The Apostle John’s First Letter Part 3

Verse by Verse Comments on 1 John

John 1:6-10

“If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”

John Counters 3 Specific Gnostic Claims (1:6-10)

Gnostics claim to have discovered the true way to enter a “higher” fellowship with God. They claim salvation, leading to a higher fellowship, requires special secret knowledge known only to them. But, John says God is light, exposing that which is hidden. Secrets held in darkness will be exposed in the light. John confronts three specific Gnostic errors – (1.) the fact of sin in our behavior, (2.) its origin in our nature, and (3.) its consequences in our relationship with God. Each error is introduced by the phrase “If we claim.”.

(1.) Gnostic Error (1:6): Gnostics claim it is possible to have fellowship with God while living a life filled with unrighteousness. Body and spirit are separate entities. What the body does has no effect on the spirit.

(1.) Truth: Sin breaks our relationship with God. The Gnostics denied this by claiming only the human spirit fellowships with God. The human spirit cannot be contaminated by deeds of the body. Whatever the body does, the spirit is OK. John says nonsense! We are one whole person. Body and spirit are intimately related. Each affects the other. 

(2.) Gnostic Error (1:8): The claim that it is possible for sin to be completely       eradicated from a persons’ life in the here and now.

(2.) Truth: A believers’ sin nature is not eradicated in regeneration. Our new           righteous nature and  our old sin nature battle. Sin persists. John says if      we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves.

 (3.) Gnostic Error (1:10): A person can truthfully claim to have never sinned in  their entire life.

(3.) Truth: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). In denying the reality of personal sin, the Gnostics claimed their  outward behavior didn’t matter. Their inherently good spirit is not subject to sin. Nothing else matters. They claimed their body (being made of matter) was inherently evil but distinct from their spirit. John says claiming to have never sinned makes God out to be a liar.

Everyone is constantly bombarded by things that seem reasonable on the surface but are in fact partially or totally untrue. Believers are to be on guard and, like the Bereans, constantly search Scripture.

A Call to Holiness (2:1-2)

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense– Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Two really great bits of news – (1.) God’s promise to forgive sin (1:9) and (2.) the atoning work of Christ as Savior and Advocate (2:1-2). John’s plea is “that you will not sin” (2:1). He means believers should not deliberately, habitually sin (i.e., have sin as a lifestyle). Though redeemed, our old sin nature continues to exist. At times it will dominate our new redeemed nature such that we sin, but that is not to be our life style. When believers sin, Christ, who atoned for all our sins in His death on the cross, “speaks to the Father in our defense” (2:2).

Contrast Between Gods’ Nature and human nature

God is light! In Him there is no darkness at all. Fallen human nature is a mixture of light and darkness. Human nature is inclined to think itself better in every way than is actually true. Through regeneration and the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the light of God shines in us, but there remains always some darkness. The light of God exposes that darkness, so that the dark places can be cleansed of sin and become bright and fruitful places for God’s blessings. Those who strive to walk in the light can in the mercy of God have fellowship with God, continuing to be transformed through the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus. To deny that I am a sinner in need of cleansing is self-deceit. As sinners we can be sure of forgiveness from a faithful God through our righteous Advocate, Jesus Christ. I lie if I claim true knowledge of God without striving to obey his commandments.

Introduction to Three Self-Examination Questions (Chapter 2 and more)

Most believers at times suffer from doubt. We ask, “How can I be sure that I know God?” To answer this question, John provides three self-examination questions. Individual believers can use these questions to examine themselves. All three self-examination questions are introduced in Chapter 2, but each is further elaborated in subsequent chapters. 

Cognitive, Affective, and Conative Faculties of the Mind

The human mind is generally recognized to consist of  three distinctive faculties – cognitive, affective, and conative.  Cognitive has to do with the intellect, affective with the emotions, and conative with the will.

 To know To feel To act

John directs a question to each faculty of the mind. He begins, not with the cognitive (intellect) as we might expect, but with the conative (volition). Then he addresses the affective (emotions), and finally the cognitive (intellect). The three self-examination questions (tests) are: 

  1. Righteousness (the test of obedience) – Am I increasingly obedient to God’s commands?  Am I progressing in practical righteousness such that my profession of being “in Christ” is increasingly matched by my conduct? This is a test of the effectiveness of the transformation of the will and related functions in decision-making.
  2. Love (the test of relationship) – Am I increasingly acting toward others in ways consistent with the affections and actions of agape love? This is a test focused on the effectiveness of the transformation of our emotions and related functions.
  3. Truth (the test of right belief) – Do I believe that Jesus the man of Nazareth is Christ the Lord, God come in the flesh? This is a test of the effectiveness of the transformation of our intellect and its related functions.

Test of Righteousness (2:3-6)

“We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”

John’s self-examination question on righteousness is presented in the form of a statement providing the answer. He says, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commandments.”  We ask, “Do I know Christ?”  If the answer is to be “yes,” John says we must be intentionally and increasingly obedient to his commandments. Not perfect obedience, in which life is lived without sin, but a commitment to live a life of obedience that pleases God. Believers should experience a general movement in the direction of perfect righteousness. If we truly know Christ, we will be increasingly dissatisfied with and distressed by sin. On the other hand, if we claim to know God but continue to live a sinful life, rationalizing and minimizing our sins one way or another, we are hypocrites.

