Most Bible commentators regard the Apostle John to be the youngest of the Apostles and the one who lived the longest. Since he is believed to have lived to around AD 90, his epistles reflect what was taking place in the Church near the close of the first century. Being an eyewitness of the life and death of Christ, he could truly say that he had looked upon and handled the Word of God—Christ.
John began his first epistle by saying that as he had been with and known Christ personally, he truly knew what was spiritual light and spiritual darkness. This Christian-living principle is the first one John addressed.
This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:5-8)
One cannot profess Christianity while at the same time walk in doctrinal error. Jesus was the Truth and the light. In the gospel of John, Jesus said . . . “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). ” . . . He that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:21). All of mankind has been in spiritual darkness. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (v. 19). Yet today, many Christians believe they have no sin. The Apostle John states in 1 John 1:8-10, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive 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.” John tells us this because converted Christians can and do sin on occasion. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13).
Christian living begins with the acknowledgement of sin, and acceptance of the Truth, along with a deep-felt repentance, and then coming to God to be forgiven. As we read in 1 John 1:7, the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin. One cannot be a Christian without first recognizing the need to be cleansed from sin. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
As noted above, many professing Christians believe that by accepting Christ they no longer can sin. They labor under the idea that “once saved, always saved.” Yet John states, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2). Christian living means that one does not habitually practice sin. It means keeping God’s Commandments. “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). John further stated: “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked” (1 John 2:3-6). How did John describe the love of God? “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3).
The Ten Commandments can be summarized by love for God, and love for our fellow man. John writes: “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9-11). Christian living requires obedience to God and manifesting love for our fellow man. Christian living does not allow one to harbor ill will and hatred toward anyone, no matter how wronged. “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19).
Love for the world and its ways is a major stumbling block for many professing Christians. It was so in the Apostle’s day and is so in our day. The Apostle Paul wrote: “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica . . . ” (2 Tim. 4:10). John warned against this also. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15-16). Lust of the flesh is what appeals to the physical appetite, no matter what path this may take. Its strongest bent tends to be sexual in nature, and young people are particularly affected. Lust of the eyes is the lavish appeal to the outward delights of the eyes, a delight that completely shuts out any inclination for the things of God. The only good derived by the possessor is the constant beholding with the eyes. Pride or the vainglory of life tends to promote an inordinate self-esteem. This may be triggered in any number of ways, such as pride in one’s strength, appearance, intelligence quotient, physical possessions, and so forth. What is the lasting value to these? Here is John’s answer: “And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:17).
Christian living teaches that one must always be on guard for the Antichrist—that which is opposed to God and Christ. John warned there were many antichrists even in his day (1 John 2:18). Among the teaching of the antichrists was the heresy that Jesus was not the Christ. We must beware of false doctrines that were not originally taught.
Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father . . . . But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. (1 John 2:24, 27)
In 1 John 3:1-3 John reminds us of who Christians are and what they should be doing:
Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-2)
The above texts refer to the glorified body the saved will receive at the return of Jesus Christ. Paul explained: “For our [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3:20-21). And Jesus said: “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father . . . ” (Matt. 13:43). John stated in 1 John 3:3 what Christians should be doing. “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” Then what does John say immediately after? “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). The connection is clear. One who purifies himself keeps the Commandments of God! “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him” (vv. 5-6).
John describes the difference between those who are righteous and those who are wicked. “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:7-8). The Bible defines righteousness: “My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness” (Ps. 119:172). The Greek form for the verbs “doeth righteousness” and “committeth sin” are in a present active form, meaning that the action is presently taking place. So the text would refer to the two opposites—those who habitually practice righteousness as opposed to those who habitually practice sin.
Then John describes the difference between one who is begotten by the Holy Spirit and one who is not. “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother” (1 John 3:9-10). The Greek word for “born” can be translated either as “born” or “begotten.” Begotten is the meaning here, for this is the only word that makes sense. Those of whom John speaks above are either sinning or not sinning. Therefore, they are not like the wind—invisible— and have not been born again. See John 3:8. The Greek forms for the words “commit sin,” “cannot sin,” and “doeth righteousness,” are present active forms denoting action that is presently taking place. The lesson here is that if they have been begotten by the Holy Spirit, they will not be habitually practicing sin. On the other hand, the children of the devil will be. In brief, true Christians will be keeping the Commandments of God, as this is their habitual practice.
John made it plain that no one who hates his brother should consider himself to be a Christian. John gives this instruction:
We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:14-18)
This love for others summarizes an important part of the Ten Commandments. “And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us” (1 John 3:23-24).
John emphasizes love in his epistles. As we proceed we will see more examples of importance in Christian life.