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Bible Commentaries

Contending for the Faith

1 John 1

Eyewitness Testimony

If there is any doubt that the beloved apostle John is the author of this epistle, one needs only to compare these first few lines with the first chapter of the gospel of John. As you read verses 1 through 3, you seem to hear echoing in the background the words of John 1, "In the beginning was the Word...And the Word was made flesh..." (John 1:1; John 1:14). As Coffman says, "Nobody except John could have written this" (351).

John begins his letter with indisputable proof that Jesus was everything the Gnostics said He was not. He did come in the flesh, live in the flesh, and die in the flesh. John uses eyewitness testimony, which is solid proof in any public forum, to confirm the truth that Jesus was truly "God manifest in the flesh." Observe as he skillfully demonstrates that Jesus is both human and divine.

Verse 1

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;

That which was: John begins with the demonstrative pronoun "that." Why did he not begin with the personal pronoun "He"? It may be for the same reason that he begins his gospel with "The Word" and then moves to the fact that he was speaking of a person. In his epistle, he begins with "that" and moves to "him" in verse 5. He is simply saying that "that" which we have seen and heard and felt is Jesus, the Word of life. In the gospel, he declares that the Word that was "in the beginning" is a person, and here he is saying "that" which was heard, seen, and felt is that same person who was "from the beginning." In using the expression "that which," John is delineating certain things about Jesus that he had witnessed. Woods deals with the neuter pronoun by saying,

The reference is thus not to Christ contemplated as a person only, but to the attributes and characteristics which he, as the Word, possesses. It was "concerning the Word of life" which John purposed to write, hence the neuter to express a collective or comprehensive whole (210).

Lenski quotes Besser, stating that Besser "has given the correct answer" to this matter:

That which was from the beginning was He, the Logos of the Life, God’s Son Jesus Christ; that which we have heard, seen, beheld, handled was He. The neuter conveys more than the masculine would, namely in addition to the person all that his person was and is and ever will be for us (370).

from the beginning: What beginning? It is the same beginning we read about in Genesis 1 and John 1. It reaches back to the creation and to eternity past. Jesus had no beginning but was "in" and "from" the beginning. Since He was in the beginning, He has always been; and because He is from the beginning, He will always be. He uses the same language in chapter two, verses 13 and 14. Jesus is from eternity to eternity. This passage declares in no uncertain terms the divinity of Christ and deals a direct blow to the false views of the Gnostics. "That which was from the beginning" is the One John and others heard, saw, and touched.

which we: John now describes the personal relationship that he and the other apostles sustained to Jesus, the One both divine and human. Who are the "we" of this passage? John often uses this plural personal pronoun in this letter. Some say that it is just an editorial "we," and he is referring only to himself. Speakers often use the editorial "we" when they really mean "I." Others say that it refers to John and the whole church. This idea cannot follow because John addresses members of the church in verses 3 and 4. Is the church writing to the church? After a careful study of 1 John, we must conclude that when John uses the pronoun "we," the context must determine who the "we" is. In the first four verses, "we" clearly refers to the apostles who were the original eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ.

In other verses where John writes authoritatively, commanding certain action on the part of his readers, we must also conclude that he is writing as an apostle. In some instances, however, he includes himself along with his readers. He says, "If we say that we have fellowship with him" or "if we walk in the light" or "if we confess our sins." In these cases, he is writing as an ordinary disciple of Jesus including himself along with his readers.

have heard: It is interesting to note John’s use of increasingly stronger evidential words to describe the eyewitness testimony of the apostles to the humanity of Jesus. To hear is not as strong as to see; to see is not as strong as to behold; and to behold is not as strong as to handle. He and the other apostles did all of these things. They heard, saw, beheld, and touched the One who was from all eternity. They heard Him--oh, how they heard Him!--as the Master Teacher of all time and eternity associated with them on a daily basis for three and one-half years. "Never man spake like this man." They listened as He delivered the greatest sermon that ever fell from the lips of man, the Sermon On The Mount, a sermon that has astonished the wisest of men for almost two thousand years. He shared with them the most profound truths in the simplest language. Yes, this God who became man had a voice that could be and was heard.

