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Staying Close to Christ (John 13-17; 1 John 1:1-4)
Sermon Notes
Sunday, 05 May 2013 00:00

I believe the book of 1st John is about fellowship (enjoying and enhancing the relationship that we already have with God because we have believed in His Son for eternal life).

However, many popular teachers view the book as setting forth “tests of life” with the purpose that the reader determine whether or not he/she really has a relationship with God.

I want to give you three reasons why I hold to the view that 1st John is a book about fellowship:
(1) An express reason: John clearly expresses both his subject matter and purpose for writing in the prologue of his letter (1:1-4).
(A) As to his subject matter, Paul uses a word translated concerning (Greek, peri) which was often used introduce topics of discussion (eg, 1st Cor. 7:1, 25; 8:1, 4; 12:1; 16:1; 1st Thess. 5:1). John expressed his subject matter (1:1-3a) as being the truth about eternal life that was revealed from the beginning of the Christian message to the chosen apostolic witnesses.
(B) John then expressed his goal for writing (1:3b-4) with the word that (Greek, hina) to introduce a purpose clause. That purpose, simply stated, is fellowship. And what an extraordinary fellowship it is! The fellowship with us into which John invites the readers involves sharing the apostles’ own fellowship … with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

(2) An exegetical reason: John also uses that (hina) to introduce a purpose clause in 5:13, which is the verse used as the purpose statement for the whole book by those who wish to see in it a “tests of life” purpose. As set forth in the attached sermon notes, the reason why I do not accept 5:13 as being the John’s purpose statement for the whole book is because of the way that he used the phrase these things (Greek, tauta) throughout the epistle. When John used this phrase these things + write (written) John is referring to the immediately preceding section of his writing and not to the letter as a whole:
(A) these things we write to you (1:4) refers to 1:1-3
(B) these things I write to you, (2:1) refers to 1:5-10
(C) These things I have written to you (2:26) refers to 2:18-25
(D) These things I have written to you (5:13) refers to 5:6-12
So there is no sound exegetical reason for taking 1st John 5:13 as the purpose statement for the whole epistle. To argue that since in his Gospel John put his purpose statement near the end of that book (John 20:30-31) therefore he must have put his purpose statement near the end of the letter we know as 1st John is to attempt to place John as a writer (and God as the Author) into a box in which they do not fit!

(3) An experiential reason: My final reason is that to see 1st John as “tests of life” or “tests as to whether I have a genuine relationship with God or not” does not jibe with what is held to be the purpose statement of the book! John says that he has written to those who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may think that (?) / be reasonably sure that (?) / hope that (?) that you have eternal life (?) No! He writes what he does in 5:6-12 so that we may know it! John talks in 5:6-12 about the testimony of God as the basis for our belief/assurance of eternal life.
It is only as we base our security on the sure Word of God that we will have the (I know so) assurance of eternal life.
Therefore, to turn 1st John into a series of questions that serve as tests of my life to determine whether or not I really have eternal life is to turn the object of my faith away from the sure testimony of God’s Word and make the way I’m living my life the basis for my assurance of whether or not I truly possess eternal life.

My personal experience would never allow for me to have the absolute assurance that I possess eternal life (as 1 John 5:13 says I should) if I look to my performance to in any way verify whether or not my faith was real or not and therefore whether or not I really possess eternal life.
One popular teacher wrote a book called Saved Without a Doubt1 about how to be sure of one’s salvation. Here are eleven tests he drew from the book of 1st John by which you can determine if you are really a Christian:
1. Have you enjoyed fellowship with Christ and the Father?
2. Are you sensitive to sin?
3. Do you obey God’s Word?
4. Do you reject this evil world?
5. Do you eagerly await Christ’s return?
6. Do you see a decreasing pattern of sin in your life?
7. Do you love other Christians?
8. Do you experience answered prayer?
9. Do you experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit?
10. Can you discern between spiritual truth and error?
11. Have you suffered rejection because of your faith?

When I read these questions, more questions come to my mind. Questions like: What if I can just say yes to ten of these questions? Or seven? What if only five? Do I need a majority to pass the test? Or what if I focus on one of the questions, say question three: Do I obey God’s Word? If I must obey God’s Word, how much of it must I obey? How consistently must I obey it? Can I obey the big things and let the little stuff slide? Is there a curve out there somewhere? Since no one can say, “Yes, I absolutely obey God’s Word,” then the answer must be relative, and if it’s relative, then there must be a curve. But if there’s a curve, who makes the cut? What score must I have to pass the test? What if I became a Christian when I was young, but when I went to college I wandered off the path of righteous living and stayed off for ten years. During those ten years, I couldn’t say yes to any of these eleven questions. What does that mean? Did I lose the salvation I had received when I was young, as some groups teach? Or as others teach, perhaps I was never a genuine believer at all. Do you see where this leads? Instead of helping a person to know in his/her practical experience whether he/she is saved without a doubt, these kinds of tests only multiply doubts in the minds of introspective, thinking people. They only multiply guilt and fear2. Ironically, if 1 John 5:13 is the purpose statement of the book and “tests of life” are the goal of the author, then I could never absolutely know for sure that I have eternal life! That is because the reader is cast adrift onto a sea of subjectivity when looking to his/her personal experience to verify whether or not he/she possesses eternal life rather than to simply and alone anchor one’s soul to the absolute certainty of God’s sure promises!
So for me, the title of the book would be “Saved With LOADS of Doubt!”

If you are burdened down with doubt about your own personal salvation, my appeal to you is that you “look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” for the assurance that He will indeed keep His promises to give you eternal life as an absolutely free gift. My possession of eternal life is all based upon Jesus accomplishing the will of His Father (John 6:37-40), not upon my feeble and failing attempts to do so! I am simply required to believe His promise to give eternal life to me. He can back up this promise because of who He is (the risen Son of God) and what He has done (accomplishing all that was necessary for dealing with my sins – John 19:30, “It is finished!”).

Citations:
1 John MacArthur, Jr., Saved Without a Doubt (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 1992).
2 David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: First John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2005).

 

 

 

 

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