We study through books of the Bible here at The Village Chapel, and we have extra copies. If you would like one to follow along, put your hand up real high, real quick. Got a gaggle of folks in the back that are looking for seats too. So, put your hands up and if you have some seats next to you, if you’ll scrunch into the middle, we can get these folks seated as well. There you go. We’ve got to have the kids sing more often because I notice you guys move forward when the kids are here. The grandparents and the parents are all in the front row with the cameras. They’re ready. The kids are going to come sing for us after the service today, so I better get going because the kids are coming.
So, a couple questions. Can faith ever become a source of joy? If you’ve met some religious people, you would think that when they were kids and they sang, “We got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart…” That they didn’t really have the joy, joy, joy or at least they hadn’t notified their faces if they did have the joy. Can faith be a source of joy? We’ll see some of that in 1 John. Does the Bible offer any assurance that the faith you have placed in Christ, if you have, is saving faith? Where can we turn for clarity, conviction, increased understanding and confidence as it relates to the faith we have placed in Jesus?
So, we begin this brand-new study of 1 John and, actually, we’re going to do 1, 2 and 3 John all together here over the next few weeks. All who have trust in Christ will find, I think, these three letters to be like a river flowing with encouragement and reassurance. I’m looking forward to our study. I’m about to read the first 10 of 105 verses in 1 John, and that will be chapter 1, which is the way we’ve broken our English Bibles up anyway with these chapters and these verse numbers. John, of course, is just writing and he’s just flowing and he’s quite an amazing author. I love reading the Gospel of John. I love reading these three letters and, of course, the Book of Revelation, but let me pray for the Holy Spirit’s illumination.
Oh Lord, since light is so good, I pray that You would give us more of it. And since You are light, I pray that You would give us more of Yourself. As we study Your Word, we pray for a clearer vision of Your truth, a greater faith in Your power, and a more confident assurance of Your love for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen and amen.
This is God’s Word, unique in its source, timeless in its truth, broad in its reach and transforming in its power. Here’s 10 verses:
“What was from the beginning, what we’ve heard, what we’ve seen with our eyes, what we beheld, and our hands handled concerning the Word of life. And the life was manifested and we’ve seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us. What we’ve seen and heard, we proclaim to you also that you also may have fellowship with us. And indeed, our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. And these things we write so that our joy…” Some of your translations will say, “Your joy.” Either works. “Our joy may be made complete,” or “full” or remain full,” some of your translations will say.
“This is the message,” verse 5, “that we’ve heard from him and announced to you that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we’re deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.”
Therein ends what we call chapter 1. As they say, John didn’t necessarily stop right there, but we’re going to stop right there. In a world unraveling in uncertainty and skepticism, is there anything we can be sure of? In an era swirling with intellectual confusion and moral ambiguity, is there a way to really know the difference between right and wrong? In a generation paralyzed by the resulting despair of its own self-obsession, is there a way to experience unquenchable joy? It’s like the painting my wife did many years ago, which was based on this little thing Luther used to say that man is curved in on himself. That’s what sin is. And it is a primitive drawing of a person just curved all the way down in on themself.
The symbol of the Christian faith is a cross, not infinity, not a circle. Some worldviews use a circle of a snake with a tail in its mouth as their symbol. What a terribly undelicious meal that must be for that snake to simply be curved in on itself and eating itself all the time. We are obsessed with self in our own day and time. And I say “we” because it’s me too. When it comes to our spiritual lives with our tendency toward drift and listlessness and our lack of discipline, is it possible to know the real God who’s there and to have any confidence at all about our salvation, our standing before God? I think 1 John offers a crystal-clear vision of authentic Christian faith. It’s a richer, fuller insight into the heart of God and a pathway to irrepressible hope, the transforming experience of personal holiness, and full reassurance of the sovereignty of God.
