Spiritual Heritage in 1 John”
The last verse of 1 John warns: “Little children [which is the apostle John’s affectionate greeting to the Christians brethren to whom he was writing used throughout this letter] keep yourselves [or perhaps better translated would be guard one another, like a shepherd who guards his sheep from prey] from idols.” Someone made this comment: “[This] allusion is to ‘the untrue mental images fashioned by the false teachers,’ which, because of their false view of the Son and therefore the Father, constituted a monstrous idolatry. … All alternatives to the true God who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, are properly ‘idols,’ and … from them, Christian[s] should vigilantly guard [one another]” (Stott)! Yes, there were false teachers plaguing the congregation. Note what the apostle John says in 2:18-19: “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.” John reveals that these former brethren adopted some new teachings that were so unorthodox, so against the established traditional teachings of the Gospel, that it compelled these members to be divisive and to separate themselves from other Christians, at least for awhile. After their number grew, now they are sending out “many antichrists” to try to convert faithful brethren over to their twisted views. What kind of heresy were they promoting? Through some of John’s statements, we get something of an idea that these heretics were living wickedly, boastfully, disobediently, hatefully, and worldly. But one of the key doctrinal issues is found in chapter 4:2-3: “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.” So these heretics are definitely denying that Jesus became a human being. Such a denial could also mean that they were denying that God sent Him into world, that they were denying His death could take away sins, and that they were denying they no longer needed to follow His lifestyle. There are many serious implications that could follow from this dangerous heresy. This is why John writes this letter. A good two word summary of 1 John is “Be orthodox!” which means: “Keep to the established teachings!” The apostle John probably wrote this letter around 90 A.D. He was the last apostle alive, and he wants this group to remain loyal to what they had heard from the beginning, as 2:24-25 states: “Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you will also abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise He has promised us—eternal life.” These Christians have eternal life, and John does not want them to lose it. Towards the close of the letter in 5:13, John reaffirms: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” Throughout this letter, John presents the orthodox view, and he shows us how our Christian lives must grow out of those traditional Christians teachings. Let’s look quickly at several of these teachings this morning as we quickly survey this great book.
First of all, our beliefs grow out the apostles’ beliefs. John begins this letter by pointing out that the apostles had heard, and seen, and touched the Word of life. This was the Eternal Life with the Father or Jesus, Who was later manifested in the flesh and Whom the apostles had seen, heard, and declared (1:1-2)! Isn’t it wonderful how “the great facts of the Christian Gospel are founded upon historical events witnessed by men who saw and experienced the things that they preached” (Coffman)? Against the heretics who were preaching that Jesus could not have involved Himself in human existence, John gives a direct refutation by saying, “No! Jesus was a real Person: He was born, He grew up, He walked the dusty roads of Palestine, He taught, He died, and He rose again! He not only was divine since He was with God from the beginning (note how John’s opening words echo those of Genesis), but also He became manifested, He entered into our material world, this Eternal Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14). Jesus is not a myth Who was invented nor some angelic being Who never lived on earth. Jesus was a real Human Who lived during a certain time period, and the facts that the Gospels present about that historical circumstance—the rulers, the places, the customs, and the events—can be verified. John, who was Jesus’ closest friend, adds his testimony to that of the other apostles by affirming that he heard, and saw, and touched Jesus! John knew that Jesus “was exposed to the same trials and tribulations that other human beings have had to endure, that He experienced the same temptations [that] we experience, yet He was without sin,” and that He perfectly revealed the Father and His nature (Bruce). Aren’t we thankful that the apostles like John, Matthew, Peter, and Paul wrote down their testimonies, and they have been preserved in the pages of the New Testament? Our beliefs are not fairy tales! There is more manuscript evidence from eyewitnesses to believe that Jesus really was a Person than there is for Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Nero, Constantine, or any other person of ancient history! If you believe in those other rulers, you should believe in Him! Aren’t we grateful for the bold witness of those apostles? Our beliefs grow out of the apostles’ beliefs.
Secondly, our righteousness grows out of God’s and Christ’s righteousness. John affirms in 1:5 that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all! He builds on this great truth and goes on to add that if God is righteous, then we should walk in the light too, confess our sins, look to Jesus—the Righteous One—as our Mediator with God and our Redeeming Sacrifice, live just as He lived, and put off the things of the world, especially lustful and boastful pursuits (1:7, 9, 2:1-2, 6, 15-17). To the pagans, God was [anger], to be appeased; to the philosophers, God was an abstraction, to be avoided; to the Jew, God was a consuming fire, to be revered; to the Christian, God was light, to be imitated (Coffman). This was not a platitude or abstract ideal; John was being very practical here. John was contrasting the true God with the heretics' so called “intellectual enlightenment,” and he was trying to show that any claim to know God without manifesting a moral lifestyle was sheer nonsense (Stott). God and Christ are righteous, and that nature serves as the basis for our striving to live righteously as well. This doesn’t mean that we’ll live perfectly. But it does mean that we’ll live humbly, gratefully, and spiritually. Humbly because we know that we’ll sin, but when we do, we’re not ashamed to confess our wrongs, knowing that the blood of Jesus continually cleanses us from those sins. Now that’s good news for Chandler and I, isn’t it? Gratefully because we know that Jesus is our Mediator Who can let God know what our struggles are like since He’s been through them and our Redeeming Sacrifice, like the lamb’s blood that was sprinkled upon the ark of the covenant during the day of atonement. Our sins are covered by His blood! Now that’s good news for Ken and I, isn’t it? And spiritually means that we’re not living worldly lives of licentiousness, debauchery, and bragging. We strive to live just like Christ lived—humbly, gratefully, and spiritually too. His will was always to do God’s will. This should be our aim as well. Now that good news for Red and I, isn’t it? The world’s wicked nature, that adopted by the heretics, is passing away, but those who practice God’s righteousness will endure forever (1 John 2:17)! Our righteousness grows out of God’s and Christ’s righteousness.
Thirdly, our purity grows out of Christ’s purity. John then affirms that God has made us His children, but “it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when [Jesus] is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (3:2-3). Then John affirms in 3:6-8: “Whoever abides in Him does not sin [or does not habitually practice sin]. Whoever sins has neither seen Him or known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He [Jesus] is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” Now if we are already God’s children in this world, what will we be like when a new existence begins with Christ’s coming? We saw that Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 15 that when Jesus comes, our bodies will be changed and we must put on immorality and incorruption! Perhaps John has the same idea or perhaps he might be referring to having a glorious existence, just like John saw when Jesus was transfigured! Whatever the case, John says that all Christians who have this hope in Jesus, strive to purify themselves, just as Jesus is pure. One commentator puts it this way: “Men are saved, not in their own identity, but ‘as Christ,’ and ‘in Christ.’ … This should not take away from the power of the exhortation that all Christians should strive to achieve and to maintain the very highest state of purity and perfection of which they are capable. Sin can never be any casual business with the Christian” (Coffman). As God’s children, we want to live purely or morally now so that when Jesus returns, we will be ready for a complete purification when we stand before our Lord! This means that we want to live obediently, just as Christ lived. We do not want to live any longer in the devil’s kingdom! Jesus was manifested to destroy the works of the devil. This should be our goal in life as well. No incarnation means we share no victory over Satan! When we live purely through obedience, we too are destroying the works of the devil! Someone has observed: “The devil is still busy doing His wicked works, but he had been defeated, and in Christ we can [not only] escape from [his] tyranny … [but also] be the more determined that we shall be rid of [sin in our own lives]” (Stott)! Our purity grows out of Christ’s purity.
Fourthly, our love grows out of God’s and Christ’s love. This is a truly important point for John, since the heretics were not showing much love towards others and since it takes up much space in this letter. On Christ’s love, note 3:10: “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Then John explains that we can imitate Christ by serving others with material goods. On God’s love, look at 4:8-11: “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 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. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Now notice 4:18-19: “But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.” No incarnation means that God did not take the initiative in mankind's salvation. We have no understanding of God's nature, no Redeeming Sacrifice for our sins, and no Unselfish Model to imitate! One commentator wrote this about the truth that God is love: “[This is] probably the single greatest statement about God in the whole Bible ... It is amazing how many doors that single statement unlocks and how many questions it answers” (Coffman quoting Barclay). “While the origin of love is the being of God, the manifestation of [His] love is the coming of Christ” (Stott). The heretics may claim to know God, but their hatred for others shows they don't understand God's nature whatsoever. Do we realize how indebted we are to God? God took the initiative to repair the relationship that mankind had broken. God sent the greatest gift of His Son to atone for our sins. God wants us to follow Him and grow in love. Someone has observed: “God's love for fallen humanity provides a powerful incentive for all perceptive souls to do likewise. ... The great redemptive purpose of God in Christ is that of making His children like Himself, and therefore, not to love is to negate our own redemption” (Coffman)! Since Jesus was human and gave His own life to restore our friendship with God, we should be willing to give of ourselves to help other members! Our love grows out of God's and Christ's love.