which we have seen with our eyes: To hear a great man is an exciting experience but to see him is even more thrilling. With their natural vision, the apostles were witnesses to the physical existence of Jesus. Notice that John says they had seen Jesus with their eyes. Why is he so specific in mentioning the apostles’ eyes? He wants his readers to know they had seen Jesus not only with the eyes of the mind but also with the eyes of the body. John is determined that the know-it-all Gnostics, who denied the humanity of Jesus, should be confronted with the testimony of those who had used the physical sense of sight to see Jesus in the flesh; and he wants his readers to be assured of the indisputable truth that "God was manifest in the flesh" in the person of Jesus Christ.

which we have looked upon: What is the difference in seeing Jesus and looking upon Him? While there is none in the English, there is considerable difference in the Greek. William Barclay explains the distinction:

In the Greek the verb for to see is horan, and it means simply to see with physical sight and with the physical eye. The verb to gaze is theasthai, and it means to gaze at someone, or at something, until a long look has grasped something of the meaning and the significance of that person or thing (27).

John uses this term in John 1, when he says, "We beheld His glory..." (verse 14). This is not a quick glance or an ordinary look but a long contemplative examination of our Lord’s glory. When John declares that he and the other apostles had "looked upon" Jesus, he does not mean a casual look or accidental observance but a close, scrutinizing inspection by careful eyes. They had really seen Jesus.

and our hands have handled: After the glorious resurrection of our Lord, He appeared unto his disciples, saying, "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have" (Luke 24:39). Perhaps John is remembering that sacred occasion when he asserts that they had "handled" or touched Christ. Jesus was not a phantom, a totally spiritual being who could not be touched; He was a real human being with a physical body. Wuest says, "Our Lord’s proof to the disciples that He was raised in the physical body in which He died was based on the scientific evidence of their sense of touch" (1 John 92). The apostles utilized three of the bodily senses in determining the reality of Jesus’ humanity: hearing, seeing, and feeling. Jesus was as real as the apostles’ ears, eyes, and hands. What more proof would one want? Twelve men, who had nothing to gain and everything to lose by lying, hazarded their lives in attesting to the reality of the incarnation of Jesus in human flesh. How can Cerinthus and the other Gnostics reply to this eyewitness testimony? John echoes Peter: "For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Peter 1:16).

of the Word of life: "Of" is from the Greek peri, better translated "concerning." The apostles’ experiences with Jesus were "concerning" the Word of life. Some try to say that "the Word of life" is the message of life, but we do not preach concerning the word of God--we preach the word itself; however, we do preach concerning Jesus, the Word of life. There should be no question that the Word that was made flesh in John 1 is the Word of life in 1 John 1. "Word" is from logos, meaning more than words in general. W. E. Vine says that logos "denotes the expression of thought--not the mere name of an object...as embodying a conception or idea" (229). Jesus is the total expression of God, the full revelation of all that God is. When He came in human flesh, He showed us God as He is in human form, the full expression of deity. He is not only the living Word of God, He is the "Word of life." He is called "the life" (John 11:25; John 14:6), "the bread of life" (John 6:35; John 6:48), and "the light of life" (John 8:12). Jesus came that we might have abundant life, (John 10:10). "Life" comes from zoe, which Vine says, "is used in the N.T. ’of life as a principle, life in the absolute sense, life as God has it, that which the Father has in Himself, and which He gave to the Incarnate Son to have in Himself, John 5:26, and which the Son manifested in the world, 1 John 1:2..." (336). Those who want true life must come to the Word of life Himself (John 14:6).

Verse 2

(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)

For the life was manifested: In this parenthetical statement, John uses "the life" in the same way that he uses "Word" in John one and "that which" in verse 1. Jesus is the personification of all that life suggests, and that life was "manifested" in Jesus. Wuest comments:

This life which God is, John says, "was manifested." The word "manifested" is phaneroo, "to make manifest or visible or known what has been hidden or unknown" (Thayer). This life which is invisible was made visible to the human race through the humanity of our Lord (93).

