Introduction to the 1st Epistle of John
This section is made up of two sets of connective expository sermon transcript series which cover all five chapters of the 1st Epistle of John. One set is the sermon transcript series given by Pastor Joe Focht of Calvary Chapel of Philadelphia. The other set is given by a pastor somewhere in New England who wishes to remain anonymous. The following introduction is an excerpt from Dr. Michael Brown’s fine book “Go and Sin No More” [see http://www.unityinchrist.com/whatisgrace/GoandSInnomore.htm
What is the Purpose of 1st John?
“It is one thing to struggle [with sin]; all of us do. It is another thing to be a deliberate, willful sinner. It is one thing to slip and fall; who doesn’t? It is another thing to habitually and consciously say yes to the flesh and no to the Spirit. Those who live like that—as purposeful, willful, deliberate, continual sinners—behave like God’s enemies, not His friends—or His servants. How can we call Him “Lord”? (See Luke 6:46; Matt. 7:21-23.)
Even the apostle John, famous for his emphasis on the love of God, has some strong words to say about walking in sin:
No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him….He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning….No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him: he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother (1 John 3:6,8-10).
Now, it’s obvious that John was not saying that anyone who claims to be a believer and sins even one time is not truly saved. Of course not! After all, John was the one who wrote the famous words, too:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 1:8-2:2).
Thank God, there is provision for our sin—before we are saved and after we are saved. If we claim to be sinless, we are deceived and we deny the testimony of God. So we must confess our sins to Him, and He will be faithful to wash us clean. And even though God’s will is for us not to sin, if we do sin, (and we will) Jesus pleads our case with the Father. He is our Advocate!
Certainly these are glorious truths, and they bring me comfort and encouragement every day of my life. But I am afraid many of us put the emphasis where it doesn’t belong. You see, John was not making excuses for our sins, nor was he giving us license to sin, nor was he treating sin lightly. It was sin that nailed John’s dear Savior to the cross. Remember, John was an eyewitness. There was nothing John hated more than sin. The whole purpose of his first epistle was to call his readers to reach higher in their walks with the Lord. And so, encouraged them to holiness as a father would lovingly exhort his children, challenging them to put one foot ahead of the other, to grow and mature and develop, yet encouraging them when they fall short.
But make no mistake about it. John’s emphasis was on growing, not on falling short. And no honest reader of 1 John would think for a moment that he was telling his readers it was fine to sin freely, as long as they just confessed their sins along the way. Hardly! Instead, 1 John 1:9 affirms the words of Proverbs 28:13: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces [or forsakes] them finds mercy.”
The rest of John’s first Epistle makes this perfectly clear: He emphasizes and repeats that believers must live radically differently from unbelievers. The former live in light; the latter live in darkness. The former walk in truth; the latter walk in lies. The righteous do what is right. They are children of God, full of love, and they overcome the wicked one. The unrighteous do what is wrong. They are children of the devil, full of hate, and they are under the power of the wicked one (see 1 John 5:19).
In fact, immediately after we learn that Jesus Christ pleads our case with the Father when we do sin, John goes on to say:
We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands. The man who says, “I know Him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys His word, God’s love is truly made complete in Him. This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:3-6).
Now, it is true that John is not telling us how we can live like this, but he is telling us that this is how we are to live. After all, he was only reinforcing standards that God had already laid out in the Old Testament centuries before—spiritual standards that Jesus and His followers took even deeper. (See the Sermon on the Mount for the best example of this.)
Through the prophet Isaiah the Lord said, “Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!” (Isaiah 1:16,17). The psalmist asked, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place?” (Ps 24:3). His answer was direct and clear: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false” (Ps. 24:4). That’s the one who can live in God’s presence.
In fact, all the prophets, with one voice, brought the same message from the Lord to His chosen people: “Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees, in accordance with the entire Law that I commanded your fathers to obey and that I delivered to you through my servants the prophets” (2 Kings 17:13). Now, by the Spirit, we can fulfill the Law’s demands (see Romans 8:1-4; 6:12-14). Now, holiness is written on our hearts (see Heb. 8:10; 10:16; Ezek. 36:26,27 [and Jeremiah 31:31-34]).” [Excerpts taken from Go and Sin No More pp. 98-100, and p. 101, par. 1, written by Dr. Michael L. Brown, who is now working on the new Messianic Prophecy Bible over in Israel with Zev Isaacs.]