Fifthly, our faith grows out of God's witness. John declares in 5:4 that our faith overcomes the world, but from where does that faith come? John answers a few verses later. Let's start reading in verse 8: “And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” John says there were three witnesses to Jesus: His incarnation through the Spirit, His baptism through water, and His death and resurrection through His blood shed on the cross. God gave His testimony at each of these events: that Jesus was God’s Son was announced by an angel to Mary; that Jesus was God’s Son was announced by God Himself to John the Baptizer and his followers; that Jesus was God’s Son was demonstrated by God Himself to the whole world as God raised Him from the dead! Now, we would readily accept the testimony of three witnesses in a court of law if they were all in agreement. If we can accept such human testimony, John challenges us to accept God’s divine testimony! Those who believe God’s witness can readily accept that Jesus was God’s Son, but the heretics have made God out to be a liar by denying Christ’s incarnation. The consequence of God’s witness is that all Christians enjoy the blessing of eternal life! “The way to [eternal] life is faith, and the way to faith is testimony” (Stott). Do you believe God’s three witnesses with regards to Jesus? If you haven’t, then you can’t have eternal life. Give God’s witnesses some serious thought. Our faith grows out of God’s witness.
Next, our confidence grows out of God’s responses. Look at 5:14-15: “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” In 3:22, John states that God will respond to us if we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. In the verse just read, we see that John also adds that we must ask for things that are in accordance with God’s will. We can do this without fear; we not only have confidence when Jesus comes again, but we can boldly approach God’s throne of grace now, knowing that He responds to our prayers. “We simply know from all that God has promised that He does not ignore our requests” (Roberts). Someone has observed: “Prayer is not a convenient device for imposing our wills upon God, or for bending His will to ours, but the prescribed way of subordinating our will to His. It is by prayer that we seek God’s will, embrace it, and align ourselves with it. … [God] takes note of our petitions and listens favorably to us” (Stott). God’s track record is flawless; He never misses any of our petitions. He hears them all, and He responds to them all according to His infinite wisdom. “Around 1913 in France, there was an area of mountains that had become barren. Villages were deserted, brooks were dry, and the wind blew furiously. There was shepherd, however, who was determined to save this area so he set himself to the task of planting 100 acorns per day. Although he planted 100,000 trees, he was hopeful that 10,000 would survive. About four years later, a great transformation had taken place. There was almost a forest, the brooks had water, and meadows flourished with flowers. After 30 more years, villages had been rebuilt, and the brooks had become streams. Someone then made this observation: “Those who pray are like spiritual re-foresters, digging holes in barren land and planting the seeds of life. Through [such petitions], dry spiritual wastelands are transformed into harvestable fields, and life-giving water is brought to parched and barren souls” (Seed quoted in Rowell). Our confidence grows out of God’s responses.
Lastly, our appeal for restoration grows out of John’s appeal for orthodoxy. John reminded his audience in 2:24-25: “Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you will also abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise He has promised us—eternal life.” John wanted his readers to retain the beliefs that they had heard when the Gospel was originally preached to them. John does not want them to listen to the heretics but to keep with the teachings of the apostles. “Keep to the established teachings!” In a similar way, the churches of Christ strive to call all people to return to the teachings of the New Testament and to put into practice that which is taught in its pages. For example, how did the early church worship? We believe that the New Testament provides all men a pattern which can be followed, and when we follow this pattern, we experience the unity for which Jesus prayed. We see that the early church had congregational singing without musical instruments (Colossians 3:16), had spontaneous prayers lead by men (1 Timothy 2:8), had a weekly observance of the Lord’s supper (Acts 20:7), had a weekly collection (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), and had the preaching of God’s Word (2 Timothy 4:2). It is not a complicated pattern, so all can follow it. Just as John told his audience to keep to the established teachings, so we also make the same appeal to our denominational friends. Let’s put aside our creeds, catechisms, and rules of discipline! Let’s just hold to the established apostolic teachings that we find in the New Testament—nothing more, nothing less! Let’s work together to restore that early church that Jesus had promised that He would build (Matthew 16:18)! Our appeal for restoration grows out of John’s appeal for orthodoxy.