John expresses the same thought in the gospel: "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). In the epistle, John introduces us to this Word that was made flesh as "the life" that was made flesh.

"Manifest" is a word used several times in the scriptures to refer to Jesus’ coming in a fleshly body (1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 John 3:5; 1 John 3:8). At this point, it is good to ask the question, "What is life?" Many are asking, "What is it all about, this thing called life?" The answer comes ringing through the centuries, "Jesus is life, real life, absolute life, life in the fullest sense of the term." When people have Jesus, they have life; without Jesus, they have no life. "For me to live is Christ" (Philippians 1:21).

and we have seen it: Once again, John declares that he and the other apostles saw Jesus, who was "the life." The Gnostics who read this letter probably became weary with this eyewitness testimony that John affirms again and again. Why does he repeat himself? He wants to emphasize and re-emphasize the truth of Jesus’ humanity.

and bear witness: To "bear witness" means "to testify, to affirm that one has seen or heard or experienced something" (Wuest, I John 94). John wants his readers to know that he has a right to write these things. Jesus tells the apostles before His ascension, "ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). John had borne that testimony and is now exercising that right and responsibility as he writes this epistle.

and shew unto you that eternal life: "Shew" is from apaggello in the Greek and means "to bring tidings" or to proclaim. John is proclaiming that "the life," of which Jesus is the very epitome, is everlasting life. Why is John stressing all of these matters about Jesus? Because it deals with "life." When we have Jesus, we have all that He is; and He is eternal life. There is a quality of life possessed by every Christian called "eternal life" (John 10:28; 1 John 5:11). This is the abundant life Jesus came to give. In heaven, we will have that life both in quality and quantity.

which was with the Father: "With" carries the idea of "face to face" in the Greek and implies fellowship. Jesus was not only the eternal Logos, the total revelation of God; but He was a person in the presence of God, one who had enjoyed fellowship with the Father from eternity. (Compare John 1:1-2.)

and was manifested unto us: As he ends this parenthetical statement, John continues to hammer away at the fact that Jesus was revealed to the apostles in a very discernible fashion. This eternal Christ was actually made visible to them in a form they could see and touch, proving the incarnation of Jesus by the eyewitness testimony of His apostles.

Verse 3

Theme of the Letter: Fellowship

That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.

That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you: After the intervening remarks of verse 2, John continues the thought from verse one. "Declare" is from the same word as "shew" in verse 2. It is in the present tense in the Greek and should be translated "we are declaring." Those things concerning Jesus, which the apostles had experienced through the physical senses, were continually proclaimed unto the people of the first century.

that ye also may have fellowship with us: John now reveals one of the purposes for this epistle and for all of the teachings of the apostles. These grand truths are being declared so that they might have fellowship, first with the apostles and then with God and Christ.

"Fellowship" is a very important word in this epistle because everything depends on it: salvation, fullness of joy, and forgiveness of sins. "Fellowship" is from the Greek word, koinonia and means "the share which one has in anything, participation" (Thayer 352). "The idea in the word is that of one person having a joint-participation with another in something possessed in common by both" (Wuest, I John 96). John begins by saying that he wants his readers to have fellowship, a sharing in common with him and the other apostles. What is the import of his words? As Lenski says, "’Also to you’ means that you may have what we apostles have" (377). John wants his readers to enjoy a share in what he and the other apostles have enjoyed all along. In the next phrase, he explains.

and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ: The fellowship he wants them to share is one with God and Christ. Does he mean that in order to have fellowship with God, their fellowship must flow through the apostles? No, he is saying that in order for them to have fellowship with God, they must accept the testimony of the apostles concerning Jesus. Their fellowship with God depends on their accepting the truths being declared. The authority of the apostles and their message must be respected. Jesus tells His apostles, "He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that send me" (Luke 10:16). The full acceptance of apostolic testimony is necessary to fellowship with the Godhead. "We are of God; he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us" (1 John 4:6). Knowing God and sharing the benefits of His fellowship are determined by acceptance of "the apostle’s doctrine." The Gnostics were denying apostolic authority. Those who followed their teachings denied themselves of fellowship with God.

