John emphasised the written word. “I write to you.” In fact, John writes “I write to you,” twice in verses 7-11, and six times in verses 12-14.
This emphasis is throughout the Bible.
Christians are essentially people of a book, or a collection of books. It is from the Bible alone that we now receive the Gospel. John, Peter, Matthew, Paul and the others are in the presence of their Lord. We know truth about Jesus because of the things that they have written down.
The teachings of the early apostles and prophets come to us only in their writings. We are not to rely for information about Jesus on voices that we might hear in our heads. We are not to rely on oral traditions that are not already written down for us in the Bible. We are not to receive anything from people claiming to be new apostles with new revelations of the Spirit. We are not to submit blindly to mere human authority of any kind. We have God’s word written. This alone is our standard of faith and practice — from it alone do we learn what we are to believe and do as God’s people.
These thoughts prepare us to consider verses 7-8, where we are given something to believe.
“Brothers, I do not write to you a new commandment, but an old one, which you have possessed from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard from the beginning. Again, I do write to you a new commandment which (neuter) is true in him and in you.”
The commandment that John seeks to enforce here is not the 10 commandments. John had been referring to the 10 commandments in the previous verses, but now he is writing about something else.
An old commandment and a new commandment are one commandment. The commandment is the Gospel message. This is the word or message that John says Christians have heard from the beginning. 1 John 1:1-3 and John:12:50 — his commandment is eternal life.
Gospel is an imperative — a command. It reveals God’s will for our salvation in Christ Jesus. In another place, Peter said:
“There is salvation in no other, neither is there any other name under heaven that is given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The gospel is a command to repent — to stop resisting God and to trust Christ.
- Mark 1:14 — The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel.
- Acts 2:38 — Repent and be baptised
- Acts 16:30-31 — Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved
- Acts 17:30 — Now God commands all people everywhere to repent (and believe gospel)
The gospel is old, in so far as it is not new to these people. They have heard it from the beginning. It is old in so far as it did not originate with them, but had long been declared to the world since Genesis 3:15.
- Gen 3:15 – one will be born to put right what Adam made wrong
- Gen 12 – one will be born who will bless every nation
- Ps 32 – the blessing will be the forgiveness of sins
- Isa 53 – the death of the one who is born to bless will bring forgiveness into effect. He will die for others.
- Ps 16 – the one who died for our sins will rise again from the dead
- Jer 31:33 – the forgiveness will be applied to sinners by a new birth
It is new, in so far as it can never go out of date, and must never be thought of as yesterday’s news. It must always be refreshed in our thinking and affections
- 1 Cor. 15:1-4
- 2 Peter 1:12-15
- 1 John 1 and 2
Jesus Christ is the true light. This light shines in the Gospel message. “He is the true light” John 1:9 “The darkness is passing and the true light already shines”. 1 John 2:8.
This Gospel is true in him.
- The Lord Jesus Christ made the gospel of forgiveness of sins true by bringing it into effect. By his good life and his death in our place he has himself made propitiation for our sins.
- He has dealt decisively with our darkness — our rebellion, our lawlessness, our ignorance, our selfishness. By his death on the cross and by his resurrection, he has defeated sin, death and Satan.
- He who is truth guarantees the truth of the good news of forgiveness and our reconciliation with God.
The Gospel is true in us
- if we are born again by the holy spirit, that is
- If we have turned from the darkness of our sinful rebellion and have come to the light (john 3:19-21), that is,
- if we trust Jesus Christ as he is offered in the gospel, and
- if we remain in him — persevere in the faith. If we keep on trusting in spite of circumstances.
This, in brief, is what we are to believe. We are to trust ourselves to this gospel and rely on Jesus Christ. This is walking in the light, as Jesus himself said (John 12:35-36).