This starts a series of posts on the letter of 1 John. John probably pinned his first epistle over 30 years after the death, burial & resurrection of Jesus so there was a sense of Christian’s “settling in” to what it meant to walk with the Lord over the long haul. Jesus had not returned yet and John was aiming to help them understand what a walk of faith really looked like over the long haul. John was getting old and would have been viewed as a “grandfather” in the faith. He had walked with Jesus, experienced much and walked faithfully. It would be wise for us to listen to what he has to say to us because their faith and ours are the same.
Unlike Paul’s letters, John follows no clear outline. He, instead, seems to wander from topic to topic, and often returns back to the same topic. His logic seems to be circular instead of linear as he jumps around. Despite some of these difficulties, it is extremely rich in theology and ethics. The major themes of the letter are:
- Love for God & Others
- True Doctrine
- Obedient Living
- Fervent Devotion
- Assurance of Salvation (1 John 5:13)
However, “the main theme is tests by which we can know if we are in Christ—beliefs and attitudes that authenticate one’s claims to be a Christian.” ESV Study Bible. Many people can produce certain external behaviors by their own moral striving or self discipline. But, John says that what we believe informs our attitudes which in turn produce our behavior. John uses the verb “believe” over 100 times in his gospel and 9 times in this letter. In John 6, Jesus miraculously feeds 5000 people, and He is rocketed to “rock star” type popularity. However, Jesus wasn’t looking to be popular so He withdrew to the mountains, perceiving that they were about to make Him king (6:15). During the night, Jesus & His disciples crossed the sea to the other side. The following morning, the people could not find Him and crossed over looking for Him. Then they asked Jesus, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (John 6:28 ESV). Great question! What was His answer? Feed the poor? Share the gospel? Serve tirelessly? Be morally upright? Jesus’ answer is peculiar, especially to people who just want to know what to do! Jesus’ response was: “this is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29 ESV). Our work is to believe the seemingly impossible promises of God – that He is perfect and we are not and yet He loves us, justified us and adopted us as His children. Before anything was formed, He determined to make you His and died to accomplish that goal (Ephesians 1:3-6). That should make you worship! How do we build belief? Here are a few suggestions (here, here, here, here & here).
John focuses on faith, love & obedience as he avoids to do lists – he boldly focuses on what has already been DONE on their behalf! “It is finished” (John 19:30) is the anthem of this epistle, indeed this is the anthem of all of Scripture. It is by knowing that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for our sin that transforms our hearts. This does not only mean that we are justified and forgiven, but that we are also adopted as sons & daughters. Justified is a legal term, but adopted is a familial word. No one wants to play catch with a judge, but things are different with a dad. Once we have been freed from believing that we are justified OR ACCEPTED based on our performance we begin to see that obedience to Christ’s commands actually lead to greater joy. His commands are not harsh or burdensome. His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30)
Let’s listen to John’s words and see how they help us to build belief, love God, obey joyfully & see our affections for Christ increase exponentially.