*This article is more like a Bible Study, so I recommend that you get your Bible, a pen and a piece of paper. Enjoy!
Recently, there has been great debate on whether “1 John, Chapter 1” was written to believers or unbelievers. Proponents of the “unbelievers” doctrine, state that John is inviting his readers into fellowship which proves that it is written to unbelievers. Further, they state that John tells them to confess their sins and God is faithful to forgive them. These proponents count this as added proof that 1 John Chapter 1 is written to unbelievers as they don’t believe that this is a requirement for believers. They state that it is written to a class of unbelievers called the Gnostics.
I believe the scripture is clear on who the audience is and this debate holds end time significance as stated by John. I believe the answer to this question will determine the eternal fate of many and is not a casual debate. I will seek to show clearly who the audience is from scripture, state my belief and you can make up your mind.
Here is the Chapter in its entirety:
“We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.
This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you:
God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.
If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.” 1 John Chapter 1 NLT
It is clear that John here is speaking about “light and darkness“, about “fellowship“, about “sin and forgiveness“. So the BIG question is – who is he speaking to? Well in Chapter 2 verse 1, John states clearly who he is addressing:
“My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin.” 1 John Chapter 2
Nothing could be clearer, John says his audience is God’s children, “My dear children”.
Recently, a TV popular minister in a message, stated that in 1 John Chapter 1, John is writing to unbelievers and in Chapter 2, he switches to believers as evidenced by “My dear children”. What this minister fails to acknowledge is that Chapters and verses were never originally part of the New Testament writing. Additionally, he fails to consider that there was no Internet or Facebook in those days. Hence, John was writing to the Church, 1 John is a letter to the church. This should be obvious and clear.
This may not be sufficient evidence to conclude who the audience is so let us continue:
“Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have had from the very beginning. This old commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before. Yet it is also new. Jesus lived the truth of this commandment, and you also are living it. For the darkness is disappearing, and the true light is already shining.
If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness. Anyone who loves another brother or sister is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. But anyone who hates another brother or sister is still living and walking in darkness.” I John Chapter 2:7-11 NLT
Well who is John writing to here? I believe it is clear that he is writing to believers. Did you notice John stated the same things as he did in Chapter 1. Watch these words, “very beginning“, “light“, “darkness“, “if anyone claims“. Sounds pretty similar to Chapter 1.
“So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us.
I am writing these things to warn you about those who want to lead you astray. But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.
And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame.
Since we know that Christ is righteous, we also know that all who do what is right are God’s children.” 1 John Chapter 2:24-29 NLT
Did you notice again, watch the words that John used – “fellowship” and “eternal life”. Again, sounds pretty similar to Chapter 1.
In Chapter 3 John continues even clearer still:
“Dear children, don’t let anyone deceive you about this: When people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous. But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God. So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God. This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” 1 John 3:7-11
Did you notice that John wrote the same thing he wrote in Chapter 1, as he said this is the message that we heard from the beginning? Additionally, did you notice John addressed his audience this time as “Dear children”?!
John masterly concludes:
“I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life. And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for…..
……We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them. We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one.
And we know that the Son of God has come, and he has given us understanding so that we can know the true God. And now we live in fellowship with the true God because we live in fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and he is eternal life.” 1 John Chapter 5:13-20 NLT
John removes all doubt about who he has written to – “I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God.” – well, that should be clear. John also makes it clear why he wrote it – “We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning” and then he speaks again about “fellowship” and “eternal life”.
I believe it is clear that John was writing to believers to warn them against deception and false doctrines that protect or defend sin.
Sadly, what many preachers erroneously teach – that I John, Chapter 1 was written to the Gnostics – is exactly what John was speaking against in his letter. John was writing to believers who were being attacked and led astray by doctrines that give rise to Gnostic teachings. John through his letter reiterates the same points he makes in Chapter 1.
May I suggest that you read the entire book of “1 John” with the Holy Spirit and a highlighter and see who you conclude John is writing to. When you conclude and if you conclude like me that he is writing to believers, then ask yourself the following questions:
1. What spirit is causing many teachers to teach that 1 John Chapter is not for believers? Is it the Holy Spirit?
2. What is the goal or agenda of that spirit?
3. What are the consequences in a believer’s life if they follow that teaching?
Satan is called in the Bible the “man of sin”.
Any teaching or doctrine that shields, defends, minimizes or protects sin is from the devil.
I believe what John is teaching is so simple and straightforward that a child can understand it. Here is my summary:
“God loves you and sin is bad stuff. God can’t fellowship with sin, He is light with no darkness. So if you want to hang out with God, own up to your sin and receive forgiveness. God wants you to love each other the same way He loves you. Hey, and those people who are teaching you that sin is not bad stuff or a big deal – don’t take them on. Love God and love people. Receive forgiveness and forgive people.”
A good reading of 1 John will expose much of the error in the emergent “false grace” teachings. God chose John to write this awesome letter to protect you from these errors.
Grace and peace by multiplied to you!
Image 1 Credit: shutterstock/Africa studio
Image 2 Credit: shutterstock/versusstudio
Image 3 Credit: shutterstock/Edward Lara