Text: 1 John 1-2:2
1 John is written by John the beloved disciple, one of the original 12 Apostles and the same author as that of the Gospel of John and Revelation. His writings are some of the most theological in the New Testament, by which we mean they have direct statements concerning the deity of Christ, his incarnation, and the implications of that for Christian living. Some even believe that 1 John was written with the primary goal of rebutting an early church heretic, one of the first Gnostics. Whether or not this is the case, it is clear that the Church was confronted with heresy and false teachers from very early on and that John is attempting to rebut them in his letter. We will see him write about “antichrists” in chapter 2. These antichrists “went out from” the apostles, but were never truly apostles. John does not want Christians to listen to the false message of these antichrists nor to be led astray into sin or idolatry. Throughout 1John, the Apostle directly criticizes the views of these antichrists and explains the true Christian gospel and its implications for righteous living.
Incarnation and Fellowship
To begin, John reminds his audience about the incarnation. This is an essential part of his gospel. “That which was from the beginning… the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us” (vs. 1-2). On this point there can be no innovation. Any denial of the person of Christ will necessarily involve a denial of his work.
John stresses the two aspects of the incarnation, Christ’s deity and his humanity. As Christians, we believe that Jesus is both fully God and fully man, without any sort of mixture or division, and this orthodox doctrine is already present in John’s writing. Notice the description of how this eternal Word was received: He was “heard,” “seen,” and “handled.” Thus Jesus was not merely a vision or illusion, but he actually came in the flesh and lived as a man. The invisible and spiritual God became a visible and tangible man.
But he was still divine. John mentions that Jesus was “from the beginning.” This is the same sort of expression that he uses in the first chapter of his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). And so too here, we read that the “Word of Life” is the “eternal life which was with the Father” (1 John 1:2). The manifestation of Jesus Christ in the flesh was a manifestation of the eternal Son of God.
The fact of the Incarnation is not merely an article of contemplation. It is itself practical, for the Incarnation leads to fellowship (vs. 3). This term occurs four times in a very short space: “We declare… that you may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ… If we say that we have fellowship with Him… we have fellowship with one another” (vs. 3, 5, 6). It is evident that the doctrine of the Incarnation and Christian fellowship are intimately related. In fact, the incarnation gives man fellowship (communion) with God. It is one of the means by which the communion we originally shared with God is restored.
And notice too, John’s preaching gives fellowship. He says, “that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us” (vs. 1). This creates a fellowship between his audience and himself, but it also creates a fellowship between his audience and God (vs. 6). This is because he is himself in fellowship with God: “and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (vs. 3). The relationship of these statements teaches us an important lesson about fellowship. When John’s audience enters into fellowship with him, they are also entering into fellowship with God. This is because John is himself in fellowship with God. This means that fellowship is interconnected and contagious. When you are in fellowship with someone, you are also in fellowship with all those with whom they fellowship. Fellowship spreads throughout the whole body. And so we are to spread fellowship by entering into fellowship with others. We go to them (like the Incarnation). We disciple and befriend them (like the Incarnation). This is John’s concept of “incarnational ministry.” After Christians receive the teaching of Christ’s incarnation, they themselves go to others and spread the message, thus forming new Christian bodies, expanding the one united communion. But do notice that this incarnational ministry does not mean simply becoming like one’s audience, as is the case of such rhetoric sometimes used among pastors and missionaries today. No, for John, incarnational ministry both goes to its audience and changes its audience, forming Christ in them and expanding the fellowship of light.
All of this results in joy (vs. 4). John’s preaching results in joy. John’s fellowship with men results in joy. And their fellowship with God results in joy. So too, for us, continuing the process results in joy! Our preaching and fellowship ought to be characterized by joy, as should our Christian living. If you have a joyless religion, you should ask yourselves what it is that you actually believe.
But fellowship is not just a one-time thing. You don’t just “get it” or “have it” and that’s it. Rather, fellowship is ongoing and must be maintained. This brings John to his next point, the ethical component to Christian communion.
Fellowship with God
To have fellowship with God means to have fellowship with the light (vs. 5). “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (vs. 5). This is important, because if you are going to have fellowship with God, you need to know what God is like. God is light: what does this mean? We might think of glory or holiness, but in John’s writings “light” has two primary meanings. Light is life and light is ethical purity. We can see this from a few examples:
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men (John 1:4)
That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world (John 1:9)
“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God (John 3:19-21)
He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes (1 John 2:10-11)
Thus we must conclude that life and ethical purity are not two different things but rather the same thing, expressed differently or viewed from different angles. This takes us back to the Garden of Eden. Sin brings about death. True and full life is righteousness.
And so since God is light, and we are seeking to have fellowship with Him, then we must live lives of righteousness. Apparently the false teachers of John’s day were both denying the reality of the incarnation and the necessity for righteous living. If there was no incarnation, then there was no need for incarnational living. To rebuke them, John offers up a string of hypothetical questions, expressed in an “If, then” formula,” each themselves paired as opposites.
If, Then Pairing #1
If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (vs. 6)
But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. (vs. 7)
If, Then Pairing #2
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (vs. 8)
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (vs. 9)
If, Then Pairing #3
If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (vs. 10)
…if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (2:1)
The conclusion is plain. In order to have fellowship with light, we must live in the light. To live in communion with God, we must be honest about our sins, we must confess them, and we must put them away and strive to live lives of holiness.
The Gospel of Forgiveness
John’s practical goal is our sanctification. He expresses this in the strongest of terms: “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1). There is no room in John’s theology for either the thought that sin is a small matter and unimportant or that Christians might continue in it. He wants us to be free from Sin. But hasn’t he already said that this is impossible? (see verses 8 and 10 of chapter 1). What if we do sin? What then? That brings us back to the gospel.
If we sin, we have an advocate with the Father. This means that we have someone who can speak for us and plead our case. And this advocate is Jesus Christ, the righteous. Notice the name of Jesus here. We already know that he is the eternal Son of God. But he is also here named “the righteous.” He is the one who is perfectly righteous and can stand in our place. When we worry that we might have darkness, remember that Jesus is pure light.
Indeed, the only way to succeed in holiness is to remember the gospel (2:2). Jesus’ death is a propitiation for our sins. This means that his death satisfies the wrath of God which would be poured out on us sinners. Jesus’ death is an atoning sacrifice, producing perfect communion and unity between us and God.
And Jesus’ death is available to all. This is absolutely important as well. The gospel must be preached to all, and Jesus must be offered to all as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins. This is the only way for the fellowship to spread. We must spread the message of reconciliation, so that all who hear and believe can know they too have fellowship with God the Father. And therefore, they too can and must walk in the light.
When you sin, remember the gospel. When you struggle to do what is right, remember the death of Christ. And when you talk to others about this struggle, and the same struggle that they face in their lives, preach this same gospel to them. In this way, you will spread the fellowship of the light. And this way you will continue to walk in the light. Let us pray.