Beginning the Journey (for new Christians)
1, 2, and 3 John
1 & 2 Thessalonians
1 & 2 Timothy
2 Peter, Jude
7 Last Words of Christ
Christ Powered Life (Rom 5-8)
David, Life of
Jesus and the Kingdom
Lamb of God
Names of God
Sermon on the Mount
1. Walking in the Light (1 John 1:1-2:6)by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Andrea Mantegna, "St. John the Evangelist," detail of the St. Lucas altarpiece (1453), tempera on panel, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched -- this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (1:1)
Two remarkable elements stand out in the first verse: (1) Jesus'preexistence, and (2) Jesus as the Word.
First, verse 1 is very reminiscent of how both Genesis and the Gospel of John commence:
“In the beginning....” (Genesis 1:1)
“In the beginning....” (John 1:1)
"That which was from the beginning...." (1 John 1:1)
Jesus Christ was with God in the beginning.1 Before the beginning of the universe, Jesus was with God. He pre-dates everything! He is preexistent.
“That which was from the beginning ... concerning the word of life....” (1 John 1:1)
Second, Jesus’ name and title, Jesus the Christ, aren’t mentioned until verse 4. Rather, John refers to him in verse 1 as the “Word of Life.” In his writings, John sometimes uses the term logos or “Word” in a special way, as “the independent personified expression of God, the Logos.” (John 1:1-2, 14; Revelation 19:13)2
John’s usage of logos most likely draws on a Jewish background, in particular, as the prophetic word of God that came to prophets in the Old Testament -- the Word that accomplishes God’s work (Genesis 1:1; Isaiah 55:11).3 Up to this time, the Word was abstract. Now, in Jesus, it is concrete.
Jesus is the exact expression of God’s word and will, thus he is God’s word personified. In Jesus, God expresses himself with complete clarity:
[He] "speaks the words of God....” (John 3:34)
“The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father....” (John 14:10)
“These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:24)
Observe that John declares that he is an eyewitness of Jesus'life and ministry:
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen4 with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life -- 2 the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us -- 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you....” (1:1-3a)
John is doing two things:
- Establishing his authority to teach about Jesus, and
- Declaring that Jesus was a physical being ("touched with our hands") in whom the Logos of God dwelt.
First, John's authority as an eyewitness. Besides living with Jesus for three years, John was probably Jesus'cousin. John's and Jesus'families were close.5 This Jesus, John is saying, I heard, saw, and touched. And as an eyewitness I present accurately what Jesus actually taught: “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you” (1:3a).
Second, Jesus'physicality. John was not just asserting his authority as an authentic spokesman. He is also asserting that the flesh-and-blood Jesus, who could be “touched with our hands,” was also the “Word of Life” himself. As we’ll see, the particular heresy that John is combating denied that Jesus could be divine in his physical body.
"... We proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ." (1:2-3)
Continued fellowship and full joy are two reasons this letter has been written:
“3 That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing this that our joy may be complete.” (1:3-4)
“Fellowship” is koinōnia, which appears in verses 3, 6 and 7. Koinōnia means, "close association involving mutual interests and sharing, association, communion, fellowship, close relationship."8
Fellowship, an unbroken relationship of trust and love, is so precious, doubly so since John's opponents in this church had broken fellowship:
"They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us." (2:19)
John asserts that the recipients of the letter have true fellowship, true faith. He can say this since he, as an eyewitness, knows Jesus and has true "fellowship ... with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1:3b).
Tragically, those who have strayed from the true Christian faith believe that they have fellowship with the true God. But John is saying that fellowship must be based on truth. It must be authentic. Look at verses 6-7:
"6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; 7 but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another...." (1:6-7)
It is not only doctrinal purity or orthodox belief that is important, but how we live out our lives. This word "walk" isn't used in verses 6 and 7 literally, but figuratively, in the sense of, "to conduct one's life, comport oneself, behave, live as habit of conduct."9
John's opponents claimed to have fellowship with Christ. But their faith had been reinterpreted and corrupted with the Hellenistic world-view of their age. Their distortion gave them a license to live immorally while still pretending that they were faithful believers. John calls their self-deception a lie (1:6).10
In our age, we're in danger of the same thing. Instead of following Jesus with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we have substituted a kind of easy believe-ism, with the promise of forgiveness for anything we might do. Instead of radical discipleship, only a watered-down shell of Christianity remains, "having a form of godliness but denying its power" (2 Timothy 3:5).
