Lesson One
1 John 1

We have surrounded the word "grace" with a lot of unnecessary mystery. In some ways God's grace is clothed in necessary mystery. We cannot comprehend how God is so merciful and forgiving. Not even the best human being can approach the mercy and forgiveness of God. That is a necessary mystery. Our humanity will never allow us to comprehend God's mercy and forgiveness. We will always accept both by faith.

But there are some unnecessary mysteries that we place on the word and the concept of grace. The basic concept of grace is God's goodness. In past ages and generations Bible students tended to be more preoccupied with God's wrath than God's goodness. It was commonly believed to be more beneficial for people to be afraid of God than for people to trust God's goodness.

The simple concept of God's goodness exceeds our human understanding. How good is the God of absolute goodness? When Bible students do consider God's goodness, they can easily become preoccupied with determining the limits of God's goodness. We are easily consumed with determining when God does and does not use His goodness. We easily focused on two things: (1) determining the boundaries of God's goodness and (2) declaring when God will not extend His goodness.

Too often we do not focus on God's message in Christ. In that message it is clear that God extends His goodness to every person. That is God's desire and choice. The issue of grace is not to be focused on how good is God. It is to be focused on our willingness to respond to God's goodness.

God has revealed His goodness in many ways at many times. But the greatest revelation of God's goodness is Jesus. Nothing can teach us as much about the goodness of God than can the life and ministry of Jesus. The greatest revelation of God's sacrifices to make His goodness available to people is seen in the crucifixion. Jesus' life and ministry is the clear revelation that God's goodness defies human prediction or human limitations. We make a grave mistake when we impose limits on God's goodness.

  1. 1 John 1:1-4 states John's reason for writing this message.
    1. John was writing to Christians who probably lived in the area of Asia Minor, a long way from Palestine.
      1. He likely was writing decades after Jesus was crucified in that tiny, far off country long time after the actual event.
      2. If this approximate time of writing is correct, the Jews had been in intense conflict with the Romans, the temple was probably destroyed, and Palestine is not even a shadow of what it was when Jesus lived.
      3. So, was Christianity just one more religion active in the Roman empire?
        1. When it started it was a local spiritual movement based on historical occurrences that could be verified by countless witnesses.
        2. Now it was an empire wide spiritual movement far removed from the historical events in that far off, small country, and many of the witnesses were dead.
        3. There is a lot of transition from "it happened here two years ago" to "it happened forty years ago in a country that no longer exists."
      4. Were the foundations of Christianity history or myth?
        1. Were the responsibilities of the Christian life shrouded in mystery and ritual like so many of the other religions?
        2. Or could its responsibilities and objectives be understood by the common person?
    2. John opened this writing by declaring that Jesus Christ was a historical person who actually lived; Jesus was not a myth.
      1. John and the apostles were witnesses who heard, saw, and touched Jesus.
      2. Jesus personally was the revelation of eternal life--and that is exactly what he is since he lived before creation, through a human life, and after physical death.
      3. John said, "I am sharing with you what we saw and heard."
      4. Why? For what purpose, John? What is your objective in sharing this information?
        1. "To enable you to have fellowship with us."
        2. "Since we have fellowship with the Father and Jesus Christ, His son, it is through fellowship with us that you will establish fellowship with them."
        3. "Only when you have fellowship with us, God, and Christ will our joy be complete."

