The Apostle John’s First Letter Part 4

Verse by Verse Comments on 1 John

A Digression (2:12-17)

“I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. 13 I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. 14 I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one. 15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world– the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does– comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”

 In these verses, John turns aside from the three self-examination questions to consider some issues about the church and the world. He has assured his readers (2:12-14) that he is writing as he is because they know God, not because they are unbelievers. But what attitude should believers have toward the fallen world system? He answers that question in (2:15-17).  

Verses 2:12-14 have been interpreted in several ways. A likely correct interpretation is that the categories of readers (children, fathers, and young men) represent stages of spiritual development. Children, who are relatively new converts, are addressed in 2:12 and 2:13c. Their sins are forgiven, they know God as their Father, and they actively fellowship with God. In 2:13a and 2:14a John speaks to the fathers, those mature in the faith. The “fathers” are spiritually adult believers who have progressed to a deep communion with God. They know God is immutable and eternal. In 2:13b and 2:14b, he addresses young men. They are committed to moral obedience, are strong because the Word of God lives in them, and they have overcome the evil one.  

In verses 2:15-17 the focus shifts to the world. What attitude should believers exhibit toward the world and what should their behavior be? 

A careful look at John’s meaning is necessary in 2:15 when he says, “do not love the world.” What does he mean and how does this instruction relate to the message of John 3:16? He recognizes three different senses of “the world.” As the “creation of God,”, believers are to receive the world and be thankful for it as God’s gift. As the “world of men,” believers are to love the world of fallen men as God loves it (John 3:16) and strive to evangelize it. As the “world system in rebellion against God,” believers are to reject it and its values. They are to conduct their lives according to the set of values given by God. Love for God and attraction to the “rebellious world system” are incompatible. The world system rejects Christ. Believers must not become engrossed in its outlook or pursuits.  

In 2:16 John continues to talk about the world system in rebellion to God and points out “everything in the world … comes … from the world.” The cravings of sinful man, the lust of the eyes, the boasting of what he possesses and what he does – these are essential marks of the unbelieving way of life. Temptations assault us from without as well as from our old sin nature within. We tend to be captivated by the outward show of things, ignoring enquiring into their real value from God’s viewpoint. Arrogance can be based on circumstances of power, wealth, position, and even dress.  

In 2:17 the message is, “the world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”  We must choose between the “lust and desires of the world” and “the will of God.” The world, like the darkness in it, is already disintegrating. There is transient “apparent pleasure” or there is lasting “eternal life with God.” Choose!

The Test of Right Belief (2:18-27)

“Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. 20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist– he denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. 24 See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is what he promised us– even eternal life. 26 I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. 27 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit– just as it has taught you, remain in him.”

This is the third of John’s questions or tests designed to give assurance to believers with doubts. Many people no longer strictly believe in truth and certainly not in absolute truth. For many people “truth is relative.” We say, “Jesus Christ is God”, and they say, “that may be true for you, but it is not true for me.” Scripture, on the other hand, is emphatic that there are absolute truths – true now and forever, true for everyone, true under all circumstances. These verses of the letter deal with the test of believing truth and related issues.

The key idea in this passage is the proper attitude toward God’s truth as revealed in Jesus Christ. In 2:18-21 a contrast is developed between the antichrists of John’s day and God’s true children – an illustration of the false and the true. In 2:22-23 the test of right belief is presented by identifying the principal heresy against Christ. In 2:24-27 believers are encouraged to fully utilize their defenses against heresy. The two most valuable defenses against heresy are: (1.) The objective truth of the Word of God, and (2.) the work of the Holy Spirit as he illuminates that objective truth to our mind and guards our inner being to protect that truth.

In 2:17 John said, “the world and its desires pass away.” He continues this thought in 2:18 with the statement “this is the last hour.”  He relates evils expected of the last hour to the false teachers who attacked his congregation. He calls the false teachers “antichrists” and contrasts them with God’s true children. The word antichrist is found only in John’s letters (1John 2:18, 2:22, 4:3; 2John 7). But, the concept of the antichrist is common in Scripture and can be found in many places including Daniel 7, Mark 12:22-23, 2Thessaloians 2:3-4, and Revelation 13.  


Antichrist can mean the opposite of Christ, opposed to Christ, or in place of Christ. Thus, an antichrist could appear as a complete opposite of Christ, evil inwardly and in outward behavior. Or, an antichrist could outwardly appear to be much like Christ, presenting a totally false appearance, a deceptive form – like Satan appearing as an “angel of light”. The antichrists John identifies do not seem to be from outside the church. At least for a time, these particular antichrists were within the church apparently as accepted members of the flock. There can be great danger to the Faith from those within the church who are not true to Christ. The spirit that characterizes antichrist was active in John’s time and is even now active. Verse 2:19 implies that perseverance is an ultimate test of being genuinely in Christ. John does not mean that perseverance saves. What he does mean is that those who are truly saved will persevere!  

Institutional Church versus the Universal Church that is “Christ’s Body”

The “visible institutional church” and the “invisible universal church” (that is the Body of Christ) are not identical. Those who left John’s church to become Gnostics had been members of the institutional church, but by leaving they demonstrated that they were not in Christ, not a part of the universal church that is Christ’s body. The institutional church is anxious to guard against false members and would naturally like to be rid of all who are false. However, with His parable of the wheat and tares, our Lord tells us it is often difficult to distinguish true Christians from false Christians. Trying to remove all the tares will likely result in harming the wheat (at many stages of growth wheat and tares closely resemble each other). Christ Himself will separate wheat from tares at the appropriate time, true believers from the false. 

