The past couple of days I’ve been reading 1 John. I’ve always found it to be kind of a challenging read because of the way John organized it. But reading it through in one sitting I realized that John uses a device that the Hebrews often employed in their writing: repetition with variety. In other words, he repeats simple truths and each time he does, he writes them in a different way so there’s no misunderstanding when you take them all together.
Another thing that John does is use the phrase, “This is how…,” or, “This is what…,” etc. And he uses that phrase 23 times in this short letter.
John explains his purpose for writing in chapter 1, verse 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.” This fellowship (koinonia) denotes intimate community or oneness.
In other words, John is writing to explain the basic distinctives that define authentic Christianity and establish the basis for our fellowship with God and with each other. John contrasts these distinctives with characteristics of the evil one, his antichrists, and the worldview that opposes God. And living in our so-called “progressive” culture today, all this is extremely relevant.
From what John wrote, we can summarize these tests or distinctives of authentic Christianity in different ways. I will try to do this as simply as possible. Here’s what I see from 1 John and the tests of authentic Christianity that he presents. In other words, those who share this intimate fellowship with God and each other have these characteristics:
- We believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God and receive His atonement for our sins. We believe that the Son of God came in the flesh, lived a righteous life, and died as “the atoning sacrifice for our sins,” and for all who put their trust in Him (2:1-2). Anyone who denies this is a liar and an antichrist (2:22).
- We love God, because He first loved us, and because He loves us, we love each other (4:10-11). We obeyGod’s commands and they are simple: love God and love others. Our love for God and for others expresses itself through actions (3:18). Steeped in God’s love, we live without fear of death or whatever else comes our way (4:18).
- God is light (holy, righteous, without fault) and when we walk with Him, we walk in the light (1:5-7). If we say that we know Him but walk in darkness, we’re lying and the truth is not in us (1:6).We strive to live like Jesus in this world (2:6; 3:3; 4:17).In Christ’s power we seek to remove sin from our lives and live holy lives (3:4-10).If we keep willfully sinning, we may not yet know God. Righteousness and truth go hand-in-hand. We live in the truth revealed in God’s Word (1:5-7; 2:3-5, 14).
- We are God’s children and enjoy fellowship with Him. His Holy Spirit lives within us, and we can talk with Him and know that He hears our prayers (3:1-30). As God’s children, we have overcome the spirit of antichrist. Greater is He who is within us, than he who is in the world (4:4).
- Our affections and our speech are focused on what God loves and says is important. Our affections are not on the world, what it offers, and what it says is important (2:15-17). For the world is under the control of the evil one (5:19). We speak in synch with the Holy Spirit of truth and not according to the world.
There is so much more packed into John’s short letter, but hopefully I’ve captured the essence. His letter is so relevant today because there seems to be so much confusion about the nature of truth and what is right. But John reminds us that God sets the standards, we don’t.
John also reminds us “that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19) Is it any wonder that we’re experiencing such hatred, violence, and confusion?
I’ll end this blog post with some of John’s final words, “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true. And we are in Him who is true by being in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” (1 John 5:20)