John writes with this purpose: “These things I write unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13). Similarly, he begins the epistle by saying, “[T]hat which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ: and these things we write, that our joy may be made full” (1 John 1:3-4).
John wants Christians to “know” that they have eternal life. He desires that they come to a fuller understanding of what it means to be in fellowship with God and what is required to maintain that fellowship. By so doing, they can be confident as Christians and sure of their salvation (cf. Hebrews 4:16; Romans 8:1-3).
Notice the order of things that lead to eternal life.
First, there is that which John saw and heard — the proofs that Jesus is the Son of God (1:1). He came in the flesh for man’s redemption (cf. 4:2; Hebrews 2:14).
Second, there is the preaching of the proof — the apostolic testimony concerning Jesus Christ, the Word of Life. John says, "We bear witness, and declare unto you. . . declare we unto you. . . " (1:2-3).
Third, there is the personal reception of the preaching of the truths concerning Jesus Christ (1:3). Belief (i.e., faith and obedience, cf. Romans 1:5; 16:26) that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God” who “became flesh and dwelt among us,” is the basis of fellowship with the apostles, which is fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ (cf. John 20:30-31; 1:14; Luke 10:16).
Fourth, there is the promise of genuine fellowship with God, which will bring about the ultimate joy for the Christian — eternal life (1:4; cf. 2:24-25).
After John introduces these important points, he focuses in the balance of the book on our fellowship with God. Christ has come. We can enjoy eternal life with God through Christ. But we must receive the teaching of Jesus Christ in doctrine and in daily living.
The letter’s main body begins with 1:5-10. Fellowship with God is not merely accepting and affirming the truths of Christianity; it is also adopting a way of life — a life consistent with God’s nature and will. This is the kind of life that Jesus led.
From a study of these verses, we learn that the Christian life is more than a profession. It is possible to profess something that is not true. In order for us to know (cf. 5:13) that we have fellowship with God, what we say and what we do must correspond to God’s will.
As we consider these verses, we learn about some errors to avoid, and we learn some truths to embrace.
In order to have fellowship with God we must avoid the following errors:
- We cannot walk in darkness (i.e., habitually live in sin) (1:6).
- We cannot claim that sin has no real significance in our lives (1:8; cf. Romans 7:14-25).
- We cannot assert that we have not sinned (1:10; cf. Romans 3:23).
It is necessary, therefore, that we properly view ourselves with respect to sin. Sin is a fact of our past and a fight in the present.
With this biblical view of sin and self, we may embrace the following redemptive truths: We can be cleansed of sin by the blood of Christ (1:7). And God is faithful and righteous to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1:9).
What wonderful promises! But these are conditional promises (note the word “if” in these verses). We must walk in the light, and we must confess our sins (1:7,9). What a blessing this letter of 1 John is, for it explains and illustrates what it means to walk in light.
Should we conclude from 1:6-10 that we forfeit fellowship with God when we “commit a sin”? No. If we are sincere and diligent, we have an Advocate (2:1). Jesus Christ is the means by which we receive forgiveness (1:7; 2:2).
Living in sin (i.e., walking in darkness, 1:6) and committing a sin (2:1) are not the same. We cannot practice sin. We must abstain from “every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). Sins of thought, word, and action are all inappropriate for our lives. Our lives must not be characterized by habitual sin.
As we “keep on walking in the light,” however, we may commit a sin. John says this a reality: "If any man sin. . . " (2:1). The grammatical mood (subjunctive) indicates that such a possibility exists.
But if we will forsake a life of sin, if we will take sin seriously, if we will remember that we have sinned in the past, if we walk in the light, and if we confess our sins — then when we do commit a sin, the blood of Jesus our Advocate “keeps on cleansing us” (1:7; 2:1).
In 2:3-6, John develops some characteristics of “walking in the light.” We must live according to God’s commandments (2:3), keep his word (2:5), and exemplify Christ in our lives (2:6). When we live like this, we can be sure that we are in fellowship with God and have eternal life (2:3; 5:13).
What about other Christians? What obligation do we have towards them? “He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even until now” (2:9). Since we are to “walk, even as he walked” (2:6), we must be characterized by love — not hate.
This is not something new (2:7). This is fundamental to Christianity, and it had been taught from the beginning of Christ’s ministry and from the beginning of the readers’ conversion (2:7).
In a different sense, this is a new commandment (2:8). It is a new way of thinking, for according to the world’s wisdom, sacrificial love is foolishness.
This is another test to determine if we are in the light. If we think, talk, and behave like the darkness, we are in the darkness. If we are in the light, as he is in the light, we will be concerned about others with a love for their souls.