Verse 4

One Purpose For Writing

And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

And these things write we unto you: "Write" is also in the present tense and should read, "these things we are writing." The "we" in this verse also refers to the apostles, as we have noted in verses 1 through 3. Some contend that John is using the editorial "we" in this passage, but why would he suddenly change from the apostolic "we" of the first three verses? There is no reason for changing; therefore, we must conclude that he is using "we" in the same sense. The things that the apostles are declaring they are also writing. "These things" include all the writings of the New Testament. Why was the New Testament written? John will answer this question in the next phrase.

that your joy may be full: Authorities disagree about whether this passage should read "your joy" or "our joy." A little common sense, which is one of the best tools available in Bible interpretation, might be called for in deciding which pronoun should be used. Is John saying that he and the others are writing to make themselves happy and to make their own joy complete? It seems unlikely. They are declaring and writing the wonderful truths of the word to bring joy to the erstwhile joyless populace of the earth and to Christians around the world. Alford suggests that if "our" is correct, it means "the joy of us and you" (425), thus making joy the benefit of the writers and the readers. At any rate, we know that the things written in the Bible are written that our joy might be "full." A joy that is full is a gladness that is total and complete. Our Lord wants His people to have such a joy (John 16:22-24). Today, we do not use the words, "that your joy may be full." In modern vernacular, John would say, "These things we are writing unto you that your life might be great, super, fantastic, tremendous, marvelous." We must believe that "the things" written in God’s word are there to bring great enjoyment in Christian living. When one plugs into God’s word, internalizes its teachings, and applies its principles, he finds joy "unspeakable and full of glory." Jesus said that the purpose of His coming is that we might "have life and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). There is a joy in Christian living that does not depend upon circumstances. It is ours regardless of the problems of life, and "no man taketh it from you" (John 16:22).

Verse 5

God Is Light

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you: The Hebrew writer maintains that God "hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son" (Hebrews 1:2). In this highly enlightened Christian age, all truth emanates from Jesus. Even when Jesus promises the Spirit of Truth to the apostles, He says the Holy Spirit "shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you" (John 16:13-14). John confirms this fact by stating that he and other apostles had a message from Jesus that they had heard and are now declaring freely to all men. He is now "declaring" or reporting that message to his readers.

that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all: What is the message from the Lord? "God is light." The structure in the Greek indicates that, as to His nature, God is light. Barclay says that light speaks of splendor and glory, purity and holiness, guidance and revelation (30-31). It is true that we usually think of light as referring to knowledge, truth, and purity. In this context, however, we must limit the symbolism to purity or holiness because he uses it in contrast with the darkness of sin in subsequent verses. This is one more attack on the doctrine of the Cerinthian Gnostics who advocated that they could live in fellowship with God and in the practice of sin at the same time.

The heresy of antinomianism is in view as John writes the next few verses. Antinomianism simply means "against law." Some promoted the idea, and many do today, that the Christian is not amenable to law in any sense. Since he is not accountable to law, they say, sin does not affect him. These Gnostics "knew" that sin does not affect the spirit of man regardless of what the body does; therefore, law did not apply to them. Napoleon is reported to have said that laws were made for ordinary people but were not meant for the likes of him. The Gnostics felt that their position was so elevated that law was not made for the likes of them.

John’s argument is: As light is opposed to darkness, God is opposed to sin; as darkness cannot exist in the presence of light, sin cannot continue in the presence of God; as light reveals the darkness and extinguishes it, God reveals sin as it really is and abolishes it. Fellowship with God necessitates the absence of the practice of sin because in God "is no darkness at all." Maclaren comments: "To the positive statement John, in his usual manner, appends an emphatic negative one: "Darkness is not in him, no, not in any way.’ He is light, all light, only light." (248) Woods translates the Greek phrase: "no, not even one tiny particle!" (216). There is not the slightest taint of darkness, or sin, in the character of God. God is morally perfect.

