1 John 2:3-6. The evidence that we really are Christians.

3 And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know Him,” but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in Him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

The biblical evidence of Christianity is obedience to God’s commands. This points to an undeniable truth of the gospel: When we are made new in Christ, we are made NEW. The old way of living, marked by death and rebellion, is gone. A new way of living, marked by life and obedience, has come.

As we read these verses, we are given an opportunity to look at two important truths that are found at the heart of the gospel. Those truths are: Justification and sanctification. It is important that Christians have a firm grasp on each. So let’s look at both of them.

  • Justification – God’s declaration that we are forgiven of sins and are righteous. Justification is rooted in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. When a person believes in Jesus, that person is justified. And this justification is instantaneous and unchanging. This is the gift of God’s grace in our lives.
  • Sanctification – The progressive work of becoming more like Jesus. This is an ongoing process that occurs in the life of every Christian. That process looks like this: Dying to sin, living to righteousness. Sanctification is no less a gift of God’s grace, as that grace is demonstrated in the changed life Christians live. And this sanctification is ongoing and growing.

A proper understand of justification and sanctification are important because they keep us from two errors. Error #1 is the belief that we are saved by what we do. Justification reminds us that our only hope for salvation is Jesus. Error #2 is the belief that it doesn’t matter how we live, as long as we say we believe in Jesus. Sanctification reminds us that following Jesus means following Jesus.

And so, when John instructs us that the evidence for our claim to know God is obedience to His commands, we can see the truth of justification and sanctification on full display. Our justification (“we have come to know Him”) is the grounds for our sanctification (“we keep His commandments”). Our sanctification (“whoever keeps His word”) is the evidence of our justification (“in him truly the love of God is perfected”).

1 John 1:1-2. Jesus our advocate. Jesus our atoning sacrifice.

1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

In these verses we see Jesus referred to in two ways: Advocate and propitiation. Both of these terms are important, and they point us to the glory of God displayed in the good news of the gospel. So let’s take them one at a time.

  • Advocate – The word advocate means one who speaks on behalf of another. And this speaking on behalf of another is not simply pleading his case (in a legal sense), rather it is saying something positive on his account. Jesus is the advocate for Christians before the Father. This is important for two reasons. One, if we were to stand before God and speak for ourselves we would have nothing good to say. This is the truth of Romans 3:19, which states that before God “every mouth may be stopped and the whole world may be accountable to Him. Two, Jesus not only speaks to the Father on our behalf, but he speaks well of us to the Father. Jesus is righteous and his righteousness is credited to all who belong to him. This means that when Jesus advocates for us, he speaks on behalf of people who have been made righteous in him.
  • Propitiation – The word propitiation means “a sacrifice which bears God wrath to the end and turns that wrath toward us into favor.”* Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. This is important because what we see in the gospel is the Father putting forth the Son, the Son taking on the wrath of the Father for all of his people’s sins, and God’s wrath toward us changed to favor in Christ. Jesus lived the life we could not live, died the death we deserved to die, and in him we are redeemed. This is the truth of 2 Corinthians 5:21, which states that “God made him who knew no sin (Jesus) to become sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

In Christ we are made righteous. In Christ the penalty for our sins is no longer held against us. In Christ we are favored by God, and are called His beloved children. What a Savior!

*Definition from Systematic Theology, by Wayne Grudem

1 John 2:1-2. My little children.

1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

John opens the second chapter of his letter by addressing his hearers as “my little children.” In calling them little children, John defines his relationship with the Christians who are reading his words. He defines this relationship in two ways:

  1. His love for them – In calling them children, John demonstrates the fact that he loves them deeply. He cares for their lives, and wants to point them in the right direction.
  2. His expectation of them – In calling them children, John positions himself (rightly) as a spiritual authority. As an eyewitness to Jesus, and as one who has been sent to teach others the truth of the gospel, John has the right to speak to the Christians authoritatively. He has the right to place proper expectations on them.

