“Once upon a time …” Remember how exciting those words used to be? They were the open door into an exciting world of make-believe, a dream world that helped you forget all the problems of childhood. Then—pow! You turned a corner one day and “Once upon a time” became kid stuff. You discovered life is a battleground, not a playground, and fairy tale stories were no longer meaningful. You wanted something real.
The search for something real is not new. It has been going on since the beginning of history. Men have looked for reality and satisfaction in wealth, thrills, conquest, power, learning, and even in religion. There is nothing really wrong with these experiences, except that by themselves they never really satisfy. Wanting something real and finding something real are two different things. Like a child eating cotton candy at the circus, many people who expect to bite into something real end up with a mouthful of nothing. They waste priceless years on empty substitutes for reality.
This is where the Apostle John’s first epistle comes in. Written centuries ago, this letter deals with a theme that is forever up-to-date: the life that is real. John discovered that satisfying reality is not to be found in things or thrills, but in a Person—Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Without wasting any time, he tells us about this “living reality” in the first four verses of his letter. In 1 John 1:1-4, we learn three vital facts about the life that is real:
1. THIS LIFE IS REVEALED
“The life was manifested” (1 Jn. 1:2). This life was not hidden so that we have to search for it and find it. No, it was manifested—revealed openly! God has revealed Himself in creation (Rom. 1:20), but creation alone could never tell us the story of God’s love. God has also revealed Himself more fully in His Word, the Bible. But God’s final and most complete revelation is in His Son, Jesus Christ: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus said (Jn. 14:9).
Jesus is to us what our words are to others. Our words reveal to others what we think and how we feel. Christ reveals to us the mind and heart of God. He is the living means of communication between God and men. To know Jesus Christ is to know God! John makes no mistake in his identification of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Son of God (1 Jn. 1:3).
John warns us several times in his letter not to listen to the false teachers who tell lies about Jesus Christ: “Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son” (1 Jn. 2:22). There are those who say Jesus was simply a man, but was not God. John has no place for such false teachers!
False teaching is so serious a matter that John wrote about it in his second letter too, warning believers not to invite false teachers into their homes (2 Jn. 9–10). He makes it plain that to deny Jesus is God is to follow the lies of Antichrist (1 Jn. 2:22–23). If a man is wrong about Jesus, he is wrong about God because Jesus is the final and complete revelation of God to men.
As we read the Gospel records of the life of Jesus, we see the wonderful kind of life God wants us to enjoy. But it is not by imitating Jesus, our Example, that we may share in this life. No, there is a far better way!
2. THIS LIFE IS EXPERIENCED
Read the first four verses of John’s letter again and you will notice the Apostle had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. His was no secondhand “religious experience” inherited from somebody else or discovered in a book! No, John knew Jesus Christ face-to-face. He and the other Apostles heard Jesus speak. They watched Him as He lived with them. In fact, they studied Him carefully and even touched His body. They knew Jesus was real—not a phantom, not a vision, but God in human form.
Some twentieth-century student may say: “Yes, and this means John had an advantage. He lived when Jesus walked on earth. He knew Jesus personally. But I was born twenty centuries too late!” This is where our student is wrong! It was not the Apostles’ physical nearness to Jesus that made them what they were. It was their spiritual nearness. They had committed themselves to Him as their Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ was real and exciting to John and his colleagues because they trusted Him. By trusting Christ, they had experienced eternal life!
Six times in this letter John uses the phrase “born of God.” This was not an idea John had invented; he had heard Jesus use these words: “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (Jn. 3:3). “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again” (Jn. 3:6–7). We can only experience this “real life” once we have been “born of God.”
Eternal life is not something we earn by good works or deserve because of good character. Eternal life, the life that is real, is a gift from God to those who trust His Son. John wrote his Gospel to tell people how to receive this wonderful life (Jn. 20:31). He wrote his first letter to tell people how to be sure they have really been born of God (1 Jn. 5:9–13).
3. THIS LIFE IS SHARED: click here to read, Sharing Life that is Real
The assurance we are in God’s family—that we have been “born of God”—is vitally important to all of us. Certain characteristics are true of all God’s children. A person who is born of God lives a righteous life (1 Jn. 2:29). A child of God does not practice sin (1 Jn. 3:9). A believer may occasionally commit sin (1 Jn. 1:8–2:2), but he will not make it a habit to sin.
God’s children also love each other and their Heavenly Father (1 Jn. 4:7, 5:1). They have no love for the world system around them (1 Jn. 2:15–17) and because of this the world hates them (1 Jn. 3:13). Instead of being overcome by the pressures of this world and swept off balance, children of God overcome the world (1 Jn. 5:4). This is another mark of those who have been born of God.
Why is it so important we know we have been born of God? John gives us the answer: if you are not a child of God, you are a “child of wrath” (Eph. 2:1–3) and may become a “child of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:10; Mt. 13:24–30, 36–43). A “child of the devil” is a counterfeit Christian who acts “saved,” but has not been born again. Jesus called the Pharisees “children of the devil” (Jn. 8:44) and they were very religious.
A counterfeit Christian—and they are common—is something like a counterfeit ten-dollar bill. Suppose you have a counterfeit bill and actually think it is genuine. You use it to pay for a tank of gas. The gas station manager uses the bill to buy supplies. The supplier uses the bill to pay the grocer. The grocer bundles the bill up with forty-nine other ten-dollar bills and takes it to the bank. And the teller says, “I’m sorry, but this bill is a counterfeit.” That ten-dollar bill may have done a lot of good while it was in circulation, but when it arrived at the bank it was exposed for what it really was and put out of circulation.
So too with a counterfeit Christian. He may do many good things in this life, but when he faces the final judgment he will be rejected: “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name and in Your name drive out demons and in Your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Mt. 7:22–23). Each of us must ask himself honestly, “Am I a true child of God or am I a counterfeit Christian? Have I truly been born of God?”
If you have not experienced eternal life, this real life, you can experience it right now! Read 1 John 5:9–15 carefully. God has “gone on record” in His Word. He offers you the gift of eternal life. Believe His promise and ask Him for His gift: “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).
I have discovered three important facts about “the life that is real:” (1) it is revealed in Jesus Christ; (2) it is experienced when we put our trust in Him as Lord and Savior; (3) it is shared with others—both by the lives we live and by the words we speak.