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By Pastor Jeff Wickwire
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1st John Series
When John wrote this first letter he was an old man, feeling the weight of his years and aware that his days on earth were coming to a close.
His native land was far away in the land of Israel, and he now lived in Ephesus, a pagan city containing a church to which Paul the Apostle had addressed his famous letter to the Ephesians.
John was born in Bethsaida, a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee. He had been one of a family of four: his father was a well-to-do fisherman; his mother, Salome, was sister to the Virgin Mary; his brother, James, was the first apostle to be martyred.
John was one of the first two disciples called by Jesus, and along with James and Peter, had enjoyed the position of one of the inner three in Jesus’ circle of disciples. We’re also told that John was called “the beloved disciple,” or “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20-24).
By nature, John had a fiery disposition, for which the Lord nicknamed him “son of thunder” (Mark 3:17). But by now, in his old age, he has greatly mellowed.
We will see in this series that John writes in terms of black and white with no tones of gray. Everything is true or false, good or bad, right or wrong, light or darkness, love or hate, life or death.
John is mentioned 3 times in the Book of Acts during the early days of the church. After the famous Jerusalem conference of Acts 15, he disappears off the radar screen for forty years, and returns into the spotlight toward the end of the first century to deal with a rising tide of apostasy.
Tradition tells us that John lived into old age dying sometime after AD 98. He is thought to have died in Ephesus, from which he wrote this letter.
He wrote the Gospel according to John somewhere around AD 80 to 98; First, Second and Third John from AD 90 to 95, and the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ from AD 94 to 98.
One other important detail is that John wrote for the third generation of Christians from the passing of Jesus. Peter, Paul, James and Jude all wrote for the first and second generations of believers. But due to his long life, John passed over two generations to write for an increasingly backslidden and apostate third generation.
And that’s the way great moves of God tend to roll. The first generation involved in a move of God is on fire and motivated by conviction. Bible truths have gripped their hearts and they live to tell the world about them, even on threat of martyrdom.
The second generation inherits these truths from their parents and leaders, but the conviction that drove the first generation softens into a milder belief by the second generation. They believe the Bible truths they have been taught, and will debate them, defend them, and spread them. But the fire and passion are gone.
By the third generation, the generation John wrote to, the belief melts into a simple opinion. The third generation have neither the fire of the first generation, or the firmly held beliefs of the second generation.
Unfortunately, they will dilute first-generation truth, change it, accept counterfeits, and even traffic in error. It is THIS third generation that needed a revival, and is the generation to whom John wrote.
Now, 3 major heresies had gained traction with this 3rd generation. One was the denial of the deity of Christ—He was just another created being, not very God wrapped in a human body.
A second heresy taught that He had not come in the flesh; He had been some kind of phantom with no physical body.
And a third heresy taught against the two natures of Christ—the human and the divine. You will often hear me say, “Jesus was all man and all God, all God and all man!” This is what this 3rd heresy taught against.
We’re about to see that John will indignantly deny all three of these heresies, and he fires the first shot in the first verse:
1:1 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life”
So much for the denial that Christ had a human body! John says, “We heard Him, saw Him, touched Him!” He was no phantom!
John had walked with Him in person for over 3 years and knew better. He fully knew that Jesus was the eternal, uncreated, self-existing Word made flesh. He was all God and all Man. The God Man!
As a Man, Jesus experienced weariness, hunger, thirst, joy, and pain. Isaiah prophesied He would be “well acquainted with grief” (53:3).
And as God, Jesus defied natural law to walk on water. He defied disease and infirmities to heal the impossibly sick, cleanse lepers, open blind eyes and deaf ears. He defied the very grave itself to raise the dead! All God!
John goes on to describe Him:
1:2 “the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—”
The eternal life Christ had enjoyed before coming to earth was manifested in His ability to raise the dead. He told Mary and Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life,” and “whoever believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live!” (John 11:25-26)
So John says, “we...declare to you (as eyewitnesses) that eternal life!”
And in the next 2 verses he reinforces his status as an eyewitness of Jesus’s life and ministry, as if to say to the false teachers ‘We were there and you weren’t!” He says:
1:3a “that which we have seen and heard we declare to you,”
We saw Him. Heard Him. Touched Him. Ate with Him. Walked with Him. Witnessed His miracles. Away with the thought He wasn’t here in human form!
