In the previous chapter we began the study of I John by reviewing the character and history of John the Apostle and the circumstances in which he wrote this epistle. We will now review the possible reason why this letter was written.
In the first century the main non-Jewish group to enter the church were Greeks. They brought with them many of their former ideas and philosophies which they tried to merge with Christian thought. One of these was the notion that in order to be saved, a person needed certain "special knowledge," knowledge that had the power to transfer an individual from the realm of the physical to the realm of the purely spiritual. Usually these secret instructions involved restrictions about certain food and other types of ascetic practices. These and other ideas were contained in a system of thought referred to as Gnosticism, and the teaching of it caused several problems in the church.
Those promoting these ideas were trying to change the teachings concerning the character of Christ in order to better fit their Greek thought and philosophy. Since the Apostles taught that Jesus was both God and man, the Gnostic teachers had trouble reconciling the idea that a divine being could dwell in a human form. They taught that you were one or the other, but could not be both. Their solution was to claim that Jesus was only a spirit who appeared to be a man. This violated the Apostles' teachings and reduced Jesus to the status of a ghost or an apparition, not the Divine Son of God coming as a man to die for the sins of all and resurrect from the dead to conquer death for all.
Their teaching was meant to control the minds and the lives of their followers, not to free them with the gospel of Christ. Their doctrine also undermined the effect of the gospel by causing Christians to doubt their salvation and eventual resurrection. Believers began to ask themselves the following questions, "If Christ was a ghost, who then died for my sins? Are my sins dealt with by the cross or by my own efforts to learn and apply this secret knowledge? If Christ was an apparition, is there any bodily resurrection for Him or me? If He was a ghost, is that what I will become also, a ghost?"
To counter this dangerous teaching and bolster the sinking faith of the ones affected by it, John writes a letter that has two main objectives:
- To establish the true identity and character of Jesus.
- To restore the disciples' confidence in the certainty of their salvation through Christ and Christ alone.
In I John 1:1-2:29 John begins by describing the Jesus that he knew personally and one of the three ways in which they could be certain of their salvation.
The Historical Jesus — 1:1-4
1What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— 2and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— 3what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.
- I John 1:1-4
John was an Apostle and the criteria for being an Apostle was that you had to be an eyewitness of Jesus' life from His baptism by John the Baptist through to His death, burial and resurrection (Acts 1:12-26). This means that when he writes this letter he writes as one who has personally witnessed the life, death and resurrection as well as the ascension of Jesus. He writes about what he has witnessed, not conjecture or opinion. In the end, his readers must choose to believe what he teaches based on what he has seen, or the Gnostic teachers' secret wisdom based on their philosophies.
John does not refer to Jesus by His given name, but by titles that the Lord has as well as qualities of His nature and position that the Apostle has used before in his gospel. For example:
- I John Verse 1 - What was from the beginning (John 1:1)
- I John Verse 1 - Word of Life (John 1:1,4)
- I John Verse 2 - The life (John 1:4)
- I John Verse 2 - The eternal (John 10:28)
- I John Verse 2 - With the Father (John 1:1)
- I John Verse 2 - Manifested to us (John 1:4)
In verse 3 he finally gives the name of the person he has referred to in six other ways in the previous verses. These titles are given and used to establish the divine nature of Jesus Christ. He is at the source of creation and time which begins with creation. He embodies the life-giving Word. He gives life in the sense that He is the life-giving Spirit in human form. He is eternal, with no beginning or end. He is with God. He has been made manifest meaning that His true nature has been divinely revealed. All of these terms can only be applied to a divine spiritual being, thus establishing Jesus as a fully divine spirit.
John also mentions that he knew or experienced Jesus in a very physical way as well:
- Heard Him speak - verse 1
- Saw Him with his eyes - verse 1
- Touched Him with his hands - verse 1
According to John, Jesus was no vision, he was able to interact with Him just like any other human being. As a matter of fact, what Jesus has received from God (as only a divine spirit could receive), He has given to John (as only one person could give to another) and John is passing it along to them in his gospel and in this letter. Of course, what he is passing along is the good news surrounding the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and the offer of eternal life to every person who believes. This eternal life is seen or described as a fellowship that all believers have together, have with the Apostles, have with Jesus and ultimately with God. He concludes by telling them that the purpose of his letter is to encourage them to remain faithful so that John and the others might rejoice in their faith. There will be no joy for John if they fall away.
