By William V. Beasley
As John draws the epistle of First John to a close he tells us why it was written: “These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13). People today, as in the first century, are interested in knowing their spiritual condition. Thus, a study of this epistle is in order to “know.”
Basis Of Our Faith (1 John 1:1-4)
The epistle of First John begins, as does the fourth gospel, with a statement of the deity of Jesus Christ. Both look back to “the beginning,” and both speak of the divinity of Him whom we through faith accept as our Savior. John speaks of the basis of our faith as something which he knew by his physical senses (saw, heard, touched-1 John 1:1, 3). Our faith is based on the testimony of eye, ear and hand witnesses. Jesus, after His resurrection, told the disciples “see” and “handle” (Luke 24:39) that they might know. Like Peter, John could have said, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables. . .” (see 2 Pet. 1:16-21).
It is possible for our physical senses to deceive us; courts prefer more than one witness. When numerous witnesses respond telling of physical senses (see, hear, handle; or as in the case of Matt. 14:16ff all five senses involved) we are forced to believe. When we see men, the apostles and many others, whose whole lives were changed by what they saw, heard and handled and their testimonies agree, we must accept it or, as N. T. Caton says, “admit the chief of absurdities, viz.: an effect without a cause” (A Commentary and an Exposition of the Epistles of James, Peter, John and Jude, p. 142). The apostles did not deliver ought by hearsay, human tradition or conjecture.
Through the testimony of the eye, ear and hand witnesses we have fellowship with the apostles (witnesses), the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3b). Such fellowship (which includes our forgiveness, adoption as children of God, promises of eternal life, etc.) is the completeness of joy (1 John 1:4).
Basis Of Our Fellowship (1 John 1:5-10)
The message from Jesus is that “God is light. . .” (1 John 1:5), i.e., God is the source of all light (physical and spiritual). There is no mixture of light and darkness with God. The Devil and his angles are spoken of as darkness (Eph. 6:12; Luke 22:53; Col. 1:13) and those who obey God are “saints in light” (Col. 1:12).
Fellowship with God is based on walking in light (Psa. 119:105; John 1:4-9; 8:12). It is a lie (1 John 1:6) to claim fellowship with God while walking in darkness, but if we walk in the light we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus. This is not a one time shot (baptism) but is continuous action-we must continue walking in the light of God’s word.
The one claiming sinlessness is deceived (1 John 1:8). Some people see in this the same idea as in 1 John 1:10, but it would seem that the present tense indicates more. We can receive forgiveness and for a while live above sin. Experience tells us that we will stumble and need forgiveness again. If “the truth is not in us” the blood of Jesus does not cleanse us. In verse 9, we find our belief about verse 8 strengthened. One translation reads, “If we keep confessing our sins. . .” (The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude, R. C. H. Lenski, p. 392). We are commanded to “confess our sins” (1 John 1:9). This means far more than to say, “I have sinned.” We must confess, even to God, our specific sins: “I have lied, stolen, lusted, etc.” To claim sinless perfection is to call God a liar (1 John 1:10). Sin is a common denominator of all responsible (age of responsibility) individuals (Rom. 6:23).
Can you, from our study thus far, ” know that ye have eternal life?” If you cannot know that you do have eternal life, it may be a strong indication that you do not have eternal lite. Is your faith based on the eye, ear and hand witness of the apostles? Are you walking “in the light” of God’s word? Do you “keep confessing” you sins? If not, you know concerning salvation, but it is not to “know that you have eternal life,” but that you do not have it.
Truth Magazine XXII: 45, pp. 730-731
November 16, 1978