The following sermon was prepared by Ps Lucas Stoltz. Click here: 1 John, to download or stream the audio sermon, or click here: 1 John. for the video version. Alternatively, you can read the notes below, or follow along as you watch or listen.

Introduction to 1 John:

  • Welcome to our new sermon series in 1 John where we will focus on the marks or evidences of the Christians assurance of salvation! Now we’ll do our best to involve everyone in this study, no matter how young or old you are, and no matter what your first language may be. This study is for us to grow together in our knowledge and understanding of the Lord.
  • So as we do that, I want to use our time this morning to look at the surrounding context of this letter before we get into the in-depth word studies.
  • Something you might have picked up over time, as we refer to various letters in the New Testament, is this – false spiritual teachers were a big problem in the early church. The reason many churches fell prey to pretenders who taught their own ideas and advanced themselves as leaders was due to the fact that there was not a complete New Testament that believers could refer to.
  • So John wrote this letter to set the record straight on some important issues, particularly concerning the identity of Jesus Christ. Because John’s letter was about the basics of faith in Christ, it helped his readers reflect honestly on their faith. It helped them answer the question, Are we true believers?
  • John told them that they could tell by looking at their actions. If they loved one another, that was evidence of God’s presence in their lives. But if they argued and fought all the time or were selfish and did not look out for one another, they were portraying that they did not know God.
  • That did not mean they had to be perfect. In fact, John also recognized that believing involved admitting our sins and seeking God’s forgiveness. So there’s a lot for us to get excited about in this letter but building up to these truths, let’s briefly look at who John is, what he wrote, and what we can learn today.

1. Who is John?

  • Explanation – Let’s clear the air, this is not John the Baptist, he was beheaded around 27/28 A.D. This is John known as the beloved apostle. He was part of Jesus’ inner circle with Peter and James. He was given the privilege of witnessing Jesus’ Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9).
  • And after the crucifixion and ascension of Jesus, John became a pillar in the Jerusalem church, and for a time he ministered with Peter in Asia Minor, and finally, he was exiled to the island of Patmos by the Romans, where he received the visions that are found in the book of Revelation.
  • John is the brother of James, together, Jesus called them “Boanerges,” which means “sons of thunder,” and that really describes their personality. Both brothers were characterized by zeal, passion and ambition for Christ. See, in John’s early days with Jesus, he would at times act recklessly, impulsively, and aggressively.
  • Back in Mark 9, we see him forbidding a man to cast out demons in Jesus’ name because he was not part of the twelve (Mark 9:38-41). But Jesus gently rebuked him, saying no one could cast out demons in His name and then turn around and speak evil of Him.
  • Illustration – In Luke 9:51-54, we see the brothers wanting to call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans who refused to welcome Jesus. Again, Jesus had to rebuke them for their intolerance and lack of genuine love for the lost.
  • That was John’s passion. Now in spite of these youthful expressions of misdirected passion, John aged well. He began to understand the need for humility in those who desired to be great. John’s is the only gospel that records Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.
  • And I believe Jesus’ simple act of servanthood must have impacted John greatly. Because by the time of the crucifixion, Jesus had enough confidence in the young man to turn the care of His mother over to him, a charge John took very seriously.
  • Application – From that day on, John cared for her as if she were his own mother (John 19:25-27). And although he remained courageous and bold, his ambition was balanced by the humility he learned at Jesus’ feet.
  • This willingness to serve others and suffer for the sake of the gospel must have enabled him to bear his final imprisonment on Patmos where he possibly lived in a cave, cut off from those he loved. He had learned to look beyond his earthly sufferings to the heavenly glory that awaits all who patiently endure.
  • Conclusion – That’s how John was changed by Christ and therefore, his life serves to remind us of several lessons which we can apply to our own lives. First, our passion for the truth must always be balanced by a love for people. Without the love for people, passion can turn to harshness and judgment. John teaches that one ought to be sincere to those around us. If we speak the truth in love, we and those around us, as Ephesians 4:15 says, will “grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ!” 
  • Second, confidence and boldness not changed by compassion and grace, can quickly turn to pride and arrogance. Confidence is a wonderful virtue, but without humility, it can become self-confidence, which can lead to boasting and an attitude of superiority. When that happens, our witness of the grace of God is spoiled, and we don’t represent Christ.
  • Bridge – So like John, if we are to be effective witnesses for Christ, our behaviour should be one that reflects a passion for the truth, compassion for people, and a steadfast desire to serve and represent Christ by reflecting His humility and grace. And we do those through the studying of God’s word, which brings us to the letter of 1st John.

