Teaching series from 1 John

Introduction & Preface

1 John 1:1-4

Teaching t12635


Having completed our study of Galatians last week, this morning we begin a study of 1 John. 1 John is a letter written by John, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples. This is the same John who was also the author of the gospel of John, 2 and 3 John, and Revelation. John was old when he wrote this letter (~85 AD), the last of Jesus’ disciples still alive.

John wrote this letter to Christians living in Ephesus (MAP) and nearby cities. They had had a recent battle with certain false teachers.

Unlike the Judaizers (which we studied in Galatians) who infiltrated the churches from without, the false teachers arose from within their midst (2:19; see Paul’s prediction of this in Acts20:29,30). This would have been very de-stabilizing.

They were also different from the Judaizers in the content of their false teaching. The Judaizers’ false teaching was legalism (God’s acceptance must be earned through good works and religious observances). This error persists in various forms of “Christian” legalism. These false teachers advocated a form of Gnosticism, which is the essence of the New Age spirituality that now permeates American culture. Key elements of Gnostic/New Age spirituality include:

Gnostics did not believe that Jesus is the unique Son of God and only Messiah/Savior of humanity. Rather, they believed that He was a lower emanation/junior spirit (Colossians) or that He was an ordinary human upon whom the “Christ spirit” came at His baptism to enlighten Him (and departed from Him before His death). Jesus was one of many paths to salvation.

Gnostics did not believe that Jesus’ most important accomplishment is His death as the payment for our sins against God. Rather, they believed that His main value is as an example of a spiritually enlightened person.

Gnostics did not believe that salvation is reconciliation with God through forgiveness of our sins through Jesus’ substitutionary death. Rather, they believed that salvation is enlightenment via special knowledge and experience.

Gnostics did not believe that spirituality includes ethical change (e.g., sexual lifestyle). Rather, they believed that spirituality is primarily having spiritual experiences and is unconnected to ethical change.

Gnostics did not believe that human physical bodies are important in spirituality (e.g., Jesus’ incarnation & bodily resurrection as crucial to salvation; our physical resurrection as the completion of our salvation). Rather, they believed that the physical body was an impediment at worst (“the prison house of the soul”) and unimportant at best. (The notion that embodied, face-to-face fellowship is not essential to spirituality is Gnostic.)

John’s audience resisted this Gnostic infiltration so that they left (2:19), but the Gnostics were still around, and still claiming to be more enlightened. This left many of them shaken and unsure about their own salvation and/or spirituality. So John writes this letter to help them in two ways:

To continue to expose and refute the Gnostics and their teaching (read 2:26). We need this same reminder as we continue to face the false spirituality of our own culture. Otherwise, we will be infiltrated by it (as is happening).

To strengthen their assurance concerning their salvation and spirituality (read 5:13). John uses the phrase “we know” or “you know” over 20 times for this purpose. He wants them to be confident that they know God (2:3), that they are in Him (2:5), and that they are His children (5:19). We need this same assurance that comes from knowing these same things! How do we get this assurance? John gives a three-fold answer, which he repeats several times in a cyclical style:

We know because the apostles’ testimony about Jesus is reliable. This is objective doctrinal knowledge. We will see an example of this shortly when we look at 1:1-4.

We know because the Holy Spirit bears personal witness that Jesus is the Savior and that we now belong to God (2:20; 3:24; 4:13; 5:6; Rom.5:5; also implied in 1:4). This is personal experiential knowledge.

We know because the Holy Spirit is making ethical and social changes in our lives (2:3; 3:14). This is practical knowledge. If we read these passages perfectionistically (“Do I obey/love perfectly and all of the time?”), they will undermine our confidence that we know God (the opposite of John’s intent). But if we read them more generally (e.g., “I agree with God that these changes are important, God has made some change in these areas, and I want Him to change me more”), they will strengthen our assurance.

Just as a 3-LEGGED STOOL needs all three legs to be physically stable, so we need all three forms of assurance to be spiritually stable and confident. Do you make the mistake of trying to get by on only one or two “legs” (EXAMPLES)? This letter (and our series) can help you to become more spiritually stable and confident!

