In this series on fundamentals we are looking at the gospel in John’s letters. Last time we looked at how we walk in the light of God’s. This is the same John who wrote the gospel. He is described by Paul as a pillar of the Jerusalem church (Gal.2:9) 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)
John goes to lengths to emphasise historical facts – “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.” (1:1-4)
The faith that overcomes the world is a very specific belief, “that Jesus is the Son of God.” (5:5) If Jesus is the only way in which we can come into fellowship with God then we must have the right Jesus. Cerinthius, and other false teachers, insisted that Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary, that Christ joined Jesus at his baptism to equip him for ministry and left him before the crucifixion. This meant an ordinary man died on the cross. John refutes that and shows us the true nature of Jesus.
Jesus, The One Who Came
The first thing John affirms is that Jesus Christ is “the one who came” (5:6) That Jesus, a real man, who lived in real time and space (1:1-4) is the eternal Son of God. The Palm Sunday crowds greeted Jesus as, “he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mt.21:9) and John the Baptist referred to Jesus as, “he who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” (Jn.1:15) When the Baptist sent to see if Jesus was the one he asked, “Are you the one who was to come…” (Lk.7:19)
Jesus is the fulfilment of prophecy as the one who was to come, the one who was from the beginning (Jn.1:1-3) This is essential for us because it shows God keeps his promises and demonstrates that Jesus Christ is the one who was to come.
The One Who Came by Water
His coming “by water” (5:6) is a reference to his baptism (Mk.1:9-11) This where his coming began to be revealed to people and it was marked by water baptism. It was the time when God personally witnessed to Jesus’ identity. When the Spirit descended on him like a dove and God declared, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”
The One Who came by Water and Blood
The false teachers would have no difficulty accepting this teaching since this was when they believed Jesus received the divine spirit, Christ, to equip him for his ministry. John anticipates this by referring further to Jesus as one who comes by water and by blood (5:6) This is a reference to his crucifixion affirming it was not simply the man Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, who died on the cross but Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Word of John’s gospel, the promised Messiah. This is so important because the Son of God became our atoning sacrifice for sins, and faith in him alone is what puts us right with God, right with each other and gives victory over the world.
The Spirit that Testifies
These, John insists, are historical facts. But then he insists we can know with a greater certainty again because of the witness of the Spirit. (5:6) “When the Counsellor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me; but you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (Jn.15:26-27)
First hand witness accounts (you have been with me from the beginning) and the testimony of the Spirit (the Spirit…will testify about me) work together to testify about Jesus. So the Spirit bears witness through the Scriptures, the eye-witness accounts, and testifies to people’s hearts about the truth, producing children of God. Pentecost is an instance of historical fact (God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ…of this we are witnesses Acts 2:22-36) affirmed by inner conviction (when the people heard this they were cut to the heart (Acts 2:37)
It is important to understand where personal conviction comes from. It is not simply the product of how we personally feel about things; if it feels good it must be right. Saving faith comes as we meet the historical Jesus described by John and others, through the testimony of those who heard, saw, looked at and touched (1:1-4) – and the objective realities testified to at Pentecost (Acts 2:22-36) – what he achieved for us in his death and resurrection. In trusting in the finished work of Jesus we are born again, and following there develops a growing inner conviction that these things are true and for us as individuals. We are saved by trusting this Jesus (v10)
When people reject Jesus it is not because the evidence isn’t there but because they are in rebellion against God (Ro.1:18-25)
The consequence of believing or denying is far reaching. Doubters make God out to be a liar (5:10) Believers literally inherit eternal life (5:12) – literally, the life of eternity. It is our present possession (John 5:24) In Jesus eternity breaks through into time! Only Jesus can impart this life.
Jesus makes himself equal to God (Jn.5:18)
Jesus imparts life as only God can (Jn.5:21)
Jesus has life in himself as the Father has (Jn.5:26)
It is to him all must go to have this life (Jn.5:40)
Jesus is the bread of life (Jn.6:35-40)
Jesus gives eternal life to his sheep (Jn.10:28)
He is the resurrection and the life (Jn.11:25-26)
Eternal life is to know him and the Father (Jn.17:2-3)
The false teachers did not have this life because, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the anti-Christ…” (v12)
The life we seek is found in Jesus and him alone. This eternal life is experienced to some degree here in this life (v12); it is kingdom living now!
In writing about “these things” (v13) John has in mind more than the few preceding verses. The whole letter is leading up to this one thing – “that you may know that you have eternal life.” It is worth reading through the text counting the number of words of assurance John offers – know; confidence; God hears; we know he answers; we know believers don’t go on sinning; we know Christ keeps us safe; we know we are God’s children; we know God’s Son has come; we know who is true.