As we dig into the book, let’s talk about literary genre for a second. This is an epistle. The epistles are not the wives of the apostles, as some people have said, “Oh, that must be the wife of the apostle.” No. The epistles are letters, ancient letters, and sometimes to an individual, sometimes they’re to a church, an entire church, sometimes they’re to a group of churches in a geographic region like Galatia or something. Sometimes they’re encyclicals, they’re meant to be submissive to the entire church wherever it may be. But most of these ancient New Testament letters are intended to either perfect or correct the faith of individuals in those churches and also the culture of those churches as well. We have in our English Bibles, five chapters here, 105 verses.
I want to encourage you; I’m trying to read the entire book of 1 John every single morning. It only takes about 15 to 20 minutes at the most, depending on how fast a reader you are. But I’m going to encourage you to join me in that and have some coffee and read 1 John all the way through. You’ll keep seeing verses that you’re familiar with a little bit. Maybe you’ve seen them embroidered on a plaque and hung on a wall or carved out in the wood or something. And that’s going to happen over and over again in 1 John. It’s really beautiful that way. But the letter, you want to read somebody else’s mail, here’s an opportunity to do it, but it’s really mail sent to us as well. The author is not stated.
A lot of the epistles in the New Testament will start with, “I Paul and Timothy,” or “I Paul and Silvanus” or somebody. It’ll open with identifying who the author is and who it’s intended for. This doesn’t start that way. John starts this first letter, and I believe it’s John, we don’t know for sure, but I believe it is. This letter starts so much like the Gospel of John. Think about the Gospel of John. That prologue. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And here I think the same person begins this letter with that which was in the beginning, and he starts that same way. And you’ll see images like life and light, which you also get in the prologue of John’s gospel all right here in this very first chapter. So, it’s a beautiful letter. It is, I believe, written by John the apostle, close friend of Jesus, eyewitness, earwitness to many of the things that Jesus said and did.
Who are the recipients, the intended recipients of this? Probably this was distributed widely around the Mediterranean as the church grew, as the Christian faith swept the mighty Roman Empire without drawing a sword or firing a shot of any kind from a bow and arrow. John writes, referring to his readers using two different, very warm and descriptive Greek terms for children. Fourteen different times in these five chapters, he’ll say “my children” or “my little children” over and over and over again. The recipients needed some clarity, and he offers them clarity and assurance and comfort along the way.
What’s the date of the writing of this letter? Some theologians think somewhere between 85 and 95 AD. Again, it’s not dated, so we don’t actually know, but it seems like he’s writing in response to the Gnosticism and Docetism that were on the ground during that timeframe. And so, I think that’s probably a good guess, John, the last to die of the disciples and apostles, lived to the end of that first century.
Gnosticism, some of you will be familiar with. It is special or esoteric knowledge. It teaches the humans or divine souls trapped in a material world created by an imperfect God known as a demiurge. In Gnostic belief, the material world is evil, and this affected their view of the dual natures of Jesus, fully divine and fully human. But if the material world was evil, God would never take on a physical body, say the Gnostics. And so, John writes to say, “No, what was in the beginning, what we’ve seen, what we’ve heard, what we’ve actually handled… We touched him, we walked arm in arm like this. We gathered around and prayed together. We handed each other food; He handed us bread and He handed us wine and it was beautiful. And He was human, as well as from the beginning.”
Docetism was this belief that Jesus wasn’t actually physical, didn’t actually have a human body. He just appeared to have that. I don’t know where all those kinds of things come from, but in the first couple hundred centuries of the church, a lot of the ecumenical councils gathered in response to some of these kinds of ideas that were swirling about. And remember, our New Testament was just getting up on its legs and being distributed around. And so, a letter like this that literally goes out and says, “No, He was in the beginning, but He also was touchable, hearable and seeable.” And you can imagine how that would at least speak to the issues of the day.
That’s the purpose of John writing this particular letter as well. When you think about the Gospel of John at the end in one of the last chapters there, I think it’s chapter 20, verses 30 and 31, he says, “These things we’ve written that you may know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that knowing you might believe, and that believing you might have life in his name.”
