This sermon is number 1 in a series of 23
1, 2 and 3 John - Part 1
"Introduction To 1 John"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2005 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
First John, the first epistle of John, if you can find 1 and 2 Peter, it's just after it - just before the book of Jude, the little book before the last book in the Bible, the book of the Revelation. So, if you can't find it after that, you're in trouble! Now, I haven't given this series a title, it's self-explanatory - 1 John - and the only title I have for tonight is 'An Introduction'. We'll not really be dealing with specific verses this evening in an expositional manner, I just want to give you somewhat of an overview and an introduction to this little book. I think that's important for our understanding in subsequent weeks, it gives us a backdrop and a context in which to fit our expositions from here on in.
We'll read the first four verses of chapter 1, just to get the flow of John's argument in the introduction of his epistle. Verse 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, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full".
Now this first epistle of John, of course, if you're familiar with the New Testament, you will know it's the first of three epistles - the second straight after it, and the third which are only a chapter long each. John, the author of these three epistles, is one of the sons of Zebedee, along with his brother James that we read of in the Gospels. But of course, they were christened again by the Lord Jesus Christ 'The Sons of Thunder', because of their vehement personalities. John was also one of the inner circle of intimate disciples that had special fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ when He was upon the earth, the other two being James and also Peter. As such, as one of the twelve, and one of the inner three, he had a unique eyewitness experience of the ministry, the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some would go as far as to say that, even beyond the inner circle of the three, that John was special, and indeed the Scriptures speak of him as 'the disciple whom Jesus loved'. There's something special about John and his relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and indeed at the Last Supper he is found to be reclining on Jesus' breast.
Of course John, the author of 1, 2 and 3 John, is also - and many people don't realise this, believe it or not - the author of John's gospel, and indeed the last book in the Bible, the Apocalypse, the book of the Revelation. He wrote them all. But this book in particular, although it's called a letter, is not really like a letter in that it has no proper introduction, or address, or even close - and it seems to be, because of that, a circular letter, a letter that isn't specifically addressed to one person or a particular church. It's not like the book of Romans or Ephesians, it's not addressed to an individual like Timothy or Titus or Philemon. Yet, as we read it, though it's not addressed to specific people, we find that it is intensely personal - so personal, in fact, that John doesn't even feel the need to mention his own name to those he's writing to. He knows that they will know who is writing to them, and he is so attached to them, so intimate with them, that he bares his pastoral heart of compassion and love for them, and so often we read of him calling this flock 'My beloved', or 'My little children'.
Now John's writings are dated near the end of the first century, probably somewhere between AD 85 and AD 95, and because of that John, as he is writing this first epistle, is a very old man. Now I want you to picture him, as he sits wherever he wrote this epistle with a quill and a piece of parchment, and there he is well over his pension age, and he looks back and reminisces over the life that he has lived with Christ - bodily on the earth - for Christ as an apostle, as an evangelist, as a missionary. He remembers all the experiences he had with the Lord, he reminisces concerning the rise and spread of Christianity across Europe - what must his thoughts have been?
I don't know about you, but I think it's rather interesting to hear what old men of God have to say - especially at the end of their lives. If you can get aside an old man of God, listen to the advice that, as the Bible puts it, 'the hoary head' of wisdom would give to you! In fact, a very famous evangelist in our world today recently said, as he is almost at the end of his life looking back on the years of service that he spent for the Lord, that he wished that he had spent more time studying God's word and praying to the Lord. When someone who is a great giant of the faith says something like that, we tend to sit up and listen because of the authority of the experience, the weight that is behind their statements and the life that they have lived. When proven servants of God speak, we ought to listen!
Now, here is John, the apostle, at the end of his life - and he is speaking with great authority and with great influence, because at this point he is the only apostle now still living. He's the only human being, really, who has had this intimate communion with the Lord Jesus in bodily form as He was upon the earth. So he speaks to these believers with a fatherly counsel. As we see in chapter 2 and verse 1, he says to them: "Little children" - 'This is the message that I give to you, as I look and scour over the whole of my life and I assess where the church of Christ is at this particular juncture in its history, this is the message that I feel that God would have me bring to you'.