God’s True Children

John pictures God’s true children and contrasts them with the antichrists who left the church. The true children of God have two essential characteristics. They have been anointed by the Holy One (the Holy Spirit) and they know the truth – truth centered in Jesus Christ the Righteous One. In 2:22-23 we find the core of the test of right belief. John vehemently denounces all teaching that subverts the doctrine of the incarnation. While the Gnostics hold many wrong beliefs, one error so overwhelming in its consequences that in comparison other errors pale in significance. The crucial error is the denial that Jesus the man is Christ the Lord come in the flesh, fully man and fully God. To deny that Jesus is the Christ denies the Father as well (John 14:6-7, Matthew 11:27, John 1:18). Anyone who denies Jesus the man is the Christ the Lord remains unregenerate and under God’s just condemnation. This is the terrible consequence of this fundamental error.

Defending Against Personal Error

God has provided means to defend against personal error. Abide in the Word of God – never neglect the Word or minimize its importance – nothing can take its place (2Timothy 3:14-17). All who are in Christ have the indwelling Holy Spirit. Cooperate with the Spirit as He does his gracious work within us. Do not quench or grieve Him, but walk in step with Him. Even false teachers may intellectually know the Word of God, but for believers, the Spirit both illuminates the Word to enhance understanding and applies it to our lives. In this sense, a believer does “not need anyone to teach” them. But notice that the statement that believers do “not need anyone to teach” them is found in a letter in which the Apostle is teaching his readers whom he has said are true believers. Teaching is of value, but the learner needs an independent way of judging the truth of the teaching. That means is Scripture. Truth matters to Christians! The incarnation is a key and essential truth. The third self-examination question is “Do you believe Jesus the man is Christ the Lord come in the flesh?” This is the keystone Christian belief. Without it, the whole structure of Christian belief would collapse.

More on Righteousness (2:28-3:10)

“And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him. 3:1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. 4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. 7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.”

Conduct that is increasingly righteous is one test of our status as a believer. The fact of Christ’s first coming in the flesh and the hope of his coming again should both be strong incentives to righteous behavior that leads to holiness. In 2:27 the Apostle closes his initial comments on right belief with the reminder to “remain in Him” – thus, acknowledging Him to be the incarnate Son, God come in the flesh.

Christ is Coming Again!  (2:28-3:3)

Continue in Him!  Grow like Him in righteousness.  When Christ comes again, believers will be glorified. People will react in one of two ways. Believers can be confident in His presence. Unbelievers will shrink from Him in shame and terror. For unbelievers it will be like Matthew 7:22-23, 22:11-13; Revelation 6:15-17. God is righteous. Those born of God will in their earthly lives exhibit in increasing measure the moral character of God. A believer’s righteous behavior is important evidence of being born again (but righteous behavior is not the cause of being born again). For the Gnostics possessing their secret knowledge was the sign of regeneration. John, however, says that obedient righteous behavior, not mere knowledge, is the true mark of the regenerate.

New Life Hidden With Christ in God

The wonder of God’s love in choosing to make believers His children is overwhelming when we consider our rebellious sin. “Children of God” is not just a title bestowed on us – it is a fact – we are true members of God’s family – all by His grace. Children of God are utterly different from the unregenerate world. As that world did not know Christ for who He was, neither does it know believers for who we are. As the glory of God the Son was veiled in flesh, so our new life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).

Believers’ status as sons and daughters of God is real, but not yet apparent to the world (Romans 8:19). What we will be has not yet been revealed. Like Old Testament prophets, the apostles know only what God chooses to reveal (Deuteronomy 3:24, 1Corinthians 13:8-12). John does not know the exact condition and state of the redeemed in heaven (because it was not revealed to him). But, like Paul, he does know that when Christ comes, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as he is. The new nature, given to believers at conversion, was created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24). Christ will appear, we will see Him, and we will be like Him. This is a living hope, grounded in Christ’s promise (Hebrews 10:23).  Everyone who has this hope purifies himself even as Christ is pure (Corinthians 7:1, 1Peter 1:22). Christ’s blood shed for us cleanses and enables.

Christ Came for a Purpose! (3:4-3:10)

John has argued we must strive to be righteous in view of the fact that Christ is coming again. He continues his argument for righteous behavior but shifts focus to the fact that Christ came, lived, and died for our benefit. Christ came to take away our sins and destroy the devil’s work. John uses repeating patterns, but in each instance emphasizes different aspects. Each pattern has an introductory phrase, a theme statement, a purpose of Christ’s appearing, and the logical conclusion. In 3:4-7 the introductory phrase is “Everyone who sins,” and the theme statement is “the nature of sin is lawlessness.” The purpose of Christ’s coming was to “take away our sins.” The logical conclusion is “no one who lives in him keeps on sinning.”   In 3:8-10, “he who does what is sinful” introduces the theme, which is “the origin of sin is the devil.”. The purpose of Christ’s coming was “to destroy the devil’s work.” The logical conclusion is that “no one born of God continues to sin.” To continue in habitual, deliberate sin is in complete contradiction to the whole purpose of Christ’s coming in the flesh to redeem us. John does not deny the possibility that a Christian will sin (actually says that if we say we do not sin, we lie). He does deny that a true Christian can continually habitually practice sin in rebellious defiance of God’s clear instruction to be righteous. The true Christian has been born of God and the seed of God’s nature remains in him. Righteous living gives evidence that we are indeed born of God and that we are growing in likeness to his character. 

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