We begin a new series looking at the fundamentals of the gospel in John’s letters. This time we look at who is God and what is it to walk in God’s light?
John’s message was always one of God’s love and God’s light, this can be seen throughout his writings. The New English Bible entitles John’s fist letter “A return to Fundamentals,” and that is a good way to understand it. This is the same John who wrote the gospel. He is described by Paul as a pillar of the Jerusalem church (Gal.2:19) Early accounts of John are found in Acts 3 and Acts 4 and in Acts 15 he is a key member of the Jerusalem council.
He is writing from Ephesus and had gone there to flee persecution and the invading Roman armies that sacked and looted Jerusalem in AD 70, as God had said believers would have to do (Mk 13:14)
Ephesus was the greatest trade centre in what was called Asia Minor, modern day Turkey. The church here was founded by Paul about AD 55 (Acts 19:10). Timothy pastored the church for a time (1Tim.1:3) and it is one of the seven churches addressed in Revelation (Rev. 2:1-7). John addresses in his letter some of the moral and heretical issues raised there – 1 Tim. 1:6;2:15;4:1;5:21
The heresy in Ephesus was gnosticism, a teaching that exalted the mind and declared matter as evil. This resulted in them believing that what they thought, their current impressions, were more important than what God said in his word. They also, seeing matter to be evil, denied the incarnation (see 2:22;4:2-3). John uses strong language, calling them liars! (2:4, 22; 4:20) and affirms positively the incarnation (5:5-6;1:7;2:2;3:16)
John warned against a spiritual elitism (4:20-21) and assures us that we don’t need secret knowledge but can know for sure we are saved (compare Jn.20:31; 1 Jn.5:13). God’s assurance is down-to-earth and observable. It is not “the gospel and…” but the plain simple gospel that can be grasped and believed by everyone.
The opening words of the letter remind us of John’s gospel, both remind us of the opening words of Genesis:
“That which was from the beginning…” (1 John 1:1)
“In the beginning was the Word…” (John 1:1)
“In the beginning God…” (Genesis 1:1)
Is John writing about Jesus, or the message. Why does he write, “That which…” and not, “He who…?”
When he writes of the “Word” the Greek is Logos. Looking at how that word Logos is used helps us understand why he writes as he does.
In 2 Timothy 4:2 it is used to describe preaching the whole counsel of God
In Acts 15:7 it also describes the message preached
In 1 Corinthians 1:23 and 2 Corinthians 4:5 Christ is the actual message preached.
John 11:25; 14:6; 5:26; 1:4 all refer to Jesus as the Life
When John, then, refers to Jesus as “The Word of Life” he is telling us that Christ is the message and is, himself, the source of life. In 1John 1:2 he writes:
“The life appeared; we have seen it and testify of it.”
The apostolic message is Christ.
The Christian life is not about head knowledge, as the Gnostics would have it. Nor is it simply about a lifestyle change and keeping rules. It is a combination of faith and works, of learning and doing. Eternal life has its roots in fellowship with God (John 17:3) and faith is the door to fellowship (John 20:29)
The word for fellowship is koinonia and can mean both intimacy in relationship and a participation in life, common concerns. Unity in Christ, then comes by:
a) Hearing the message
b) Receiving the truth
c) Acting out of koinonia with God and with each other
Out of such fellowship we come to know joy (1 John 1:4). Joy has been promised us (John 16:20, 22, 24) but, as did Christ, we come to it through carrying our own cross in this world (Heb.12:2,3)
It has been said that happiness happens but joy abides
How do you think of God? Many people would reply, “I like to think of God as…” but John leaves us in no doubt about the nature of God. He, more than any other New Testament writer, talks directly about God’s nature. He tells us:
God is spirit John 4:24
God is love 1 John 1:5
God is light 1 John 1:5
Here God’s life is revealed, and John makes it clear on what authority he teaches these things:
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light” (1 John 1:5)
This reflects a pattern of teaching that has come down to us today.
“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you…and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 1:13-14; 2:2)
God revealed his nature in the creation (Gen.1:3) and Jesus declared of himself, “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
It is by his light we see things clearly and correctly. CS Lewis said, “We believe the sun has risen not because we see it but because by it we see everything else.” There are three marks of reality identified in John’s letter by which we may know if we are truly walking in the light.
(1) Fellowship with others
“If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness…” V.4
Here John insists a holy life is shared with others. John reminds us, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” (5:1)
“Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (2:9-11)
(2) Acknowledging our sinful nature
“The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin”
The act of purification is continuous action, a process; a walking in the light.
“And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21)
As God’s light shines we should become more aware of weakness so we may confess and be dealt with and grow in him. We live ‘between the time’ (Luke 17:20-21) walk by faith not by sight (1 John 3:2)
(3) Acknowledging our sinful acts
Our outward lives, our words and actions, evidence inward sinfulness. People make excuses for sin:
Adultery becomes an affair, sins become weaknesses, even rights, or perks. Telling untruths becomes white lies, lust becomes love. What do we tolerate? When we deny sin are we calling God a liar?
In this way we have peace over our past and hope for our future.