Verse 6

Conditions of Fellowship With God

If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness we lie, and do not the truth:

If we say: At this point, the reader can begin to feel a relationship with John as he uses the pronoun "we" to include both himself and his readers. John could say, "If anyone say," but he wants to include himself with all others. What he says applies equally to all men.

we have fellowship with him: This is a statement that should be made by every Christian. If we are "in Christ," walking the Christian walk, we are living in fellowship, communion, joint-participation with the Lord. Wuest says concerning this hypothetical person, "This person claims to have things in common with God, common likes and dislikes, a common nature, the divine, which basic things eventuate in a communion of interest and activity which we call fellowship" (101).

and walk in darkness: This situation cannot happen. One cannot live in darkness and light at the same time. "Darkness" often symbolizes ignorance, untruth, and sin. In this instance, the darkness of sin is the primary significance in John’s mind. One cannot live in communion with a holy God and walk in sin at the same time. Sin separates man from his God (Isaiah 59:1-2). God and sin cannot coexist because they are mutually exclusive.

To "walk" is to order one’s life, conduct one’s behavior, or pursue a way of life. "Walk" is present tense and suggests the habitual direction of one’s life. As we will shortly see, the Christian is not totally without sin in his life. He sometimes allows the weakness of his flesh to overcome the aims of the spiritual man, and he sins; but sin is not the direction of his life. The general tenor of his life is one of holiness and righteousness before God. John is not talking about one who lives the Christian life and occasionally sins; he is talking about someone who continues in the practice of sin. No one can engage in a habitual walk of darkness, or sin, and live in fellowship with God at the same time.

we lie, and do not the truth: How much more emphatic can the apostle be? If we propose to say that we are walking in fellowship with God and living in sin at the same time, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. The Gnostics were telling this lie and practicing this untruth. They thought the body was just a simple envelope housing the spirit and could not contribute to the contamination of the spirit on the inside.

While most would scoff at such a notion, there are those today who claim that once a person is saved there is no way he can be lost. The sins committed are not held against him despite his impenitence. Is this doctrine any less damaging than that of the Gnostics? John declares that fellowship with God negates a walk in sin.

"Do not the truth" simply suggests that the life is not consistent with the truth revealed in God’s word (John 17:17). The practice does not conform to the teaching. Vincent quotes Westcott: "Right action is true thought realized. Every fragment of right done is so much truth made visible" (315). Our actions should give substance or visibility to God’s word. We must both preach truth and practice truth. The scriptures suggest various relationships to truth, speaking of: holding the truth (Romans 1:18), obeying the truth (Romans 2:8; Galatians 3:7), walking according to the truth (Galatians 2:14; 3 John 1:4), resisting the truth (2 Timothy 3:8), and erring from the truth (James 5:19). The Bible emphasizes the importance of our lives being properly related to the truth of God’s word.

Verse 7

The Basis of Unbroken Fellowship

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

But if we walk in the light: John now proposes another case that is diametrically opposed to the one in verse six. It is a totally different matter to "walk in the light." "Walk" is in the present tense in the Greek and carries the idea of habitual action. It is the habitual practice of these hypothetical persons to order their lives in righteousness and true holiness. They keep on walking in holy living.

"Light" again suggests purity of life in contrasted with the darkness of sin. The persons under consideration are those who are characteristically holy in life. They may step aside in a moment of weakness, but the general course of life is one toward holy living. Habitual walking implies effort, activity, and progress. Those walking in the light of holiness put forth a definite effort to do so; they are active and each day they progressively get better.

as he is in the light: It is the aim of the worshipper to become like the god he worships. God is light and always lives in the sphere of light. If we are to have fellowship with Him, we must live our lives in His sphere of light; or in this context, we must order our lives in a sphere of purity of life. We must be holy as He is holy, pure as He is pure.

