1 John

Jump to chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Prelude

My beloved John, who wrote this letter, was one of my Son’s closest companions, together with Peter and James. John wrote the fourth gospel, the one bearing his name, as well as Revelation and three short letters. 1 John is the first of those letters.

Chapter 1

(1-2) My story has been around since before time began. I love how C.S. Lewis, described the creation story in his book, The Magician’s Nephew,[1] where Aslan sings creation into existence. I have continually revealed myself to people throughout history; they have seen my works and heard of my greatness. When Jesus was born of Mary, he was the embodiment of my word. My children could see and touch him. Jesus was not a fairy tale, not speculation, and not the product of a psychedelic dream. John and many others witnessed him. They lived with him, walked with him, and talked with him. They learned from him for three years and they saw his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. John knew that my Son brought eternal life.

(3-4) My Son turned John’s world upside down. Nothing could prevent him from boldly proclaiming what he had learned about life in my Son, because he wanted everyone to know that fellowship with the Trinity is possible. Indeed, my gathered church exists to joyfully celebrate their fellowship with me. Too often, my churches veer off course, focusing on political action, moral regulation, or social justice, but each of these are second things. Loving communion with me and one another is the point.

(5-6) My Son is light and unlimited goodness. There is no evil nor darkness in him at all. So often, my followers claim to be in step with my Spirit, but they are stumbling about in the darkness. They put on masks, seeking to hide their true selves. These pretenders deceive others and even themselves, but they do not deceive me. When you treat life as a masquerade, you do not live out of the truth of who you really are, a child of light.

(7-8) Instead of fumbling around in the darkness, pretending that you are something you are not, be who you are. Walk in the light; you will always find me there. It is in this honest, vulnerable place where you can have true friendship with one another and with me. When you remember that my Son’s blood has cleansed you completely, you will have no need to hide. Come out of the shadows and be seen. When you pretend like you are better than you are or that you have no sin in your life, you may deceive others for a season, but the one you have deceived the most is yourself. You cannot live long in that disintegrated state before it begins to tear you apart. Half-truths are no truth at all.

(9-10) If you are willing to acknowledge your sins, to me and to a few trusted others, not making excuses, but honestly and directly confessing, I will forgive you. Sometimes, you get it in your head that I might not forgive, but I am always faithful to my promises, which have been sealed by my Son’s blood. You are cleansed from all unrighteousness. When you pretend you are perfect and act as if you are better than you are, you make my Son a liar, because he died for those very sins that you are trying to deny. When you live from your false self, it is clear that you have not internalized, nor even understood, my Word.

Chapter 2

(1) Beloved, it is important to understand the truth of my love for you so that you seek to avoid the dangers of sin. Knowing and understanding my desires for how to live is an important step, but knowledge alone is incomplete. You will always fail to reach perfection, which is why I sent my Son. He died for every one of your sins, past, present, and future, but his work did not stop at the crucifixion, nor even at the resurrection. When he ascended to be with me once again, he sat down next to me, advocating for you day in and day out. He serves as a constant reminder that his untainted blood has washed you clean, and you cannot become stained again.

(2) The cross ensured my graciousness toward you.  Jesus exchanged your sin for his righteousness and bore the penalty for sin on your behalf so that you would be in right relationship with me. He did not go to the cross for a select group of people; he did for the whole world. His sacrifice is available to everyone.

(3-5a) If you are wondering how well you know me, look at how you live. Do you seek to follow my Son’s commands? Ask yourself, “Am I becoming love?” to use a phrase from Bob Goff.[2] Do you love me? Do you love others—not just your friends, but even those you disagree with? Do you love yourself with compassion, remembering that you are my beloved child? When you claim to know me, but you are not living from your true self in me, you deceive yourself. When you keep putting on masks before me and others, I cannot know that person, because he is not real.[3] I can only love the real you, warts and all. When you live from your true center, Christ in you, you become love, and my love becomes what it is intended to be.

(5b-6) Here is how you can be assured that you know me: Abide in my Son and try to live and love in the same way he did. He is embodied love, which is my desire for you too.