The preface (1:1-4)

So much for the introduction to 1John. Let’s dive into the letter itself, beginning with the first four verse which are a preface(read 1:1-4). John’s audience was familiar with his gospel, which helps us to understand the four main themes of this preface.

JESUS’ IDENTITY: The essence of John’s message is the identity of Jesus. Although He is not named until 1:3, He is clearly the Person in view in 1:1,2. Who is Jesus?

He is the unique Son of God (1:3), which means that He shares the same divine nature as God the Father (Jn.5:18).

He is eternally pre-existent. He “was from the beginning” means that before any beginning, He already existed (Jn.1:1). He “was with the Father” is in the imperfect tense, which means continuous action in the past.

He is the unique Source of spiritual life. “Life” here is not bios, or physical life (although Jesus is the Source of this life as well) – but zoe, or spiritual life, the very life of God that has always been). As the Word of spiritual life (“the Word of life... the life... the eternal life” – not “a” which implies “one of many”), Jesus is unique.

He entered this world in history. He “always was with the Father” (imperfect), but He “was manifested to us” (aorist) at a point in time. As the “Word” of spiritual life, Jesus came into this world to explain and demonstrate His spiritual life to humanity, and to make His spiritual life available to every person (as we will see).

HOW WE KNOW THIS MESSAGE IS TRUE: Why should we believe this “version” of Jesus instead of some other “version” like the Jesus of the “gospel of Thomas” or the Jesus of “The DaVinci Code?” Notice the contrast in person pronouns – “we” and “you.” “We” refers to the apostles, Jesus disciples, whom He appointed to be His official representatives (“apostle” means something like “ambassador”). Jesus’ apostles have some unique credentials to confirm their testimony about Jesus:

They personally “heard” His unique claims (“I am” statements in John’s gospel). They “saw” His unique confirming miracles (“signs’ that confirm “I am” statements - EXAMPLE). They “touched” and “handled” His unique resurrected body (read Jn.20:24-27).

We can know this message about Jesus is true because John and the other apostles are eye-witnesses, which is the strongest kind of evidence for such matters. They are multiple, not solitary witnesses, which corroborates their testimony. And they all suffered horribly (most to martyrdom) rather than retract their testimony.

Contrast this to the “gospel of Thomas,” which was written at least three decades after all eye-witnesses had died, which does not claim to be written by an eye-witness, and which has no corroborating witnesses. If you were a juror at a trial, which testimony would you accept? Which testimony would you reject? Why should it be any different in establishing the identity of Jesus?

WHY GOD GAVE US THIS MESSAGE: The apostles have proclaimed this message to others (“you”), not just to inform us or to entertain us, but for two important reasons:

The first reason is so that we might join them in having personal fellowship with the Father and the living Jesus (read 1:3). The essence of eternal spiritual life is a personal relationship with God (Jn.17:3). This fellowship, which has been going on forever between the Father and Jesus, is now open to us (Jn.17:26)!

John doesn’t tell his audience how to gain access to this fellowship because they already knew. But he spells out the only condition in his gospel (read Jn.20:31). To “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” means to agree with the apostles about who Jesus is (the only Messiah and Savior), and that you personally entrust yourself to Him and welcome Him into your life (Jn.1:12). The moment you make this decision, you are “in” forever!

But it doesn’t end there. The second reason is so that we might experience the joy of helping others into this fellowship (read 1:4). Joy begins when we begin fellowship with the Father and Jesus. But this fellowship is not exclusive – it is constantly reaching out in love and inviting others in. When we join them in this loving outreach, our heart’s capacity to enjoy their love expands – and the result is greater joy (see Phil.2:17,18). Many true Christians do not have increasing joy in their relationship with God simply because they aren’t in synch with the Father and Jesus on this. Is this an accurate description of your spiritual life? You can change this today!

Next week: 1John1:5-2:2 – “Walking in the Light”

Some of this information about Gnosticism comes from 1 John. The rest comes from extra-biblical historical sources, especially writings of the early church leaders who combated Gnosticism.