1 John 1:1
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—
(a) From the beginning. John was with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry (Matt. 4:21). He was one of the Lord’s closest friends.
The “from the beginning” phrase appears seven times in John’s first epistle and twice in his second epistle. John has at least three beginnings in mind. Here in 1 John 1:1 “the beginning” refers to the beginning of John’s experience with Jesus. Elsewhere “the beginning” refers to the first time you heard about Jesus or his message (1 John 2:7, 24, 3:11, 2 John 1:5, 6). And sometimes “the beginning” refers to the beginning of time (1 John 2:13–14, 3:8).
(b) What we have heard, what we have seen… what we have looked at. John is establishing his bona fides as a witness of what he is about to discuss, namely the good news of Jesus Christ. John heard and saw the Lord’s ministry. He witnessed his death, resurrection, and glorious ascension. Unlike the many false prophets who have gone out preaching a false message (1 John 4:1), John is a credible witness. He was there.
(c) What we have touched. John was part of a small group of people who physically touched the Risen Lord (Luke 24:39). John is refuting the Gnostic view that the material world was evil and a spiritual God would have nothing to do with it. Jesus was fully human. He had a physical body. Anyone who said Jesus was not from God or had not come in the flesh was a deceiver and an antichrist (1 John 4:3, 2 John 1:7).
(d) The Word of Life is the Word of God and the Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14). Jesus is the Word or the Message or the Revelation of God (Rev. 19:13). Just as we reveal ourselves by what we say, God reveals himself in Jesus (Heb. 1:3).
1 John 1:2
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—
(a) Was manifested. Jesus, who was previously with God in heaven, “was manifested to us” on earth. In other words, “Jesus, the Word of Life appeared, and we (apostles) heard him and saw him with our own ears and eyes.”
(b) Eternal life is not merely endless life; eternal life is divine life. It is Christ’s glorious life as opposed to the broken short-lived disease-ridden life we inherited from Adam. Eternal life is not something we receive in the future, but something we can have now (1 John 5:13). And where do we find this life? “This life is in the Son” (1 John 5:11). He who has the Son has life (1 John 5:12). Throughout John’s writings, Jesus is synonymous with eternal life (1 John 5:20). You can’t have one without the other.
See entry for New Life.
(c) The Father. God is not just the Maker of heaven and earth; he is the Father of the Son and all who believe (1 John 2:1). “God is our Father.” This was a stunning revelation when Jesus first said it, but John bought into it completely. More than a dozen times in this short epistle he reminds us that the Almighty is our Father.
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.
(a) What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you. You do not need a degree or years of study to be a witness for Jesus. All you need is to tell others what you have seen and heard. Tell them what has the Lord has done for you.
(b) So that you too may have fellowship. In these opening verses, John is addressing a general audience that includes unbelievers who are walking in darkness (1 John 1:6) and who do not have the truth in them (1 John 1:8). He writes so that they may come to the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. He is saying, “Get plugged into Jesus because that’s where the life is” (1 John 4:9).
(c) Fellowship (koinonia) literally means partnership or participation. It is a word that describes the life lived in spiritual union with the Lord and each other. You weren’t made to be alone. You were designed to live out of your connection with the Author of Life. Through people like John, God invites all of us to come to him to be made whole and partake in his blessed life.
When Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches,” he was giving us the secret for abundant life (John 15:5). Real life is found in living out of our connection with the Author of Life. In union with the Lord we experience the freedom to know and be known, to give and receive, to love and be loved.
(d) Fellowship with us means more than going to church. Koinonia-fellowship is about living fully out of our connection with Christ and his body. It’s the authentic sense of community that comes from having our hearts knitted together in love (Col. 2:2).
(e) Fellowship with the Father and Son brings acceptance, intimacy, righteousness, holiness eternal life, and all the blessings and privileges of heaven. Those who are one with the Lord lack no good thing.
Further reading: “The many benefits of union.”
1 John 1:4
These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.
(a) These things we write. John wrote at least three epistles, one Gospel, and the Book of Revelation.