Certainty by Walking in the Light — 1:5-2:29
The next section gives the readers a first way that they can be certain of their salvation. Remember, they are struggling with the idea that Jesus may only be an apparition and John has responded by describing his first hand contact with the Lord. They also have begun to doubt if any real change has taken place, if they truly have been saved. They want some kind of evidence that will confirm that they are truly spiritual, truly eternal in nature and thus saved.
John answers by saying that one way they can be certain of the transformation in themselves is to note the difference in their present lifestyle. Again, John uses a figure of speech to convey this idea. For Jews as well Greeks light represented what was true, good, pure and spiritual in nature. Walking in the light meant that one's life reflected these characteristics. It was another term for a "saved person."
In chapters 1 and 2, John names four areas where one's conduct determined if they were truly in fellowship with other Christians, John, the Apostles, Jesus and the Father. He tells them to examine their conduct and if it matches this, they have a guarantee that they are saved, an eternal spirit, and walking in the light.
No time to read and analyze every verse but in essence these are the four areas he talks about.
1. Personal Behavior
5This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
3By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
- I John 1:5-2:6
A person who is walking in the light (and thus is a saved person) is a person who recognizes certain things about their personal behavior:
- That they are sinners, and do not hide or pretend they are not.
- They do not pretend they are good but secretly practice sin.
- They confess their sins and seek forgiveness regularly.
- They understand that without the blood of Christ they cannot be cleansed and walk in the light.
You know you are walking in the light when you recognize that you are a sinner, make an honest effort to abide by God's word, but depend completely on Jesus' blood to keep you clean, worthy and saved.
2. Social Relationships
7Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. 9The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
12I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name's sake. 13I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. 14I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
- I John 2:7-14
A person who is walking in the light, and thus secure in their salvation, is a person who loves their brother. There is a hierarchy of importance in Jesus' teachings, they are all divine, worthy of respect and obedience but some are weightier than others. Jesus said Himself, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others." (Matthew 23:23).
The Lord placed our attitude towards others, especially those in the body, as of primary importance, and issues surrounding church structure, worship style after. For example, one who worships correctly and has a proper understanding of doctrinal matters but fails to genuinely love his brother fails to walk in the light and will bear the consequences. If you are going to make a mistake, better it be in church matters and issues of the true meaning of difficult passages than the neglect of others or hatred towards the Christian family. John mentions the young and the old because all are responsible for these things. Young and old, leaders and followers are all responsible and capable by God's Spirit to love. Failing to do so is a reflection of darkness not light. Love is the surest sign of divine light in our lives.
3. Separation from the World
15Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
- I John 2:15-17
This is a response to that "secret knowledge" that said that entry into a pure spiritual world was achieved by leaving our bodies. According to these teachers, the way to do this was by giving up certain foods, legitimate sex within marriage and other ascetic practices. John says that the proof that one is walking in the light is that a person separates himself from the world, not from his body. The Apostle urges them to give up worldliness (excessive love and preoccupation with physical things, things that simply gratify the senses) by recognizing that this world and all that is in it is temporary and will ultimately be destroyed.
You know you are walking in the light (saved) when your final goal is going to heaven, not making yourself comfortable here.
4. Adherence to Truth
18Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. 19They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. 20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. 21I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. 24As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.
25This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.
26These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you. 27As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.
28Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. 29If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.
- I John 2:18-29
Walking in the light is demonstrated by teaching the truth and John states that the truth of God is the fact that Jesus is the Christ and Savior. Jesus, the divine Son of God, came in the flesh. This is the essence of truth, the dividing line between false teachers and teachings, and true teachers and their teachings. He warns them against the many false teachers (calls them antichrists) who will teach something other than this. This is reference to the Gnostic teachers and their doctrines. "Going out from us" means leaving the teachings of the Apostles. The "anointing" is the reception and maintenance of the Holy Spirit who proclaims and maintains the pure gospel.
In the end, John tells them that they have received the truth though the inspired word of the Apostles (calls this the anointed or anointing). They are walking in the light so long as they continue to hold fast to these words and not abandon them for other teachings.
John gives them four ways to assure themselves that they are walking in the light (saved).
- Their good conduct assures them.
- Their love of others assures them.
- Their focus on heaven assures them.
- Their hold on the gospel assures them.
He finishes by telling them that if they assure themselves in these ways they will be confident and happy when Jesus returns and will not be afraid and ashamed of their conduct. If they know Jesus, they know how to act, and acting in the way He would have them act (these four ways) will make them confident in His presence.