Look at these verses again:
"That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ...." (1:3)
"... But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another...." (1:7)
What is true Christian fellowship? Is it human social interaction with Christians or something deeper? True Christian fellowship has to do with what and Whom we truly have in common in Christ. I've seen this level of Christian fellowship in small groups and with Christian brothers and sisters. Let's not settle for surface chatter. Rather, let's seek a genuine fellowship that is uniquely "in Christ."
Q1. (1 John 1:3-4, 6-7) Why is our fellowship with fellow Christians so
often just on a surface level? How can we have fellowship at a deeper
level in Christ? What would it take in your Christian group or your
relationships with other believers to deepen your level of fellowship so
it is authentically Christian?
John's opponents had gotten cozy with sin, comfortable, no longer shocked by their own behavior. John writes:
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; 7 but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." (1:5-7)
In a world dominated by shades of gray, John's message cuts deep. Our culture derides people who see things in terms of black and white, right and wrong. But John's kind of "either-or-but-no-in-between" approach is refreshing in its moral clarity:
"God is light and in him is no darkness at all." (1:5)
John's message is clear. If you say you're a Christian, that is, in fellowship with God, while living in sin, then you're a liar (1:6). It's just the same as a man pretending to be in fellowship with his wife while having an affair. He's deceiving himself and others. God requires the same kind of exclusivity as a spouse in a monogamous marriage. Anything else is a lie.
"7 If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." (1:7-10)
John teaches us that we must be honest and open about sin, rather than hide and pretend. The only way to get victory over sin is a combination of:
- An openness and honesty about sin, combined with
- A hatred of sin.
This is hard to get right, but vital. Here are some alternative approaches to sin:
- Hopeless to Resist. I am a sinner and can never seem to resist temptation for long. It's impossible to have any victory over sin. So I've stopped trying to pretend that there is hope of sinning less.
- Sinless Perfection. I used to be a sinner, but now I've mastered living in the Spirit, so now I am sinless in my living. I've moved to a different level.
- Sin isn't so bad, after all. There's no way to escape sin, so it's better to get over being guilty about it and get on with life. Everybody's doing it. And who is to say what sin is anyway?
- Both victory and struggle. My living in Christ has helped me outgrow many of the sins that once had captured me rather fully. But now I seem to struggle with sins I wasn't even aware of before -- sins that are more subtle and deal more with inner character flaws rather than overt acts that might be obvious to others.
Both #1 and #2 demonstrate a lack of honesty. Variety #1, "Hopeless to Resist," denies the power of the Holy Spirit to bring change in our lives. It almost justifies sin as inevitable -- and therefore acceptable -- for a Christian. Variety #2, "Sinless Perfection," seems to deny the reality that the battle with sin isn't ever over. People who believe they have achieved sinless perfection have friends -- and spouses -- who know them well who would vehemently deny their claim of sinlessness. Variety #3 is probably the position of the heretics John seeks to refute. They imagined that sin didn't really matter -- that sin is irrelevant to spiritual life. Variety #4 should be the reality for Christians who have begun to grow in Christ.
Q2. (1 John 1:5-7) What is the result when a Christian walks in
darkness, that is, continues willfully to do what he or she knows to be
wrong? How does this involve self-deception? What is the result,
according to verse 7, when we walk in the light? How do we get back into
the light if we sin?
One verse that has meant a great deal to me personally is 1 John 1:9.
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)
"Confess" (homologeō) means, literally, "to say the same thing." Thus, it can carry the connotation of agreeing with someone or acknowledging or professing something in public. Here it refers to agreeing with God's truth about our sins: "to concede that something is factual or true, grant, admit, confess."11
The problem of hiding began with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, when God calls to the man. Adam answers:
"I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." (Genesis 3:10)
We humans have tried to downplay the seriousness of our sin ever since. We hide from ourselves, we hide from our fellow Christians, and we hide from God. We wear a mask. We are two-faced. The only way to become free is to come clean: to confess our sins (Psalms 32:5; Proverbs 28:13).
Every great revival in history has been accompanied by sincere and often open confession of sin -- beginning with the revival of John the Baptist:
"The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River." (Mark 1:5)
St. James makes it clear that confessing our sins to spiritually mature Christians is important in healing us -- both physically and spiritually:
"Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." (James 5:16a)
Confession is vital in healing our souls so that we stop hiding from ourselves. Step #5 in the Twelve Step Program to help people recover from alcoholism and drug addiction is:
"We ... admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs."
When we refuse to acknowledge our sins, when we clam up and pretend, love in our hearts for God dries up, becomes paper thin, and loses the vitality of the Spirit.
Verse 9 contains wonderful, but conditional promises, to be fulfilled if we confess our sins.
First, John points to two elements of God's character: faithfulness and justice. "Faithful" (pistos) involves "being worthy of belief or trust, trustworthy, faithful, dependable, inspiring trust/faith."12 "Just" (dikaios) is the quality of "being in accordance with high standards of rectitude, upright, just, fair."13 How is it just for God to forgive my sins? Because my sins were laid on Jesus and he bore the full punishment due them (Isaiah 53:5).
First John 1:9 contains two promises based on God's faithfulness and justice.
- He will forgive our sins. "Forgive" is aphiēmi, "to release from legal or moral obligation or consequence, cancel, remit, pardon."14 We are released from our sins -- completely! They don't hang in the shadows somewhere waiting to ambush us again. We are released, pardoned!
- He will purify us from all unrighteousness. "Purify" (NIV) or "cleanse" (NRSV, KJV) is katharizō, "to make clean, cleanse," here, "to purify through ritual cleansing, make clean, declare clean."15
I don't believe that these promises are synonymous. I believe that the first promise, "He will forgive our sins," concerns our relationship to the Father. We are pardoned and he now treats us as if we had never sinned. The second promise, "He will purify us from all unrighteousness," concerns our character. God is removing the unrighteousness from our souls. Jesus is cleansing me from my character flaws, incrementally, gradually -- but actually -- as I confess my sins and turn away from them. As I am cleansed, Christ's character is formed in me (Galatians 4:19).
The first promise of 1 John 1:9 speaks to the guilt of sin; the second speaks to the contamination of sin. The first deals with salvation, the second with sanctification.
|Q3. (1 John 1:9) How would you define "confession"?
Why is confessing our sins so important? What happens to us if we stop
confessing our sins? What are the promises given to us if we do confess
our sins? How is forgiveness of sins different from cleansing?
"My dear children, I write this to you...." (2:1)
John speaks to his readers tenderly. He is an old, old man. He calls them his children, just like Jesus had once referred his own disciples (John 13:33). The word is teknion, (diminutive of teknon, "child"), which is translated "little children" (NRSV, KJV) or "dear children" (NIV).16 It occurs seven times in this letter (2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21). John's other favorite expression of fondness for them is “beloved,” used six times in this letter, which we’ll discuss in Lesson 2 at 2:7. Once John refers to the believers as "young children" (paidion, 2:14). This is not merely an apostolic letter to some distant believers. The old apostle writes with affection and love.
His plea is simple:
"I am writing this to you so that you may not sin." (2:1)
The verb "sin" is hamartanō. The basic meaning is, "not to hit, to miss," and is used figuratively, "to fall short morally, to do wrong."17 One of the major themes of the letter is how to approach and find victory over the reality of sin. As you can see in 1:7 - 2:2, sin is mentioned many times.
Why is sin such a big deal in the Bible? Ask it another way: Why is the approval of our family so important to us? Because at our core we are people who need love. Without it, we wither; with it, we thrive. And most important of all is the love and approval of God, our Heavenly Father.
In a marriage relationship, if one party injures or offends or neglects the other, fellowship is injured, and if the offence is great enough, the fellowship is shattered entirely. Love requires truth and right action to continue fellowship, since fellowship is a two-sided relationship.