The term love (agape) means that we, like God (cf. Romans 5:6-8), seek the saving interests of others. “Love in this epistle means an unselfish devotion to the welfare of the brother. . . not primarily emotional but spiritual” (Fred L. Fisher, The Biblical Expositor, Vol. 3, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1960, p. 442).
The opposite of love is hate. The late brother Guy N. Woods wrote:
“The word hate (miseo) here does not indicate the degree, but merely the fact of such a disposition. When it exists in any degree, he who manifests it is yet in the darkness. Let him who holds malice in his heart against a brother in Christ recognize his position and see the folly of pretension which his conduct belies. He deceives no one by his allegation” (A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles, Vol.7, Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1987, pp. 229-30).
We may profess love, but our actions will tell the story. The seriousness of hate is, in part, because those infected with malicious hearts do not acknowledge it (2:11); it leads to spiritual ruin. For this reason, we must examine our lives in light of the Scriptures, not on the basis of our feelings or pretensions. A Christian must be Christ-like. He must live with redemptive concern for his brethren.
In 1 John 2:1-11, the apostle outlines three tests of fellowship with God: keeping God’s commandments, exemplifying Christ in our lives, and loving the brethren. Now, in verses 12-17, John focuses our attention on another test: separating ourselves from worldly standards of living.
Since we are saved, we ought to be separated. The world lives according to the principles of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (2:16). These standards are nigh unto passing away (i.e., they are temporary, earthly, and lead to destruction).
Verses 12-14 are foundational to verses 15-17. John first makes a direct appeal. He does not intend — by the affirmation of verse 11 — for the readers to think they are in darkness. But his encouraging words (vv. 12-14) do not nullify the need for caution (vv. 15-17).
So, John acknowledges that his readers’ sins are forgiven (2:12); they know Christ (2:13-14); they overcome the evil one (2:13); they know the Father (2:13); they are strong (2:14); they have the Word of God in them (2:14). But their fellowship with God should not lead to carelessness. They must maintain separation from the world.
John calls for vigilance: “Love not the world” (2:15). In these three verses (2:15-17), John uses the expression “the world” six times. As Leon Morris observes, “He draws attention to the world as something that could become of absorbing interest” (“1 John,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, Donald Guthrie, et al., Eds., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970, p. 1264).
“Worldly love,” from which we must abstain, is incompatible with the love of the Father (2:15c). To “love the world” is to have a fixation on the temporal, rather than theeternal. It involves a concentration to “pamper the appetite, to please the eye, or to promote pride in living” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1962, p. 1475).
The “opportunity” to live according to such standards is temporary. The alternative — to love God and things that are eternal — brings eternal rewards (2:17). Thus, John cautions that we be separate from the world that we may be in fellowship with God —now and in eternity.
Fellowship maintenance, for our part, means that we must walk in light, confess our sins, keep His commandments, exemplify Christ, love the brethren, and love not the world.
In 2:18-29, John discusses the need for Christians to adhere to the truth, and reject error. He writes, “And as for you, let that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning” (2:24). Similarly Paul writes, “As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and builded up in him, and established in your faith, even as ye were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6-7; emphasis added).
John outlines the reasons they should “let that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning” (2:24). What they had been taught was from Him (2:27). Since this was divine revelation, it was all-sufficient (2:27; cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Because it was from God, it was true (2:27).
Therefore, “If that which ye heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son, and in the Father” (2:24). Consequently, those in fellowship (i.e., abiding) with the Father and Son are those who will receive the promise of eternal life (2:25). They must, in order to be saved, remain in the truth (cf. 2 John 9).
False doctrine can “lead astray” (2:26); it endangers the prospect of life eternal (2:25). The readers were taught that there would be opposition to Christ that could distract Christians and distort Christianity (i.e., antichrist; 2:18). John did not prophesy, though, about one sinister person who is supposed to appear shortly before the Lord’s second coming. The apostle said that there were, at that time, “many antichrists” (2:18).
The New Testament revealed the fact that wide-spread apostasy would exist (cf. 2
Thessalonians 2:1ff; 1 Timothy 4:1-3). And John says that opposition to Christ comes in many ways. For instance, some deny that Jesus is the Christ (2:22), while others deny that Jesus the Christ came in the flesh (4:2-3). Like our Lord (cf. Matthew 7:15), John calls their attention to the reality of false prophets (2:18; 4:1). Herein is another test of fellowship with God — abiding in the truth — which is holding on to inspired teaching and rejecting error. These things are written that you might know that you have eternal life (5:13).
The second chapter concludes, “[E]very one also that doeth righteousness is begotten of him.” Fellowship with God is being in the family of God.