2. What John Wrote:

  • Text – 1 John 2:12-14
  • Explanation – Apart from encouraging the church, John also wrote to believers who were dealing with false teachers in the form of Gnostics. The word, “gnosticism,” comes from the Greek word, “gnosis,” which means “knowledge.” However, the issue was great.
  • There were many groups that were Gnostic, and it isn’t possible to easily describe the distinctions of each of the Gnostic doctrines. However, generally speaking, Gnosticism taught that salvation is achieved through special knowledge (gnosis). This knowledge usually dealt with the individual’s relationship to the superior Being.
  • Illustration – A more detailed Gnostic theology is as follows. The unknowable God was far too pure and perfect to have anything to do with the material universe which was considered evil. Therefore, God generated lesser gods. One of these gods, Wisdom, desired to know the unknowable God.
  • Out of this wrong desire the demiurge, an evil god, was formed, and it was this evil god that created the universe. He and his rulers kept the mortals in bondage in material matter and tried to prevent the pure spirit souls from ascending back to god after the death of the physical bodies.
  • Now since, according to the Gnostics, matter is evil, deliverance from material form was possible only through special knowledge revealed by special Gnostic teachers. Therefore they believed that Christ was the divine redeemer who descended from the spiritual realm to reveal the knowledge necessary for this redemption.
  • Their central teaching was that spirit is entirely good and matter is entirely evil. From this unbiblical heresy flowed five important errors:
    • The human body, which is matter, is therefore evil. It is to be contrasted with God, who is entirely spirit and therefore good.
    • Salvation is the escape from the body, achieved not by faith in Christ but by special knowledge.
    • Christ’s true humanity was denied in two ways: (1) Some said that Christ only seemed to have a body, a view called Docetism, from the Greek dokeo (“to seem”), and (2) others said that the divine Christ joined the man Jesus at baptism and left him before he died, a view called Cerinthianism, after its most prominent spokesman, Cerinthus.
    • Fourthly, since the body was considered evil, it was to be treated harshly.
    • And finally, they believed that Gnosticism led to immorality. Because matter was considered evil, breaking God’s law had no moral consequence.
  • Application – Now therefore, John writes this letter to the churches who have been affected by these teachings in Ephesus. He writes to point out various marks of assurance of a true Christian. These marks contradicted the Gnostic immoral approach to Christianity and John gives several ways in which we can understand the reality of our salvation.
  • And as we study together, you’ll need to keep in mind John was ministering in a time where there were loads of new mystery beliefs were being developed. These developments were thriving. 
  • Conclusion – But in the midst of the darkness of paganism and superstition, the Church was a beacon of hope, proclaiming the truth! The church was not isolated from the cultures in the area and that is what made the threat so real.
  • This pressure was causing the churches in Asia to split, in most cases it was the false teachers and their followers leaving. So seeing this threat coming to the churches under his care, John decided to take up his pen and defend the faith.
  • Bridge – John wrote, according to chapter 1, verse 4 – that “your joy may be made complete.” He believed that the truth would lead to joy. This is what he learned from the Lord Himself. Go to John 15:11, this is what Jesus said in the upper room, at the Last Supper; “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
  • Secondly, John wrote, chapter 2, verse 1, “that you may not sin.” He had heard the Lord say, “Go and sin no more.” So again, he was changed by Christ and now he wanted true believers to experience this too. And finally, chapter 5 and verse 13, John wrote “these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.
  • So John penned these words so that we as true believers would experience joy, holiness, and assurance. Your joy will be full; you will turn more readily and eagerly from sin, and you will have the assurance of your eternal life.

3. What We Can Learn Today:

  • Explanation – 1 John 1:1–4 reminds us of the opening of John’s Gospel. John immediately points us to the divinity and humanity of Christ. The Gnostics denied that He was both man & God but John assures us that Jesus Christ—fully divine, yet fully human—is at the center of both the Bible and our salvation.
  • Illustration – Furthermore, we can learn how to examine our hearts correctly. One of John’s main goals in writing this epistle was twofold: to assure true believers that they have eternal life (e.g. 5:13), and to search out those who have a false assurance that they may realize they are not true believers in Christ.
  • Listen, regular churchgoers need to be challenged concerning their profession of faith because we often simply take it for granted that we must be saved. Therefore this challenge keeps our eyes upon the Lord.
  • Application – We can also learn a great deal from one of John’s verses that stand out the most, 2:15 “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 
  • John points out both the cost and the source of worldliness and how it is disgraceful before a holy God. But he also tells us that those who do the will of God will abide forever.
  • Conclusion – and finally, John teaches us that it matters what you believe about Jesus Christ. What’s most comforting to God’s children is to learn from John that those who abandon the truth and go off with false teachers were never converted in the first place. God’s true children are protected by the indwelling work of the Spirit, which John calls “the anointing” (2:20, 27).
  • Furthermore, John holds back no arguments to show that holiness and love are crucial. See, in salvation, God has not only cleared our name by the blood of Christ, but He has also cleaned our hearts by the power of His Spirit.
  • Bridge – Does this leave you wanting to comeback for more? I pray that it does because we all need to know the truth from error and we can always do with more assurance of who Christ is and who we are in Him.
  • I therefore leave you with 1 John 5:10-12: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.