Epistles of John Bible Study (Security)

Overview of First John

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John’s Opponents

We are going to begin a thorough study of John’s first epistle in the upcoming weeks. First John is a letter filled with struggle and conflict. The recipients of this letter (who are not identified, but is likely written for circulation for all the churches toward the end of the first century) have a present threat trying to move them away from the faith. You can notice this struggle and conflict in a number of places throughout John’s first letter.

I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. (1 John 2:26 ESV)

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:10 ESV)

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:22 ESV)

John does not pull any punches, calling these deceivers “children of the devil” and “antichrists.” Therefore, the reader desires to know who are these opponents. We are told many characteristics about these opponents. They deny the Son (2:23). They deny that Jesus Christ came in the flesh (4:2). They also deny that Jesus is the Christ (2:22). The opponents seem to affirm the idea of Christ, but do not accept that Christ became flesh and question if the man Jesus was the incarnation of God. This is why many believe the opponents are Gnostic in nature because these were tenets of the growing false doctrine, gnosticism. I do not want to degenerate the lesson into a study of gnosticism. In an oversimplification, gnosticism taught that Jesus was an earthly man of Nazareth, well known for his piety and wisdom. Christ was the heavenly deity who descended on Jesus at his baptism and departed before the crucifixion. Therefore, the man Jesus died on the cross, not the Son of God, the Christ. I want us to see that the letter itself reveals that the opponents hold tenets consistent with a growing false movement in the first and second centuries called gnosticism. There are many more facets to the Gnostic teaching. As needed, we will observe and explore these gnostic teachings as we progress in our study through John’s letter.

John’s Love

While the letter is a forceful defense of the gospel against these deceivers, you will notice the loving affection John has toward the readers. Six times John addresses his readers as “beloved” (2:7; 3:2; 3:21; 4:1; 4:7; 4:11). Some translations use the reading, “dear friends.” However, Robert Yarbrough argues that “dear friends” is not a strong enough term to express what the apostle John is calling his readers (Baker Exegetical Commentary, 96-97). These Christians are loved by John and they are loved by God. They are God’s chosen people having a shared union with Christ. They must not be deceived by the opponents’ teachings.

Further, John calls his readers, “Little children,” seven times in this letter (2:1; 2:12; 2:28; 3:7; 3:18; 4:4; 5:21). This is not a derogatory term as we might suppose, but a term of affection. This language gives us a feel that the apostle John is an old man writing with affection for his spiritual children, these Christian readers, to stay in the faith. John continues to imply a loving relationship with his audience and that the audience will listen and obey him as their spiritual father.

John’s Purpose

One of the unique features of John’s writings is that he tells you the reason for his writing. The gospel of John expresses his purpose in John 20:30-31.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31 ESV)

John wrote his gospel so that those who read will believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that he is the Son of God. Further, when you believe in Jesus you will have life in his name.

John states a number of reasons for writing this letter. We already observed one reason in 1 John 2:26.

I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. John is fighting against the false teachings that have infiltrating the minds and lives of the Christians. John wants his readers to be aware of the false teaching and to not be pulled away from the truth.

Another of John’s purpose statements is found at the beginning of the letter.

And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:4 ESV) We will examine the meaning of this purpose statement when we look at the first four verses of this letter in a few weeks.

John also has a purpose statement at the end of his first letter and I believe this is the primary purpose and overall description for why John is writing.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13 ESV)

This purpose is important for us today. There are many who think they are Christians but are not. This letter is going to clarify who are children of God and who are not. John is going to tell us about those who say they walk in the light but walk in darkness. John will describe those who say they walk in the light but hate their brother or sister in Christ. Warning will be given for those who think they are Christians but love the world and the things of the world. John will make it clear who is truly a follower of Jesus and who is merely claiming to be a Christian.

The other important part of John’s purpose is to give confidence to Christians so that they can know that they have eternal life. I want to emphasize what John says. John tells us that it is possible to know that you have eternal life. Not only is it possible to know, but John writes so that these Christians will have this knowledge and this confidence. You can know if you have eternal life. I believe this is the overarching theme of John’s letter. One of the aspect of gnosticism is that they claimed to have special knowledge that followers of Christ did not have. This is one reason why John will speak of having knowledge from God or knowing God thirty-nine times in this book. These deceivers do not have spiritual knowledge. You know that you have eternal life.

There are teachers today who will imply or openly declare that you cannot know if you are saved. They will teach that we cannot know if we have eternal life. The apostle John taught the opposite. Christians are not people who live in a state of uncertainty. New Testament Christians are people who know who they were, where they are, and where they are going. Christians are people who have faith that is certain. If you do not know that you have eternal life, then what exactly do you have faith in? What exactly do you believe? You may say, “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who raised from the dead.” Do you understand that if you truly believe that then you must know you have eternal life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:5 ESV)

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Romans 6:8 ESV)

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:14 ESV)

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9 ESV)

Do we see the certainty in the words of Paul? If you believe that Jesus died and raised, then you will raised with him, have life, and be saved. You cannot believe in Jesus and not believe that you will have eternal life. Why? The reason is that if you do not believe you have eternal life, then you really don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God who raised from the dead. You cannot believe Jesus is the Son of God because you are saying that your sins are greater than God and that is why you are unsure if you have eternal life. You do not understand who Jesus is. You do not understand what Jesus has done for your sins. You do not grasp that Jesus is God is who is greater than your sins.

But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20–21 ESV)

When we do not believe that we do not have eternal life or are unsure, then we are saying that God is not God and that he cannot save us because of what I have done. We are denying the very faith we claim to have. We are simply saying words that Jesus is the Son of God, but we clearly do not believe it. Read John’s words again:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13 ESV)

John’s letter is going to give us the instruction we need to have this confidence. John is going to explore who are children of God and who have this confidence. But I do not want to leave you with a gap in knowledge as we conclude this lesson. You may wonder how we can have eternal life even though we do truly believe and have the faith commanded of us, yet we continue to sin. There is a beautiful word used throughout the scriptures and we read it just a moment ago from the apostle Paul: GRACE. Grace abounded all the more. You have only two options. Either you are going to try to do better and better until you feel like you know you have eternal life based on your own good works. Let me know how that goes for you. Maybe you will have a good day or two, but eventually you will sin again. Our good works leave us short of eternal life. That is why we need salvation. The only other option we have is to rely on the grace provided through the sacrifice of Jesus to know you have eternal life. You can try to find eternal life by your own good works and fail. The apostle Paul declared, “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law” (Galatians 3:11). Or you can submit to the Lord and trust in him with your whole life and let his grace bring us to eternal life. Notice how Paul concluded that sentence. “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'” (Galatians 3:11 ESV)

Therefore, I am calling this series of messages from 1 John, “Security.” John writes that you will know that you have eternal life. God’s people have eternal life promised to them. As sure as Christ raised from the dead, you will be raised to life if you have been united with Christ (Romans 6:5).

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