First John was written by John the Evangelist, probably after he wrote Revelation and probably around 98AD. He wrote it to be a book of assurance in a troubled world for believers. He wanted them to be reminded of the heart of the Gospel message… we have an Advocate. We no longer need to feel hopeless or lost. He wanted us to know that we do not have to be overwhelmed by our sin. We have a few different ways to go when we sin. 1) We can deny that we sin. Tell ourselves that there is nothing to sin against. No one to put our faith in. 2) We can hold onto that sin and guilt. We can let it define us. We can let it enslave us and let it determine our worth. 3) We can confess those sins and rightly appeal to the Advocate in Christ. John calls that Advocate our Propitiation. That’s a fun bible word. One that we use all the time in everyday conversations. Well, maybe not but it is an important word because of the two specific parts of its meaning. 1) The appeasement of wrath, the wiping away of sins. This would be an evening of the playing field, the forgiveness of a debt. Pretty much bringing the relationship back to neutral. But that isn’t enough for God, so there is a second part to the word. 2) The reconciliation of the people to God. Not just a neutral relationship but a right relationship. Well beyond neutral, God has put us in right standing with him. He has forgiven sins. And not just my personal sins. Not just the Church’s sins (because, you know, we are somehow super-special) but the sins of the entire world. God forgives all sin and sets right all people and makes peace with every one of us. So now, it’s not so much that sin, the way we like to think of it, keeps us from God, it’s our unbelief in who He is and what he has done that separates us. It is our unbelief that leads us to sin the same way it is our belief that leads to our righteous actions.
For John, there are two parts of the assurance he is trying to convey. 1) Knowledge that we have an advocate who will forgive us. 2) Our obedience to God and his commandments. Obedience doesn’t secure salvation but it is the evidence of it. I could think in my heart, even continually tell my mother that I loved her, but what did my obedience to her wishes really say about whether or not I really loved her? My father, based on what he saw in my actions, would say that I didn’t. Is that too harsh? Maybe not. Self-deception is an evil and subtle thing. In fact, John tells us that if we fool ourselves this way, we are liars. We are lying to ourselves. It’s very hard to come to the truth of something when the lie is how we have defined ourselves for so long. So what can we do as to not be liars? What is the obedience that is the evidence of our salvation? Keep his commandments- Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself. As important as doctrine can be to our faith, John doesn’t seem to be giving us a list of propositions that we must believe. He doesn’t seem to be setting out a multi-volume systematic theology we have to follow. It appears to me that John is telling us that if we walk as Christ walked, we are in him. If we don’t, then we aren’t. I can’t find any way around that simplicity. When we forgive, we should forgive as God forgives. We shouldn’t just wipe the slate clean and come to a neutral position. If we are to abide in Christ, then we must go further than that and be reconciled to the other person.
So John gives us a letter of assurance. But also one of self-examination. And it doesn’t seem that the exam is as complicated as we sometimes want to make it. Walk in the footsteps of Christ. Love as he loved. Forgive as he forgave. Do those things and exam passed.