we have fellowship one with another: To walk in the light is to have fellowship with God, but it also makes possible fellowship with others who walk in that same light. One person suggests that fellowship is first vertical and then horizontal. There must first be fellowship with God before we enjoy fellowship with our brethren. We enter that fellowship with God when we become Christians, and we maintain that fellowship through righteous living. This type of living in turn makes possible a fellowship with a community of believers who share a common faith and religion, as well as common ideals, aims, objectives, purposes, natures, and blessings. All of those who share these commonalities are those who continue to walk in the light.

and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin: Please note that John begins this verse with the conditional "if." If we walk in the light of holy living, certain blessings will be our portion. First, we enjoy a fellowship with God and a consequent fellowship with those of like precious faith. Second, we have the assurance that the blood of Christ is constantly cleansing us of those inadvertent sins that plague every Christian’s life. "Cleanseth" is another verb in the present tense that speaks of continuous action in this context. If we keep on walking habitually in the light of holy living as the general direction of our lives, the blood of Christ will keep on continually cleansing us of "all sin." Woods remarks:

Moreover, it cleanses from sin, not merely solely the conscience, but sin (amartias), all sin, whether of thought, word, or deed, rash sins, sins of ignorance, of malice, of omission or commission, sins of the flesh, sins of the disposition, sins of pleasure or of pain, sins of every type and kind committed at any time or place (217).

What great assurance comes to the mind of the Christian when he knows that his fellowship with God is not being broken and destroyed every time he sins, either in a moment of weakness or ignorantly. (David speaks of "secret" sins, or sins of ignorance in Psalms 19:12-13.) Every Christian does not operate at the same level in his relationship to God. The newborn Christian may not be aware of all the wrongs he is committing. Does this mean that he is constantly "in grace" and "out of grace" because of his immaturity? Who would affirm such a position? Even those who have grown in the Lord over the years have their times of weakness in the midst of temptation. In verses 8 through 10, the apostle establishes that all of us sin from time to time. Should we be fearful about our destiny between the morning and evening prayers? Nay, verily! The presence of the blood of Christ in the fellowship of believers makes possible a flow of God’s grace that constantly keeps the Christian safe from the consequences of his sins, allowing him opportunity to grow in the Lord and make the necessary corrections in his life.

Coffman says, "This great verse is the source of incredible joy, assurance and consolation to the child of God. He never needs to fear that some impulsive, unintentional, or atypical conduct might overtake him with the result of eternal condemnation" (362). Let us be clear about this matter of constant cleansing. Only those who are walking in the light as the general direction of their lives can claim this cleansing. This cleansing is not for those who habitually order their lives in darkness.

Verse 8

Consciousness of Sin

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

If we say that we have no sin: John enters into another hypothetical, yet very applicable, case. He begins by saying that "If we" (meaning "anybody"), say "we have no sin," we deceive ourselves. Since there is no article before "sin," the denial here refers to the possession of sinfulness in the life. It is a claim to inherent perfection with no need for cleansing. In verse 10, John will deal with the denial of specific sins in daily life. As we have already noted, the Cerinthian Gnostics were making the claim of sinlessness. They had no sin because law and sin did not affect them nor apply to the spirit of man. Some today claim to live "above sin" or in sinless perfection. What should our attitude be toward people who make such claims? Please observe John’s reaction to such a notion in the next statement.

we deceive ourselves: This is John’s response to the false avowal of sinlessness. Vincent says this statement literally means, we lead ourselves astray (319). Self-deception is the worst kind of deception because it is so difficult to overcome. When one is deceived by others, the truth will often quickly overcome that deception; but when one is self-deceived, he is so involved in his own deception that truth is hard to accept. When one deceives himself by saying, "I have no sin in my life," he associates himself with those who "professing themselves to be wise, they became fools" (Romans 1:22). There is no greater fool than the self-deceived fool.

and the truth is not in us: The Gnostics thought they had absolute truth in themselves; their knowledge was above even that of the apostles. John says that those who deny the presence of sin in their lives have no basis for claiming such elevated knowledge but, rather, do not even have the truth of God’s word in themselves. Instead of having truth in themselves, they may, as Lenski says, be "full of fictions, fables, myths, self-made fancies, notions that are not so" (392). The know-it-alls know little.

