Once we have experienced the exciting life in Christ that is real, we will want to share it with other people, just as the Apostle John wanted to “declare” it to all his readers in the first century. Many people (including some Christians) have the idea that “witnessing” means wrangling over the differences in religious beliefs or sitting down and comparing churches. That isn’t what John had in mind! He tells us witnessing means sharing our spiritual experiences with others—both by the lives we live and by the words we speak. As we read his 1st epistle, we will discover John had in mind five purposes for sharing:
That we may have fellowship (v. 3). This word fellowship is an important one in the vocabulary of a Christian. It simply means “to have in common.” As sinners, men have nothing in common with the holy God. But God in His grace sent Jesus to have something in common with men. Christ took on Himself a human body and became a man. Then He went to the cross and took on the sins of the world (1 Pt. 2:24). Because He paid the price for our sins, the way is open for God to forgive us and take us into His family. When we trust Christ, we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pt. 1:4). What a thrilling miracle! Jesus Christ took on Himself the nature of man, so that by faith we may receive the very nature of God!
This is the first purpose John mentions for writing his letter—the sharing of his experience of eternal life. The life that is real helps to solve the basic problem of loneliness, for Christians have genuine fellowship with God and with one another. Jesus promised, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). In this letter, John explains the secret of fellowship with God and with other Christians.
That we may have joy (v. 4). Fellowship is Christ’s answer to the loneliness of life. Joy is His answer to the emptiness, the hollowness of life. John, in his epistle, uses the word “joy” only once, but the idea of joy runs throughout the entire letter. Joy is not something we manufacture for ourselves; joy is a wonderful by-product of our fellowship with God. David knew the joy which John mentions; he said, “In Your presence is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11).
For the most part, sin is the cause of the unhappiness that overwhelms our world today. Sin promises joy, but it always produces sorrow. The pleasures of sin are temporary—they are only for a season (Heb. 11:25), but God’s pleasures last eternally—they are forevermore.
The life that is real produces a joy that is real—not some limp substitute. Jesus said, the night before He was crucified, “No man will take away your joy” (Jn. 16:22). “I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (Jn. 15:11). In this letter, John is saying, “Faith in Jesus Christ gives you a joy that can never be duplicated by the world. I have experienced this joy myself and I want to share it with you.”
That we may not sin (2:1). John faces the problem of sin squarely (1 Jn. 3:4–9) and announces the only answer to this enigma—the person and work of Jesus Christ, who not only died for us to pay the penalty of our sins, but rose from the dead in order to intercede for us at the throne of God: “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 Jn. 2:1).
Christ is our Representative. He defends us at the Father’s throne. Satan may stand there as the accuser of the brethren (Zech. 3; Rev. 12:10), but Christ stands there as our Advocate—He pleads on our behalf! Continuing forgiveness, in response to His intercession, is God’s answer to our sinfulness.
It isn’t necessary for Christians to sin. As we walk in fellowship with God and in obedience to His Word, He gives us ability to resist and have victory over temptation. The life that is real is a life of victory. In this letter, John tells us how to draw on our divine resources to experience victory over temptation and sin.
That we may not be deceived (2:26). More than ever, Christians today need the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, between truth and error. The notion is widespread in our generation that there are no “absolutes”—that nothing is always wrong and nothing is always right. False doctrines, therefore, are more prevalent than at any time in history—and most men and women seem to be willing to accept almost any teaching except the truths of the Bible.
John uses a word no other New Testament writer uses—“antichrist” (1 Jn. 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn. 1:7). That prefix anti- has two meanings: “against” and “instead of.” There are in this world teachers of lies who are opposed to Christ and their method of “seducing” people is to use lies. They offer a substitute Christ, a substitute salvation, and a substitute Bible. They want to give you something instead of the real Word of God and real eternal life.
Christ is the Truth (Jn. 14:6); Satan is the liar (Jn. 8:44). The devil leads people astray—not necessarily with gross sensual sins, but with half-truths and outright lies. He began his career by seducing man in the Garden of Eden. He asked Eve, “Has God really said?” (Gen. 3:1). Even then, he did not appear to her in his true nature, but masqueraded as a beautiful creature (2 Cor. 11:13–15).
