Reread the verses above. Can you feel the thrill, the deep sense of privilege the apostles felt, to be “eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16)? We are the awe-filled audience of one apostle’s first-person report of his intimate, hands-on relationship with the Son of God! And this testimony gives us access into the ultimate relationship possible for mere humans, unworthy sinners transformed by His grace – a present and eternal relationship with our supreme Maker, “with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
This vertical fellowship, forfeited in Eden when our first parents sold out to Satan (Gen. 3), is the ground and focus of all true horizontal fellowship (1 Jn. 1:3). There can be no true fellowship (harmony) among people without prior restoration to fellowship with the God against whom all our sin is an ongoing personal insult, unforgivable except through the blood of His Son, as 1 John 1:7 tells us: “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.”
God the Son – incarnate as a descendant of Adam and Eve, the offending first couple – paid the penalty, absorbing in His person the divine judgment against their sin and ours, thus laying the righteous foundation for restoration of fellowship with Him. Complete joy is the object and result of His bringing us into this fellowship (1:4; Ps. 16:11).
• Fellowship Of Light
The apostle John first announces Christ’s coming into the world as “the Light” (Jn 1:1-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:4-5). Now he reminds us that “God is light” (1:5), and shows us that our fellowship with Him is “in the light” of His presence, fellowship enjoyed only because we are of one nature with God, which our Savior also accomplished for us, as Paul stated in Ephesians 5:8: “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”
Walking, being, living in the light as the atmosphere of our existence as God’s “children of light” inevitably exposes the sin that still lurks in our old nature and crops up in our behavior. John mentions three reactions to this revelation: we might deny it by claiming to “be without sin” (1:8); we can confess it (1:9); or we might “claim we have not sinned” 1:10).
To deny the presence of a sinful nature in us (1:8), or refuse to identify the expressions of that nature as sins (1:10) is self-deception. It makes God out to be a liar and obstructs the fellowship. Such denial is actually an identifying mark of the unbeliever!
The only valid response to the exposure of our sin is to acknowledge it, and in humble contrition confess it to God. Sins in our lives are barriers between us and God (Isa. 59:2), and unconfessed sins in our lives frustrate our fellowship with our God. But because of the work of our Savior on the cross, God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). Denial ignores the reality and seriousness of sin. Acknowledging it before our God and Father frees Him, on the basis of Calvary, to forgive the sin and restore us to full enjoyment of fellowship with Him.
This word comes from God (via John) to keep us aware of and sensitive to sin, and to inspire and enable us to avoid sinning (2:1). Nevertheless, recognizing the continuing existence in us of a nature prone to sin, John says, “If anyone does sin” (2:1) Jesus, the one who bore our sin and died for us, and is now exalted at the right hand of the Majesty on high, will plead His own righteous atonement for our sin, reminding the Father that our sin has been removed, laid on our Substitute and punished in Him. Jesus is the full satisfaction of divine justice – the “propitiation for our sins” (2:2, 4:10).
Thus our liberation from guilt before God is not only an historical fact but an ongoing reality, the atmosphere of our fellowship with God, that depends solely on the eternal efficacy of our Savior’s shed blood.
The light that exposes the sin in our lives also motivates us to live without sinning: not an obsessive negative focus on avoiding sin but rather a positive will to “keep his commandments” (2:3); that is, living in an obedient relationship with Him.
“Whoever says he abides in Him (Christ) ought to walk in the same way in which He walked” (2:6). Christ said, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him (the Father)” (Jn. 8:29). What we say is of no value unless our behavior is consistent with our words. To “talk” Christian but fail to “walk” Christian is a lie; truth is not evident in a disobedient life (2:4).
A life lived “in the light” is a life lived in love (a prominent theme in 1 John, occurring 35 times in these verses: 2:7-11; 3:11-24; 4:7-21; and 46 times in the whole epistle). Both light and love are the nature of our God and the environment of our new life in fellowship or harmony with Him – the environment in which Christians live together. Where love is lacking, “light” is clouded over and not evident. John’s “new commandment” is really an old one; it is what Jesus taught (Jn. 13:34). At the same time, it is new (2:8); it needs continual reemphasis and renewing.
We need constant reminding that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8,16); and, having been “born … of God” (Jn. 1:13), we share His nature. Love is the visible mark of the Christian: “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). And “whoever … hates his brother is still in darkness” (2:9).
• Three Generations
John seems to be addressing three generations of believers in 2:12-14. The specifics seem to suggest characteristics appropriate to a particular age group, but it’s always timely to apply all of these to our daily lives.