So what does he say? Well, that's one of the difficulties, because some have found it hard, in a sense, to analyse this little book - because it doesn't really develop an argument in any order, the way that, say, the book of Romans might do, or the book of Ephesians. John tends, as he goes through these five chapters, to repeat prominent themes that are in his mind and heart. Every time he repeats a theme, he tends to add a little bit more to it in repetition. If you look at the slide up here on the screen, it just gives you an idea - it's out of a commentary - how some men have tried to explain how John develops the themes in the first epistle. They have used the illustration of a spiral staircase, and he has these three main themes: righteousness, love, and truth. As you go through the five chapters you find that you revisit those themes again and again and again, and they're actually three cycles in the book, but each time he revisits them he tells you something that he hasn't told you before.
Peter Barnes in his well-known commentary on the Bible on this little book, he relates a story personal to his own family where he, at the breakfast table with his wife and children, was reading through this little epistle and sharing some thoughts. During one of the readings his eight-year-old daughter interrupted, and said: 'We've read that before' - we've read that before! He hadn't read it before, but sometimes we feel like that if you have read the first epistle of John, because he keeps repeating the same themes over again and again, the same truths. Why does he do that? Well, here is an old man at the end of his life, and he's coming and bringing perhaps the final message that he's going to bring to the church and going to be able to do in his lifetime, and these three themes that we'll share with you later, he feels are the most important things - so he just repeats them again and again and again, because they're worthy of repetition.
A bit of advice that was once given by a preacher, an old one to a young one, was: 'Say something, and then say what you've said, and then say it again' - say something, say what you've said, and then say it again. It's like hammering a nail into the wood over and over again. That's what this little letter is like. But I ask you the question: what must it have been like to have been in the church where John was a pastor, or he was an elder? What would it have been like to have worshipped in the Ephesian church, where John resided until he died and was buried there? Because, in the same way in this letter John keeps repeating the same truths, it seems that that's what he did in the little church at Ephesus. In fact Jerome, an early Christian, says that when the aged apostle was so weak that he could no longer preach, he used to be carried into the congregation at Ephesus, and he used to content himself with just a word of exhortation: 'Little children', he would always say, 'Love one another'. 'Little children, love one another', and when the hearers grew tired of the same message over and over again, they asked him why he so frequently repeated it. He responded: 'Because it is the Lord's command, and if that is all that you do it is enough!'. Little children, love one another!
This is not the onset of dementia in this old man of God, but John was commenting, inspired by the Spirit of the Living God, on the need of the hour - what these Christians in Ephesus needed most! He also comments on how these Christians could equip themselves to meet that need. So we must not grow weary, ourselves, in reading this epistle, of repetition within it - but neither, here's the application for us today, should we ever become weary with repeating the same message from God's word, whatever that message may be. Because God's word is the message that our generation urgently needs to hear, just like John's! The gospel, though we repeat it over again and again, and to some it might seem not to bear any fruit, that is the message that our hour cries for.
So what was the message that John brought to Ephesus? Well, let us look first of all at the primary reason for his writing, and then we'll be able to make more sense of what he actually goes on to teach them. I believe the primary reason for his writing is found in chapter 5 and verse 13, one of the key verses of the epistle, if you turn to it with me. John says: 'These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God'. This is why he is writing, that those who have believed in the Son of God may know that they have eternal life. Now if you would turn back with me to John chapter 20, we see there the reason for his writing of the Gospel of John. John 20, and in verse 30 we read that he could have written many other things, 'Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written', the things that I have written, 'that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name'.
So we see the distinction here. When John writes his gospel, he is writing to a people who as yet are not converted. He is trying to lead them to faith in Christ. But when he comes to his epistle, as chapter 5 and verse 13 tells us, he is talking to a people who have come to faith in Christ, but he's trying to lead them all into a deeper understanding and a further maturity in their life. In fact, as you go through this little epistle, you'll find the word 'know' over again and again and again and again. That little word infers to us that there was something that these Christians in Ephesus didn't know. Yes, they had believed in the Son of God, they were saved, but John is writing that they might know that they have eternal life. In other words, there seems to have been a lack of assurance in their salvation.
