1 john 1 is a fighting chapter. The apostle, moved by the Holy Spirit, is setting out some important truths about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You see, there was a group infiltrating the church with another gospel, which was not good news at all. Gnosticism, which predated the earthly work of Jesus Christ, was modifying the Gospel message to fits its own ideas.
Basically, Gnosticism said we need secret knowledge. Without this insider knowledge — that Gnosticism only shared with worthy people — you cannot reach God. Gnosticism said that ‘spirit’ was good, but ‘material’ was bad. In this misunderstanding of reality, there is a real problem with the person and work of Jesus Christ, and a real problem with how we are to respond to Him.
If spirit is good, but matter is bad, then our Lord Jesus cannot be both God and a human being in one person. He was either not really God, or not really a man. If he was only God, then he just appeared to be a man (Docetism). If he was only a man, then the Christ ‘spirit’ simply possessed him for a time, perhaps from his baptism until just before his death on cross (Cerinthianism).
This is how preconceived ideas get in the way of vital truth. Our Saviour must be both true God and true man in one person (as the whole Bible teaches) or we have no Saviour. Jesus was man so He could live a good life as a human being. He was man so He could die. As God, what Jesus did He could do for us as our substitute. His good life can replace our bad lives because He is God as well as man. In His death He could take responsibility for our sins because He is God as well as man.
Because Gnosticism seriously messes with the Gospel message, it could not help but maintain ungodly lives in those who followed its teaching. If spirit is good and material is bad, then the human body is a big problem. Either one decided that the body is bad, so let it indulge its true nature, and be a bad as it liked (but the spirit will remain pure through the secret knowledge), OR if the body is bad, then it must be held in check by strict asceticism — denying the body good things that God had created to be enjoyed.
So what does John do about it. He wrote to the church and reminds us that:
- the Gospel (that which was from the beginning) is not secret. The Scriptures from Genesis 3:15 have been pointing to one who would come to put right what Adam made wrong.
- the apostles heard the Gospel message from Jesus and saw it happen — the life, death and resurrection of the Son of God – (that which we have heard, seen, observed and handled).
- They observed the Lord at close quarters during three years
- They heard from His own lips that His death was for the forgiveness of sins; that His death was to save many.
- They were invited to touch Jesus after His resurrection to test for themselves that He had bone and fresh and was not a ghost.
- the gospel is not secret business, but has been preached and published from the beginning. The apostles have declared it to us.
- this really human saviour is also, at the same time, God. He is the word of life, the eternal life that was with the Father. The one who is eternal life is God. The one who is God was there in front of the apostles – they heard, saw, observed and touched this one.
Then John tells us that God is not like us. The Gospel message tells us that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. Light refers to life, purity, true knowledge. Ps 50 tells us that some in the church thought that God was just like them, and they were just fine the way they were. John says no. We need serious rescuing. We are in darkness (death, ignorance, lostness) until God in Christ brings us to a new mind; to new birth. We will not come to the light (to Christ) before this happens, because our deeds are evil (John 3:17ff).
John gives us a little diagnostic. If we were to say, ‘We have fellowship with God, yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not do truth.’
John does not mean by ‘walking in darkness’ that we do bad things. Here he means, if we are not relying upon the real Saviour, the one who is both God and man in one person who for our salvation lived and died and rose again to deal personally and completely with our sin and rebellion, then we are still in darkness. We are not Christians; we are not born again.
But, if we walk in the Light (trust Jesus Christ as he is offered in the Gospel) … the blood (death) of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to make us clean from our unrighteousness.
You see, Christians are sinners. We wrong our God and Saviour every day, but Jesus IS the saviour of his people. He is their righteousness. We are utterly dependent upon Him.
He is faithful. He has dealt with His people’s sins and will never forget it. We can rely on Him.
He is just. He has fulfilled the law, both its requirements of holiness and its judgement of death to the sinner. He has acted as our substitute according to the law and has saved His people according to strict justice.
This Gospel is a public message. It is not a secret. It comes to bad people. It comes so bad people might have joy. It comes so that bad people might have fellowship with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.
John reminded us of all these things so that we might not sin (the one who has this hope aims to keep God’s commandments), but if we do sin (and we will), we have an advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous.