Our new Bible studies will be looking at the letters of John, so tonight was an introduction to these epistles. John, ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ (John 13:23 TNIV), wrote these letters to warn against ‘spiritual con artists’ who would have led the church astray. The New Testament abounds with warnings about false teachers, for it is easy to be led astray (see 2 Cor 11:13-15 TNIV, Acts 20:29-30 TNIV, Matthew 7:21-23 TNIV). John ultimately sought to expose the false teachers who were ultimately unbelieving heretics and reassure the faithful, who may well have been unsettled and confused as a result of their teaching. In order to accomplish both purposes, John provides a series of tests in 1 John for distinguishing between genuine Christians and those who falsely claim to know Christ:

1) In response to the ‘new’ theology (which centred on the denial of the Incarnation, following gnostic views that the body was intrinsically evil and that Jesus therefore only ‘seemed’ to have a body – a heresy known as Docetism – or that the divine Christ descended on Jesus at His baptism, but departed before His crucifixion, a heresy known as Cerinthianism), John provides us with a doctrinal test: ‘What does the person believe about Christ?’ (see 1 John 1:5-2:27)

2) In response to the ‘new’ morality (which effectively meant the false teachers taught they had reached such an advanced stage in spiritual experience that they were beyond ‘good and evil’ and had no sin, in the sense that ‘what might be sin for people in a less mature stage of inner development was no longer sin for the completely spiritual man’, as F. F. Bruce puts it), John provides us with a moral test: ‘How does the person respond to the commandments of Christ?’ (see 1 John 2:28-4:6)

3) Finally, he provides us with a social test: ‘Does the person love other Christians?’ (see 1 John 4:7-5:12)

John is essentially writing to differentiate between genuine Christians and those who merely claim to be Christians. John Stott writes, “John’s argument is double-edged. If he seeks to bring believers to the knowledge that they have eternal life, he is equally at pains to show that unbelievers have not. His purpose is to destroy the false assurances of the counterfeit as well as to confirm the right assurance of the genuine.” (see ‘The Epistles of John’ [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eardmans, 1964], P 52)

John is at pains for his flock (whom he lovingly calls ‘dear children’ repeatedly in his letters) to know who Christ is and why He came (see 1 John 2:2 TNIV, 1 John 4:14 TNIV). He assures them that Christ came to be the Saviour of the world (not just of the exclusive, enlightened few) through three witnesses:

1) The historical events witness to Jesus Christ, who was sent (1 John 4:9,10,14 TNIV), who came (1 John 5:20 TNIV) and was manifested in the flesh (1 John 1:2 TNIV, 1 John 3:5 TNIV, 1 John 4:2 TNIV).

2) The apostolic testimony witnesses to Jesus Christ. The apostles had first-hand, eyewitness evidence of His reality. (1 John 1:1-3 TNIV, 1 John 4:14 TNIV)

3) The Holy Spirit gives inner witness of the truth about Jesus Christ to every believer, corroborating the external witness. (1 John 2:20, 27 TNIV, 1 John 3:24 TNIV, 1 John 4:13 TNIV, 1 John 5:7, 8 TNIV).

Our eternal destiny depends on passing the tests John sets us.
Do we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh?
Do our lives reflect growing obedience to Christ?
Do our lives reflect growing, practical love for others?

These are the questions we’ll be considering over the coming months as we study these letters!