Now there are two Greek words for 'know' in this little epistle, and they're repeated about 38 times through 1, 2 and 3 John. Now you might say, and it would be a worthy question: why were they doubting their salvation? Why had they a lack of assurance? Well, if you turn to chapter 2 for a moment, and verse 19, we are given a hint as to the reason. Verse 18 says: 'Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us'. Now here we have a clue to the reason why some believers in Ephesus had a lack of assurance. It appears within this little church that an intellectual or a spiritual elite had arisen, and this little group of so-called Christians were claiming that they had some superior anointing from God. They were super-Christians, and they had a supernatural knowledge - that's the key word, a 'knowledge' - that just run-of-the-mill, five-eight, ordinary, nominal Christians didn't have. You could call it a special revelation from God that was unique to them, but this is the point: they were claiming to have discovered an improvement on what had been previously taught in the New Testament church. They had discovered something new.
Eventually this little group of 'elite' broke away, they caused a schism in the church in Ephesus. Consequently there's this little band of simple believers that maybe weren't the most intellectual among them, maybe weren't the most gifted, but they are left there on their own. That little flock of sheep, perhaps, is confused, bewildered, saying to themselves and one another: 'What's this all about? Is there something special about the people that have left us? Are they better Christians than we are? Is there something in their supernatural knowledge that we don't have? Have we really got the truth? Is the message we have believed the gospel, or is our truth and our salvation deficient? Is there something that we are missing?'. Perhaps they even went as far, and I believe they did, as to say: 'Are we really saved?'.
So their assurance was at a low ebb. Assurance is extremely important for the Christian, and if we glean anything from our studies of 1 John, it surely will be that. Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones said on one occasion: 'Assurance is not essential to salvation, but it is essential to the joy of salvation'. You see, you could be saved and not have assurance, many people are. You could have assurance and not be saved, and many people are that too. But the best position to be in, and the biblical position that we all should strive after, is to know that we are saved and have the assurance of it that brings the joy that can only come through that certainty.
So John wrote to these disciples who had already believed, that they should know for sure that they possessed eternal life. Of course in chapter 1 and verse 4, he tells us: 'These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full', as a consequence of your assurance. So John writes to them in a world of doctrinal, social, and moral confusion, and tells them they need assurance to survive. Increasingly, as we go through this little epistle, we will see the relevance of it to our own contemporary age, but particularly regarding the issue of assurance and certainty, we need to expose the truth of 1 John - because we live in a world, even in a Christian church, sadly to say, that is relativistic. In other words, they believe that everything is relative, even truth - that there are no longer any absolutes, no longer any right and wrong, black and white. We live in a society that is not necessarily immoral, though it is that, but it is amoral, there are no morals whatsoever! There is no truth, you have your truth, I have my personal respective truth, but no one can say that this is 'the truth'.
What we have within 1 John is a message for today, if ever there was, and it's this - John says: 'There are certainties, you can be certain, you can know'. If this book tells us anything, it tells us the fundamentals of the faith, and it encourages and exhorts us, calls us back to the basics of biblical Christianity. You can be sure, John says. What he does for us in this epistle, and for these early believers, is that he gives us three main tests how we can know that we are truly Christians. This is something that we can apply personally to our own lives, and it is something that we can apply across the board to Christendom at large to know those that are really the Lord's people.
Let me say, before we look at those three main tests, that there is no hesitation in the apostle's mind - the first thing he does for us is to declare categorically that a Christian can know the certainties of the gospel and the certainties of personal salvation. Throughout this book, over and over again, let me just give you an example at the end, if you turn to chapter 5, the last couple of verses, in verse 18 he says 'We know' - there it is, you could circle every 'know' in this book - 'We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not', and again, 'we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life'. This is John's point: 'You Ephesian believers lack confidence, but knowledge breeds confidence. I am here to tell you, as the last living apostle who encountered the Lord Jesus Christ physically, that you can be sure of the tenets of the gospel and your own personal salvation experience'.
