 John Part 1 (1:1 – 2:2)
By William R. Cunningham
November 1998

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