John’s expectation for the Christians is that they may not sin. As Christians, they have been called into the light. And life in the light is not dominated by sin. While the struggle with sin is ongoing, and while there will be times when they fall (more on that in the next post), sin no longer has dominion over them.

All of this points us to a critical truth in the Christian life…The expectation of all Christians is a progressive growth in holiness. The longer we walk with Jesus, the more we grow in a desire to glorify God. This shows up in our lives as living righteously and killing off sin.

1 John 1:8-10. The importance of being honest about sin.

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

John wrote his letter to Christians who were dealing with false teachings. The opening verses of the letter (1:1-4) show us that one of those false teachings centered on Jesus. The false teachers had gotten Jesus wrong, denying his humanity, and John wrote his letter in order to set the record straight. Another falsehood coming from these teachers was the belief that they were without sin. They were denying the reality of sin in their nature. They claimed to have no sin (verse 8), and they also claimed to have committed no sin (verse 10). And so again John writes in order to set the record straight.

One of the interesting things we see in this scenario is how a faulty view of God is tied to a faulty view of ourselves. This highlights an important truth…If we get God wrong, everything else falls apart.

In verse 9 John points to the importance of honesty about sin, and where to go with that reality. John points them to the gospel, and in verse 9 we read of the power of God’s grace. When we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. God is faithful and just. God is able to do what He promises He will do. In Jeremiah 31:34 God promises to forgive the iniquity of His people and remember their sins no more. Forgiven. In Isaiah 1:18, God promises that although the sins of His people were like scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Cleansed.

God kept His promise in sending His Son, and in Christ all God’s promises are fulfilled (2 Corinthians 1:20). So for all who come to Jesus, all who stop denying, pretending, and hiding, they are forgiven and made clean.

But this is not just truth for the unbeliever. This is good news for all who belong to Jesus. Because when we fall into sin, we know where to go. We run to Jesus, confess our sin, and cling to Him as our Rescuer.

To deny the reality of sin is to deny the power of the gospel. To deny the reality of sin is not a virtuous pursuit, rather it is the path of death. Instead the path to life is to confess that we are sinners in need of rescue, and cling to our only hope. The hope of the gospel…The good news that God saves sinners in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

1 John 1:5-7. God is light, and we are people of the light.

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

Throughout John’s letter, he holds up three hallmarks of the Christian. Three traits that define the lives of all who belong to Jesus. And he calls his fellow believers to embrace each of these three.

These three hallmarks of the Christian life are:

  1. Right belief.
  2. Holy living.
  3. Brotherly love.

In verse 6, we see the importance of holy living on display. John goes after anyone who would claim to have fellowship with God while at the same time walking darkness. To “walk” is to live, and this is the word John chooses to describe one’s lifestyle. Your walk is your way of living.

The Christian’s way of living (their walk) is defined by who God is. Why? Because Christians belong to God. They have been brought to life by God. They have been rescued from death by God. They are God’s people, and their lives bear the mark of His redemption. Consequently, the way they live is defined by who God is.

What we know about God is that He is light. There is no darkness in Him at all. In telling us that God is light, the bible is revealing to us the truth of who He is. At the same time, the bible is revealing to us the truth of who we are and how we live as those who belong to God.

  • God is light. He is glorious. Psalm 104:1-2 state that God is clothed with splendor and majesty, and He covers himself with light as with a garment.
  • God is light. He is perfect. 1 Timothy 6:16 states that God dwells in unapproachable light. This verse speaks of God’s absolute perfection.
  • God is light. He is truth. Psalm 18:28 states that God is the one who lights our darkness. As the one who is both truth and the giver of truth, God guides us to the light of truth.
  • God is light. He is life. John 1 states that Christ was the life, and that life was light to all.

Thus, rooted in the truth of who God is and who we are, Christians are a people of the light. Our way of living is marked by following the One who is light. While there will be times when we are tempted and fall into sin, the direction of our lives will be toward a progressive growth in holiness.

