Monday, January 28, 2019

Understanding 1 John and Also Its Misuse, Misinterpretation, and Perversion

The first book of the Bible that I ever studied on my own in depth in an exegetical manner was John's first epistle, 1 John.  I was a senior in high school, seventeen and then eighteen years of age.  I had also translated all of 1 John in the Greek in my second year Greek class that year. I read it every day for a month early in 1980.  Then I wrote a commentary on it, handwritten on 8 1/2 x 11 college ruled paper, verse by verse to prepare for a summer of devotions with a group of teenagers.

As much as churches, and rightly so, offer 1 John as an early book of the Bible for a new Christian to read, it is actually a very difficult book.  I don't think it is too difficult to understand.  The teaching itself is hard.  It is extreme for the world in which we live.  Most people just reject the actual teaching of the book because it clashes with how most think about almost everything.  The book is intended to cause a division, to set certain people apart from others, in particular because of the purpose of the book, which John writes in 1 John 5:13:
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
Whether someone is saved or unsaved doesn't come with a label attached.  How does someone "know" that he is saved, or as John puts it, 'know that he has eternal life.'  According to 1 John 5:13, God wants us to know, but the way that we know is not by having the date of a profession written in the fly leaf of a Bible or by having mom tell us that we're saved, because she remembers when we "prayed the prayer."

What accompanies a truly or genuinely saved person, a true Christian, are certain inevitable results of the light of God, the life of God, and the love of God.  Those three provide tests to enable a person to know that he has eternal life.  To mix the metaphor a bit, someone can look for these markers that indicate biblical faith.  The same tests or markers that show someone is saved will also, however, manifest when someone is not saved.  This is the division to which I was referring above in the second paragraph.

If there is anything I wouldn't want to happen with 1 John is that it doesn't do what it's supposed to do because someone has misused it, misinterpreted it, or perverted it.  Then someone can't judge as to whether he is saved, because he has twisted the book or parts of it to fit something that either he wants it to say or that someone has taught him that it says.  The latter would be a false teacher.

1 John is a commonly perverted book.  One could understand why.  Satan doesn't want people either to know they are saved or he doesn't want people who are not saved to know that they are not.  False doctrines taught from a book by conforming the book to either conventional thinking or someone's fleshly or worldly desires, Paul informs to Timothy, doctrines of demons (1 Tim 4:1-3).  This is a major way that Satan fools people is by using deceit, even by misappropriating scripture to provide the false teaching.

I've noticed the distortion of 1 John comes in at least two different major, categorical ways.  First, there are those that say 1 John is not about proving whether someone is truly saved, but rather written to Christians to help them to grow, to be better Christians.  Teachers will start with that presupposition and then force the book into it.  Second, some will allegorize or spiritualize 1 John and other biblical books to turn them into a self-help book that enlarges the audience to make 1 John a book also for unbelievers.

The first above category of false teaching relates to Keswick, second blessing, or revivalistic theology.  1 John says that people who do not live in a continuous righteous manner are not saved, which doesn't fit with this false theology, which says it is then how to live the Christian life.  To them, somebody might be saved and not live like a Christian for a decade or more, or in certain cases never live it, and yet still be saved.

It is bad to misconstrue what God says.  It is God's Word.  Men should be careful with God's Word.  In a very practical way too though, many eventually go to Hell because of the misconstruing and even in the short term become twice they child they once were.

The ones doing the false teaching very often portray themselves as having some kind of superior love to be saying things that are more likely to cause people to feel good, to give them a false sense of security.  The ones telling the truth about 1 John are presented as unloving, missing out on something that could be helping Christians to grow or everyone to get self-help.  Instead what's happening is that people are left deceived about the condition of their souls.  The irony here is that the unloving ones are actually the loving ones, and the loving ones are really hateful through their deceit.

For the purpose of revealing what I'm saying here in a specific way, I want to focus on one verse, 1 John 1:7:
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.
This verse starts with "But" because it contrasts with verse six:
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
John presents this kind of scenario all through the book, where a person or people 'say that they have fellowship with God,' when they really don't.  They just say that they do.  It would be good to find out that they don't have fellowship so that they can really have fellowship with God.  "Him" in verse six is "God" from verse five:
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.
The basis for fellowship is light.  Light is doctrinal and practical.  A person who walks in the light, believes and does what God says.  When someone does not or will not believe or do what God says, that affects fellowship.  God doesn't fellowship with darkness.

John is presenting a doctrinal and practical test for salvation.  People who are saved walk in the light, that is, as a practice, a habit, or lifestyle they believe right and practice right.  I say, as a practice, habit, or lifestyle because the verb "walk" in 1 John 1:7 is a present tense verb.  1 John 1:6 says that they who walk in darkness may say that they have fellowship with him, but they are lying.  I recently read someone doesn't even have to be a Christian to learn from 1 John 1:7.

What would someone who is not a Christian learn from 1 John 1:7?  He would learn that he is not saved, because he walks in darkness.  It wouldn't teach him how to be a better person though.  It is unclear what the author of this statement was even saying.  He followed it by essentially saying that "light" is something that someone can shed on painful memories or current struggles he might be experiencing.

"Light" shed on painful memories or current struggles has nothing to do with 1 John 1:7.  1 John 1:7 is not there to help you be a better person or to grow as a Christian.  It is to expose you as either a saved person or an unsaved person.  People who are not saved cannot walk in the light.  The blood of Jesus Christ is not cleansing their sin.  People who do walk in the light can do that because Jesus' blood is cleansing them of their sin in a continuous, practical way.  This is then when the following context comes in.