(7-8) Beloved, my command through John may seem radically different or disconnected from the Old Testament way, but my love is unchanging. I have always had the same intent for my people; however, my Son changed how this command is enacted. He ushered in the new covenant, and in doing so, he turned on the lights so that you can see to love in a way that my Old Testament saints could not. You are no longer a vessel for darkness, but for light. My Spirit, the purest light and love, illuminates you from the inside out.

(9-11) When you claim that my Spirit lives within you, but you hate your friend, you live inconsistent with your true self, not from light, but from darkness. On the other hand, when you love others, you are living from your true self. That true self is strong and loving and when you live there, you will not need to fumble around looking for what is true. Hatred is darkness and evil. When you chose to live with hatred, you live outside of light. How can you possibly see where you are going? You cannot because that false self is blind.

(12-14) Beloved, here is what is true about you:

            Little ones, your sins are forgiven by me and for me.
            Parents, remember that you know me.
            Young people, in my Son, you have overcome evil.
            Little children, you know me and are known by me.
            Parents, you have always known me.
            Young people, my Spirit makes you strong and my Word lives in you.
            By my Spirit and my Word, you have overcome evil.

(15-17) You will face daily temptations to live according to worldly standards that encourage you to seek power, possessions, and position, but that is not the way of love. My way, demonstrated fully by my Son, is the path of downward mobility. Love serves, shows compassion, and cares deeply for others. There are so many things in the world that are not from me—lusts, desires, pride, greed. Seeking these things is to chase after death. Following my Son is to pursue eternal life.

(18-23) My dear child, there have always been people who oppose my Son’s call to love, but as the end draws near, more and more people will promote the way of self-centeredness. They will abandon the path of love and choose to live their own way, but you have been enlightened by my Spirit and because of him, you know my ways. Spiritual knowledge is not merely opinion but is the truest thing about you. It is solid and dependable. Others may try to convince you that it is a lie, but it is not. When liars deny my Son, cling to me. If someone says, “Sure I believe in God,” but then goes on to say if he is not sure if Jesus ever really existed and, that if he did, he was just a good guy, he does not believe in me at all because to know me is to know my Son in his fullness.

(24-25) When you begin to lose sight of what is true, disoriented by the morass of worldly confusion, go back to the beginning. Remember what you heard at first: Jesus loves you. When you remind yourself again and again that Jesus loves you and called you to love, you are in the right place. Christ’s love is eternal. To love as my Son loved is to enter eternity.

(26-27) Some people will try to deceive you. They will use what they consider to be rational arguments, they will appeal to emotion, and they will even twist my word to lead you astray, but my indwelling Spirit, who has anointed you, gives you what you need. All the theologians in the world cannot hold a candle to my Spirit, who teaches you everything that you need to know.

(28-29) Stay as close to Jesus as you can. When he comes back, you will not feel the temptation to hide from him in shame, like a dog who has just chewed up his master’s shoes. Rather, you will run to him and embrace him as a friend, saying, “I am so glad to see you!” You know that Jesus has lived totally in line with the message of love and grace. When you have tried to live like Jesus, your life becomes an extension of his.

Chapter 3

(1)  People throw around the term “love” so much that it gets diluted, but my love is a pure, perfect, 200 proof love. My love does not overlook your sin, it pursues and purifies you. My love says, “I am so glad you are in my family.” Your adoption into my family fills you with the light of divine love, but that light is painfully bright to those who chose to live in the dark, so much that they may attack you because of it.

(2-3) You are my child right now, not only at some future point. Divine light fills you and yet you are not what you shall be one day. When my Son returns, you will see the fullness of his glory and you will become like him, but there is nothing keeping you from ridding yourself of the darkness right now. Remember who you are in my Son.

(4-6) When you continually sin and knowingly violate my commands, you are communicating that you do not truly value me. I sent my Son to take away the penalty for your sin—separation from me. He lived entirely without sin. When you actively pursue sinfulness, your path has veered from my Son. Do not pretend he will pursue sin with you. If you want to be with Jesus, get off the road to destruction and return to him. If you continue to live there, you fail to resemble my Son.

(7-8) My child, do not listen to lies. People will want you to believe my Son approves of sin, but he never does. He forgives sin, but he never approves of it. He justifies the ungodly, but he does not give a pass to ungodly behavior. In every moment, you have a choice for righteousness or sinfulness. You can live with love or hate, shalom or evil. My Son is eternal goodness; the devil is the originator and sustainer of evil. I sent my Son to crush the devil’s works.