And so, what we have with John’s gospel is a book written to persuade people to believe in Jesus. And yet here in 1 John with this letter, and I think all three of these letters actually, I don’t think these are written for unbelievers. I think these are written for believers, people who already believe, and there’s a reason. John wanted us to be assured of our salvation, to be reassured and comforted over and over again that indeed we can know with some certainty, based on the finished work of Christ on the cross, our salvation has been secured. And it’s not about how well I behave or how well you behave. It’s not about how nice I am or how southern I am. It’s about what Jesus has done. I’m far too quick to pat myself on the back and say, “We’re all basically good.” That’s kind of the mantra of our world in a way. It’s the worldview that is quite dominant in our world—we think everybody should be able to have it all their way and everybody is right. And yet at the same time, we can see kind of the foolishness of all of that, can’t we?
See, postmodernism critiques all worldviews but its own. And what postmodernism says is that two opposing truths can both be true at the same time. And I mean directly opposing truths. There is a God and there is not a God. Those are directly contradictory statements. There’s no shade of gray. It’s one or the other. Either there is a God or there isn’t a God. And if there is a God, oh man, that excites me and thrills me in some ways, and it makes me long to know Him. Maybe that’s the way you respond to the news that there is a God.
There are some people that respond to the news that there is a God by saying, “I don’t think there is. I don’t think there’s enough evidence. I mean, I see the world we live in, and I see that the earth that we travel on is complex, lots of different layers and layers of creation, all that sort of thing. I see it’s beautiful. I see that the universe, just the galaxy that we’re in is massive and beautiful as well. It seems well-ordered as well as beautiful, but I think that’s all just a happy accident.” And so, there are those that think that kind of thing, and we can’t both be right on some of these things. There are a lot of things that are not a binary choice. I get it, but there are some things that are a binary choice. And so, we need to be able to identify when that’s the case and when it leads us to wisdom and to knowing something.
So, what is faith? What is saving faith? In the biblical sense, what is faith? Is this the luminous feeling we get while we’re standing in the face of a sunset at the ocean? How many of you are ocean people? Ocean people? How about mountain people? Mountain people? Oh, look at you. Yeah. I have become a little bit of both, but I’m probably 70-30. I’m not going to tell you which one because I still want to be your pastor, but sometimes you can get this feeling of something otherworldly, something supernatural when you’re just seeing something like a sunset at the beach or the mountains and how beautiful and majestic they all are. And yet we all know you can live in those places and after a while they fade into the background. I grew up in Washington D.C. and it all faded into the background, some of those amazing monuments that people fly from all over the world to go see. I never even took the time to go see some of them. I know some of them, but proximity sometimes leads to a bit of an indifference.
Well, what do we find here that might answer some of those questions about what faith is, what authentic faith, what saving faith is? Is it just a warm, fuzzy spiritual feeling, or is there some certainty available to us? Does it speak to the mind or only to the feelings? We tend to, in our day and time, think with our feelings and feel with our feelings as well, but we’ve sort of decapitated ourselves intellectually. Because man, when you land the plane, if you’re a pilot, please do not land it with your feelings. If they tell you runway number two, really if I’m on your plane, I want it to be not whatever runway you happen to feel like landing on. I want runway number two, and I want you to know what you’re doing with that airplane. In life we have these kinds of things.
In 1 John, what’s fascinating to me is some of the purpose and some of the themes I think that comes through in some of the repeated words. And just to give you some examples, confidence is mentioned four times, fellowship is mentioned four times. That’s great. That’s awesome. That’s amazing. Write, writing or written, some form of the word or the verb “to write,” 13 times. “Command” or “commandments,” 13 times. Okay, now we’re getting a little more. The word “abide.” I love this word “abide,” 16 times. But listen to this, the word “love,” 36 times. The word “know,” some form of knowledge, 36 times. The title “God,” in Greek, God, 63 times. If I were going to maybe summarize what I think this letter has to say to us, I think it’s that God wants you to rejoice in the knowledge of His love for you expressed in the personal work of Jesus Christ.