The whole theme of 1 John is between sin and righteous living. One final thought before you begin this awesome expository series on 1st John. Buried in the middle of John’s letter, he defined sin, gave a very simple definition of what sin is. Most of the very grace oriented denominations pass right over this definition without so much as a howdy do. The Torah observant groups pound away on the definition and demand obedience or else. The balance is in the middle. John says we all sin, stumble, but shouldn’t be doing it habitually. But let us not forget what sin is. For how can one possibly put sin out of his life, if he doesn’t know what sin is? Let’s see right away what sin really is. John defines what sin is, basically giving us the Bible’s definition or what sin is, putting words to the concept of sin. There is no doubt what sin is in a believers mind when he reads John’s definition for it. Here it is: “Whoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). The word “sin” and “transgression of the law” are interchangeable terms. Transposing “transgression of the law” for the word “sin” gives the word a whole new meaning. But grace oriented churches and denominations cringe at the thought, while Torah observant groups pound the concept home, sometimes giving the impression that we must obey God’s law regardless, all on our own, obedience is everything to them, even above love. John ties this concept of obedience to loving one’s brother and neighbor—i.e. having the agape-love of God operative in the believer. It is God that enables obedience in the first place, by and through his indwelling Holy Spirit that empowers us. The Comforter, as John quoted Jesus in John 14, brings God the Father and Jesus Christ right inside of us, enabling our walk, enabling our obedience.
Two basic groups within the body of Christ, theologically
One final point: There are two basic groups within the body of Christ, theologically speaking, one being the Torah observant groups (often called legalists, but I find that a slanderous term)—which are more often than not Sabbatarians. The other group is made up of the grace oriented churches and denominations. One group believes the Old Testament law of God has not been abrogated, but should be combined with Jesus’ and the apostle’s magnification of the law found in the New Testament. The other group believes the New Testament defines the law which we are to observe now, and call this law the “Law of Christ”. This is a simplified definition of the two groups: One group observes the Ten Commandments, including Sabbath and Holy Days of Leviticus 23, brought to their spiritual intent (cf. Matthew 5:17-48). The other group observes “the Law of Christ” found defined throughout the New Testament, which is simply 9 out of the 10 Commandments, brought to their spiritual intent (cf. Matthew 5:17-48). The simplistic definition (and only definition I can find the Bible giving) of the new covenant is this: For those entering into the new covenant God promises “to write his laws upon their hearts and in their minds” (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:6-13). There is no mention within this Bible definition of the new covenant which “set” of laws God promises to write in the believers heart and mind—just that he would do the writing. In Romans 14:1-23 we find the freedoms given under the new covenant defined, which seems to allow the believer to choose which set of laws he would prefer God to “write upon his heart and mind.” If this is true, then all the grace oriented churches have been wrongfully beating up on their Sabbatarian brothers because they simply chose to exercise their God-given freedom in this area, and chose the Old Covenant version of God’s law to have him write upon their hearts and minds. This was a hotly contested issue in the early Church of God in Rome and throughout the Christian churches within the Roman Empire, and that’s why Paul addressed it in Romans 14. Understand this. This sermon transcript series is friendly to both theological sides of the body of Christ, Torah-observant Sabbatarian and the grace oriented, Sunday observing churches and denominations. Believers from both these groups can be nourished spiritually without fear that they are going to be somehow swayed from their choice of which “set” of laws they would like God to write upon his or her heart and mind. This whole website abhors the thought of such tactics. This controversy raged in the early church. [For more information about the early church, be sure to log onto the early church history section at http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/index3.htm.]
Now go and enjoy these two sets of expository studies of 1st John chapters 1 through 5. Pastor Joe Focht’s series goes through 1st John 1-5 at a faster pace. The other series goes more slowly and thoroughly through 1st John 1-5. I advise going through Pastor Joe’s series first to get the basic concepts, and then dig deeper into the subject in the other series.