For an introduction to this series, click here.
January 16, 2008
John's writings are focused on certainties: things that we can know for sure from God. Apparently, among their errors of gnosticism and perfectionism, the recipients of this letter (and probably John's gospel as well) suffered from doubt. Maybe they thought there was no way we can know a lot of things about our faith. John is here to remind these people that Christianity is all about knowing for sure.
"My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 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, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked." (2:1-6)
Notice here once again that John does not say that we have to repeat every one of our sins to God. He just reminds them that as believers Christ our propitiation pleads our case before the Father. There is no need to wallow in guilt over past sin. That is simply giving in to the attack of Satan. Instead we can be confident that God still loves us and wants to use us, because He chose us in the first place.
John tells us that the way we know we are born again is that we follow God's commandments. This is important for us to realize. As believers we have the Holy Spirit indwelling us. He leads us to follow God's Word. Obviously we will not always follow it perfectly, but if we do not have a desire to follow God, then we are not born again.
"Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes." (2:9-11)
Here is another proof of our salvation. No one who is born again can absolutely hate anyone. Certainly there will be people we choose not to be around, and there will be people we dislike and distrust. Paul even mentions that there will be believers from whom at some point we will need to separate from because of sin or false doctrine. But hating people is not something a Christian does. But there is something we need to hate:
"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions— is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever." (2:15-17)
Here is another different use of the word "world" than we found in verse 2. Obviously this is not talking about the world of people, but instead the world system. The world, in this sense, is always going to be opposed to God. A lot of people make a big deal of the three things John lists as being in the world. It seems to me there are more bad things in the world than just those, although you can certainly boil a lot of things down to something similar to those three things. The clincher here is verse 17: the whole point is that the world is passing away. Therefore to waste our time loving it (the word used in verse 15 is a derivative of "agape") and spending all our resources on advancement in it is shameful and wrong.
"Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 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. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also." (2:18-23)
Remember that this was probably written before John wrote Revelation. So the term "Antichrist" was not charged with eschatological meaning like it is now. Anyway, the spirit of Antichrist is always with us, and it is trying to lead everyone, including believers, astray. Thankfully, as believers, we have a defense against this spirit. We have spiritual insight from the Lord to test every new idea that comes along.
"I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie— just as it has taught you, abide in him. And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him." (2:26-29, ESV)
Here John restates this idea. There are people trying to deceive us all the time, and we need to be on guard. Now when John says we do not need anyone to teach us, don't take that too literally. What he means is that we do not need to follow every new spiritual fad that comes along. There is no "big secret" to the Christian life. God has revealed to us all that we need in His word and through His Spirit. That is all we need.