The letter begins right out of the chute without John saying, “Hey, I’m the writer of this letter…” And I’m not saying Paul’s all cocky and all that sort of thing, I’m just saying, John starts with, “I got to get to Jesus, and I got to get to Jesus fast. That which was from the beginning, the one I saw, the one I heard, the one I sat around the campfire with, He’s the one. Look to Him.” Because in Jesus we see the love of God in motion reaching out to us, the initiating love of God reaching out to us sinners on this rebel planet, coming and laying down His life for us so that we might know that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ. And it’s all connected. It’s really, really quite beautiful when you think about it. Some of the reasons he wrote the letter: That you may have fellowship with us, that our fellowship may be with the Father and the Son, that our joy may be full, that you may not sin, that you may know with certainty the truth about Christ and your life with God.
We picked this particular book to study partly because we thought, as we looked through the archive of teaching from this church, I know we did 1 John, but it was, I think, down the hall in a smaller setting and we hadn’t done it here that we could find in the archive anyway. And so, we thought, “Oh, this’ll be really great.” And to follow up from our study of Matthew, here’s a little beautiful letter that leads us to reconciliation with God to assurance of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone to deeper love and fellowship with other believers. So, there’s this vertical part of it, there’s this horizontal part of it, and he connects the dots so beautifully. It leads us to power over sin and temptation through our relationship with Christ. Something you probably won’t hear about in a lot of churches, power over sin and temptation.
In our day and time, people don’t talk about atonement issues much anymore because we’re all basically good, aren’t we? And no, the Bible says we’re all basically in need of redemption and a lot of people will demand that you in some way endorse everything and anything in this world. And I’ll continue to say here in this church, everyone is welcome here, everyone. Bring everybody who might want to study the Word together, but understand the only thing we affirm about everybody is that we need redemption. We need redemption. And that’s why we gather, to remind ourselves that it’s on offer, it’s available, and it’s free to you and free to me because He has paid the price completely and fully. We can rejoice from the knowledge that we’ve been saved; that we are being saved and that we will be saved.
Are there are ways that we can tell if our faith is authentic? Sure. There was a theologian in the 19th century named Robert Law. I love the way he analyzed 1 John. He says there’s the moral test. Are we walking in the light that’s been mentioned here in verses 6 or 8? That’s the moral test. In other words, does your walk match your talk? Does it? Well, most of us would have to say sometimes if we’re being honest. And you’re in a church where that’s really okay. I want you to know that. You’re in a church where you can come through the door acknowledging the fact that you are “simul justus et peccator.” Most of us aren’t going to walk in and go, “Hi, I’m simul justus et peccator.” You’re justified and at the same time you’re still a sinner in need of God’s ongoing transforming power in your life.
The moral test, are we walking in the light? The theological test is found in 1 John. Do we believe Jesus is the Son of God? That’s what authentic Christian faith means. Authentic Christian faith isn’t whatever you might imagine faith to be. It’s not up to the individual like in the cultural milieu that we live in. The thought is that you can have it your way in virtually everything, including God, that it’s up to you to kind of define who God is by your imagination. And I say my imagination is far too small and far too limited and far too stained by my own selfishness. If God is who I imagine God to be, then God will think a whole lot like I do. God will hate what I hate and love what I love and value what I value and devalue what I devalue. And all of a sudden, I will have made God in my own image instead of me being made in the image of God.
And then there’s the social test, which is powerful here. I mean for a long, long time, I think the past couple decades, a lot of evangelical churches have been really good talking about the judicial aspects of the atonement, talking about the fact that God has paid the price in full in the personal work of Christ on the cross. And when you face judgment at the end of eternity and when God wraps up human history, you can point to Jesus and say, “I trust in Him.” And that is true and that is foundational. But the social test of 1 John is, do you really love others? And he will say here in this letter boldly that if you say you love God, but you don’t love others, you’re a liar. Is that going to hurt your feelings? Ah, somebody is going to sue John. Don’t sue me. I’m just reading what’s there. But that’s a great test for authentic faith as the Bible defines faith.
