Text:1 John 1:1-2:2 — What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life — and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us — what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us, and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him, there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. My 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; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
Opening: According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, vital signs are measurements of the body’s most basic functions. The four main vital signs routinely checked by healthcare providers include: (1) Body temperature, (2) Pulse rate, (3) Breathing rate(respiration), and (4) Blood pressure. Vital signs are important because they provide us with a consistent way to measure just how healthy we actually are. So, if you go to the doctor and he determines that your body temperature is not between 97.8 degrees and 99 degrees, or that your pulse is somewhere other than 60 to a 100 beats per minutes, or that your respiratory rate is not between 12 to 20 breaths per minutes, or that your blood pressure is above 120 over 80, then he may determine that you’ve got a physical problem that needs to be addressed. Thank God that doctors have come up with a quick and easy way to assess our health by looking at these vital signs.
Well, it turns out that there some ways to determine the spiritual health of a person as well. These vital signs are the focus of the Apostle John’s short letter to churches in Asia Minor. He shares them as a way to protect his readers from being infected by false teachers who were advocating an early form of something called Gnosticism. Among other things, they taught that the material world was evil (God did not agree– Genesis 1:31 – And God saw all that He had made and it was very good) and the spiritual world was good (not all in the spiritual world is good according to the Bible– Ephesians 6:12mentions “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places). These false teachers claimed to have access to this secret knowledge because they had already attained to a certain spiritual state that was impossible for most people.
The presence and increasing influence of this gnostic teaching is why the Apostle John, who at the time was the last living apostle, felt the need to identify some vital signs that they could use to assess their own spiritual health, as well as that of the teachers who were instructing them. But before he could share these vital signs, John felt the need to return to the basics and review with them the original teachings of the apostles about the gospel message. He does so by addressing who Jesus was, why that mattered and how someone could have fellowship with Him.
Who is Jesus? — 1 John 1:1-2 — What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life–and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us. These verses tell us two important truths about Jesus.
· He is the eternal Son of God(1 John 1:1-2 — What was from the beginning…). In the Bible there are at least two beginnings that we should mention: (1) It opens with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” – Genesis 1:1. This refers to the time when the universe came into being. Though it is impossible to know exactly when that happened, this we do know: there was nothing and then there was the universe and everything in it, which God created out of nothing. (2) The gospel of John opens with something a little different. It says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” — John 1:1. This is talking not about the beginning of creation, but the pre-existence of Jesus before God created anything. We know this because it goes on to say, “Through Him all things were made. Without Him, nothing was made that has been made.” Jesus was very involved in the creation of everything that has ever been made. What this means, of course, is that Jesus, as God’s Son, existed before the material universe came into being. In fact, He has no beginning or end because He is eternal.
· He became a human being(what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life–and the life was manifested (revealed), and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us). Jesus then entered into time and space as we know it. He was born to Joseph and Mary in the tiny town of Bethlehem. He grew up in their home and at about the age of thirty began His itinerant ministry with the twelve disciples. For three years they lived with Jesus, listened to Him and observed the manner in which He lived. They touched Him so that He could not just have been a spirit because He had a physical body. We call this the “incarnation.” The word means “in flesh.” It marks the most significant event in the history of mankind. God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ. And if anyone could testify to this fact, it was the apostles who spent so much time with the Lord while He ministered to the people and taught them kingdom truths. They literally had hands-on experiences with Jesus, the Son of God. Let me attempt to put this in perspective for you. Most of us have had a brush or two with someone who is famous. I had the chance to meet Scotty Pippin at his house, but that pales in comparison to the opportunity afforded me through a friend of mine who served under President Bush to travel to the White House and participate in a memorial service for the victims of 911. The entire thing was a solemn assembly. No one spoke a word. I saw a number of pretty famous people at this event (Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, General Schwarzkopf – the commander of the United States military forces during the Gulf War and Colin Powell – a four-star general in the U. S. Army), but my biggest thrill came when President Bush walked past me, just a few feet away. I didn’t say a word and neither did he, but we did make significant eye contact with each other. While he was looking at me, I mouthed “I pray for you.” He responded, “Thank you.” Never in my life did I ever think I would get that close to the most powerful man in the world! The apostles, however, certainly one-upped me. They actually “did life” with the most powerful and the most holy person in the universe. The unique God-man…Jesus of Nazareth.
Why does this matter? John wants us to know that who we believe Jesus to be (God in human flesh) is vitally important for two reasons:
· First, because our beliefs about Him determine whether or not we have fellowship with God(1 John 1:3 — what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ). John makes this point in a little different way than we might expect. He explains that he is sharing this letter because he wants those reading it to have fellowship with him and the other apostles who testified about Christ’s life. The word “fellowship” means to have in common. His point is that the apostles were drawn into a close fellowship with Jesus during His earthly ministry. This relationship continued even as the Lord was resurrected from the dead and ascended to heaven. Now, his readers, as well, could fellowship with Jesus by believing the witness of John and the other disciples about Him.