(9-10) When you identify with me, you will seek to give up practicing sin. I have given you the necessary tools to walk away from darkness, and back toward light. Remember, the one who continually pursues evil and lives with hatred toward others does not reflect me.

(11-12) My message may seem like it changes over time, but it does not. Love has always been my intention. I created you for no other purpose than to love me, love others, and love yourself, including your enemies, which sometimes is yourself. Love’s mission was broken in the first generation. Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, killed his own brother because his deeds were self-centered and evil while his brother Abel’s were right-hearted and loving. Let your interactions with all creation be guided by love.

(13-15) Do not be surprised when the world hates you for living a life of love. True agape love, which reflects my heart, is so countercultural that it can stir hatred. When you have lived your whole life fumbling about in the dark, divine light burns your eyes, but as they adjust, you will see that your life is in my light and in loving others. Those who choose to build their dwelling place in the dark, live in death. When you hate others, guess where you are living?

(16-18) What then is love? Self-sacrifice. Other-centeredness. In his life and in his death, Jesus laid down his own life for others. I am calling you to the same way of living. I have given you so many gifts—time, talents, and treasures. I did not give them so that you would keep them to yourself but so that you could serve others in need. Do not just talk a good game about love and truth; put love into practice.

(19-21) But listen to your heart. I know that there are many Christians who say that you should not listen to your heart because it is wicked and evil, but listen, in my Son, I have given you a new heart. My Spirit lives there; listen to him. When you feel an internal check in your spirit, pay attention to it. I am greater than your heart and I know everything that takes place there. When you do not feel that check within you that says, “Oh, I shouldn’t be doing this,” have confidence that I am with you.

(22-24) When your heart is fully tuned to mine, whatever you ask will be granted, because you are living in harmony with my divine will. What does it look like to tune yourself to my will? Begin by believing that my Son died for your sins and now advocates for you. Believe that he showed you how to live and love. When you love others, you are on the right track. A loving life that glorifies me and serves others is life with me. You will know that I am with you because my Spirit abides in you.

Chapter 4

(1-3) Beloved, exercise wisdom. Do not believe every person who says that they know the way to me. Over the millennia, many people have claimed to speak for me; some have even claimed to be my Son. Test their messages. Are they consistent with my revealed word and indwelling Spirit? Here is a good litmus test: every spirit, every message that confidently confesses that I sent Jesus in the flesh is from me. Any message that denies the incarnation is not from me. This spirit stands in direct opposition to my Son, just as it has been since the beginning.

(4-6) Listen carefully, little one: Because you come from me, you will overcome evil. My Spirit flows within you unceasingly; he is so much greater than any worldly or evil spirit that threatens your confidence in me. I understand your frustration when you see people all around you attaching themselves to the self-centeredness, greed, and lust that characterize the world, but this is not who you are. You are my beloved. When you speak the message of my kingdom, some will listen and affirm what you say, while others will ignore you and still others will scoff and criticize. Their messages are not from me. Learn to discern the Spirit of truth from the spirit of error.

(7-8) Beloved, love one another. Everything in the whole Bible comes back to this: Love. Love is the essence of my Trinitarian nature. When love defines you, it is proof that you love me and know who you are. Listen, anyone who does not love does not know me, even if they say otherwise. Love is not simply one good trait among many, rather it is the essence of life with me because I am Love itself.  

(9) My Son, my Spirit, and I have been perfect love forever. Love defines us. I gave you a glimpse of perfect love when I sent my Son into the world in the flesh. His incarnation is embodied love. He showed you how to truly live and how to become love.

(10-11) I want you to understand love’s true essence. Love does not start with how you love me or serve me. True love starts with me; I am its never-ending supply. The clearest act of my love was sending my Son, Jesus, who loved you in his life and death. On the cross, he poured out his life, paying the penalty for your sins, in order that you would live eternally with me. With Jesus as your teacher, I want you to lean into a life of love.

(12) No one has ever seen me in the full radiance of my glory, but when you love one another as I have loved you, my light shines within you. My love is made perfect by how you love.

