I am thankful for our study of 1 John and gladly admit my understanding of 1 John was greatly changed and shaped by studying this book. Before our study, it always seemed as if John was just presenting many tests for you to see if you are really a true Christian or just someone who is professing to be one. I thought John was almost condemning his audience for not being perfect because of his black and white approach. I couldn’t figure out why John was so harsh to these believers he was writing too, and I couldn’t understand how this book encouraged the audience he was writing to. If you’ve read 1 John and had similar thoughts then I’m glad you are reading this blog post.
What a shallow and incomplete understanding of this wonderful letter I had. Not only was I missing the entire tone of the letter, but I was missing John’s focus as well. Before we can get to the heart of the letter it is important to look at both the context and background of the letter.
John, the author of this letter, was a disciple of Jesus and saw the risen Christ. He was between the ages of 20 and 30 when he was discipled by Jesus back in 30-33AD. This letter was written between 85-95AD, which means that John wrote this letter as a much older man, between 70 and 80 years old, and it had been many years since Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The audience of this letter was the believers at the churches of Ephesus and Corinth. John was a spiritual father to these believers as he was a leader for their churches. John is held in high regard by these believers and cares for them deeply as well. John lovingly addresses his audience as “little children” repeatedly in the letter. This is not a derogatory term or John claiming to be superior to his readers, but rather highlights his close relationship and love for them.
Now that we know John’s relationship to his audience we ought to look at the purpose and focus of the letter. John’s main focus is to assure his audience of their salvation.
1 John 5:13 – “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
Why would John write a letter to assure these believers? What happened that prompted John to write this letter to believers he had taught for years and knew well? We find the reason why John assured these believers in chapter 2. There were individuals who once were part of the church that decided to abandon the truth for other teaching.
1 John 2:19 – “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”
As some individuals left the church it led to others doubting if what they really believed was the truth and wondering if they had been deceived all this time. John wrote this letter to address these believers and to assure them of their salvation. Likewise, when we see how John assures his audience they believe the truth it also assures us of our salvation.
How does John assure believers of their salvation and that they believe the truth?
First, John points out that he was an eyewitness of Jesus when he was on earth and the words John shared are what he heard directly from Christ. John is not making up the gospel he shared and points out that we share in the same fellowship with God and with His Son Jesus Christ that John does, even though we were not a witness of Christ while he was on earth.
1 John 1:3 “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us, and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
Second, John assures his audience while discussing sin and confession of sin. John knows that believers still sin, and reminds them that Jesus is our advocate with the Father when we sin. We ought to confess our sins and receive forgiveness because Jesus paid the price for our sins, so that they would no longer separate us from God. We know God will forgive us, what an amazing truth and comfort this is for believers.
1 John 2:1 “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins.”
Third, John discusses the evidence in a professing believer’s life that they are a true believer. This evidence includes obedience to God’s commandments, loving fellow believers, and not loving the world. The way John discusses this evidence could be incorrectly understood as tests that one either passes of fails. One could think John said there is no room for error or making a mistake, and if one sins then they are not a true believer.
As seen above John discussed that Jesus is our advocate, and in 1:9-10 John says “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and just to forgive us our sins and to cleans us from all unrighteousness”. Once I correctly understood John’s tone and love for these believers it is clear he is not condemning them for their failures. Our faith and obedience to the word is important, but John makes it clear we do not earn our salvation by works, as we still confess our sins and receive forgiveness from God.
Forth, John acknowledges that his audience is facing antichrists, and states “Even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). There are even antichrists now and during John’s time as well as he says “Who is the liar, but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ?” Christ means anointed in Greek, as Jesus was anointed to the specific office of saving sinners through his death and resurrection.
This provides assurance for his audience in light of the fact that people are abandoning the teaching of the gospel that John shared with them. It does not mean we do not know the truth. Our faith can be strong and we can trust that what John shared are the truths that Jesus taught. John also says “Every spirit that does not confess that Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. (1 John 3:2-3). John assures his audience that their faith ought not to be shaken in light of the fact that others have abandoned what John shared with them. John is comforting his audience as they could have doubted their faith and wondering if they had been deceived all this time, since some had left their churches.
Fifth, John assures his readers on the basis that God himself has testified that Jesus is the Son of God, as seen in chapter 5. At Jesus’ baptism God testified that Jesus is his Son (Matt 3:17). On the cross God testified that Jesus is the Son of God, as seen in the supernatural events of the earthquake, the darkness, and the veil of the temple being torn in two (Matt 27: 45-51). These were supernatural occurrences and evidence of God testifying to the truth that Jesus is the Son of God.
After reading this letter there are such amazing truths that John delights to remind his audience of, especially during a time when they could have had doubts about their faith and if what John taught them was the truth. We can know God and can be reconciled to Him because Christ paid the price for our sins, that we may receive salvation instead of condemnation. Let us be amazed at the assurance we have from God that no matter what our circumstances are the gospel is the truth. God revealed himself and his love for us in his Word, and now we are able to praise and worship Him in response.
Eph 1:5-6 “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”
Finally, I encourage you to read the entire letter, and to see how John’s tone of assurance is present throughout the entire letter. These are some of the amazing truths and promises of all true believers:
1 John 2:12 – “Because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake
1 John 2:13 – “You have overcome the evil one”
1 John 2:13 – “You know the Father”
1 John 2:14 – “the word of God abides in you”
1 John 2:20 – ”You have an anointing from the Holy One”
1 John 2:21 – “I have no written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it”
1 John 3:1 – “That we would be called children of God, and such we are.”
1 John 3:2 – “We know that when he appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is”
1 John 3:24 – “By the Spirit whom He has given us”
1 John 4:4 – “Because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world”
1 John 4:10 “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins”
1 John 5:20 – “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true; in His Son Jesus Christ.”