He is risen! I hope that everyone had a good Easter, despite being physically separated from one another and not able to meet because of the precautions taken due to the Coronavirus. While it seems wise and prudent at this time to follow the recommendations to forgo meeting together, I long for the time when we can worship our Savior as a congregation and enjoy one another’s fellowship. I pray that this time of separation will make us all better appreciate the privilege we have to gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ to worship the Lord.
I hope that the online video and audio recordings of the weekly preaching of the Word, along with the order of worship guide, is helpful to you. And, until we are able to meet together again, I thought that it might be good to delve into God’s Word a bit more through some daily devotionals – at least that’s my aspiration! – and, I thought that we would take this opportunity to delve into the first epistle of John.
The Purposes of John’s Gospel and John’s First Epistle
As you may know, the Apostle John – otherwise known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” – wrote five of the New Testament books: the Gospel according to John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and the book of Revelation. Interestingly, John’s Gospel and his first epistle share many similarities with regard to the specific doctrines which are taught and themes which are emphasized; however, their purposes are different and clearly defined.
In each book, John explains why he is writing. The Gospel of John, says the author, was “written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31). John’s first epistles, however, was written “to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Simply put, John’s Gospel was written so that people would gain faith (“that you may believe”); John’s first epistle was written so that believers would gain assurance of salvation (“that you may know that you have eternal life”).
A Properly Balanced Assurance
Now, in seeking an assurance of salvation, many Christians will often look to one of three places: faith (what you believe), obedience (how you morally behave), love (how much you care for others). The problem is that looking to only one of these places for assurance will lead to either a false assurance (which leads to presumption and arrogance) or a lack of assurance (which leads to doubt and despondency). In this first epistle, however, the Apostle John presents all three of these things as the basis for a properly balanced assurance of salvation.
[Just as an aside, before we go on, let me make something explicitly clear in case it isn’t already. The basis of justification is singular, but the basis of assurance in multifaceted. Believers are justified by faith in Jesus Christ; believers gain assurance of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, loving Christ and the brethren, and obeying God’s law.]
Think of it like this. Imagine that you are a dietician and you’ve been called in to help three people, each of whom has an unhealthy diet. But, each one is very different. The first person eats nothing but meat, the second person eats nothing but potatoes, and the third person eats nothing but vegetables.
Now, in order to try to help these three people to have a more balanced diet, you could try to give specific treatments for each. For the one who eats only meat, you could cut him off of meat, and give him other foods. For the one who eats only potatoes, you could cut him off of potatoes and give him other foods. And, for the one who eats only vegetables, you could cut him off of vegetables and give him only the other foods.
But, the problem with that sort of treatment is that eventually, their diets could very easily become unbalanced in the opposite way to how they began. So, the one who ate only meat, suddenly now, he refuses to eat meat and his diet is unbalanced in the opposite direction.
So, instead of trying to tailor your dietary plan for each individual, separately, what if you were to give the same balanced diet to each? Each one, then, would get the same plan. As the dietician, you give each of them the same balanced diet of meat, potatoes, and vegetables.
I’m no dietician and perhaps my illustration breaks down somewhere along the way, but here’s the point: this is how we ought to think of John’s first epistle. It is a balanced diet that touches basically three aspects of the Christian life. Three elements that we should use in evaluating our understanding of the Christian life. These three elements are: theology, morality, and relationships. Theology – what you believe; Morality – how you live; and Relationships – how you love and relate to others.
So, as we go through this epistle of 1 John, you can pretty much count on this: most everything that John writes has to do with one, two, or all three of these elements. John does delve into other topics at a couple of points, but for the most part, he talks about these three things: Theology (what you believe, specifically what you believe about Jesus); Morality (how you live, specifically how you live with respect to God’s Law); and Relationships (how you relate to others, specifically, how you love the brethren – your fellow believers in the church). And John says, “these things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
A Brief Survey of a Properly Balanced Assurance in 1 John
Now, sometimes John jumbles all three of these things together and sometimes he addresses only one at a time. Let me show you some examples.
(1 John 2:3) – Obedience / Morality
By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.
In this verse, John mentions one element: Morality. Do you want to know if you are a Christian, here’s one test: do you keep His commandments?
(1 John 2:9-11) – Love / Relationships
9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who 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.
Here’s another element of the Christian life: Relationships. Do you want to know if you are walking in the Light, living according to the Way of Christianity, here’s a test: do you love your brother or sister in Christ?
(1 John 2:23-24) – Faith / Theology
23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.
Here’s the third element of true Christian faith: Theology. Do you want to know if you abide in the Son and in the Father, then check your confession: do you confess to believe in the Son of God, as well as the Father?
People write books and host seminars because they have become convinced that they have made a new discovery as to the essence of true Christianity.
So, you read one book and it tells you, “Right doctrine is all you need! If you would only understand the doctrine of justification better, then you would understand the heart of the Christian life.”
Then, you read the next book and it tells you, “Holiness! Living a righteous life before God, both on the outside and in your interior life – that is what being a Christian is all about.”
The next book tells you, “The Christian life is all about living in community and mercy ministry. It’s about relationships and helping one another. Do justice! Devote your life to helping the poor and the downtrodden, for that is the essence of Christianity.”
There’s nothing wrong with any of these emphases that are put forth in these books by many different authors. In and of itself, orthodoxy and right doctrine is important; seeking to be obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ is good and proper to a life of discipleship. In the living out of the Christian life, pursuing holiness is important. And fellowship – The call of God to live our lives in community and to love one another is important, as well.
But, as I mentioned – and as we shall see in our study of 1 John – an unbalanced basis for assurance of salvation will often lead to one of two things: false assurance or a lack of assurance. Instead, as we go through the book of 1 John in the coming days and weeks, at times it may seem as though we are bouncing around a bit. Rest assured, though, when we’re done with our study of 1 John, we will have a balanced, full-orbed understanding of what the Christian life is all about.