(13-16) You will know that you are in me and I am in you by my Spirit who dwells within you. You have read the stories about my Son, and my Spirit has brought those to life within you, confirming the truth of my Son’s life and death. Whenever you confess that Jesus is my Son and your Savior, it is evidence of my Spirit within you. Faith is more than an intellectual understanding of my love; it is becoming one with the truth of my Son in an embodied love. In that place, you are beginning to understand your true belovedness. Remember, I am not only loving, but Love itself. When you stay close to me, you stay close to love.

(17-18) As you increasingly trust in my love, you will not fear the judgment day so much. My Son’s confidence becomes your confidence. Perfect love and fear do not intermingle. When you reach the place of complete love and other-centeredness, fear is cast aside. When you are gripped by fear of other’s judgments or my wrath, it is fear, and not love, that leads you. In fear, you forget that you are loved.

(19) Your ability to love others grows from my love for you. Mine is always an initiating love. I have loved you from before time. When you love others, it always flows from me through you.

(20-21) But listen, if you claim you love me, but you hate the people in your life, your heart is divided. If you do not love the flesh and blood people in your life, how can you possibly claim to love me, whom you have never seen? You cannot have it both ways. Remember my Son’s command: Love God and love others.

Chapter 5

(1-3) As you become love, do not hold back. You rightly believe that Jesus, my Son, was the promised Messiah. If you love my Son, you will love others as well. Vertical love and horizontal love go hand in hand. If you are wondering whether you are loving others well, consider my commands. Too often, people have viewed commands as a way to get right with me, but in truth, they show you how to love. When Moses told my people not to steal or kill, not to envy or lie, it was to help them become more loving. Commands provide a framework for loving well and if love is your heart’s desire, they are not a burden.

(4-5) When your life flows from me, the worldly ways of self-centeredness and pride have less hold upon you. Success in overcoming the world emerges from faith in my Son, trusting that he is who he says he is. Who is successful in becoming love except one who truly knows and believes that Jesus is my beloved Son?

(6-10a) Get to know the fullness of Jesus Christ, my Son. He revealed the Spirit-filled life at his baptism, and his atoning death at his crucifixion. Whether life or death, water or blood, all of it is for your benefit and my glory. My Holy Spirit is a witness, and he testifies to the truth of Christ. The testimony of the Spirit, new life in baptism, and justification bought with my Son’s blood all confirm the truth about Jesus. Yes, people may testify to the truth, but the Spirit’s testimony eclipses human accounts. As a believer, you do not need to rely only upon the teachings of people. My Spirit, who lives within you, testifies to my Son.

(10b-12) There are also people who flatly reject the message of my Son despite hearing the truth. Their rejection is not only skepticism but calling me a liar. They say that when you die, there is nothing else. In truth, your life will never end. If you believe in my Son, you have life; if you do not, you are a dead man walking.

(13) I inspired John to write these words down so that you would know that my Son actually lived, was crucified, and rose again to new life. I want you to have confidence in his name, so that you too may share in eternal life.

(14-15) Child, trust in this: Whatever you pray, when it is tuned to my will, I hear you. My will is never thwarted. I have overcome evil. When you align yourself with my love, you will see its fruit again and again.

(16-17) Believers have a responsibility to one another. When you see a brother or sister committing sin, the most loving thing that you can do is pray that I would give them life. Remember, how you live leads to either life or death, disintegration or integration, brokenness or wholeness. Point one another toward life. There is sin that leads to death; the one who has utterly and continuously rejected my love and my call to love. Each person faces that choice whether to accept my love.

(18) When you have new life in me, sin begins to lose its hold upon you. The attraction of self-centeredness begins to lose its shimmer. I know that you will continue sinning in this life, but your desires are changing. When you do sin, remember that my Son lives forever as your advocate. Evil cannot touch you. His blood guarantees that your justification will never be taken from you.

(19) When you look around, you see brokenness and sin everywhere. The whole of creation bears the scars of the fall. The cosmos is shrouded in shadow, but you, my child, are a light bearer.

(20) My Son gives understanding about this world and the next. Pay attention to him. He is the only way you will know what is true. Remember that you not only know him, but your life is within him, and his in yours. This union is eternal life.

(21) One final reminder: Keep away from idols.


[1] C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew (New York: Collier Books, 1970), 98.

[2] Bob Goff, Everybody Always (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018).

[3] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1961).