1. Family letter, imparting of life
If we use our Lord’s own words in John 10, the Shepherd has come to find His own sheep, and to lead them to His own fold. The book of Romans speaks to the sheep in the old folds to tell them why they need to come out to follow the true Shepherd to the new fold; the other epistles by Paul combat the enemy who comes to disturb the sheep on the way to the new fold; and the book of Hebrews in particular warns the sheep who have already come out not to return to the old fold. Each book in the New Testament serves its own purpose in the hands of the Holy Spirit.
With the above background, this book of 1 John is of a peculiar character. Reading 1 John, one can’t help but feel that it is the Lord Himself speaking to His flock at home, at ease. It’s the imparting of His life to His church. It truly is a family letter. No wonder this letter is not addressed to any particular church at the time. Even though the home is still surrounded by dangers (so it is before the return of the Lord), but the sheep are at home, no longer wondering, no longer scattered on the way home needing the Shepherd’s chastising and turning back. The Holy Spirit is no longer laboring with an effort to collect the sheep to the fold. The sheep are already there, with the Shepherd.
That’s why there is little doctrinal teaching in this book, in contrast to the books by Paul. Doctrine is for combating, and is absolutely necessary to secure the fold, but once inside the fold, the life is directly imparted from the Lord Himself. No arguments. No disputes. Only light, life and love. Even the warnings given in this precious book are given on a firm foundation and assumption that all who hear these words will in their heart have no controversy with the Word. “I write these to you, not because you don’t know them, but because you do know them,” is how the Elder John describes it. What a precious premise! May our hearts be on the same side and in the same position with the Holy Spirit when we read these precious words, with total obedience to Him, and no controversy with Him, no gainsaying against Him. May we just turn our eyes to Jesus, to contemplate all His life is, and ask the Lord to enable our heart to say, yes, this is also my life in you.
2. The fellowship, the communion between the Father and the Son, and now the children
Yes, the true life has been imparted to us. John had seen that life, had touched the life with his own hands, and truly known that God had not just invited us, but actually placed us into the most holy and precious fellowship with Him, the fellowship which had been exclusive between the Father and the Son, the fellowship which was the very object of Satan’s jealousy. And in this book, we are brought into the same fellowship.
But the fellowship is based on the Son and through the Son. The essence of the fellowship is the relationship between the Father and the Son. One cannot have the Father without entering into the Son (2.23), because that is the very definition of the relationship; it is the same as saying you cannot call the father “father” unless you are a son. But you cannot be a son unless you are in the Son. It is on this fundamental basis that the Holy Spirit says one who does not have Son does not have the Father. It is not an attitude demonstrated by God. It is a divine truth in God and of God.
3. The power of redemption manifested in practical living
The divine doctrine revealed through the epistles of Paul lays out the objective truth of redemption, our positional justification. But 1 John explains the objective truth through the efficacy of the blood of Jesus in our living. The truth concerns two sides. The truth concerning our side is that we are sinners and we have sinned (1.8-10). Acknowledging this is not a religious teaching, but truth. Failing to acknowledge this is not a showing of lack of religious piety, but not telling the truth, is lying. In fact it is also calling God a liar. But the truth on His side is that “Whoever abides in Him, does not sin; whoever sins, has not seen Him or known Him.” (3.6). The truth concerning our side testifies the death of the Lord on the cross for us, and shows why He must die on the cross; the truth on His side testifies the resurrection of the Lord, and it’s our heavenward calling. The truth concerning our side pushes us to escape death; the truth on His side pulls us into the resurrection life. How we need to be both pushed and pulled in order to move away from death into life. That’s God’s wisdom and mercy. Not only does our spiritual reckoning tell us this, the experiential and practical side of our being also agrees with this.
But from both sides we hear, “enter into Him, because in Him there is no sin.” In Him, is the only place in this universe there is no contamination and the consequential condemnation of sin. What a precious truth and reality.
But knowing who we are, the Lord does even more for us. His propitiation for our sins includes not only eternal forgiveness, but also practical daily forgiveness of sins (2.1-2). Such is the efficacy of His blood. He does that, not in order to make us feel better every day, but to bring us into the divine fellowship to taste and testify His life and His love in our temporary life on earth. Such is the faithful and careful shepherding of our Shepherd, He takes the burden of our sins daily. How we need to abide in Him, and how we must abide in Him!
