1 John 1:1-4 - John Gives Eyewitness Testimony Concerning Christ
Our text will be 1 John 1:1-4,
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
The well known theologian J.I. Packer said, “Real Christianity has in the past been conceived in terms of orthodoxy, orthopraxy, churchmanship, sacramentalism, syncretism, and various other things...but it is best defined in terms of communion with God – more precisely still, communion with the triune LORD through Jesus Christ the mediator.”
This brief statement helps us to see that there are many terms that can be used to define what some believe ‘real Christianity’ to be. Packer does not just give us one example of what some may consider to be ‘real Christianity’; but he gives us five things to consider.
Orthodoxy which is right belief.
Orthopraxy which is correctness of action and practice
Churchmanship which is a way of talking about and labeling different tendencies within the church.
Sacramentalism is a belief in or emphasis on the importance and efficacy of the sacraments for achieving salvation and conferring grace.
Syncretism is the attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices in religion. It is the mixing of truth with error.
Packer shows us that people can define Christianity by ‘various other things’. There are countless things that we can place our faith in rather than in Jesus Christ alone. Yesterday it may have been those things. Today it may be these particular things. And tomorrow there will be new things to trust in.
Spurgeon gives this warning, “Of all matters, religion is the very worst to play with. It may be easy to mimic it, but the price to be paid for such fooling around will be terrible...The best imitation of religion will make its possessor wail forever when the hand of eternal truth shall lay bare its falsehood.” Because of this danger Spurgeon offers up this little prayer, “O thou who art ‘the truth’, deliver me from all seeming, and let me be in truth that which I profess to be.”
We would all do well to confess often what David does in Psalm 86:8-11, “There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God. Teach me your way, O LORD that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.”
In this letter John addresses many things that the false teachers had said that were leading believers away from Jesus Christ. These false teachings posed a great threat to the well-being of the church and their understanding of the LORD. Yet, even after he addresses these things John knows that there are many threats and many idols, that Christians will be exposed too. As a result, they need to be diligent to avoid them at all times. Therefore, John closes this letter by saying, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols”. Remarkably, even as John closes this letter he knows that there is always a danger that believers will in some way fail to look to Christ and turn to other idols.
Packer makes it clear that there is only one thing that defines authentic Christianity. Real Christianity is ‘best defined in terms of communion with God – more precisely still, communion with the triune LORD through Jesus Christ the mediator’.
This is precisely what John is seeking to convey as he begins this letter. Packer’s definition can be a thesis statement for 1 John 1.
In these verses we get a glimpse of what these believers were facing. There were some whose teachings attacked at the very heart of the gospel. They attacked the person of Jesus and the work that He accomplished. These false teachings undercut their understanding of doctrine, of how a Christian was to live, and how they interacted with one another in the body of Christ.
Because the apostolic teaching concerning Christ had come under attack John begins this letter as an eyewitness of what he had seen, heard and touched. Most agree that the false teaching that was prevalent at this time was an early form or Gnosticism.