Today we will consider the first general epistle of the Apostle John. This was written late in the first century A.D., likely from Ephesus to the churches of Asia Minor. John wants to warn against false teaching, and encourage the church to continue to live holy lives, love one another, and be assured of our salvation. John begins by countering false teaching. There were those who said that Christ was not God. John says He is eternal (“from the beginning” – 1:1). He Who was with the Father became manifest (v. 2). Some said Jesus didn’t actually become physical, but just appeared to be physical. John says He was seen and touched. John is sharing his eyewitness testimony so that those that believe can be brought into fellowship with the church and God (v. 3) and have joy in this life (v. 4).
John then addresses the Christian life. God is pure light, that is, goodness (v. 5). If we say we have that fellowship of verse 3 and yet live in darkness (sin), we are fooling ourselves (v. 6). It is living lives of light (good) that assure us we are in that fellowship (v. 7). But at the same time, if we say we have no sin at all, we are fooling ourselves (v. 8). We are to confess our sins to God Who is just to forgive us because that sin has already been paid for (v. 9). If we think we don’t need that payment on our behalf, we are fooling ourselves (v. 10).
John now clarifies: he wants us to live lives that aim to avoid sin, even though sin is unavoidable (2:1). And when we do sin, we have Jesus Christ, Who paid for our sins (v. 2). And we know our sins have been paid for if we live lives obedient to Him (v. 3). Otherwise, we are fooling ourselves (v. 4). He repeats that obedience is a sign of our salvation (vv. 5-6). This is how it has always been (v. 7), but especially since Christ has come (v. 8). John is referring to Christ’s commandment to love one another (v. 9 – see John 13:34). Those that obey this commandment abide in God’s light (v. 10), and those who disobey do not (v 11).
John then rhetorically addresses all Christians (the “little children,” “fathers,” “young men” are not really distinctions). We have forgiveness for our sins (v. 12) because we know the eternal Son and the Father, we have overcome Satan through our faith (v. 13 – see 1:1), and because the Word of God abides in us (v. 14). This may refer to the Scriptures taking root in us, or refer to Christ’s presence by the Spirit (or maybe both). Either way, it is how we love God over the world (v. 15). He is eternal, but the world is coming to an end (v. 17).
John then warns about false teachers, or anti-Christs (opponent of Christ). We are in the last days (v. 18). While there is a final anti-Christ that will come, already there are anti-Christs in the world. That is how we know we are in the last days. That these are false teachers is evident, because John describes them as those who “went out from us” who didn’t “continue with us” (v. 19). John is speaking about teachers within the church who through their false doctrine revealed themselves as opponents of Christ. True believers are not fooled, because the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth (v. 20).
John then speaks of the liars who deny that Jesus is the Christ, and deny the Father and the Son (v. 22). John is speaking throughout of Christian orthodoxy – belief in Jesus as God in the flesh and in the Trinity. This has been Christian doctrine “from the beginning” (v. 24) and is the litmus test for whether or not one has eternal life (v. 25). The false teachers are teaching contrary to these things (v. 26) by saying Jesus is not truly God or is not truly human (see 1:1-3). This is contrary to the Holy Spirit that gives us knowledge of the truth (v. 27 – see v. 20). We should live according to this knowledge of the truth so that we will not be ashamed of how we have lived at His return (v. 28) and so we can have assurance of our salvation (v. 29).
We are children of God (3:1). Since the world doesn’t know our Father, it does not know us. In other words, we live different from the world because we are different from the world. And when Christ returns, we will be like Him (v. 2). Our hope in that should lead us to live holy lives now (v. 3) instead of sinful lives (v. 4). He has taken away our sin (v. 5) so we cannot live in sin (v. 6). And if we were not saved (made righteous), we couldn’t live righteously (v. 7). John is drawing a contrast between those born of God and those born of the devil (vv. 9-10). Our actions will make it quite clear which we are. And the action we are to take, is to love (v. 11), as opposed to Cain who was born of the devil and murdered (v. 12, 15). Our love gives us assurance of our standing in Christ (v. 14), as does the persecution of the world (v 13).
Christ is our example of love (v. 16 – see John 15:13). His was an active love that sacrificed everything. So our love should be active not just in word, but in deed (vv. 17-18). If our love is active, we can be assured of our salvation (v. 19). Because God is the One Who overcomes the natural tendencies of our heart (v. 20). John then ties together belief in orthodox doctrine about Christ, and following His commandments (v. 23). These and the witness of the Holy Spirit assure us of our salvation (v. 25).
John then tells us to “test the spirits” (4:1). This is referring to true doctrine that coms from the Holy Spirit, and false doctrine that comes from the powers of darkness. If one teaches that Jesus is God in the flesh, his teaching is from the Spirit (v. 2). If one teaches otherwise, he is deceived by Satan and opposed to Christ (v. 3). And we must remember that the Spirit within us is greater than the powers of darkness in the world (v. 4). Those who believe right doctrine are saved, and those who believe false doctrine about the Person of Christ and the Trinity are not (vv. 5-6).
John then returns to loving one another. If we are of God, we will love one another (v. 7). If we are not, we won’t (v. 8). He then again points to the greatest example of love in Christ (vv. 9-10) as the reason to love one another (v. 11) which will manifest God in the world (v. 12). John then focuses back in on what the Spirit reveals to us, which is the doctrine of the Trinity (vv. 13-15). He then repeats that those who are of God will love (v. 16) and can have assurance of salvation (v. 17). The fear that “perfect love” casts out is fear of judgment (v. 18). Those who love like God know they are free from judgment. And we can only love God, because He loved us in Christ (v. 19). If we do not love like God yet believe we need not fear judgment, we are fooling ourselves (v. 20).
John then repeats that right doctrine and love are proof of our salvation (5:1-2). If we are saved, we will love God, and if we love God, we will love His children. If we love God, we will keep his commandments (v. 3). And if we love and keep His commandments, we will overcome the world through our faith in Christ, God in the flesh (vv. 4-5). The “water and the blood” of verse 6 refers to the regeneration of the Spirit and the death of Christ. They are mutually dependent on each other. The Holy Spirit, the regeneration He works in us, and the death of Christ all point to the truth of Who Christ is and what He has done and is doing (v. 8). This ties in the testimony of the Spirit with Christ’s Person and atoning death. The testimony of the Spirit is greater than the teaching of men (v. 9). This is why those without the Spirit cannot see the truth of the Bible that we can so clearly see: that whoever has Christ has eternal life, and whoever does not have Christ does not have eternal life (v. 12). This is John’s version of solus Christus.
In verse 13, John says that he wrote this letter to provide assurance to his readers. And if we have assurance that we belong to God, then He will hear and act on our prayers (vv. 14-15). So we should pray for each other to live holy lives and gain freedom from the power of sin (vv. 16-17). In light of verse 18, the sin that leads to death appears to be a sin that one never repents of, likely in particular the sin of denying the incarnation of God Himself. That is a sign that the person is under the power of Satan, like the rest of the world (v. 19). But we know Who Christ is, and that He came in the flesh to die for our sins, and that He has sent us His Spirit to lead us to the truth so we can know that we have eternal life (v. 20). John ends by summing up all the false teaching he has discussed as idolatry (v. 21).