Can I ask you, before we launch into these three tests of assurance, are you sure of your personal salvation? Do you know you're saved? Are you convinced of the Lord Jesus Christ, who He is, what He accomplished in His death, His burial, His resurrection, the truth of the gospel - by grace, through faith, not of works? Have you received it, embracing the offer of the gospel? Well, maybe you don't know, maybe you're in the same camp as these Ephesians? Well, here are the three tests. Put very simply, and it's been summed up by others in this way, there is first of all a doctrinal test. Then secondly there is a moral test. Thirdly there is a social test. Now we shall explore these, giving the reasons why they were crucial, and still are crucial to ascertain our own personal assurance.
Let's look first of all at the doctrinal test. Now this breakaway group that I spoke of, they had a name - they may not have been given that name actually in John's day, but a little bit later they came to be known as the 'Docetists'. The Docetists really were an early form of Gnosticism, you might be a bit more familiar with that word - but maybe you're not. Let me explain it: the word 'Docetist' comes from the Greek word 'Doceo' (sp?), which means 'I think', 'I seem', or 'I appear'. They taught, concerning the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, that Christ, as He came to earth, only appeared to be a man. He only looked like a man and seemed to be a man, but he was not truly human or physical. Now the Gnostics later developed this in the second century and had some similar views. 'Gnostic', the word comes from the Greek word 'gnosis', which incidentally means 'knowledge'. They believed that they had a special superior knowledge to other people who called themselves Christians. The Gnostics taught, along with some of the Docetists, that it was at the baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ, when He went into the waters and the dove came down, that the Spirit of Christ, the Christ-spirit descended on the man Jesus, and that same Christ-spirit, they taught, left Him before His crucifixion.
Now think of the implications of that for a moment, that means there was no real incarnation of the Saviour. When John tells us in chapter 1 of his gospel, verse 14, that 'the Word became flesh and dwelt among us' - well, He didn't. When Colossians speaks of the fullness of the Godhead dwelling in Christ bodily, well, that is wrong - and of course both John and Paul in Colossians were writing against Docetism and Gnosticism in this sense. It's a form of dualism, that means this: that they reckoned that material things in the universe were evil, everything that you could see and touch, even your very flesh and body was evil; the only thing that was good is the spiritual realm and the spirit of man. Therefore it was unthinkable to them that Christ should take upon Himself a physical body, flesh, because that would be intrinsically evil. Do you know what that means? It means that whenever you see Christ in the Gospels eating and drinking, and growing weary, and sleeping in the bottom of the boat, He is acting! It is all a facade, because He wasn't a real man! But here is a fatal implication of this doctrine: when He went to the cross, and the Christ-spirit ascended from Him back to God, it was not the Son of God who died there! Christ, God's Son, did not die on the cross, and He did not die as a substitute for sinners, and we are all lost!
There are many implications to this heresy, but the bottom line that John is highlighting here is that the Docetists did not think rightly of Christ. This was the doctrinal test: how do you know you're in the faith? How did these Ephesians know whether the group that left them were the correct ones, or whether the truth that they had was the whole truth and nothing but the truth? These Docetists, they preached Christ, they looked and sounded like Christians, but this is John's point, it's Paul's point, it's all the apostles points, it was even Christ's prophetic point: the Christ that they preached was of their own making! The test, doctrinally, is given in chapter 4 and verse 2: 'Hereby', John says, 'know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God'. In other words, anyone confessing that He did not come in the flesh is not of God.
I said to you last evening in the Gospel meeting, and I never tire of repeating it, the most important question that we can ask anyone in the ecclesiastical world or in the ordinary everyday world is: what do you think of Christ? That is the doctrinal test. John Newton put it poetically in verse:
''What think you of Christ?' is the test
To try both your state and your scheme;
You cannot be right in the rest,
Unless you think rightly of Him'.
We have spent many weeks, fifteen in all, looking at confusing cults and false world faiths - and you will remember, I hope, that if not all of them, at least most of them erred regarding the person of Christ. Everything else fell out of tandem with that false doctrine. Can I say to you this evening that I believe, to an extent, that the early Christian church took this Christological heresy more seriously than many Christians in the church do today. In fact in the early second century, Ignatius of Antioch wrote against one who took this view of Christ, and he said, I quote: 'This one blasphemes my Lord by denying that He ever bore a real human body. In saying that he denies everything about Him'. In fact, in Asia at this particular time, there was a Gnostic teacher contemporary to the apostle John and an opponent of him, called Cerinthus. It is only a legendary story, but nevertheless some of these stories have a lot of weight behind them, the story is told that John one day bathing in the baths in Ephesus noticed that Cerinthus was beginning to descend into the pool. The old man, as he was then, girded himself and ran as fast as he could, lest the roof of the baths would fall in upon him in judgment on Cirenthus.
