Text: 1 John 1:1-4
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And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete (v. 4).
A Brief Introduction to 1 John
The author of 1 John was probably the apostle John. (There are many similarities between 1 John and the Gospel of John.) John probably wrote this letter while he was living in Ephesus. It was probably sent to churches in cities near Ephesus. A possible date for 1 John is the early nineties A.D.
Not Every Christian Is a Real Christian
When I was around 18 years old, I would mail baseball cards to players, asking them to sign the cards. Most of the cards were signed and mailed back to me. [During the sermon I showed three of these cards: Larry Walker, Paul Molitor, John Olerud.] How can I know if these signatures are authentic or not? There are tests for authenticating signatures. (Does the signature show evidence of being signed by hand? Does it look similar to authentic signatures of the same person?)
Sometime before the writing of 1 John, a group of people left John’s church over a disagreement about the doctrine of Christ. John calls these people “antichrists” (2:18) and says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (2:19). These people professed to be Christians, but they were not real Christians.
We can’t be joyful Christians if we have doubts about our faith, so we must make sure that we are real Christians.
One of John’s favorite descriptions of a real Christian is a person who has eternal life (1:1; 2:25; 3:15; 5:11-13, 20). Of the 136 occurrences of “life” (zoe) in the NT, 66 of them are found in John’s writings.
John wrote his Gospel so that people might receive eternal life by believing in Jesus. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).
John wrote 1 John so that people who have believed in Jesus would know they have eternal life. John wants his readers to be sure that they are real Christians: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (5:13).
What Is True of a Real Christian?
How can we be sure that we are real Christians? Like there are tests for authenticating signatures, there are tests for authenticating Christians. In 1 John, we find three tests for authenticating a Christian: the moral test, the social test, and the doctrinal test.
1. A real Christian obeys God.
This is the moral test. “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says, ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (2:3-4).
2. A real Christian loves others.
This is the social test. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (4:20).
3. A real Christian believes the truth about Jesus Christ.
This is the doctrinal test. In John’s day, there were people who claimed to have eternal life but denied that “Jesus is the Christ” (2:22) and that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (4:2; cf. 2 John 1:7). These people might have been the ones mentioned in 2:19 who had left John’s church.
John was certain that Jesus was “the Christ” and that he had “come in the flesh.” In the Gospel of John, John refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” This disciple (1) “recline[ed] at table close to Jesus” (13:23), (2) stood by the cross of Jesus (19:25-27), (3) looked inside the empty tomb of Jesus (20:1-8), and (4) ate breakfast with the risen Jesus (21:1-14).
John is talking about these events and others in 1 John 1:1-2: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.” John's eyewitness testimony about Jesus is like a person who was present when one of my baseball cards was signed. This person would know for sure if the signature was authentic or not.
In 1:1-2, John is obviously talking about his encounters with Jesus, but he refers to Jesus as “the eternal life.” Why? Eternal life is only possible because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son as life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (5:11-12; cf. 5:20).
You can’t be a real Christian (i.e., have eternal life) unless you have a right belief about Jesus. (Mormons say they “believe in Jesus,” but what they believe about Jesus is not biblical.)
A Joyful Christian
In 1:3-4, John states two of his purposes for writing 1 John: “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (Some manuscripts have “your” instead of “our” in verse 3.) When we know that we have eternal life (5:13) and know that we have fellowship with God, we will be joyful.
In 2012, a document signed by George Washington sold for more than $9 million. Imagine that you have a document signed by a famous historical person that, if authentic, would sell for $1 million. Also imagine that you’re counting on the money from the sale of the signed document to be your retirement savings. How would you feel if you didn’t know for sure that the signature was authentic? If I were in that situation, whenever I thought about my retirement, I would have anxious thoughts, not joyful thoughts.
Making sure you have enough money for your retirement is important. But making sure you have eternal life is infinitely more important.