· Second, because our beliefs about Him form the basis for real and lasting joy (1 John 1:4 — These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete). Not only could the readers enjoy sweet fellowship with the Lord, but John was eager to inform them that they could also share the same ultimate joy as well. This is very different from mere happiness. Illustration: In his book, Dangers, Toils & Snares, John Ortberg writes: When we take our children to the shrine of the Golden Arches (McDonalds), they always lust for the meal that comes with a cheap little prize, a combination christened, in a moment of marketing genius, the Happy Meal. You’re not just buying fries, McNuggets, and a dinosaur stamp; you’re buying happiness. Their advertisements have convinced my children they have a little McDonald-shaped vacuum in their souls: “Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in a happy meal.” I try to buy off the kids sometimes. I tell them to order only the food and I’ll give them a quarter to buy a little toy on their own. But the cry goes up, “I want a Happy Meal.” All over the restaurant, people crane their necks to look at the tight-fisted, penny-pinching cheapskate of a parent who would deny a child the meal of great joy. But the problem with the Happy Meal is that the happy wears off, and soon they need a new fix. No child discovers lasting happiness in just one: “Remember that Happy Meal? What great joy I found there!” Listen … Happy Meals bring happiness only to McDonalds. Have you ever wondered why Ronald McDonald wears that grin? Twenty billion Happy Meals, that’s why. By the way, when you get older, you don’t get any smarter; your happy meals just get more expensive. Never forget that happiness is temporal, joy is eternal. Happiness comes from happenings. Joy comes from a person … In Your presence is fullness of joy – Psalm 16:11.
How can we have fellowship with Him? By addressing the problem of sin through faith in Jesus who died in our place to pay the penalty for it. But this means that we cannot deny the reality of sin as the false teachers did.
· They denied that sin negatively impacted their fellowship with God–1 John 1:5-7 — This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice (live by) the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. Why does John feel the need to say this? There were false teachers who claimed to know God(who is light and in whom is no darkness) yet they continually walked in darkness. These people were living a lie and by virtue of the denial of their own sin, making it known that they had nothing to do with the truth. On the other side, are those who walk in the light as God is in the light and as a result have fellowship with both Him and other Christians, even though they occasionally sin. And when they slip, they can rest assured that these offenses are covered by the blood of Christ (the payment of His life for us) which cleanses every believer from all sin.
· They denied that sin existed in their nature– 1 John 1:8-9 — If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Some of these teachers even went so far as to deny the sinful bent that all of us have acquired having been born into the human race through Adam. Romans 5:12 puts it this way: Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. Of course, any denial here is a form of self-deception because we know the truth. No one has to tell us that we have a propensity to sin. It is way too obvious for all to see. But the one who merely masquerades as a righteous person while ignoring his sin has no hope of rescue by God. After all, why look for a Savior when you do not believe you need one?
· They denied that sin was revealed in their conduct– 1 John 1:10 — If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.. First, they denied the negative impact of sin(sin breaks our fellowship with God), then they denied the presence of sin at all(which amounts to self-deception) and finally they denied that anything they did could be called a sin. Because they had attained to the highest spiritual state, the false teachers believed that sin was out of the realm of possibility for them. Even in those moments when they did something clearly born out of hate for others, they argued that their actions were necessary and good, despite the fact that God in His Word called it sin.
Applications: John ended this first part of His letter with these words: My 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; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world– I John 2:1-2. Propitiation is the act whereby one party satisfies the wrath of another who has been unjustly wronged. This is the essence of the gospel message. Christ, the Holy Son of God, died in the place of people who had sinned against God and were subject to His righteous judgment as a result. Let me finish with these three thoughts that really get at the heart to the message:
· We cannot pay for our own sin. It is a debt that is impossible for us to repay.
· Only Christ can pay for our sin. That is why, as the Son of God, He became a human being and satisfied our debt of righteousness by obediently offering Himself on the cross in payment for our sin.
· Through personal faith in Him we can be forgiven. This means that we can have fellowship with God and share in His life.
Conclusion: Since the first century, there have always been people who could be described as counterfeit Christians. They might have just enough piousness to resemble a true believer and be accepted as one. But in the end, they will be exposed for what they are …counterfeits. That’s why John writes this short letter…to provide his brothers and sisters in Christ with a way to measure a person’s true spiritual life by looking at a few key vital signs. It’s a form of protection to prevent them from being duped. And that is really important, because a counterfeit Christian, or a counterfeit anything for that matter, is nothing more than a lie meant to deceive others. Let me illustrate what I mean: Suppose you have come into possession of a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill, but don’t know it. So, you give it to the boy who mows your grass in payment for his work. He, in turn, uses it to buy some gas for his car. The person who owns the gas station adds it into his daily deposit and takes it to the bank, but when he gives it to the teller, she instantly recognizes that it’s a fake and says, “I’m sorry, but I cannot accept this bill because it’s a counterfeit.” While it may have done some good for you and the boy who mowed your grass, in the end the counterfeit bill was exposed for what it really was and taken out of circulation by the teller at the bank. So, it will be with the counterfeit Christian. He may do some good things in the course of his life, but in the end, he’ll face rejection from the One who sees that his life is a fraud.