Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

1 John's USP is the message to not give in to evil.

Fairly basic stuff you might think, and yet on a personal level I find this book very challenging. To coin a phrase, I actually do struggle with that. Why? Precisely because it is so simple. Life, and especially people, seem to be alot more complicated than this.

No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

- 1 John 3:6 (NIV)

I can't really ignore that, actually, all of us who know God still continue to sin. I do, don't you?

John goes on to provide other such tests of reliability, which I also fail.

This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.

- 1 John 3:10 (NIV)

We all do things that are not right. We all fail to love our brothers too. Therefore, according to the above verse, we are all children of the devil, and there are no children of God. I think this is a hard interpretation to avoid from such a straightforward statement. Yet paradoxically it's also one which robs John of the encouraging point that I think he was actually trying to make.

Over the past few years I've supposed that what God really looks at in our hearts is our commitment to doing right. (like Adam and Eve before the fall)

The colossal mixed-up evil of the Old Testament seems to go together with the absence of God's spirit to teach us right and wrong.

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

- 1 John 2:27 (NIV)

Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

- 1 John 3:24 (NIV)

There are plenty of people of other religions who know inside themselves what is right and what is wrong, and I'd like to think that, just as God came to earth in Jesus in secret, maybe he's come to those people in secret too.

This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

- 1 John 4:2-3 (NIV)

Well, there goes that theory then. Or am I, as above, missing the writer's real point because I'm still struggling with the simpler, more obvious interpretation of the words? (which would also make it very easy for the spirit of the antichrist to pretend to be from God)

1 John 4:16 contains another simplistic phrase that always bugs me when I hear it: "God is love." I believe that love is just one of God's many aspects, another one, for example, being justice.

Another thing that I've noticed whilst going through the Bible over the past month, is the absence of clear references to Christ's deity. Believers are referred to as "sons of Abraham" at one point, so the mantle of "son of God" could equally be metaphorical. Jesus speaks a great deal of listening to God, but I don't think he ever claims to be him.

We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

- 1 John 5:20 (NIV)

Even in the above quote, the phrase "He is the true God" could refer to either Jesus or God.

I find a further challenge in 1 John 4:10 (NIV), which uses the word "atoning" (another concept that I have several problems with), but then gives an alternate version in the footnotes.

Speaking of footnotes, the one to 1 John 5:7-8 (NIV) seems to be only the second place in the (NIV) Bible (after Matthew 28:19) where the trinity gets airtime:

For there are three that testify: 8the[a] Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.


a. Late manuscripts of the Vulgate testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. 8 And there are three that testify on earth: the (not found in any Greek manuscript before the sixteenth century)

Hmm, the sixteenth century – that'd be around the time the books of today's Bible were agreed upon then.

And finally, 1 John also gives us several references to eternal life, which have also turned-out to be an unexpected rarity in the Bible.

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

- 1 John 5:11 (NIV)

I sometimes worry that these blog-posts might come across to the reader as hot-headed whinging, yet I'm just trying to be honest about how these texts come across to me. And, just "thinking-out-loud" as I type this, I guess I am making a concentrated effort to try to ask what these books say to me without getting drowned out by all my usual preconceptions, and memories of what I and a million other people have previously told me I should find in there.

That's not to say that I wish to avoid other's opinions, rather that I want to add my own opinions to all those perspectives from others.

With that in mind, I find 1 John a very interesting book, because it helps me to identify some of the parameters of my faith that I may not previously have been aware of, and because I find it challenges me to be a bit more honest with myself about my relationship with God.


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