These aren’t methods and means by which we somehow or another acquire salvation. No, no, no, no. Grace is opposed to earning, but it’s not opposed to effort. Remember, he’s writing to believers. These are the results of salvation. He’s talking about all of a sudden, if you love Jesus, if you say you love God, you find yourself all of a sudden beginning to move out and love others, even some other people that used to annoy you, even some other people that might have hurt you. And you start to care more about others who might have hurt you or you might have hurt them. And all of a sudden you find yourself loving the unlovable ones, reaching out to ones you might have thought didn’t deserve you, reaching out to… Why? Because Jesus is changing you. And Jesus came for a world of lost sinners, myself included, yourself included. So, there are those tests.
In chapter one, we see incarnation, illumination, and reconciliation. Just in this chapter alone. In the first verse or the first few verses there, verse one through four, incarnation, what we’ve heard, what we’ve seen, what we beheld, we now proclaim. I love the way Piper describes the incarnation. He says,
“You can read every fairy tale that was ever written, every mystery thriller, every ghost story. You’ll never find anything so shocking and strange and weird and spellbinding as the story of the incarnation of the Son of God.”–John Piper
When Christ is preeminent, when we start with Him, as John does in this letter, when we put Christ first in all things, then we can trust we are believing rightly. And we can also become the best version of ourselves simply because we’re aligning all of who we are with all of who He is. And if He loves the unlovable and we want to be like Him and follow Him, we will then do the same thing. Love others.
Verse 7 reminds us of why Jesus came. To substitute Himself as a sacrifice in our place, to pay the price for our sins and to offer us salvation as a free gift. And His mercy and forgiveness just flow, and I love it when we come to the table and celebrate that as we do each and every month. Dane Ortlund in Gentle and Lowly says,
“Perhaps the notion of heavenly mercy seems abstract; but what if that mercy became something we could see, hear, and touch? That’s what happened at the incarnation. “–Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly
There He was sitting across the campfire from John. There He was inviting John and Peter and James into the house of Jairus, the synagogue official. And there, John was standing right there when Jesus raised that little girl from the dead. I mean, can you imagine that he speaks with that kind of authority as an eyewitness and an earwitness to all that Jesus did and all that Jesus said. Illumination is on display here in verses 5 through 6. The emphasis that John says is, “God is light.” And our greatest need, of course, is God, and we need God’s light in our lives.
Let’s explore the metaphor for 22 seconds together. What is light? It’s illumination, it’s clarity, it’s guidance, it’s purity. It’s holiness, it’s warmth, it’s beauty, it’s truth, it’s integrity, it’s honesty. It dispels darkness. Somebody say “amen.” Amen.
Yeah, let’s dispel some darkness. I love that. We’ll need God’s light to do that because we were in darkness. We could not see; we could not move. When we did, we would stumble and fall over—we don’t even know what. But Jesus, the Light of the World, came into the world to bring us His light, to dismiss the darkness out of hand. And we even loved the darkness. And there are some people out there that love darkness right now in big, huge ways more than they love light. There are some people that are enchanted by darkness right now. There are some people that are wallowing in it, and some people are in the chains of darkness. We need a God who can dispel all of that.
Mark Buchanan in his book Your God is Too Safe says,
“Walking in truth requires admitting our sin, means coming out of the darkness into the light; the light that both exposes and heals.”–Mark Buchanan, Your God is Too Safe
It exposes what? My sin. It exposes my love for darkness. It exposes my tendency toward putting Jim first. Self-obsession, self-centeredness. I want everything my way. I want God to be exactly like me, which is the same thing as me saying I want to be my own god. But here’s the light of God. It both exposes our sin, and it comes along and heals us as well. And there is indeed with some light, there are some great medicinal and healing properties there.
