What about 1 John 1:9? Part seven.

Posted: Wed. Feb, 28 2018

1 John 1:9
9  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.


John’s opponents:  what we have learned

We have learned that John wrote the letter of 1 John to repair the damage that a group of false teachers had done to John’s congregation of believers.

Recall that John is doing two things in this letter.

He is exposing the opponents as false apostles and antichrists.

1JO 2:26
26 These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you.

And he is reassuring the believers in his congregations that they indeed have eternal life (are saved).

1JO 5:13
13  These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

The opponents denied Jesus Christ:  who He is, and what He has done.

They also claimed to be something they were not.  Their actions completely contradicted their claims.

These false claims revealed them to be liars, deceivers, and  antichrists.

The opponents appeared to have a lot to say about God and how close they were to Him and how they had the real life from God.    They claimed to have seen God, to know God, to have fellowship with God, and to abide in God.  They also claimed to be in the Light.  They said that they had no sin, and that they had not sinned.

But they denied Jesus Christ, and rejected  Him for who He is:  the Christ (2:22); the Son of God (1:3, 5:5) who came in the flesh (4:2); who appeared in order to destroy the works of the devil (3:8);   the Word of life (1:1);  the propitiation for the sins of the world (2:2); the One whose blood cleanses us from all sin (1:7, 5:6-7);  the righteous One who is our Advocate with the Father when we sin (2:1); the Christ, the  Messiah of the Jews (2:22); the Savior of the world (4:14);  the One who has eternal life (5:11). 

By so doing, they rejected the Light. They rejected the Light of the gospel. They denied Christ, the Light of the world. And they abided in death.  They did not have the Light of eternal life.  They hated the believers. They practiced sin, unrighteousness, and lawlessness.

They were not in the Light. They walked in the darkness.  

What  they said and did revealed who they really were:  false apostles and unbelievers. God’s word was not in them.  They were really children of the devil.  They had not seen or known God.  They had no fellowship with God. And they did not have eternal life.

We have compiled a complete picture of the opponents from all 5 chapters of 1 John.  See the appendix to this article for a summary table.   


Then and Now

The letter of 1 John was written almost two thousand years ago.  It was written to deal with a crisis.

That crisis was a burning issue for the original audience of the letter. 

They knew all too well why John had to write the letter. He was coming to their rescue.

There were a group of men who had pawned themselves off as authoritative leaders on a par with the apostles.   At one time, they had in all likelihood been seen by the saints as trustworthy teachers.

But they separated from the apostolic circle and began touting their heretical teachings as superior to the teachings of the apostles.

1JO 2:18-19
18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. 19  They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out,  so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.

This left the congregation of believers shaken and confused. They were not sure who to believe - or what to believe - any more.

As a result, these believers were questioning their salvation.  Did they really have eternal life?

It was a burning issue for them, and so from the very first word John wrote they were tuned in to him, hoping that he would put their hearts at rest.

But we are far removed from that experience.  We come to the letter “cold”, as it were.


Back to chapter 1

When a person reads 1 John chapter 1 for the first time, he has no idea yet about the damage that these opponents had done.

So when he reaches verse 6, he  would have no reason to think that John was about to give criteria for discerning which leaders the congregation could trust.

1JO 1:1-5
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 —  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 —  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. 4  These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.

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.

In verses 1 - 5, “we”  refers to the  close circle of apostles and other witnesses of the resurrected Christ.  It’s pretty much indisputable.   These individuals had seen the Lord, touched Him, saw Him as eternal life incarnate (a reference to the resurrected Christ).

But then,  starting in verse 6, things get puzzling.

1JO 1:6-10
  If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 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. 8  If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

Why would John speak of the possibility that the apostles would be walking in the darkness, for example?

Or why would John talk about himself and the other apostolic witnesses as not having the truth in them, and making God a liar?

It doesn’t really make sense.

And it won’t make sense - until you read the rest of the letter.