Our sins of injury, offence, or neglect of God separate us from him. They move us out of a place of free fellowship with him. So sin is important, even if it never seemed important to us before.
But we do sin -- no matter how much we ought not to. Is there hope for us? Yes, says the Apostle John.
"But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One." (2:1b)
The word translated "one who speaks ... in our defense" (NIV), "advocate" (NRSV, KJV) is paraklētos, the same word used to refer to the Holy Spirit's ministry in John 14, 15, and 16, variously translated there as "Paraclete," "Counselor," "Comforter," "Helper." The basic meaning is "called in to help," from para-, "near, beside, by" + kaleō, "to call." From this develops the idea of "helper in court." In our verse the word denotes, "one who appears in another's behalf, mediator, intercessor, helper."18
John portrays a scene of the heavenly court arraigned before the Father. Jesus appears as a spokesmen for the sinners.
"Christ Jesus ... is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." (Romans 8:34)
"Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them." (Hebrews 7:25)
Jesus is our Advocate, our Spokesman, before the Father. He is also the only Righteous One who can atone for our sins. This is mentioned twice in 1 John:
"He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (2:2)
"This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (4:10)
The word translated "atoning sacrifice" (NIV, NRSV) is hilasmos. Two translation possibilities present themselves.
"Propitiation" (KJV, NASB) is the traditional understanding. The Greek word means, "to gain or regain the favor of, appease, conciliate," that is, to placate, pacify, avert the anger of the deity. As the NIV footnote puts it, "He is the one who turns aside God's wrath...."
"Expiation" (RSV) is the alternative. It means, "to make atonement for, make amends for,"19 without the idea of anger or wrath in the forefront.
Leon Morris's masterful study of this word makes it clear that hilasmos is strongly associated with ideas of propitiation in secular Greek, in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, and in the New Testament. The God of the Bible expresses anger against sin. However, this must be clearly differentiated from the capricious and arbitrary wrath of pagan gods of the Biblical world, who could be appeased by some kind of celestial bribery. The God of the Bible explains to his people a clear way to find forgiveness in case of sin, so their sin can be atoned for (Leviticus 17:11). Thus, in spite of God's anger against human rebellion and sin, he offers grace.20 In my opinion, "atoning sacrifice," is probably the best translation these days, since the word "propitiation" isn't widely understood.
It is remarkable to contemplate that our Advocate, our Spokesman before God's court of judgment, is at the same time our Atoning Sacrifice for sins. He appears on our behalf to argue our case out of infinite love. The Righteous One argues for justice. Since he has already paid for our sins, no additional punishment is due us for our sins.
|Q4. (1 John 2:1-2) What assurance does John give us if
we do sin? How does this comfort us? How does it make us want to avoid
Before we leave this section, it's interesting to consider the last part of the verse 2:
"He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (2:2)
So-called "5-Point" Calvinism (sometimes called "TULIP" Calvinism) insists on the Limited Atonement or Particular Redemption: that Christ died only for the sins of the elect, not for the sins of all mankind (citing such verses as John 10:11, 15; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32-35; Matthew 1:21). One the other side are those who contend for Unlimited Atonement or General Redemption, that Christ died for the sins of all people (citing such verses as John 1:29b; John 3:16-17; 1 John 2:2; 1 Timothy 2:1-6; 4:10; Hebrews 2:9).21
As I survey the arguments for and against, I think the real reason that people argue for the Limited Atonement is for theological reasons, not because of the clear teaching of Scripture. Verses such as 1 John 2:2 convince me that Jesus died for the sins of all human beings, but that unless people put their faith in Christ, this atoning death is sadly not efficacious for them. As Reformed theologians once put it, Christ's death is "sufficient for all, but efficient for the elect."22
This section concludes with John's insistence that our faith must show up in our actions. It must!
"3 And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He who says 'I know him'but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: 6 he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked." (2:3-6)
John is seeking to counteract the heresy of his opponents that contended that our actions don't really affect our spirituality, and that the moral teaching of Jesus was not that important. The Scripture is clear: Being disciples of Jesus requires obedience (Luke 6:46; John 14:15; James 2:26).