In the following context, verses eight to ten and the beginning of chapter two of the epistle, someone who knows God and consequently walks in the light does not attempt to hide his sin.  He doesn't cover his sin.  He confesses it, because he can't hide it; he's walking in the light.  He is confident to confess his sin, because he has an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ.  An unsaved person doesn't have an advocate.  This doesn't mean he has to confess his sin to the whole world or even in public.  Unless it is a public sin, I don't think he should confess it to the world.  He should keep it to himself and protect his reputation.  Instead, he confesses it to God, like 1 John 1:9 shows.

1 John 1:7 is not about help with painful memories, whatever those are.  There are numerous, almost innumerable, possibilities of what "painful memories" might be.

Let me give you an example of what someone might call a "painful memory."  In the past, he did something wrong, was judged to have done wrong, and then punished for doing it.  He didn't like being judged and punished  and it is painful to think about.  The pain and even the memory could be alleviated by believing in Jesus Christ, so the blood of Jesus Christ could take away that sin.  He would know that God is faithful and just to forgive that sin, because it is under the blood and he has confessed it as sin.  He now has peace because he knows the sin is gone.  He can and will walk in the light without guilt.

Walking in the light is not opening up about ways that we feel aggrieved because someone judged us and punished us.  That isn't light.  That's actually darkness.  Light admits sin, confesses it, and gets forgiveness.

Someone isn't receiving love by being excused from sin.  God doesn't do that.  God loves us by forgiving our confessed sin, because we know we can't hide it from God.  If we love God, then we love the light and those who walk in the light.  Those are who we fellowship with.  1 John 1 is not about excusing darkness, but about embracing light, the doctrine and practice of scripture.  Excusing sin is a form of hiding in the darkness.

Let me take this a different direction.  Someone feels pain because he has been judged wrongfully about a sin.  He's been slandered.  He can't and doesn't receive forgiveness from the people who think he's done wrong, when he hasn't done anything wrong.  Scripture is full of examples of believers who have faced that kind of situation. They walk in the light so they know they aren't guilty of anything, so they don't have anything to confess, even though they are willing to confess it.

Life and love operate along with light in 1 John.  They all proceed from the same source, God, Who is the author of our salvation, our eternal life.  God loves the slandered person.  Other believers love him too.  They know he's repented of sin and is walking in the light.  He can function in obedience with the slander because a loving God and loving believers help him through.


Daniel said...

As usual, this article is spot on. Growing up, hearing how 1 Jn 5:13 is used at the end of a short "Gospel" presentation to tell the person that since Ro 10:13 says that if you pray the sinners prayer, then you can know for sure that you have salvation and should never doubt your salvation, you should write down the date in a Bible and whenever Satan comes a temptin' you can go to that place and tell him that you know that you are saved because you prayed the sinner's prayer at this certain date.

After I started studying the Scriptures in depth for myself I came across places like at the end of Jn 2 and Jn 8 where people make professions, but their faith is not true saving faith. The true mark of whether someone is saved or not, according to Jesus, is not some emotional experience, when they first believed, but a changed life, that "continues in (Jesus') word". Salvation was a wonderful, unforgettable moment for me, but I do not base my salvation on an emotional experience. I have a "more sure word" the Word of God!

How wonderful it is for us to have God's preserved Word in our language, where we can read a whole letter addressed to people, to help them ascertain whether they are saved or not! The "these things" of 1 Jn 5:13 are the things written in the epistle of 1st John.

I taught through these "marks" of a saved person a few months ago among our group of Russian-speaking new believers. It was a huge blessing for me and them as well. I am working on reformatting the sermons into booklets, so that people can read and reference these things themselves.

I came up with 13 marks of a true Christian. Just curious, do you break down the marks of a Christian? If so, how many did you come up with? Maybe I just need to wait for a future blog post :)

KJB1611 said...

Dear Daniel,

If it helps, I preached on this topic at the Word of Truth Conference, and a version of my notes is here:


Kent Brandenburg said...


That sounds very good. I haven't numbered the marks, but 13 doesn't surprise me. Maybe you could list them here in the comment section if you don't mind typing it out or at least cutting and pasting.


Daniel said...

Bro. Ross, thanks for the link. I will check it out.

Bro. Brandenburg: I came up with 13. I think you could say that one or two of them are repetative, and you could probably even come up with more. But this is what I cam up with:

13 marks of a true Christian:

1. True Christians walk in the light. (1 Jn 1:6-7; 3:4-9)
2. True Christians confess their sins. (They admit when they have sinned and don’t cover it up) (1 Jn 1:8,10)
3. True Christians confess their sins to God. (1 Jn 1:9; 2:1-2)
4. True Christians keep God’s commandments. (1 Jn 2:3-5; 3:22, 24)
5. True Christians strive to live as Jesus lived. (1 Jn 2:5-6)
6. True Christians love other Christians. (especially in the local church context) (1 Jn 2:8-11; 3:10-19; 4:6-12; 4:17-21; 5:2)
7. True Christians don’t love the world. (1 Jn 2:15-17; 3:11-13)
8. True Christians abide (continue) in Christ. (1 Jn 2:19; 2:28-29)
9. True Christians are not led away by false teachers. (1 Jn 2:18-27)
10. True Christians confess Jesus Christ. (1 Jn 2:18-27)
11. True Christians are not accepted by the world. (1 Jn 3:1-2; 3:11-13; 4:4-6)
12. True Christians purify themselves. (1 Jn 3:1-3)
13. True Christians have the Holy Spirit. (1 Jn 2:20-27; 4:12-13; 5:6-9)