Satan today often spreads his lies even through religious groups! Not every man standing in a pulpit is preaching the truth of the Word of God. False preachers and false religious teachers have always been among the devil’s favorite and most effective tools.
How can Christians today detect Satan’s lies? How can we identify false teachers? How can we grow in our own knowledge of the truth, so we will not be victims of false doctrines? John answers these questions: the life that is real is characterized by discernment. The Holy Spirit, referred to by John as “the Anointing” (1 Jn. 2:27), is Christ’s answer to our need for discernment. The Spirit is our Teacher; it is He who enables us to detect truth and error and to remain (“abide”) in Christ. He is our protection against ignorance, deception, and untruth.
That we may know we are saved (5:13). I have already touched on this truth in past articles, but it is so important that it bears repeating. The life that is real is not built on the empty hopes—or wishes—based on human supposings. It is built on assurance. In fact, as we read John’s letter we encounter the word know more than thirty times. No Christian, if he is asked whether or not he is going to heaven, needs to say “I hope so” or “I think so.” He need have no doubt whatsoever.
The life that is real is such a free and exciting life because it is based on knowledge of solid facts. “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32), promised Jesus. “We did not follow cleverly devised stories” (2 Pet. 1:16), was the testimony of Jesus’ disciples. These men, almost all of whom died for their faith, did not give their lives for a clever hoax of their own devising, as some critics of Christianity fatuously assert. They knew what they had seen! John is saying in his letter, “I want you to be sure you have eternal life.”
As we read this fascinating letter, we will discover John frequently repeats himself. He weaves three themes in and out of these chapters: obedience, love, and truth. In the first half of his letter, the apostle emphasizes fellowship and tells us the conditions for fellowship are: obedience (1 Jn. 1:5–2:6), love (1 Jn. 2:7–17), and truth (1 Jn. 2:18–29).
Obedience—love—truth. Why did John use these particular tests of fellowship and sonship? For a very practical reason. When God made us, He made us in His own image (Gen. 1:26–27). This means we have a personality patterned after God’s. We have a mind to think with, a heart to feel with, and a will to make decisions. We sometimes refer to these aspects of our personality as intellect, emotion, and will. The life that is real must involve all the elements of the personality.
Most people are dissatisfied today because their total personality has never been controlled by something real and meaningful. When a person is born of God through faith in Christ, God’s Spirit comes into his life to live there forever. As he has fellowship with and is sanctified by God, the Holy Spirit is able to control his mind, heart, and will. And what happens then? A Spirit-controlled mind knows and understands truth. A Spirit-controlled heart feels love. A Spirit-controlled will inclines us to obedience.
John wants to impress this fact on us and that is why he uses a series of contrasts in his letter: truth vs. lies, love vs. hatred, and obedience vs. disobedience. There is no middle ground in the Christian life. We must be on one side or on the other. This, then, is the life that is real. It was revealed in Christ; it was experienced by those who trusted in Christ; and it can be shared today.
This life begins with sonship and continues in fellowship. First we are born of God; then we walk (live) with God. This means that there are two kinds of people who cannot enter into the joy and victory about which we are thinking: those who have never been born of God and those who, though saved, are out of fellowship with God. It would be a wise thing for us to take inventory spiritually (2 Cor. 13:5) and see whether or not we qualify to enjoy the spiritual experience with which John’s letter deals.
If a true believer is out of fellowship with God, it is usually for one of three reasons: (1) he has disobeyed God’s will; (2) he is not getting along with fellow believers; (3) he believes a lie and therefore is living a lie. Even a Christian can be mistaken in his understanding of truth. That’s why John warns us, “Little children, do not let anyone lead you astray” (1 Jn. 3:7).
These three reasons parallel John’s three important themes: obedience, love, and truth. Once a believer discovers why he is out of fellowship with God, he should confess that sin (or those sins) to the Lord and claim His full forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:9–2:2). A believer can never have joyful fellowship with the Lord if sin stands between them. God’s invitation to us today is, “Come and enjoy fellowship with Me and with each other! Come and share the life that is real!”