So, how does this look in day to day living? As people of the light, we are a people who:

  • Desire the things of God. In giving us new life, God has given us new desires, new ways of thinking, new ways of seeing all things.
  • Embrace the incompatibility of walking in light and darkness at the same time. While we know the struggle with sin is still real (in fact the struggle in many ways becomes more real after becoming a Christian), we know that we are made for the light and that the darkness is not who we are.
  • Repent quickly. When we fall into sin, we are quick to confess that sin and repent of it. We are quick to come back to the gospel. We cling to Jesus as our only hope.

As we walk out this reality, we are reminded of this precious truth…Those who belong to Jesus are cleansed by his blood from all sin. What a wonderful gift this is!

1 John 1:3-4. Christian fellowship.

3 That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

The word fellowship appears twice in verse 3, alerting us to the fact that this is an important thing in John’s mind. Fellowship is a shared, mutual association with another. The idea is that there is a deep, lasting connection that exists between you and another. Now this isn’t just any kind of connection, rather the fellowship we’re dealing with is the most important, most unique, and most wonderful kind of connection that can possibly be. This is Christian fellowship, and in every way it is life changing.

We see the reality of Christian fellowship in two aspects: The vertical and the horizontal.

The vertical aspect of our fellowship is rooted in knowing and embracing the truth of who God is. John writes “our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” As an eyewitness to Jesus, John was authorized to speak the truth about Jesus. In doing so, he made this point very clear…In order to know God we must understand who God is. Knowing God is not a vaguely spiritual thing, with loose definitions and broad categories. Quite the opposite. God, who is truth, is the giver of truth. He has revealed Himself in order to make Himself known. Knowing Him means understanding the truth of who He is. When we know and embrace the truth of who God is, we have fellowship with Him. We are eternally connected with the Father and the Son.

The horizontal aspect of our fellowship is rooted in the fact that all who belong to God are members of His family. Those who know and embrace the truth of God are called His children. They are beloved sons and daughters of Him. And there is no greater thing in the world than to know God and be part of His household. This is why John wrote his letter in the first place. He wants his readers to “have fellowship with us.” John knows the truth, and he wants to protect his audience from the fellowship-robbing errors that have already claimed many. Instead he wants them to know true joy, the joy that is found in knowing God and being in the family of God’s people. This causes him to state in verse 4 that his goal in writing is “so that our joy may be complete.” The horizontal aspect of Christian fellowship is seen in our desire for others to know the joy-giving truth of God. More than anything, we want others to know God. Because we know that in God is where joy is.

Our quest to proclaim truth is not only about being truthful. That quest is also about seeing God’s people live with the fullness of joy.

1 John’s three traits and a vision for the Christian life

John wrote his letter to a group of Christians who were struggling through realities of division in their ranks, a division that was prompted by false teachers who undermined the truth of Jesus. In response to this situation, John wrote to instruct his readers. That instruction pointed to three traits which must be possessed by those who are truly Christians:

  1. Right belief – Being a Christian meant affirming the truth of who Jesus is, specifically that Jesus was fully human and fully God.
  2. Holy living – Being a Christian meant walking in the light, which meant living with holiness rather than living in sin.
  3. Brotherly love – Being a Christian meant loving and serving those who are part of the church.

As we think about John’s three traits, we see a vision for the life of every Christian. Traits that will be possessed by all who belong to Jesus. This is helpful for us as we follow Jesus today.

So as we think about the direction of our lives, we can ask this question…What is the direction we are heading? And here is the answer to that question:

We are…

  • Growing in truth. We are growing in our knowledge of God by growing in our knowledge of the bible. This growth will root us in Christ, give us the ability to discern error, and enable us to teach others.
  • Growing in holiness. We are growing in holiness. That growth is marked by an always increasing desire to obey God’s commands, a life of humble repentance, and the killing off of sin in our lives.
  • Growing in love for our brother and our neighbor. Our lives are spent in service to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in service to our neighbor.

These are marks of maturity in the Christian. This is where God is taking us, and this is where we will point one another.