1 John chapter one reminds us a great deal of the opening chapter of the Gospel of John. In the Gospel the first verse tells us, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) In 1 John he begins by stating, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.”1 John 1:1, 2
In the Gospel of John we are given the big picture introduction to the divinity of Jesus, but here in 1 John he carries that theme into the realm of the personal. He states, “we have heard,” “we have seen,” “we have looked upon and touched with our hands,” “we saw it, and testify to it,” and “proclaim to you the eternal life.” (see 1 John 1:1, 2) This introduction to the chapter also reminds me very much of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at the Day of Pentecost. “And suddenly a sound came from heaven, like the rush of a mighty wind,” “and there appeared to them,” “tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them,” and “began to speak.” Acts 2:1-4
In both 1 John 1:1, 2 and Acts 2:1-4 the relationship with Christ has become very relational and personable. We sense the work of God in the life of the individuals and the moving of the Holy Spirit shaping and directing their thoughts and actions. While the Gospel of John chapter one gives us a wonderful overview of all that is to happen in the rest of the book, both 1 John and Acts carry the theology of that introduction into the practical experiential side of the Christian walk.
The importance of the opening verses in 1 John and the emphasis upon experiencing Jesus is so his readers can have fellowship with fellow Christians and that fellowship is based on a relationship with the Father and Jesus Christ. (v. 3)
I find verse four to be very interesting for those of us who wish to grow closer to God. “And we are writing this that our joy may be complete.” (See John 3:29) A Christian’s joy is not wrapped up in a “me me” religion where everything revolves around what we can get out of God. True joy for a disciple is seeing others find Christ and enter into fellowship with Him.
This has been a central point of controversy within the church for centuries. A legalistic, law orientated system of belief always leads to self-centeredness in the spiritual growth of the individual. The person becomes more focused on making sure they are keeping all the rules, “perfectly” in order to help guarantee their own salvation. These Christians, regardless of how well intentioned, have taken the focus off of God and placed it upon their own performance. When that happens there is little time for ministry and prayer for the lost, because all their efforts and prayers are geared to their own needs and striving for salvation.
John rejects that way of thinking in this beautiful introduction to his letter. He makes it clearer than clear that his greatest wish is for his fellow travellers to experience Jesus as he and the other disciples had experienced Him. And because they, the disciples, did experience Christ they can now confidently say to the readers of the book that they, “proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.” John’s joy is not in his own striving for salvation because that is assured already through the cross, but in seeing people come to Christ through the hearing of the Gospel.
So, what is this message that John has heard and proclaims to us? It is, “that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; 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 cleanses us from all sin.” I John 1:5-7 Once again, this reminds us of the Gospel of John 1:4-9. John is reminding us, however, in 1 John that it is hypocrisy to say we are in fellowship with Christ and continue to live a purposeful sinful life. To be a follower of Christ is to live in harmony with the light God shines upon us through the, “blood of Jesus His Son,” that, “cleanses us from all sin.” (see 1 John 1:5-7)
John makes it clear in verse eight that he is not talking about sinless perfection. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” He goes on to write, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” (v. 9, 10)
You and I are sinners and always will be this side of Heaven. We stumble and fall continually because we have a sinful nature that rebels against God. If you think you have overcome that nature, then read Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount about our very thoughts condemning us, then ask yourself if you have never sinned even in thought. But, we are not left in the misery of sin and death, but are redeemed by the blood of Christ. He lived a perfect life thus fulfilling the demands of the law and then He died at Calvary and fulfilled the penalty of the law. When we “confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” (1 John 1:9) because He became our substitute taking our place in death. He became our sin bearer and we received the declaration that we are redeemed. When the Father sees us He sees us in Christ covered by the blood of Jesus and the Father sees us, not as we see ourselves, but sinless in Christ.
To believe that you can live without sinning or be perfect undermines the entire Cross event. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice and to think I can add one iota of merit to that sacrifice by my Christian living is to belittle Jesus perfect life of obedience for us, His torture and beating at the hands of the Romans and the agony of Crucifixion as He carried the sins of the world to that cross.
In chapter two of 1 John he writes, “I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (v. 1, 2) Of course, as we have already mentioned a Christian is not to willingly and knowingly sin. We can’t say because we love Jesus we can continue to be serial killers or muggers. But, John is a practical theologian and he makes it clear that if and when we sin we are not abandoned because we have an advocate with the Father. Notice there is no emphasis on our righteousness because we don’t have any, but upon Jesus righteousness. He paid the ransom for our sins and not only ours, but the whole world. When you and I fail ourselves and God we are not cast down or abandoned by Jesus. We ask forgiveness, allow the Holy Spirit to pick us up and continue to lead in our life.
In his book on Prayer Philip Yancey relates the story of a well-known evangelist who once had a woman approach him after a meeting and told him that she had a word from the Lord for him and the congregation. He was not sure about this so he told the woman to go home and pray. He told her to ask God what he had recently prayed about regarding a lapse in his character judgment. If God revealed that to her he would be more than open to hear her message. She went home and prayed and the next day returned. The pastor asked her “what did God say when you asked Him about my situation.” She answered, “He said He can’t remember.” When you and I bring our sins to Jesus they are forgiven and forgotten. We have nothing to fear as long as we walk in the light of God’s love, trusting Him for our redemption and allowing the Spirit to guide our journey.
Some of you are wondering about the next verses in 1 John that talk about the commandments. We will look at what is being said there in the next post.
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