How should we handle theological disagreements among believers? What issues are so critically important that we should draw a line? Conversely, on what issues should we agree to disagree? John gives us a place to draw the line.
When John wrote this letter from Ephesus, he was an old man and the last surviving apostle. The generation that lived during Jesus’ earthly ministry is passing away. The next generation is no longer learning the gospel from an apostle or someone sent directly by an apostle. False teachers and distorted gospels are cropping up in the young church. John steps in to settle the debate. In 1 John 1:1-4, he argues that as an apostle he is in unique position to settle the debate because he was an eye-witness to the life and teaching of Jesus.
1 John 1:5 begins the body of the letter. His first point: God is completely and utterly good and those who follow Him will “walk in the light.” That is, their lives will be marked by a desire for holiness and godliness, and they will repent and grieve over their sinfulness.
In 1 John 2:1-11, John gives us a two more marks of genuine believers: 1) they will keep the commandments of Jesus and 2) they will love their fellow believers.
2:1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. – 1 John 2:1-2
- John says: When you sin, remember that you have an advocate/intercessor with God, Jesus Christ, who is just. Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for your sin and as a result, when he advocates for you it turns away God’s wrath for your sin and restores you to God’s favor.
- Expiation is the taking away or removal of guilt. It describes Jesus’ death on the cross on our behalf.
- Propitiation means to regain favor or appease. It describes the resulting attitude of the one who receives the expiation.
- Suppose you are angry with me because I’ve done you wrong, when I satisfy your anger, that is expiation. When I am restored to your favor and your anger is removed, that is propitiation.
- Scholars debate who John means by “ours” and “the world” in 1 John 2:2.
- Universalists understand the “ours” as believers and the “whole world” as everyone else. They conclude that everyone will be saved regardless. They claim Christ’s death guaranteed salvation for everyone. However, Scripture contradicts this view. See 2 Peter 2 and Romans 9 among other places.
- Arminians hold to “Universal Atonement.” They also see the “ours” as believers and the “whole world” as everyone else. They say Christ’s death offers salvation to everyone but guarantees it only for those who respond in faith. However, Scripture makes it clear even faith is a gift of God. See Ephesians 2 among other places.
- Reformed theologians understand the “ours” as Jewish believers and the “whole world” as Gentile believers. They say Christ death is sufficient to save everyone but only guarantees salvation for the elect.
- In context I understand John’s point to be: There is only one way to salvation for everyone: through faith that Jesus paid the price for your sins.
3By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. – 1 John 2:3-6 NASB
- “keep” in this context means to embrace as right and true.
- The one who truly follows and believes in Jesus will strive to live as he lived.
- John is NOT saying that the one who knows Jesus must be flawlessly obedient, but rather that the followers of Jesus share the same view of sin and righteousness that Jesus had.
- John can make this claim because repenting of sin and longing for holiness are marks of genuine saving faith.
- For John to claim that a desire for holiness is a sign of faith, he must believe faith is a gift of God. If a desire for holiness if up to me to produce, then it is a sign of nothing because next month I may abandon that desire.
7Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. 9The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11But 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. – 1 John 2:7-11 NASB
- People who genuinely love God will love the things God loves, including His people.
- On the one hand, everything John has said is captured in the Old Testament law. (For example, love the Lord with all your heart, mind & soul and love your neighbor as yourself.)
- On the other hand, this teaching is new in that Jesus made it more clear and unambiguous.
- Stumbling is not missing a step. It is falling to your doom.
- John has made two points: “we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments” and “the one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in Him”.
- How does he know this is true? Notice how similar this is to you shall love the lord with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.
- What’s critically important for Christians is their view of sin and righteousness. If you know Jesus, you must also know that you’re a sinner and you want to be free of your sin. You have to want to keep his commandments and grieve over your sinfulness.
- Believers must love what God loves including His commandments and His people.
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