Summary: The outgrowth of a personal relationship with Christ is a commitment to truth, love, and morality.
Several years ago I traded at a dry cleaner that has since gone out of business. One week I intended to drop off my clothes, but for some reason or other I never stopped by. Finally, on my way to the office that Friday morning, I had time. When I walked in, two ladies were at the counter. They turned, smiled, and moved aside for me to put my clothes on the counter. That is when I saw the Bible they were holding. Apparently feeling awkward to continue their witness, they left. The dry cleaning lady knew me and knew I was a Baptist pastor. I, too, had talked to her about God. She told me the two women were Jehovah’s Witnesses. They came by every week to talk to her. She did not believe the things they taught, but she did not want to be rude. I said, “Yes, you want to stay away from that.” She had grown up in a Baptist church but did not really hold to any particular church at the time. I told her that the main issue in determining if a religious teaching is true is what they teach about Jesus: do not be sidetracked by discussions on the reality of heaven, or hell, or any other topic; keep it on Jesus. Make them explain clearly what they teach about Jesus. If they are wrong about Jesus, it does not matter what they are right about. The book of 1 John helps me understand this truth.
The practical nature of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John goes beyond religious questions. These letters apply to events as current as Denny Hastert, the former Speaker of the House, and his lying to the FBI to cover up extortion payments for sexual misconduct. Bruce Jenner would probably have made a very different decision about his sexuality if he knew the teaching of these books. Have you ever wondered how smart people can make such foolish decisions? They either do not know, or refuse to follow, the guidelines in John’s letters.
John is writing to the churches of Asia Minor, which is present-day Turkey. The churches are being divided by false teachers. John gives them the evidence of true faith. The basic message of 1 John is, if you have a personal relationship with God in Christ, the outgrowth of that relationship is truth, love, and morality.
1 John is the most difficult book in the New Testament to outline, because John speaks in concentric circles. What I mean is that the first circle is on obedience, and then John transitions to a discussion on love which leads to right belief. Then he picks up those subjects again and gives more detail, finally doing this a third time.
Here is an outline to help you see these circles, and to help you know what is happening as you read 1 John.
I. Obedience as Evidence of Faith (1:1-2:6; 2:28-3:10; 5:4-21)
II. Love as Evidence of Faith (2:7-17; 3:11-24; 4:7-5:3)
III. Right Belief as Evidence of Faith (2:18-27; 4:1-6)
These three evidences are rooted in three assertions John makes about God. He says God is light: God reveals righteousness and the way to live holy lives. God is love: people who have this God living within them will love Him and others. God is truth: people who believe this will believe correctly about God. God is light, God is love, and God is truth. People who have fellowship with God will be moral, loving, and believe correctly about Jesus Christ.