You see these men of God in the early church, they strongly opposed anything that denigrated Christ - because they saw this doctrine, and all other departures in relation to the person of Christ, as a departure from the historical faith that God had given to them. That's what it is! We need to see it as such today! Wasn't it Jude who said in verse 3 of his little book that we are to 'earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered' - the Greek is 'once and for all delivered to the saints'. It cannot be changed, it cannot be added to or subtracted from. Now, of course, this adaptation of Christianity made the message of the church more acceptable to Greek culture. Philosophers could swallow it better with this spiritual element. Plato was to accept many of these philosophies later on, but the fact of the matter is: John saw it as it was! He saw this false doctrine as destroying the essential nature of the Christian message. For John, the Christian message was not a body of ideas or theological precepts, but it was an historical unalterable fact that was personified in Christ Jesus the Lord. Now have you got that? Christianity is Christ, the Christ of God, the Christ of the Bible.
As James Montgomery Boice put it: 'Gnosticism produced a type of philosophical religion that was divorced from concrete history, for concrete history tells us that Jesus was born as a man in Bethlehem's manger'. He lived as a man among men, whilst He was the Son of God and the Christ of God, He was a man, otherwise He could not have been the Saviour of the world. Now friends, here is a lesson if ever there was one to our modern age, because if we, like these Docetists, try to adapt the Christian message to be acceptable to our modern society, the message itself will eventually become irrelevant when the values and philosophies of society change, as they will and must. Whereas God's message applies to all generations and to all people - now we've got to preach it, and meet people where they're at, but sometimes I hear people say 'We've got to make the Gospel relevant' - the Gospel is relevant! We shouldn't attempt to adapt the message to suit our age, because the Gospel is the very message that people need to conform to, as the revelation of God that will change their lives and change their world.
So John, and I love the way he does this, no wonder he was called one of the 'Sons of Thunder'! In verses 1-3 he says it like it is: '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, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ'. It reminds me of Genesis chapter 1, where God just comes in through Moses and says: 'In the beginning was God'. He states the facts, they are nonnegotiable, he doesn't even attempt to argue them - because, as far as he is concerned, the evidence is too great. We know that God made the world because it's here, and we know that Christ came in human flesh because they saw Him with their eyes, they touched Him with their hands, they heard Him with their ears. He was there!
Can I say to you this evening: the church needs to discover again what it is to preach the old message of the Gospel. I'm not talking about caricatures of the Gospel, sometimes you would think we were going back in time when we look at how we do things and how we say things even in this modern age. But what I am talking about is this: it is the historical Christ, the Christ of the Bible, the Christ of church history that we need to preach - and if we try to modernise Christ, or modernise the Gospel, we divorce it from history. Do you know what you do when you do that? You change its character and you make it another gospel. I love modern songs, and there are certain modern trends in Christianity today that I think are very welcome, I would have to say. But on the other hand there is a certain trend within Christendom that is trying to divorce itself from all of Christian history up to now, you'd think the Christian church was something that only happened from 1960 or 70 up to now. We are an historic people! We're not rooted in any age, but yet the fact of the matter is: our Christ and our gospel is relevant to every age. But this is the warning: if we do not have the historical Christ of Christianity, we do not have the Christianity of Christ.
C. H. Spurgeon put it well, I can do no better than put it in his words: 'The truth, the old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, is the truth that I must preach today, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape truth, I know of no such thing as pairing off rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox's gospel is my gospel, that which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again!'. Here's the test: is the Christ that you have and believe in the Christ of the Bible? That's the personal test to your salvation: do you believe that He is God the Son, that He also came as a man among men and died as the substitute for sinners? That's the test of Christendom.