(b) Our joy. Once upon a time, John had been a fisherman. Then he met Jesus and became a fisher of men. Just as a fisherman’s joy is to catch fish, John’s joy is to win souls for Jesus.
But John was not just a catcher of fish; he was also a mender of nets, and this is what he was doing when Jesus first met him (Matt. 4:21). John’s joy was to mend the church nets, so to speak, to ensure that those who heard the gospel would not be lured away by false prophets and deceivers (1 John 4:1). This is why he rejoiced to see his spiritual children walking in the truth (3 John 1:4).
1 John 1:5
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.
(a) The Message we have heard from him. John’s message came straight from Jesus. It was not something he invented or heard second hand.
(b) Announce to you. The gospel is not a job advertisement but an announcement.
(c) God is Light. The shadowless God is good to you all the time. His face is always shining upon you in love. He loves you so much that he sent his Son to rescue you (1 John 4:10).
(d) In him there is no darkness at all. God does not bring darkness into your life for a season. He will never take your job or your kids or give you sickness. Everything he does and gives is good and perfect (Jas. 1:17).
(e) Darkness is a metaphor for evil and sin and anything untouched by the Light of the World. Any place the good news of Jesus is not heard remains in darkness.
1 John 1:6
If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;
(a) If we say. We may tell ourselves all sorts of things, but the beliefs and intentions of our hearts are revealed by what we do (1 John 2:4, 9).
(b) We have fellowship; see entry for 1 John 1:3.
(c) To walk in the darkness is to reject the light and love of God. It’s refusing to trust in the Savior. It’s pretending we are fine and have no need of grace (1 John 1:8). It’s living for yourself and having no love for others (1 John 2:9).
(d) We lie. Those who walk in darkness while claiming to know the One who is light are deceiving themselves. They may think they are good people, but if they don’t know the Father’s love they are lost.
(e) Do not practice the truth. They do not abide in the grace of Jesus. John is not talking about believers who know the truth (1 John 2:21), but those who do not know Jesus.
1 John 1:7
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.
(a) If we walk in the light. Only those who know the Light of the world can walk in the light. “Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness” (John 8:12). Just as the sun does not shine at night, the believer cannot walk in darkness.
John is not saying we can manufacture light. He’s saying there are two kinds of people; those who walk in the light (because they have the light of life) and those who don’t (because they have no fellowship with the God who is light; see verse 5).
(b) We have fellowship with one another. Some say we have to walk right to maintain fellowship with the Lord, but John is talking about our fellowship or relationships with one another. True connection is only possible when we love one another with the unconditional love that Christ showed us.
(c) The blood of Jesus. You are not forgiven or cleansed because you walk right or review your sins and shortcomings. You are clean because the blood of Jesus cleanses you and goes on cleansing you.
(d) Cleanses us from all sin. It is faithless to think that Jesus’ blood cleanses us from only some sin. “Jesus saved me, but now it’s up to me to maintain my salvation.” All sin means all sin, past, present, and future. There is no sin Jesus did not carry.
When you sin, don’t heed the voice of condemnation; listen to Jesus who speaks for you (1 John 2:1). When you are reminded of something you did, remember what Jesus did. When the accuser points to your faults, point to Jesus by whose blood you have been washed whiter than snow (Rev. 12:11). His blood has secured your eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12).
1 John 1:8
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
(a) If we say that we have no sin. Self-righteous people have convinced themselves they have no sin. “I’m basically a good person.” They are deceiving themselves, for the truth is we all fall short and none of us is righteous (Rom. 3:10, 23). We all need God’s grace.
Although the teachings of first-century Gnosticism are a matter of speculation, it is likely that the Gnostics were among those who claimed to have no sin.
(b) The Truth is another name for Jesus (John 14:6). It’s also a name for God the Father (1 John 5:20) and God the Holy Spirit (1 John 5:6) Truth is not a manmade construct but is defined by the One who is truth personified. Both grace and truth are fully realized in Jesus (John 1:17).
(c) The truth is not in us. Unbelievers are living in a false reality for their lives are disconnected from the One called Truth. John is not talking about Christians going through a bad patch, for the truth abides in us forever (2 John 1:2).