What are the benefits, challenges, and responsibilities for God’s family? The children of God benefit from the Father’s love. God loves “the world,” yet He has “bestowed” His redemptive love only on those who have responded to His grace (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 5:1-2). A child of God should “stand amazed” at the nature of his Father’s love.
A challenge confronts the children of God in that the world does not know them. The world does not comprehend the reason for godly conduct. The world does not understand the joy or sorrow of Christians. The world considers them as fools or fanatics since they bypass its “pleasures” (cf. 2:15-16). The world treated Christ the same way.
As children of God, we live in hope (cf. 2:25). We understand that we do not know everything about the Lord’s return. But this we do know: “we will be like him” (3:2). This is the Christians’ hope — to be “like him.” Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), and our confident expectation is that this body of humiliation will be conformed to the body of His glory (Philippians 3:21; cf. Romans 8:11,23).
A responsibility follows for every child of God on the basis of this hope. We must keep on purifying ourselves according to the standard of His purity (3:3).
John has outlined a number of our responsibilities as Christians. We must walk in the light, confess sins, keep the commandments, exemplify Christ, love the brethren, love not the world, and continue in the truth. In the same way, we must progress in the divine standard for a pure life.
This means that we must recognize the nature of sin (3:4), the nature of Christ’s mission (3: 5,8), and the nature and destiny of the children of God versus the children of the devil (3:6-10).
It was important for John’s readers to understand this. They would be led astray if they believed that God did not take notice of the lives of Christians. We should not be led astray either. We do hope, but how do we live? Let us live in view of heaven as our home, God as our Father, and Jesus Christ as our Redeemer. And when we do “commit a sin,” if we are walking in the light, His blood keeps on cleansing us.
The child of God will practice righteousness and love his brother. “Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother” (3:10). This truth leads John to discuss the principles of love and hate in depth.
First John 3:11 introduces the dominate thought in the next section: “We should love one another.” The opposite of love is hate, and hate seeks to destroy. Cain is an example of hate (3:12).
We should not be surprised if we are the focus of the world’s hatred (3:13), for the world does not understand the principles by which we live (3:1). In fact, the world will often hate us just because we are righteous (3:12). But love in our lives will demonstrate that we are not of the world (3:14).
John is not saying that “loving one another” is the only requirement for salvation. He previously wrote that we must also keep the commandments (2:4-5). Additionally, we must believe that Jesus is the Son of God (3:24).
This is John’s point about love. If we have obeyed the gospel, and are thereby children of God, there must be abiding, loving proof. “Being a Christian” is not just what we did; it is also who we have become. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren” (3:14). Loving the brethren is not the only thing that a Christian does, but it is a necessary one.
Hate seeks to destroy. If we entertain malicious thoughts about the ruin of others, we are in the same class as a murderer.
Love seeks to save. Do you want to know what love is? Look at Christ (3:16). He loved; He did not love those who loved Him first (4:10). So, if we love the souls of our brethren, we ought to be willing to do that which we are able to help them go to heaven (3:16c)
Love identifies a spiritual need and responds. If we’ve been converted, then we understand that God saw our need, and gave His Son. Should we not live according to the same principle? Therefore, “let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth” (3:18).
We want to know that we’re right with God — right now. We realize that fellowship with God is more than a profession. John clearly makes this point.
God knows that we, as sincere people, will experience doubts about our salvation. The divine standard is so high, and we are so weak. When we consider our spiritual weakness and failures, “our heart condemns us” (3:20).
But God wants us to have confidence. He wants us to know that we are saved. But the assurance of our salvation is not an emotional feeling. It is not a subjective question. God gives us the knowledge in His Word (5:13). God gives us the confidence to “know that we are of the truth” (3:19).
John says that this is how we know (note: “hereby”) that we are “of the truth.” In other words, “Here is the way we have confidence in our salvation.”
We inherited traits from our parents. If God is our spiritual Father, we will be like Him (2:29; 3:9-10). God is love. Here is the way we know that we are begotten of God (i.e., are of the truth): by loving others as God does (3:18) — by believing and living according to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We know our weaknesses, and these discourage us. But God knows our motives, intentions, and concerns. He knows if we want to be pleasing to Him (3:22), and He knows if we are keeping His commandments (3:24). He knows if we believe in His Son, and He knows if we love others (3:23).
“God is greater than our hearts.” Therefore, “we have boldness toward God.” God gives us the confidence to overcome doubts. Our assurance is in Him
. Confidence comes from realizing that He has perfect knowledge of our sincerity to live like Christ and of our commitment to keep the commandments (3:24). God knows. Our Advocate pleads and interceeds (cf. 2:1; Hebrews 7:25). Because of who God is, what He has done, and what He continues to do, we can walk in the light, being confident as Christians and sure of salvation.