Instead of following the normal structure of an epistle—who the letter is to, who the letter is from, greeting, expression of gratitude, letter content, closing—John (the presumed author of 1 John 1) jumps straight into, “Remember Jesus, the One who existed at the beginning, and even before time, who we saw with our own eyes and touched with our own hands, the One who brings life abundantly—Christ the incarnate, who is the means through which those who have faith in Him enter eternal life—that’s who we’re talking about here, and who we are telling you about Him so that we can share life together and so that you can be our brothers and sisters, and, even more amazingly, so that we can be sons and daughters of the Triune God. He is the One in whom our joy, our hope in God’s eternal promises, are complete.” (1 John 1:1-4 JPV; Jeana’s paraphrasing version.)
That’s how John chooses to start his letter. Imagine you are meeting someone for the first time, and instead of your new acquaintance introducing themselves, they jump straight into discussing what they care about most.
Even though this is an abrupt start compared with what we are accustomed to in an epistle, we quickly understand from the very beginning of this letter that John has a sense of urgency. Something is happening within a community he shepherded that concerns him.
After I began faithfully following Jesus in college, something started happening. I could no longer ignore certain things in my life that I had once been complacent towards. I felt like I was becoming a worse, not better, person. I disgusted, annoyed, and scared myself with the things I felt I was capable of. I kept wondering why I was becoming more sinful every day when I was more in love with the Lord than I ever had been. Finally, I began to understand that my depth of sin wasn’t technically getting larger, I was just becoming more aware of how much I needed Jesus. I learned that, as my sense and awareness of the cross gets larger, so does my sense and awareness of my brokenness.
On the flipside, the moments I take my gaze off of Christ and the work He accomplished on the cross (which is all too often), I start to believe that I’m not so bad after all. I have to constantly remind myself of my condition, and specifically my condition in relation to God’s condition, which is holy, perfect, and just in every way.
This is what’s happening in 1 John. The recipients of this letter have taken their eyes off Christ and have forgotten that all people are sinful, even Christians. It seems that they are unwilling to acknowledge their sin. John, therefore, preaches not perfection, but he preaches sanctification. As believers, we continually need to know, understand, and meditate on the truth and allow that truth to transform us in our pursuit of holiness.
The longer we walk in light, or walk in truth, the more we will acknowledge our sins. Because that’s just what truth does; it shines a spotlight on that which just is, whether we like it or not. However, acknowledging our sins is not enough. We must confess our sins and repent, and in this process we can restore our fellowship with the Lord because he is faithful to forgive us.
I’m going to use a grade-school parable to demonstrate what I mean here. Let’s say I walk up to my best friend and push her in the mud. She gets up, wipes her hands off, and gently says, “Well, what was that?” But I simply say, “I pushed you in the mud.”
Of course I pushed her in the mud! She knows that; we were both there. I am not going to experience true reconciliation and restoration of our friendship until I confess that I did it because I’m ornery (aka sinful), ask for her forgiveness, and intend to never push her in the mud again.
God, like my friend in the example above, doesn’t need us to acknowledge our sins to him. Our acknowledgement of our sins doesn’t make him more or less aware than He already was. He was there. He knows our sin. But if we want to experience intimate fellowship with the Lord, we need to make a habitual pattern out of confession and repentance (a literal turning from our sin).
Despite being sinful, broken, and sometimes just downright ornery, there is good news. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
May we be confident not in our “goodness,” but in the One who hears our confessions and intercedes on our behalf; may we be disciplined not in our ability to remain upright, but in our asking of the Holy Spirit to transform us into the likeness of Jesus, every minute of every day.
This post was written by my friend and UT Alum – Jeana Medlin
Jeana, thank you so much for your heart for God and others! May God bless!