When reading the Bible, it’s important to identify the audience. John’s letter would have been widely circulated. It would have been heard by all kinds of people. Here in the first chapter, John is speaking to those who are disconnected from Christ (verse 3), are walking in darkness (verse 6) and do not have the truth in them (verse 8). Even though he uses words like we and us, he is inviting unbelievers to put their faith in God. At the start of the next chapter, he will shift his attention to believers or the children of God.
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
(a) If we confess our sins does not mean going to confession or reviewing our sins one by one in the hope of meriting forgiveness, for that would be tantamount to preaching salvation by works, and dead works at that. We are not saved by confessing sins but by confessing Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9).
The word confess means to agree with or say the same thing as another. In context it is to concede that “I am a sinner,” which is the counterpoint to the “I have no sin” of the preceding verse. The sole condition for receiving God’s forgiveness and grace is to admit your need for it. Ask and you shall receive.
Remember, John is speaking about people who are disconnected from God. They have no fellowship with the Father or the Son (1 John 1:3). They have not received the free gift of forgiveness because they don’t believe they need it (1 John 1:8). Having told them the bad news—“you are deceiving yourselves”—he now tells them the good news: “Admit your need for forgiveness and you shall have it!” And how many times do we need to do this? Once is enough. The moment we confess our need for Jesus we are cleansed from all unrighteousness.
Forgiveness is not something we earn through our acts of confession; it is a gift we receive by faith (see entry for Acts 13:38). In Christ, we have the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:14). In him, you are completely and eternally forgiven according to the riches of his grace (Eph. 1:7).
Sadly, some hijack this verse to condemn those whom Christ has redeemed. They say things like “You have to confess your sins to stay forgiven or maintain fellowship with the Lord.” This is why we need to read all John says. You have been cleansed from all sin by the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7). You have been 100% forgiven on “account of his name” (1 John 2:12). Jesus has done it all!
See entry for Confession.
(b) He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins. God does not forgive us because we are good, but because he is good. He is the faithful and righteous One who loves us in our sin (1 John 2:2) and sends his Son to save us (1 John 4:14). Forgiveness is a done deal—Jesus will never return to the cross—but you will never experience God’s forgiveness unless you receive it by faith.
(c) And to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. All means all. John’s message is one of total and complete forgiveness.
Some use the words of 1 John 1:9 to preach dead works, as in we must confess to make ourselves righteous. That is not what John is saying. Jesus is the Righteous One (1 John 2:1) and it is his righteousness that God freely offers us by grace (Rom. 1:17). The good news of 1 John 1:9 is that God’s grace is greater than your worst sin. The blood of Jesus cleanses you from all unrighteousness.
Some also say that we must confess our sins and keep short accounts to maintain fellowship with the Lord. John says nothing of the kind here (or anywhere). While being open and honest about our mistakes is healthy in any relationship, God’s love is not for sale, and his fellowship is not purchased through confession. God has promised to never leave you or forsake you (Heb. 13:5). His Spirit or truth abides with you forever (John 14:16, 2 John 1:2).
Further reading: “Healthy vs unhealthy confession”
1 John 1:10
If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
(a) If we say. John is not talking about Christians but self-righteous unbelievers who think they are without sin. “I’m basically a good person.” He is repeating what he has said in verse 8, but with one important addition…
(b) We make him a liar. Someone who says, “I have no need of grace” is essentially calling God a liar (1 John 5:10). They are blaspheming or slandering the Holy Spirit who seeks to convince them of their need for Jesus (Matt. 12:32). They put themselves beyond help because they don’t want help.
(c) His word is not in us. Jesus is the Word of God and the Word of Life who gives meaning to life (1 John 1:1, 2:14). Jesus is the word (verse 10), the truth (verse 8), the light (verse 5) and the life (verse 1) that unbelievers lack.
Further reading: “What is the unforgivable sin?”
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- 1 John 1:1
- 1 John 1:2
- 1 John 1:3
- 1 John 1:4
- 1 John 1:5
- 1 John 1:6
- 1 John 1:7
- 1 John 1:8
- 1 John 1:9
- 1 John 1:10