Spurgeon has said,
“A man who looks toward the light sees no shadow; a man who walks toward the light leaves darkness behind him.”–C.H. Spurgeon
So, walk in the light people. Leave the darkness behind. That’s a great quote by him actually. It reminds me of this biblical word “repentance,” which is a twofold turn. I turn away from my sin and selfishness and I turn toward God in faith, believing toward Jesus, trusting and hoping in Him toward the Holy Spirit. Inviting the Holy Spirit to move in my life and transform my life to reorder my priorities and to redirect my affections.
Finally, reconciliation, which is what God is in the business of doing. And here’s a rather lengthy quote from a man named Thomas Howard who died just a couple years ago. He was an acclaimed author and scholar, English professor at Gordon College. Some of you may be familiar with that. He was also the younger brother of the well-known missionary named Elizabeth Elliot. Some of you will know her.
“The incarnation took all of all that properly belongs to our humanity and delivered it back to us, redeemed. All of our inclinations and appetites and capacities and yearnings are purified and gathered up and glorified by Christ. He did not come to thin out human life; he came to set it free…”
Now, when I read that right there, and I’m only in the middle of the quote right now, but I got really excited. I was like, “Oh, awesome.” Because setting free is what we need. See, we’re sort of in bondage and sin, and He comes and sets us free. He does for us that which we can’t do for ourselves. So that’s good. I’m antsy in my chair. Pick me. I want to be transformed. That’s good. Is that you? I hope that’s you.
“…All the dancing and feasting and processing, singing and building and sculpting and baking and merrymaking that belong to us—and that were stolen away into the service of false gods—are returned to us in the gospel.”–Thomas Howard
Now give me a Pentecostal “amen.” Amen.
Yeah, that’s it, man. That’s exactly it. That’s what Jesus would call abundant life. It’s not just a fat wallet. It’s not just everything going my way. It’s not just me being in control of the whole world. No. It’s me living and walking in the freedom of self-forgetfulness and just giving myself to Jesus and saying, “Lord, I’m yours. Use me however You would like to, You who were from the beginning, You who are the Word of Life, You who are the Light of the World.”
I close with this quote by Bonhoeffer,
“It’s grace to know God’s commands. They release us from self-made plans and conflicts. They make our steps certain and our way joyful.” I love that sentence there. That’s a great one too. “God gives His commands in order that we may fulfill them, and ‘His commandments are not burdensome’ (1 John 5:3) for him who has found all salvation in Jesus Christ.”–Dietrich Bonhoeffer
He commands, and yet He puts His Spirit within us and empowers us to obey His commands. So, when you get to the point where you’re going, “Ah, man, I’m tipping over the edge here. I’m not going to be able to resist. I’m not going to be able to resist.” That’s because you’re depending on you. That’s because I’m depending on me and my willpower instead of going, “Lord, I surrender to You. I trust You in this. As much as I want to do that or not to do that, I trust You. You know better. You’ve given me the power to resist, Lord. Now move in my heart by the Holy Spirit and change my affections.”
The Apostle John had the privilege of a sensory experience with the real Jesus of history. He wrote as a firsthand eyewitness and earwitness of the things Jesus had revealed to him. It’s not that John figured some stuff out, and then he wrote all the things that he figured out. No, he’s proclaiming and declaring to us the things that he witnessed. That’s why this is so exciting to study and to read. John followed Jesus, and John is inviting you and me to follow Jesus and to continue following Jesus and to continue walking in the light of his glory and grace.
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely…” then… what? “…dim in the light of His glory and grace.” And I have some people trash the song and say, “Ah, it’s kind of one of those dualistic, platonic, dualism things.” No, it’s not. There is nothing as brilliant as the person of Jesus Christ. He is the light that we long for. He’s the only light that can dispel the deep darkness that takes up home right in here sometimes. I need Him. I don’t need lesser lights. I need that light, His light. So please, Lord, help us turn our eyes upon You and to see Your wonderful, beautiful, glorious face. Let’s pray:
Lord, may the good seed of God’s Word find fertile soil in our hearts and minds. And may the Holy Spirit use our study of the Word to dig roots and bear fruit in our lives, individually and as a church here in Nashville. This we pray in the name of Jesus, amen and amen.
(Edited for reading)