  2. An appropriate way to state what John shared in 1:5-10 is this: "For some, the goodness of God gives them everything; for some, the goodness of God gives them nothing."
    1. To me, there is a striking contrast drawn by John in verses 5-10.
      1. First, I want you to see that contrast.
      2. Second, I want you to consider the contrast in the awareness that John is talking to Christians.
        1. These people had declared faith in Jesus Christ.
        2. They had been baptized.
        3. In our common terminology today, these people were "members of the church."
      3. This contrast declares to whom God's grace will give everything, and to whom God's grace will give nothing among Christians.
        1. As John began this writing, this was his first emphasis.
        2. There are some Christians who because of God's goodness receive everything.
        3. There also are some Christians who receive nothing from God's goodness.
    2. John began by affirming that God is absolute goodness.
      1. Using John's common analogy, God is pure light that is in no way dimmed or contaminated with darkness.
      2. There is no evil in God; there is only the purity of goodness in God.
    3. The contrast is seen in what John said in verses 6, 8, and 10 and what John said in verses 7 and 9.
      1. Look closely at what John said in verses 6, 8, and 10.
        1. Verse 6: to claim that you have fellowship with God while, by choice, living an evil lifestyle is to lie and fail to practice the truth.
          1. Claiming that we a live life that is in association with the light while we choose to live our lives in the darkness is to lie.
          2. There is no darkness in God; God does not fellowship those who choose to live in darkness.
          3. John did not say this person did not know the truth; he said this person did not practice the truth.
        2. Verse 8: to claim that we have no sin is a self-deception that reveals we are void of truth--the truth is not in us.
          1. Truth will never lead us to conclude that, of ourselves, we are sinless.
          2. To claim to be sinless is proof that the truth does not exist in us.
        3. Verse 10: to claim that we have not sinned is to make God a liar.
          1. God says that we have sinned; everyone of us.
          2. A conviction that I do not sin is proof that God's word is not in me.
      2. Contrast those statements with verses 7 and 9.
        1. Verse 7: If our choice is to live our daily lives in God's light, two things will happen.
          1. We will have fellowship with each other.
            1. Maintaining fellowship with those who give self and life to Christ is a critical evidence that we live in God's light.
            2. A natural result of finding life in Jesus is the growing desire to associate with those who live in Jesus.
          2. Jesus' blood cleanses (a present, continuing process) us from ALL sin.
            1. For this person, the forgiveness that begins at baptism never stops.
            2. Not one of us ever knows all our sins.
            3. When we live in the light, forgiveness is a continuing process every day.
            4. Why? Because God is good.
        2. Verse 9: If we confess the sins that we realize we commit, God will do two things.
          1. He will forgive the sins that we confess.
          2. He will cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness--everything wrong, realized or not, will be cleansed continually.
          3. Confession: penitent hearts move us to be honest about realized mistakes and to accept responsibility for what we have done.
          4. Why will God do that? Because God is good.

  3. Do you see the distinct contrast between these two types of Christians?
    1. One Christian refuses to acknowledge the problem of evil in his or her life or to deal with that continuing problem.
      1. "I have nothing to deal with--my life does not have any problem with evil."
      2. "I did what God said to do to become a Christian--I was baptized."
      3. "I do the religious things that I am supposed to do: I come to church at least once a week; I take communion; I give; I even get involved sometimes."
      4. "My life is okay; I have no war with evil in my life; I rarely need to repent of anything or confess anything to God."
    2. The second Christian may actually struggle with evil, but he knows the evil is there; he resists it; he repents of the evil; he is constantly learning how to be more godly.
      1. Sustaining fellowship with Christians is an important part of his or her life.
      2. He or she takes the time to be aware of evil within, to recognize evil within, to confesses mistakes and indulgence.
      3. He or she never excuses, never condones, never hides, never denies; no attempt is made to evade responsibility.
    3. I want you to advance and mature your understanding of how a Christian lives in God's goodness.
      1. My doctrinal beliefs are important, but there is something more important, more basic than my doctrinal beliefs.
      2. My theology, my beliefs that are centered in God, are important, but there is something more important, more basic than my beliefs about God.
      3. What could possibly be more important, more basic than my doctrinal and theological beliefs?
        1. The way that I deal with the continual problem of evil in my life is more important than my doctrinal and theological beliefs.
        2. If I deny the fact that I have evil in my life, I do not live in God's goodness.
        3. If I deal with evil in my life by living in God's light and confessing my sins, I live in God's goodness.
        4. Denial of my evil means that I am self-deceived, do not practice the truth, do not have the truth in me, and do not have God's word in me.
        5. Denial also means that I make God a liar.
        6. Acknowledgment of my sins by confessing those sins to God keeps me cleansed from all sin and all unrighteousness.
        7. Though far from sinless, I live every day in God's forgiveness.
    4. As a Christian, in God's eyes, I am:
      1. Pure because I am forgiven.
      2. Holy because I am forgiven.
      3. Righteous because I am forgiven.
      4. I am not pure, holy, and righteous because no evil exists in my life.

We commonly think there are three basic categories of Christians. Category one: "In my love for God, I want to live a godly life and I am committed to being a godly person." Category two: "I do not want to go to hell, but I do not want to be godly. I will do what I must do religiously, but I will live my life as I please." Category three: "For reasons that have nothing to do with conversion, I 'became a Christian.' I have no interest in being godly and will make no attempt to live a godly life."

Two observations based on the information in 1 John 1. Category two, "I do not want to go to hell but I do not want to be godly," is of zero value spiritually. Only category one receives God's forgiveness and lives in God's goodness.

You cannot be perfect, but you can be faithful to God. You cannot be perfect, but you can be honest with God.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 7 February 1999
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