1 John 1: If We Claim to Be Without Sin
November 8, 2023
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
John is writing to call his readers to a life of doctrinal orthodoxy and godly obedience to Christ – and he does so with a rhetorical style that is both profound and unusual for contemporary ears. He appears to wander from topic to topic; in reality he is scaling like a spiral staircase looking at the core topic under view first from one perspective and then from another. It is possible he is writing from Ephesus, and it is also possible (and typically so thought) to be writing to counteract some sort of proto early Gnosticism. Gnosticism was an early heresy that lauded a mystical experience over doctrinal orthodoxy and moral obedience to Christ as Lord. In this first section, he first introduces his main theme of doctrinal orthodoxy to Christ as Lord, and then applies that to moral obedience.
First, then, in the first four verses, John describes “that which was from the beginning.” In language strikingly similar to the prologue of John’s Gospel, John talks about the incarnation of Christ and his witness to that incarnation. Because of Christ, he and other Christians have fellowship together. And so he writes this word from God to maximize the joy of him and us together in Christ.
Many of us are looking for joy. Where does it come from? It comes from the person of Christ. How do we experience that joy in the person of Christ? Through the word of God. Therefore, if we wish to experience joy, we should give ourselves to Christ and to his word.
Note also that John witnessed the Christ as the Word of life. We can have full and certain confidence that Christ is God because John writes to us of what he himself saw. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Second, then, from verses 5 to 10, John describes the implications of this orthodox doctrine for our moral obedience. If we are actually following Christ, we must, like him, walk in the light. We must obey. We must do what we can to follow his teaching. Clearly, we will not always succeed perfectly to obey Christ. What then? At that point we must be honest. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (v.8). Part of the condition of being a Christian at all is the recognition that we need saving, that we are sinners. Then we move from recognition to confession. We confess the truth to God and ask for his forgiveness, and God is faithful and just and will forgive us from our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (v.9). On the other hand, there is a word of caution: if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not within us (v.8). John is not looking for perfection; he is looking for a life of discipleship, confession of sins, and ongoing conformity to the likeness of Christ.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
To receive God Centered Life devotionals directly in your inbox, as well as other resources, enter your email address in the form at the bottom of this page and click "subscribe."