4. The glory of seeing Him as He is
But the Father intends more for His children than just entering the Son for the reason that He is the sinless one. He also intends His children to enter into the Son because He is the glorious one. We therefore purify ourselves. The glory of the Lord is the reason for the children of God to purify ourselves, not the fear of judgment, which is the call to the world for repentance and salvation, which the children have already obeyed. We purify ourselves, not because we received certain religious teaching, not because we have a religious aspiration, but because we were promised and now behold the glory in the glorified One. As if being repelled by the sin weren’t enough a reason in itself for us to desire to enter into the sinless One, the Father gives us yet a whole new reason at a different level to enter into the glorious One. No wonder the apostle exclaimed, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon His children!” (3.1).
5. The warnings against the attack of the enemy
The enemy will attack. How can he not? This is his last chance. But the warnings the apostle gives to the children of God here are given from a quite distinctive position. There is no negative admonition on what happens if one is deceived. These are the warnings of the Father to the children, not that of a teacher to students, nor that among the fellow classmates. These are not persuasion to those who are still deciding on a wall choosing a side. These are not urges to those who are hurrying on the way home. These are the words spoken to the family. The question is not “whether”, but solely “how”, and the answer to the question is simple, “Every spirit which does not confess Jesus Christ has come in flesh is not of God” (4.2), because regardless of how deceptive the enemy is, his real attack always has a simple aim, which is to deny that Jesus Christ has come in flesh. The children of God therefore must explicitly make this confession to separate ourselves from the lie. It’s not the mere statement itself. It’s the substance meant by the statement. First, confess Jesus is Christ. This separates all false teachings coming from outside toward the church. Second, confess that Christ has come in flesh. This separates all false teachings stirring inside the church.
And see the Father’s confidence: you children have overcome them, because greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world. The Father’s confidence is solely in the Son.
6. Loving one another, the true manifestation of the imparted life
The life has been imparted. The apostle now shows how we can be sure that we have received this life. Love is the touchstone, is the proof, is the evidence of the acceptance by the Father in our conscience, is the proof to the world, and is the delight of the Father. No other proof of this life can be so definite and clear. This life is the life of the Son, who is the true image of the Father. Love is His nature, and must also be the nature of our life in Him.
The love that the apostle emphasizes here, however, is a particular kind of love. It is the love among and between children of God. Yes, we should also love everyone, even our enemy, just as the Lord did, but that broader love has to do with the testimony to the world. The love here, however, is the touchstone and proof of life, an inner testimony, more basic and fundamental than the testimony to the world. “He who does not love has not known God; for God is love.” (4.8). He who hates his brother is a murderer (a partaker of the nature of Satan). We can’t love God and at the same time hate our brother. That cannot be true. One who says he loves God but actually hates his brother is a liar (4.20). This is not a matter of attitude or even personal character. It’s a matter of truth. Just as one who doesn’t acknowledge his sinful nature and the sinful deeds is a liar regarding his yesterday and today, one who doesn’t proclaim with his deeds the love of Jesus is a liar regarding his tomorrow.
We love, because He loved us first. That’s it. We don’t love because somebody’s lovable. We don’t love because we are loving. We love because He loves. In practice, we love a brother because he is a brother. It’s this love that is the touchstone of our life. We must recognize that the world also has its own love. A worldly person sometimes may even love a Christian, but that love is always based on personal feelings, and is present despite the fact that the Christian is a child of God, not because the Christian is a child of God. But we love our brother because he is a brother. That love is from the Lord, and is based on a blood relationship, and is a touchstone of the life received from the Lord.
7. The complete testimony by the Spirit in the water and the blood
Love is the manifestation of life, but the apostle at the end brings us to the foundation of our faith, which is His testimony, the testimony of the Father concerning the Son, and the testimony by the Spirit in the water and the blood. Not just water but also blood. Water, because the Christ stood on the position of the fallen Adam and was judged. The water came from the side of a dead Christ speaking of the harsh and final judgment on the flesh which has become an enemy of God, so that we may see no hope in Adam and live under no illusion of our flesh. But if it were only water, although God’s righteous wrath is satisfied, it would be the end of the Adam’s race without hope. But also blood, blessed truth it is, not for the purpose of receiving judgment on behalf of the sinful men, but for the purpose of wiping out and covering the sin, and bringing the sinful back to God as the righteous, so that we may see eternal hope in Christ. That is the testimony of the Holy Spirit concerning the Son, on behalf of the Father.
That part of the testimony by the Holy Spirit concerns the past, the backward side of the Cross. The Holy Spirit also testifies, still in water and the blood, concerning the future, the forward side of the Cross, which is the Church who comes out of the water and blood of Jesus, as Eve came out of Adam.
This is the complete testimony. One who rejects this testimony rejects the Holy Spirit, and therefore rejects the Son, and ultimately rejects the Father. One who receives the testimony receives the Holy Spirit, and therefore receives the Son and also the Father. This one has eternal life.