The second test is the moral test - these two are shorter if you're worried about the time! The moral test. I need to give you a bit of background regarding Ephesus first of all, that we believe John was writing to - his own church. This was a circular letter around many, but the context of Ephesus gives us an insight into some things that John teaches here. The first thing I want you to notice is that Ephesus was a place that had now become familiar with Christianity. Like our own age, perhaps like Ulster, many believers were now the children of believers, or even the grandchildren of the first believers. You remember the day in the Acts of the Apostles where there was a great thrill and excitement, Paul was preaching the Gospel, challenging the god Diana of the Ephesians. Those who plied their trade in making little images for people to worship in devotion of Diana were up in arms, they were losing in their livelihood. Gone were the days when people would go every day for two years to the school of Tyranus and listen to the apostle Paul exegeting the Holy Scriptures. Now this second, or even third-generation Christianity in Ephesus had lost the glory of their witness, they'd lost their power and their zeal. They were becoming tainted with the world. That's who John is writing to.
Also Ephesus was no longer a place of persecution. No, the enemy now was false doctrine. They were at peace, but yet false doctrine was entering in just as Paul had warned them in Acts chapter 20 and verses 29 to 30. As he left the elders in Ephesus he warned them of ravening wolves that would come into the church and devour them. Thirdly, sin was rampant in the city of Ephesus. The Bible tells us it was a pagan city, wholly given over to idolatry and superstition. There was a whole huge religious industry that was dependent upon the worship of this goddess Diana, and it was centred upon the magnificent temple of Diana. The wealth that was derived from that idolatrous worship not only brought great wealth, but it brought spiritual bankruptcy and gross immorality that we couldn't even go into this evening. We know from the Acts of the Apostles 19 verse 19, from those who were converted out of Ephesus, that there was sorcery and a lot of the occult and dark arts, because they brought their books and their artistic instruments in spiritism and they burned them after their conversion.
Therefore it should be no surprise that in chapter 1 of this epistle, verse 6, John tells them not to walk in darkness. In chapter 2 and verse 15 he warns them not to love the world nor the things of the world. In chapter 4 and verse 1 he tells them to try every spirit, not to believe every spirit that is manifest. In chapter 5 and verse 21, doesn't he tell them: 'Keep yourself from idols'? What a place Ephesus was! But what I want you to see, fourthly, is that there was an error concerning Christ that had crept into the church, but that error with Christ was intrinsically linked with an error in their understanding of sin. Their theology of sin was wrong, because the false teachers were maintaining that sin is essentially in the flesh. They didn't believe that Christ could become a human physical being, therefore they reasoned that the physical was sinful and the spirit was the only holy and good thing. But that led them to the view that because the flesh was sinful, and eventually would be destroyed, would never be resurrected again, you could legitimise sin in the flesh - sin as much as you like, because it has no consequence.
So the second test was a moral one. John said in chapter 2 and verses 3-4: 'Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him'. Now this is not sinless perfection that some teach, because in chapter 1 verse 8 he says: 'If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us', and verse 10 'If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us'. But nevertheless, what he is teaching is that the Christian's obedience is not an option. One writer has put it like this, I think well: 'While we are imperfect there must be a real, habitual, and substantial obedience to God'. Real, habitual, substantial - do you know what that's against? Easy-believism, false profession, 'You can take Christ as your Saviour but not as your Lord'. I'm not getting into a debate tonight, but I'm telling you this much: there's nowhere in this book where God says you can come for justification, but not sanctification - nowhere.
A. A. Hodge put it like this: 'You can no more separate justification from sanctification than you can separate the circulation of the blood from the inhalation of the air. Breathing and circulation are two different things, but you cannot have one without the other. They go together and they constitute one life'. You can't come to God and say: 'I want to be forgiven for all my past sins, but I want to live on in sin. I want to be justified but I don't want to be sanctified. I want Christ's salvation but I don't want Christ's image'. That's not on offer. So this is a test, a moral test. None of us are perfect, none of us are what we should be as Christians, we all feel guilty where we fall short - but is there at least a real, habitual, and substantial obedience to God's commands? That is the second test that will give assurance.