Nominal Christians bristle at such bold words. They prefer to follow a Christ that gives all, but demands nothing. In the end they are self-deceived. Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, calls us to be disciples and demands our all -- and offers forgiveness when we fall short. God's goal is not to make us comfortable, but to make us like himself, "to be conformed to the likeness of his Son " (Romans 8:29).
It is possible to construe the Christian faith entirely in terms of rule-keeping, a picky focus on minute keeping of many man-made rules. This was what Jesus criticized about the Judaism of his day:
"Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone." (Luke 11:42)
The study is available as a free e-mail Bible study, or as an e-book or paperback book at a modest cost.
The two greatest commandments are (1) love God and (2) love your neighbor. Following Christ on his way is about love, not rule-keeping. Yes, we are called to obey God, but that obedience must flow from love, not from a legalistic, self-righteous spirit.
Comparing his "yoke" of teaching to that of the nit-picky Pharisees, Jesus said:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
|Q5. (1 John 2:3-6) How can we be serious about obeying
Christ without become legalistic and judgmental, with the self-righteous
attitude that the Pharisees had? How do love and legalism differ? How
can we be serious about obedience and make love our center?
Father, thank you for your love and forgiveness. Help me when I sin, that I neither despair nor take sin lightly. Teach me to confess my sins and receive fully your forgiveness and character change in my life. In Jesus'name, I pray. Amen.
"If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin." (1 John 1:7)
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)
"My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:1-2)
2. Logos, BDAG 601, 3.
3. In Platonic and neo-Platonic philosophy logos is the all-pervading Reason that gives form to and governs the universe. The term was also used in Hellenistic circles, in particular by Philo, a first-century Jewish philosopher. Philo uses logos as the word by which God created the world and as a mediator between the ideal and real worlds. There is much written on this subject summarized in general articles: Paul A. Rainbow, “Logos Christianity,” DLNT, pp. 665-667; D.H. Johnson, “Logos,” DJG, pp. 481-484; Raymond E. Brown, “Appendix II: The ‘Word,’” The Gospel According to John (Doubleday, 1966), vol. 1, pp. 519-524; George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1974), pp. 237-242.
4. Theaomai, "to have an intent look at something, to take something in with one's eyes, with implication that one is especially impressed, see, look at, behold" (BDAG 445, 1a). The word also occurs at 4:14 to support John's claim to be an eyewitness.
5. John's mother Salome was apparently Mary’s sister. Compare Mark 15:40 with Matthew 27:56 and John 19:25.
6. 1 John 1:2, 3; 2:1, 13, 15, 16, 22, 23, 24; 3:1; 4:14; 5:1.
7. 1 John 3:24; 4:2, 13; 5:6, 8.
8. Koinōnia, BDAG 552, 1. Koinōnia, derived from koinos, "pertaining to being of mutual interest or shared collectively, communal, common" (BDAG 552, 1).
9. Peripateō, BDAG 803, 2δ.
10. Pseudomai, "to tell a falsehood, lie" (BDAG 109, 1).
11. homologeō, BDAG 708, 3c.
12. Pistos, BDAG 820, 1aβ.
13. Dikaios, BDAG 246, 1bα.
14. Aphiēmi, BDAG 156, 2.
15. Katharizō, BDAG 488, 3bα.
16. Teknion, BDAG 994.
17. W. Grundmann, hamartanō, TDNT 1:302-16.
18. Paraklētos, BDAG 766; J. Behm, paraklētos, TDNT 5:800-814.
19. Hilasmos, "appeasement necessitated by sin, expiation," but it can also have the sense, "instrument for appeasing, sacrifice to atone, sin-offering." (BDAG 474, 1 and 2).
20. Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Eerdmans, 1955), chapters 4 and 5.
21. For a fair presentation of both arguments, see Walter A. Elwell, "Atonement, Extent of the," in Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker, 1984), pp. 98-100.
22. The wording comes out of the Synod of Dort (1618-19), which clarified and affirmed 5-point Calvinism, cited by Elwell, p. 98.
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