John began saying he wrote, “to make our joy complete.” (1:4) What makes his joy complete? Knowing his “children” walk in the good of what they know (vv 13-14)
“It gives me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father has commanded.” (2 Jn.4)
“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 Jn.4)
He writes about the joy of assurance (John 20:31), the joy of knowing God (John 17:3) and, in the face of heretics who teach about secret knowledge, he is concerned that we should not learn to despise the simplicity of the message.
John writes about the importance of believing in the name of the Son of God (v13) In those times a name was more than a label, it reflected your character. This is why it is important to understand and believe the correct things about Jesus. He is the Son of God AND God the Son. He is fully God, having life in himself, and if we put our faith in another “name” we will not receive the life John writes about here.
John goes on to write about four ways we can deepen our knowledge and joy:
First, the mark of Christian reality is boldness in prayer. John writes about “the confidence we have in approaching God.” (v14) The writer to the Hebrews says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Heb.4:16)
Note that we approach the throne of grace and we approach it for help in our time of need, and not when we have first sorted ourselves out. When we least feel able to present ourselves to God is when we most need his grace and help. We are bold because God knows and forgives us (3:20-21)
We also note that, while we are assured we have what we ask (v15) there is a condition; we must ask according to God’s will (v14) It is worth noting there is no pending tray with God; He hears us immediately. Sometimes there appears to be a delay between asking and getting an answer. The life of Daniel shows us what we are dealing with when we take prayer seriously.
Read Daniel 10:12-13 and answer these question (1) When did God hear Daniel’s prayer? (2) When did God answer? (3) When did Daniel know of the answer? It is important that when we enter into prayer we are entering into the area of spiritual warfare (Eph.6:12)
The Sin That Leads to Death?
I just want, briefly, to deal with the question that troubles many Christians when they read this letter; what is the sin that leads to death? The first thing to note is that all wrongdoing is sin and God doesn’t grade sins, identifying seven particularly “deadly sins.” That is a mediaeval invention that has no basis in Scripture. What is the one thing a person can do to ensure they do not receive forgiveness?
There is a form of spiritual anorexia that, like physical anorexia, can rob us of all appetite for what is best for us. We may see the benefit of partaking, we may wish to eat, but we have so starved ourselves of the good things on offer our body (or our soul) cannot eat. In Marlowe’s the story of Dr Faustus, the doctor sells his soul to the devil in exchange for power and knowledge. He will spend 24 years in this world with all the power and knowledge he could wish for but then spend eternity in hell. As his fate overtakes him he cries, “My heart’s so hardened I cannot repent.”
A brother in Christ, by his nature, is concerned to avoid sin and cannot, therefore, commit the sin that leads to death, as we will see.
The second way to deepen our knowledge and joy is to develop a hatred of sin. John reminds us, “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin.” (v18) But we also know, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1:8) You will remember we have already said that there is a family characteristic in those who continue to sin and a family characteristic in those who grow to despise sin. It is direction of travel and a character that increasingly reflects Christ that identifies us. Verse 18 speaks of “anyone born of God” and, “he who was born of God…”
The first is a reference to a relationship begun at a point in time. When we were born again we entered into God’s family. The second refers to a once for all fact, someone who always was born of God, eternally God’s Son – Jesus. John is saying here that Jesus keeps us safe as we walk in faith and repentance before God.
The third way to grow is in developing a new attitude to the world (v19). We have already seen that we are born of God. John calls us “children of God” and God’s family is quite separate from the world. We are in the world but not of the world. Jude writes:
“Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus \Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupt flesh.” (Jude 21-23)
The fourth way is in having a new awareness of God (v.20) John is saying we know God because he has come in Jesus. Our knowledge is based on fellowship with God and not simply intellect. We walk with him each day and are aware of his presence with us.
Idols: Finally, John warns us, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (v21) We think of idols as graven images and today we might think of wealth, cars, property etc. What John has in mind here is false ideas. An idol is anything that occupies the place due to God. An idea can take that place and we are warned in Scripture we are not to look to any organisation, personality, secret knowledge, or another Jesus other than the one that was preached.
Teaching Point: In Scripture we have a first-hand account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We don’t believe in the absence of evidence, but because of the evidence. Faith doesn’t ignore the evidence but it does take us beyond the evidence to a personal encounter with the risen Saviour. In witnessing we are sharing facts and not just feelings, inviting people to meet a risen Christ, and to order their thinking and lives according to what can be shown to be plainly true.