Sometimes you have to read the whole book before things start to make sense.  This is especially true when you are reading one of John’s books.  He waits until the end to tell you why he wrote it.

So that’s what we did.   We read through all five chapters of the letter.  We saw  that these opponents of John were on the scene, teaching heresy and behaving badly and pretending to be apostles.

Verses 6-10 won’t really make sense until you realize that false apostles had been standing side by side with the true apostles.

It’s not surprising, really.  Consider what Paul told the elders at Ephesus went he was about to leave them:

ACT 20:28-30
28 "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.

And the worst thing about  these wolves, these false apostles, is that they disguised themselves to look as much as possible like the real apostles.

MAT 7:15-16
15 "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  16 "You will know them by their fruits.

So while no true apostle would make God a liar or walk in the darkness…. a false apostle certainly would.

So in 1JO 1:6-10, “we” continues to refer to those who claim to be teachers with authority.

Only now that group is seen to include both true and false teachers.

This attack on the saints in John’s congregation had just occurred, and they needed the apostle to help them get back on track.

John taught them that the saints have every right in the world to test any man who claims to teach with authority.

Beginning in chapter 1 verse 6, and continuing throughout the letter, John arms his audience with the tools they need to identify true and false teachers.

The conditional sentences (if…) in verses 6 through 10 do not open the possibility that John might be a false apostle, but rather that others might be  - and indeed already were.


The believers in 1 John

Nearly all of the passages in 1 John that speak about the opponents are accompanied by passages that speak about the believers in the congregation.

And each time that this occurs, what is said about the believers is the antithesis, the exact opposite, of what is said about the opponents.

We will note two examples.

1JO 3:6-10
No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 7  Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

As we noted previously, John in chapter 3 equates sinning with two specific actions:  denying Jesus and hating the brethren.

So verse 6 is black and white: 

The one who abides in Him is a believer. The believer  does not sin by denying Jesus or by hating his brother.

The one who has not seen or known God is an unbeliever.  An unbeliever denies Jesus and hates the brethren.

One is the absolute opposite of the other.

Verses 7 and 8 continue this pattern of absolute opposites.

The one who is righteous is a synonym for a believer. A believer practices righteousness.

The one who is of the devil is the unbeliever. The unbeliever practices sin, denying Jesus and hating the brethren

In verses 9 and 10, the one who is born of God and is a child of God is a believer.  He cannot practice sin. He cannot deny Jesus or hate the brethren.

The children of the devil are the opposite of the children of God. They are unbelievers. They do not practice righteousness and they do not love their brother.

The latter is the negation of the former.   The unbeliever is the negative of the believer.

Our second  example of this black and white contrast between believers and unbelievers comes from chapter 5.

1 John 5:10-12
10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12  He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.


Implications for 1 John 1:6-10

In these examples, John makes a statement about a believer and then follows that up with a statement about the unbelieving opponents.   And the two are as different as night and day.  As light and darkness.

We have taken the time to walk through these two examples  because we find the same pattern in 1JO 1:6-10.

The people described in verses 6, 8, and 10 are the exact opposite of the people described in verses 7 and 9.

What’s more, the descriptions found in verses 6, 8, and 10 are also used in later chapters to describe the unbelieving opponents.

1JO 1:6
6  If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;

The unbelieving opponents walk in the darkness, according to 1JO 2:9.

The unbelieving opponents lie and do not practice the truth, according to 1JO 2:4 and 1JO 2:22.

1JO 1:8
8  If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.

The unbelieving opponents do not have the truth in them, according to 1JO 2:4.

1JO 1:10
  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

The unbelieving opponents have made God a liar, according to 1JO 5:10.

All of this supports the contention that John is providing evidence or tests in 1 John 1:6-10 that the congregation can use to identify who the authentic leaders are and who the false apostles and antichrists are.


Until the next time, we’re all ….

In His grip,

Pastor John

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