Verse 9

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

If we confess our sins: In contrast with those who would deny the presence of sin in their lives, John says that "we," any and all of us, should "confess our sins." The attitude of the Christian is always one of penitent confession. "Confess" is in the present tense, indicating constant action. The person who walks in the light will acknowledge his sin before God when he is aware of it and will resolve to change his conduct. In view of the fact that "all have sinned" (Romans 3:23), it behooves every person to admit to his own sinfulness and come clean before the Lord. Wuest comments:

The saint is to confess. The word "confess" is homologeo, from homos, "the same," and lego, "to say," thus, "to say the same thing as another," or, "to agree with another." Confession of sin on the part of the saint means therefore to say the same thing that God does about that sin, to agree with God as to all the implication of that sin as it relates to the Christian who commits it and to the holy God against whom it is committed (104).

In the scriptures, God reveals sin for what it is. When we commit those sins that the Bible condemns, we should own up to them, admit them, and confess them freely before God. John says, "Do not deny your sin; confess it." If we do, God makes a promise based own His faithfulness.

he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins: God will forgive us. Why? Because He is "faithful and just" to do so. God is true and faithful to His nature and His promises. He always acts in consistency with His nature and can never be out of character with Himself. God promises to forgive, and He will surely keep His word (Hebrews 10:23; Hebrews 11:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:24; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Timothy 2:13). He is also "just" or righteous. God always does that which is right and just. He is just in forgiving us of our sins because of the blood of Jesus Christ that satisfied the justice of God. To "forgive" means, literally, to send away, dismiss, according to Vincent (322). When God forgives, He sends our sins so far away they are never remembered again (Hebrews 8:12). He dismisses them from His mind and removes their guilt from our lives. John says that God forgives "our sins." In verse 8, he writes of "sin" or sinfulness in our lives; in this verse, he focuses on the specific sins we confess.

and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness: Vincent says that God "not only forgives but removes" (317). He removes the contamination of sin from our lives by cleansing "from all unrighteousness." To "cleanse" is "to make clean...from the defilement of sin" (Vine 195). When God forgives, He wipes the slate clean by applying the cleansing blood of Christ. The blood of Christ is God’s eraser by which He thoroughly removes all traces of sin from the lives of His people. "Unrighteousness" is simply the opposite of righteousness, or, as Lenski says, "anything contradicting the divine norm of right" (394). Upon the confession of our sins, God forgives them and removes our unrighteousness; consequently, we retain our righteous state before Him.

Verse 10

If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

If we say that we have not sinned: Once again, John associates himself with his readers by saying, "If we say..." He accentuates the truth he has already stressed that no one can say he is without sin or that he never sins. In verse 6, he challenges the false claim to a state of sinlessness, and here he defies the erroneous idea that one never sins. He declares that it is worse than self-deception or even lying, for in such a claim we make Him a liar.

we make him a liar: That is the worst sin of all. Amos Wilder says: "To go to the length of denying past sin and present guilt is not only to becloud ourselves with sophistry but to give the lie to God Himself" (Coffman 366). God says, "There is none righteous, no, not one," and that "all have sinned" (Romans 3:10; Romans 3:23). Those who profess that they have never sinned, or never sin, make a liar out of God. That is blasphemy!

and his word is not in us: This statement is equivalent to the one in verse 8, "the truth is not in us." God’s word is truth (John 17:17). To have God’s word in us is to have His truth in us. The person who denies the presence or practice of sin in his life testifies in that denial to the absence of God’s word or truth in his heart. Paul commands, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly..." (Colossians 3:16). When the word is genuinely in us, we believe and apply its teachings. The denial of sin in our lives is proof that the word has not been allowed to take up its permanent residence in our hearts.

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Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 1 John 1". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/1-john-1.html. 1993-2022.