And then he gives the purpose for his letter:
1:3b “that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
When we read John’s gospel, he focuses on the life of God in Christ; but his epistle focuses on the life of God in us. He says, “We have genuine fellowship with God. His life is in us!”
As Peter wrote, we have become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4), when we are born again. The eternal life that was inherent in Christ Jesus, is now inherited by the Christian. And that inheritance brings us into fellowship with the Father and the Son.
And finally, John gives one last motive for writing”
1:4 “And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”
The good news is also glad news; it brings joy!
Next, John addresses two things: Our walk and our confession.
He begins with telling us something wonderful about God:
1:5 “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.”
Notice that this message about God being light came to them from Jesus Himself. This is what Jesus had taught them about God! God is light and in Him is not a shred or hint of darkness.
James wrote the same thing: “But whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God, the Creator of all light, and he shines forever without change or shadow” (1:17).
Darkness can’t cohabit with light. Darkness never drives out light, but light always drives out darkness. The first thing God did in creation was to “command the light to shine out of darkness” (2 Cor. 4:6). The very first thing God created was light. He said “Let there be light” and there was light” (Gen. 1:3).
Now, with that in mind, John launches into a thrice repeated phrase—“If we say.” The first “If we say” is found in verse 6:
1:6 “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”
Here we find that John’s teaching is filled with absolutes. There is no gray area, no twilight zone with him. If we say we are walking with God, that we have been born again, that we are His child, but walk about in moral and spiritual darkness, we are living a lie.
Paul the Apostle said as much to the Corinthians, “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14 NLT)
John is not talking about sinless perfection. He is not saying we won’t sin, make mistakes, or fall short of God’s standards. He is talking about a lifestyle of either walking in the light or walking in the dark.
There is no way we can claim to be in fellowship with Jesus if our lifestyle is one of practicing sin, if we look and act just like the world!
Then in verse 7, John gives two huge advantages to walking in the light:
1:7 “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
To walk in the light means that we harbor nothing shady, nothing we would not want to be seen and known.
Again, this is not about sinless perfection, it’s about keeping short accounts with God. It’s about being honest and transparent before Him and others. It’s about no secret works of darkness that we embrace and cling to.
If we walk honestly and transparently before God, confessing sins when need be, then “we have fellowship with one another.”
I’ve noticed through my years as a pastor that one of the first things a backslider in heart does is separate from fellowship. They can’t handle walking with someone who walks in the light. So they pull away from church, from Christian friends, and you begin to see them hanging with people who also walk in the shadows.
But even more importantly, the second great advantage to walking in the light is that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin!
If we walk in the dark, our sin separates us from fellowship with the Lord.
The only recourse for the true child of God is to repent and get back into the light. And having repented of our sin, the blood of Jesus—and only the blood of Jesus—cleanses us from ALL sin! His blood washes our sin completely away!
Next, John uses the phrase “if we say” a second time:
1:8 “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
We live in a culture that increasingly rejects the whole notion of SIN. We often hear, “What do I have to repent of?” But John says that if you say you have no sin, you’re deceiving your own soul.
It reminds me of the verse in Proverbs, “There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes, yet is not washed from its filthiness” (30:12).
But the Bible says, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Pr. 28:13).
And that is John’s message in the next verse:
1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Remember, John is primarily speaking to believers. When a believer sins, they must first confess it to God. If we have offended others we must also confess to them our wrong.
When we confess, the Lord will both forgive us and cleanse us of all wrongdoing, restoring our fellowship with Him, and with the body of Christ.
In closing, John returns to those who insist they have not sinned:
1:10 “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”
God has repeatedly testified in His Word that all humanity has sinned. And what could be more wicked than to call God a liar?
In Romans 1-3, the Holy Spirit thoroughly exposes the sinfulness of the human race.
It says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Ro. 3:23).
Again it says, “No one is good—no one in all the world is innocent.” 11 No one has ever really followed God’s paths or even truly wanted to.12 Every one has turned away; all have gone wrong. No one anywhere has kept on doing what is right; not one. 13 Their talk is foul and filthy like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are loaded with lies. Everything they say has in it the sting and poison of deadly snakes.14 Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness” (Ro. 3:10-14).
So when we say we have no sin, we reveal that “His Word is not in us.”
In closing, the first great work of the Holy Spirit in our life is to convict us of sin. Jesus said, “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8).
The Spirit’s work is to convict us of the nature of sin, the need for righteousness, and the nearness of judgment.
Thank God for the light of God’s Presence!
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