1. “Little children” suggests beginners who are early in their Christian experience. Two of the most basic understandings of our faith and our walk in the light are: the knowledge of sins forgiven, the consciousness of a clean slate before God accompanied by a clear conscience; and the knowledge that we are the beloved new-born children of a tender-hearted Father, constantly under His care and enjoying free access to Him. These are foundational.
2. Next John addresses the “fathers,” seasoned and mature in faith through a lifetime of experiencing the love and the stability of a relationship with “Him who is from the beginning,” and “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (2:14; Jas. 1:17). To know Him is to have eternal life (Jn. 17:3); but knowing Him is also the occupation of a lifetime walking with Him. These fathers “know Him who is from the beginning” of all things to the ongoing “present”; He is faithful, true, dependable, unfailing.
It is compelling to notice that little children are beginners, while fathers “know Him who is from the beginning,” suggesting the full spectrum of Christian growth and experience, one reason for viewing the comments to all three of these groups as applicable to all Christians.
This is especially so when we consider that continuity is a recurring emphasis in 1 John. “The beginning” is referenced eight times in this epistle (1:1; 2:7,13,14,24; 3:8,11) and “abiding” (“continuing” or “remaining”) occurs 23 times in chapters 2, 3, 4. Together these repeated references strongly emphasize continuity or persistence in the Christian walk. It is what Jesus is saying in John 8:31: “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples.” John picks up on this theme from Jesus and urges it in this epistle as one of many evidences of new life. Thus, at any and all stages of Christian growth and progress, we “know Him who is from the beginning,” and we go on to know Him more and more and more.
3. There is an interesting progression in John’s characterization of young men in his generational comments. In 2:13, he says “young men … you have overcome the evil one” – a magnificent accomplishment! How many of us have truly overcome the influence of the evil one in our daily living? Sadly, many of us fathers in years and experience have not yet attained to the accomplishment of these young men and are living in frequent defeat, stymied by this enemy rather than overcoming him.
How have these young men managed to do this? Certainly not by their own strength, but because they were made strong by the “the Word of God” abiding in them. Vigorous daily training in and practice of God’s Word builds spiritual stamina and skill – learning, growing, knowing and handling it (2 Tim. 2:15) – for conquest over a most formidable enemy.
This observation always reminds me of Jesus’ response to those who thought they could trip Him up by manipulating the truth: “You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mt. 22:29). Knowing God’s Word, and the power of living in obedience to it, fortifies us against the enemy.
It goes without saying that being strong through God’s Word abiding in the young men includes their prior submission to the rule of it in their lives, as James 4:7 teaches: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” It seems clear that what characterized these young men will also be true of the fathers who have progressed in the knowledge of the eternal God.
• Resisting The Evil One
This stamina to resist and overcome the evil one also gives us the stability to stand against the seductions of the world we live in (2:15-17; 5:1-5), and which “lies in the power of the evil one” (5:19). In his world he seemingly has unlimited means to deceive and ensnare the careless and unstable. We must be constantly on guard and live in the full enjoyment of our Father’s love so that we are not seduced by the world that surrounds us with its unrelenting godless philosophies, movements and sensual enticements, against which we are defenseless apart from God (Jas. 4:7) and the power of His Word (1 Jn. 2:14).
John warns against “antichrists” which he identifies as those who “went out from us, but they were not of us … they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (2:19). He says, “You have heard that antichrist is coming.” Haven’t we all? But it is easy to be distracted by thinking that this is a reference to a prophetic figure coming at some future time. John continues: “Now many antichrists have come” and then he says that “the spirit of antichrist … is in the world already” (2:18; 4:3).
John identifies as antichrist, him “who denies the Father and the Son” (2:22) and “every spirit that does not confess Jesus” (4:3). Antichrist is precisely what the name says: one who stands in opposition to Christ, and whose every effort is to unseat God’s anointed King, the Messiah. This antichrist is already powerfully active in the world in which we live, and he presents himself in many disguises.
How many influences, ideas, philosophies and movements do we encounter daily that actively oppose the honor and authority of Jesus Christ? The ultimate antichrist of course is Satan, about whom we have been warned. All other antichrists are his agents. This is why we must “test the spirits” (4:1) as to their relation to Jesus Christ. Our firmly settled faith in the Lord Jesus, the true Christ, is our victory that overcomes the world (1 Jn. 5:1-5).
By Bill Van Ryn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org