The point is that the chief attribute of one who truly knows Christ is obedience unto righteousness. This is a strange thought to many people. The classical Greeks believed that accurate knowledge of all things was attainable through human reason alone. On that basis, the Greeks sought to know their gods via “reason alone.” A purely intellectual approach to God fails to satisfy the whole person or, more importantly fails to please God. Man is more than pure intellect. Knowing God in ways that fill the mind but fail to stir the emotions or warm the heart is inadequate. People yearn to relate to God in a personal way, not merely to contemplate him.

Christianity, lived as God intends, fulfills the whole person. John understands knowledge of God to be “personal and practical,” like knowing a person, in contrast to knowing an idea or thing. Such knowledge of God always causes a profound change in human conduct. This is the concept of “knowing God” that is found throughout Scripture. For example Jeremiah 9:23-24: “This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD.”

An Aside: Mystery Religions

At the time of Alexander the Great, a new religious concept was introduced into the Greek world through the mystery religions found in nations conquered by Alexander. Mystery religions claimed the gods were to be known primarily through emotional experience. They promised mystical emotional union with the god, a union to be achieved through special lighting, music, incense, and liturgy. Indeed, high emotions were achieved, but were short-lived, and did nothing to satisfy the mind.

If he wanted to know the gods, a Greek at the time of Christ had a choice between a “cold rational” approach and a “vivid but short-lived emotional experience”. Neither was enough.  Christ came to deal with the true needs of mankind. True Christianity, lived as God intends, redeems, and fulfills the whole person. 

Such knowledge of God always produces a profound change in human conduct.  This concept of “knowing God” is found throughout Scripture. The fact that “knowledge of God is man’s glory” would have been easy for Greeks to agree with. But, the truth that “God practices righteousness, kindness, and justice” (and delights in men who emulate him) would have been a strange foreign concept to the Greeks. 

True Knowledge of God Always Accompanied by Obedience

John says genuine knowledge of God is always accompanied by increasing righteousness demonstrated by obedience. God Himself is pure righteousness. Righteousness is not natural to fallen man.  The presence of obedient righteousness in our life is a sign of God’s supernatural work in our life.  This is John’s point in these verses. It is the first test by which we may know that we truly know Him. Am I increasingly obedient to Christ? Am I growing in righteousness obedience? In John’s Gospel Jesus connects love and obedience: If we love Him, we will obey His commands.

Two Contrasting Examples

John introduces two types of men as examples. The first is the man who claims to know God but does not keep God’s commandments. John has harsh words for this type, calling him a liar. Such a person’s conduct contradicts his claim. The second type obeys God out of genuine love for God. Love for God is not demonstrated in sentimental language or mystical experience, but rather in moral obedience (John 14:15, 14:21, 14:23, 15:10). John’s conclusion is that “whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (John 2:6). Obedient righteousness (or lack of it) in our lives, is an indicator of our true relationship with God.

Test of Love (2:7-11)

“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. 9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.”

An Old Commandment (2:7-8)

Love has been called “the mark of the Christian” (John 13:34-35). By this mark the world knows that those who profess to be Christians are indeed Christians. From the beginning, the command to love has always applied to all Christians. Absence of evidence of “love” is a red flag of concern.

The Law of Love (2:9-11)

In the preceding verses John admonished believers to keep God’s commandments.  He now focuses on one specific commandment, the commandment to love one another. Love is an “old commandment” (Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18). Jesus gave it new meaning and emphasis in His teaching and the example of His life. In that sense it is also a “new commandment.” The truth of love is seen in Jesus’ life and the lives of true Christians.  

Jesus coupled the commandment to love God with the commandment to love your neighbor. He greatly extended the notion of who is a neighbor. He even said that believers should love their enemies. He gave new meaning to the depth of love’s commitment by coming into the world as a man in order to willingly sacrifice Himself for our benefit.  Jesus said, “My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:12-14).  He showed us true, authentic love and made it possible for us to love in like manner.

The Life of Love (2:9-11)

he Apostle turns his attention to the effect love has on the person who acts in love (or hate). He makes a point about one who professes to be in the light but hates his brother. Such a person is self-deceived and is actually “still in the darkness” and “walks around in the darkness.” The Gnostics, though claiming to have special light were in fact unloving – particularly to outsiders. Paul, in 1Corinthians 13:2, says, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”  Clearly, the Gnostics are self-deceived.  

Then there are those whose love arises from abiding in the true light. They demonstrate that they are in the light through their love for their brothers and sisters in Christ. In such behavior there is nothing to make them stumble.  One who walks in the light has increasing light each day.  One, who walks in the darkness, continually walks in darkness, having no righteous goal. The way of the ungodly is one of restless activity, but not knowing the right direction in which to go (John 12:35-36). Only God is able to give sight to the blind, and only He can direct the sinner’s feet into paths of righteousness.

Conclusion on Love

God’s love is expressed in His actions – He created out of love, out of love He sent Christ to live among us, out of love Christ died on the cross for our benefit and out of love He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell each believer. God is love! God intends our love to likewise manifest itself in actions.  In Scripture love is distinctly an action word. Our love for one another is to be directed in actions toward the best interest of those loved, even when the actions will be very costly to us. The first two questions for us are (1.) “do I increasingly obey God’s commandments?” and (2.) “do I increasingly manifest a love for others like God’s love for me?” These are crucial questions whose answers point to the status of our relationship with God.

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