The third, very briefly, is the social test. We've seen the doctrinal, the moral, and now the social in chapter 4 in verses 20 and 21. 'If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also'. In other words John is saying, 'Look, if I claim to be a Christian, and if God is love, and He is love, and I claim to know this God of love, I too must love others'. Is that not what 1 Corinthians 13 is all about? You can have all the gifts of the Spirit you like, you can die at the stake for Christ - but if you have not love... Wasn't it the Lord said in John 13: 'A new commandment I give unto you, love one another'. I sometimes am amused with some of these books in Christian bookshops, you've seen them perhaps. They're called 'The Hard Sayings of Christ Explained' - there are many hard sayings of Christ, but I think there's no harder than this one. This one doesn't seem to be in any of those books: 'Love one another'.
Oh you might have the doctrine test alright - 'Oh I know my p's and my q's doctrinally'. You might not even be affected by worldliness in any shape or form, perhaps that's not a problem for you. But what about this one? You can tick the doctrinal test and the moral test, what about the social test? Do you love your brother? Or is there a brother or sister that you hate? Can I say to you tonight: it is very doubtful, if there's hate in your heart for a brother, that you're saved. Luther put it like this: 'It is not Christ walking on the sea, but His ordinary walk that we are called on here to imitate'. Oh the gifts are wonderful, the power is wonderful, the charisma that is in this church, the anointing, the knowledge, the doctrine - but what about the walk? I'll tell you, here is a test that the church needs to apply in Ulster: the bickering, the backbiting that goes on in congregations in our land, the dissension that is among believers today - is there another message that the church needs to hear more than this one? This is the test! It's not about loving your own people in your own church, it's not about loving your own denomination, it's loving Christ's ones - whoever they are!
With John these matters, with this Son of Thunder, they're just black or white - there's no grey areas. It's right or wrong, it's true or false, it's good or evil, it's either salvation or damnation, it's either Christ or Antichrist. There's no middle ground, no neutral ground.
You need the doctrinal test, the moral test, the social test - and then you can have assurance! What relevance has this little epistle to our modern day? Have you not seen it already? It has something to say to those in our world that are unsure about spiritual things - they are floating from one religion and one cult to another. But it also has something to say to Christians who have falsely professed faith, and who feel secure when they shouldn't be secure. It has something to say to Christians who are insecure and have no reason to be such. It's telling us this: you can know that you're saved, and here's how you can know! It has something to tell us about Christian ethics, the debates that go on about how a Christian should live in an ungodly age - and sometimes it seems to change from age to age with fashion, how Christian should live. The question we ask here is: does it change in the eyes of God? John says 'No'. Then there's so much charismatic phenomena around today, people are claiming special anointings and knowledge and revelation - and they make a lot of believers, simple souls, feel second-class citizens because they haven't got that. It says: 'Ye have an anointing from God'. Then it has something to say to all of us who think that we have all the truth and got it all correct, yet how often we betray an absence of true agape love, and betray the fact that all we really have is an empty, bitter orthodoxy.
That is why these things were written. God willing next week we'll look in more detail at these first number of verses. Do go home, it's only five chapters long, and read it through for next week a number of times to familiarise yourself with the content. Can I ask you all to search your hearts, just now before God, the doctrinal test, the moral test, the social test - how do you fare, honestly? Is your assurance founded well on solid ground? Or should it be a little shakier than it is? Are you not saved tonight, and you know it deep in your heart? It's time you were. Maybe there wasn't true repentance there in the beginning, and that's why you've got the problems now that you have. Well, set it right this evening.
Father, we give thanks for a wonderful Saviour. We thank You for a Saviour who, just as the children partake of flesh, He likewise partook of the same; that He might die, defeating him who brought death upon this whole race, even the devil. Lord, where would we be if He hadn't become a man, if He hadn't lived as a man among men? We wouldn't have a High Priest to bring us to God. We wouldn't have One in the glory with prints on His hands, His feet, and His side - but we have. We need no other argument, we're on solid ground tonight. But Lord, for those who aren't, oh Lord, search their hearts, what they think of Christ, what fruit is in their lives, how they behave to others - even if they call themselves Christians. Let us all be a people who have this mark: 'Behold, how they love one another'. Take us to our homes in safety, with the fragrance of Christ in our soul, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the first recording in his '1, 2 and 3 John' series, entitled "Introduction To 1 John" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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