1 JOHN – SERIES: NR 1
Scripture: 1 John 1: 1 – 4
Theme: The Essence of the Christian Faith
Sometime during the years 85-95 AD the apostle John was in Ephesus – at the western end of present-day Turkey – and he writes this letter – which we know as 1 John – to a couple of Christ’s churches who are situated in more or less the same area.
Look at the date: late first century. That means that these Christians have come a long way already. But they have spiritually been backsliding more and more. They have begun to lose their full assurance. Initially, they have heard and trusted the teaching of the Apostles and it was the basis of their assurance about the Gospel message, assurance about who/what the Lord Jesus is, and assurance about their eternal salvation which is built upon the death and resurrection of Christ.
However, out of their number false preachers (who were never really part of them) came and questioned the doctrine of the true apostles. In a subtle way. John calls them “antichrists”. They supported the so-called “Gnosticism”. The word gnostic means KNOWLEDGE. The Gnostics said that they have had all kinds of higher experiences with God and that they became enlightened and received Divine knowledge no one else has – only them and those who follow them.
But should one look closer at that “knowledge“ you will see how it criticizes the teaching of the Apostles and is not Christian, but an attractive falsehood of the Christian Faith. Idolatry, John calls it.
Everything that deviates from the historical Apostolic testimony about Christ Jesus, is automatically idolatry, John says. There are no grey/neutral areas. Because when one moves away from fellowship with the Apostles and their teaching, you immediately move away from fellowship with the true God. The essence of all idolatry is that man is eventually the standard of everything.
The masterpiece of satan is always to mislead Scripture-bound churches to idolatry – while they still hold to the outward appearance and terminology of the Christian Faith. And at that time satan used Gnosticism to mislead the churches to whom John is writing, to water down the teaching of the Apostles, to doubt the full Deity and virgin birth and physical resurrection of Jesus, to question His substituting atonement-death, and to encourage moral permissiveness.
The churches, therefore, began to lose their firmly anchored assurance. They were in trouble and had a great need. The Apostle John – the only surviving apostle at that stage – therefore had to intervene. And so he wrote this letter.
It is, therefore, unnecessary for us to ask the question of what the REASON was that he wrote this letter. The Apostle himself says what the reason (reasons really) for this letter is.
He is saying that there are TWO reasons why he is writing:
1 > To REASSURE the church that they have eternal life in Christ and only by the merit of His death on the cross! In 5:13 he writes: “I am writing these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life“. His letter, therefore, wants to reassure. REassurance at a time when the antichrists are undermining their assurance.
2 > In 2:26 he says: “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray”.
In other words: On the one side the Apostle John is offering the firm ground upon which the churches must base their assurance of salvation, and on the other side he is exposing the false preachers/antichrists for what they truly are. That is the main purpose why he is writing the letter.
Should we keep all that in mind, the introduction makes good sense – that is the first 4 verses of chapter 1. It is a wonderful introduction because it shows us in a few short sentences what the essence of the Christian Faith purports. That is also the theme of today’s message: The essence of the Christian Faith. Because remember, it is this essence the Gnostics question and pulls down. And the Apostle builds it up again!
Should we ask the man on the street what the Christian Faith is, you will get as many different answers as there are people.
The first Christians knew exactly what the Christian Faith is because they built upon the teaching of the Apostles. But as all kinds of false teaching became evident, the definitions faded and people became more confused. “Is the Christian Faith a church? Which church? Is it a movement? Which Movement? Is it perhaps Christ? Which Christ? What must be believed about Him? What is truth?” And so forth. The Gnostics kept stirring the pot and the church had to bestir itself.
Well, come let us see what the Holy Spirit is saying through John’s pen. What is the essence of the Christian Faith?
Firstly verses 1-2…
The Person the Apostle is speaking of here is the Lord Jesus Christ. READ THE VERSES AGAIN.
The Christian Faith IS Jesus Christ! Without Him or apart from Him, there would not have been Christian Faith. Because Christian Faith has its origin in how God the Father revealed Himself in/through Christ and the Christian Faith continues as the testimony of the eyewitnesses/apostles spreads throughout the world. You see: It is Christ or it is nothing.
Verses 1-2, therefore, are talking about WE and HIM.
The WE are the eyewitnesses. Of whom John was one. It was not possible to be an apostle if you were not an eyewitness of Jesus-on-earth (Acts 1:22). An eyewitness speaks with authority.
The WE is therefore John plus the apostolic host. The original unique apostles. Unique because they were first-hand eyewitnesses. It has authority. As in any courtroom today. The question to the witness will be: Were you there? Or is it hearsay?
The Apostles themselves heard the Lord speaking. They saw Him. They touched Him. They are witnesses of everything. He was revealed to them personally. And therefore they simply proclaim what they heard and saw and touched.
Can we believe such first-hand eyewitnesses? Of course, we can. If you cannot trust them, the Christian Faith is out of your reach. If you can indeed trust them, you share in the Christian Faith!
But is the Name of the Lord Jesus mentioned here? No. Not immediately. Only in verse 3. Verse 3 says WHO this Word, this Life, this Eternal Life is. The Eternal Life was with the Father and was revealed to the eyewitnesses. That is Jesus Christ!
The message of 1 John is ETERNAL LIFE. And Eternal Life is a Person. It is Jesus. He is the message. He is the Word who became flesh.
John is speaking about IT – Word, life, eternal life. But he is talking about Him! The Eternal Life comes to us through the Word of God and that Word is Jesus Christ! He is the message.
That brings to mind what the great English preacher John Wesley wrote in his journal.
He says he rose early in the morning and after a time of prayer and the Word, he would go to the market square to preach whereupon people would throw rotten tomatoes and whatnot at him. And then he writes: “All I have done is to bring Christ to them”.
Wesley proclaimed Christ to the people. Not a message which Christ brought. Not a message about Christ. No, Jesus Christ himself is the message. Look at Christ, then you see God the Father’s message to the world. Christ Jesus, which was from the beginning (verse 1). He is since eternity. There was never a time that He was not there.
And yet He APPEARED (verse 2). He was always with the Father and then – at a given time – He APPEARED.
He was made known to specific eyewitnesses. He appeared in such a way that the eyewitnesses could touch Him and see Him and hear His voice.
What does that say? And that is the second essence of the Christian Faith. The eternal Son of God became flesh. He is incarnated. He became a man. The essence of the Christian Faith is the incarnate Lord Jesus. The eyewitnesses were witnesses of exactly this!
Since His birth at Bethlehem, Jesus is the God-man. And He is still that today. He became a true man out of the virgin Mary, and with His ascension, He took that true humanness up to the Throne of God. And that is indeed the guarantee that everyone who is included in Him, will also get to the Throne of God. At the virgin birth, Jesus accepted human form and with His resurrection body, He took that human form to the Father.
The incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ is not negotiable as part of the essence of the Christian Faith!
The third essence we find in verses 3-4… READ IT AGAIN
Very simple. No one can share in the Father and the Son without sharing in the Apostles and what they proclaimed.
Again look at verse 3: “We (apostles/eyewitnesses) proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, SO THAT you also may have fellowship with us”.
“And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.”
In other words: “You can only have fellowship with God if you have fellowship with us”.
See the connection?
If you want to live with the true God, there is no way past the teaching of the Apostles. Deviate from that, and you will miss everything. Whoever is not apostolic, cannot be Christian.
You can ask all church groups: “Are you apostolic?” Everyone will somehow answer YES.
The Roman Catholics say they are apostolic because their bishops (according to them) go back to Peter the Apostle.
The Pentecostal groups say they are apostolic because they experience what the apostles experienced – speaking in tongues and so forth.
Reformed churches on the other hand confess that the church is apostolic only when the church is founded and rooted in the TEACHING (doctrine) of the Apostles. And that teaching is what is written in the Scriptures. And we have articles of faith that are concise summaries of the apostolic teaching. The articles of faith keep us close to the Scriptures – that is its purpose. It is like a walking stick with which a weak-sighted person will find his way through a wilderness of viewpoints.
We do not always realise the rich treasure we have in the Articles of Faith. If you want to quickly know what the Bible teaches about this or that subject, just open your Catechism or the NCF or Canons of Dort, and there you instantly have it in a nutshell – as truly Biblical as can be. And so you remain – besides your own Bible study – in fellowship with the teaching of the apostles and therefore also in fellowship with God! Because if you keep to the doctrines of the apostles, you are in fellowship with God Himself. 1 John 1: 3-4 states that black on white.
However, the thing that caused John to have sleepless nights, is the fact that the Gnostics were trying to lead the churches away from the authority of the teaching of the Apostles. That is why he is writing this letter! The Gnostics wanted to detach the churches from the first-hand eyewitnesses and turn their focus to second-hand and third-hand witnesses – who did not have authority.
No one can claim authority unless you turn back to the true authority of the Apostles.
Unless you replace/sidestep the apostles because God spoke to you personally. Then you are replacing THEM with whom He truly spoke. The problem is: You are not a first-hand eyewitness!
There are many people today who say: “I had a direct experience where the Lord told me this or that. Therefore everyone should listen to what I say because I speak with authority.” And in that way, the first-hand eyewitnesses are cut out.
When we go to the worship service, we should insist that the leader point us back to the first-hand eyewitnesses. That is what we want to hear and nothing else. We do not want to hear the preacher speaking words God supposedly spoke to him. As if his words have the authority which it does not have. We definitely do not want to hear that. We want to be exposed to true authority. We want to hear what God said through His authentic Apostles. The first-hand eyewitnesses. Because that is the true authority, which nobody else has.
The danger to use your own private experience of God’s speaking to you is very great. Because it can not be tested by others. It is only your word. But it does not have any true authority.
Example: If you believe in a jesus who only comfort and have compassionate insight and embrace and cherish you in your sins, but do not warn against eternal condemnation and judgment, you believe in a jesus who does not exist. It is a jesus of human fantasy.
But you will never trust in a true Jesus who also judge and chastise and discipline unless you return to the apostolic teaching. Only by fellowship with the apostolic teaching, you enter into fellowship with the true God. Because only the Apostle tells you how Jesus spoke more about hell than any other person in the New Testament.
False prophets deceive well-meaning churchgoers to adhere to the jesus of human fantasy. With dire consequences.
That is why false doctrine and idolatry are best friends.
Let us then every day be in fellowship with the apostolic teaching and let us expect from our preachers to always tell us what the first-hand eyewitnesses taught.
Translated by Marthie Wilson