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Christ, Christians and Paint Brushes

brush and paletteMy preaching schedule at TCBC has brought be to the book of 1 John. What a tremendous book the Lord has given us in the Apostle John’s first epistle! It has quickly became a favorite of mine. I have especially benefited from comparing 1 John with John’s Gospel, and I would like to suggest the following summary of the two and their relationship to one another:

  • In John’s Gospel he paints a portrait of Christ.
  • In John’s First Epistle he paints a portrait of Christians.

Though I admit that this is a simplistic summary—an most simplistic summaries are annoyingly imprecise—I believe that it is consistent both with the the content of the books and with John’s stated purposes for each. Consider the stated purposes first, which we find in John 20:31 and 1 John 5:13.

“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)

“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life…” (1 John 5:13)

Heretofore I have assumed in the past that these are almost identical statements. Closer examination reveals that they are actually quite different. John states that he wrote his gospel in order that we might know about and believe in Jesus—that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. The basic point of the book, then, is to paint a portrait of the Lord Jesus Christ, and no one had more credibility to do so than John, the eyewitness, apostle and beloved disciple of the Lord (1:1-5).

1 John, on the other hand, was not written primarily to teach us about Christ. Rather, it was written to give professing believers assurance that they are genuine Christians (5:13), a goal John meets by providing for them a series of tests by which to evaluate themselves. Through a series of beautifully recurring themes—justly compared to the ascending spirals of a staircase or to a classical symphony which repeatedly returns to a motif with increased intensity—John allows us to judge whether we are in the faith by comparing ourselves to His portrait of Christians. So whereas the Gospel was written that we “might believe that Jesus is the Christ,” 1 John was written that we “might know that we have eternal life.”

Lest I overstate the case, it is true that 1 John contributes much to our Christology. Its prologue in 1:1-4 is striking in its similarity to the Gospel’s prologue in 1:1-18 and it contains other beautiful description of Christ’s person and work. However, even the Christology of 1 John is given as part of his portrayal of the Christian. Those who believe that Jesus is God become man (4:2) to die for man’s sins (2:1-2; 4:9-10) are genuinely saved. Those who deny these truths (as those who pedaled their incipient gnosticism in Asian Minor were guilty of doing, cf. 2:22-23; 4:3) are not . We might call this the test of faith, and it is the first of three tests John provides in his portrait of the believer (1:8-2:2; 2:21-25; 3:23; 4:1-6, 9-10, 14-15; 5:1a, 11-12, 20).

A second test is the test of obedience. John insists that every Christian will consistently (though imperfectly) obey the commands of God (1:5-3; 2:3-6; 3:4-10; 5:18-19). To claim faith and lack obedience reveals that your faith is bogus.

A third test is the test of love. This clearly overlaps with the previous test, for Christ has commanded us to love (3:23; 4:21). However, it is justly given attention by itself because it is prominent in John’s portrayal of genuine Christians (2:9-11; 3:11, 19; 4:7-8, 11-12, 16, 19-21; cp. John 15:12, 17).

John masterfully paints the Lord Jesus in his Gospel. He follows it up with a beautiful portrait of the Christian in his first epistle. The fact that the two pictures are similar is no surprise. Indeed, that’s the point. The Christian will have a family resemblance to Christ. He will believe in Christ (John 3:16, 36; 11:25-26; 14:1), obey like Christ (John 4:34; 5:30; 8:29; 15:10) and love like Christ (John 13:1, 34-35; 15:9-13).

John describes the Christian and offers assurance only to those who match his authoritative description. He emphatically does not encourage doubting believers on the basis of a past decision, prayer or experience, but instead instructs them to look for spiritual vital signs (to use another metaphor).

Those who are in Christ continue to believe in Christ. They live like Christ. They love like Christ. Their spiritual portrait matches the portrait of their Savior.


5 Responses

  1. hey, Chris, good stuff. As we discussed before, you are hitting on one of my favorite passages. I have preached through 1 Jn once, taught through it a number of other times. It is a critical passage for Christian life, I think.

    A few random thoughts to throw into the mix (maybe I have said them to you before…)

    1. I think the purpose of John’s Gospel is evangelistic, as opposed to the disciple making purpose of the synoptics (compare especially Jn 20.31 and Lk 1.1-4).

    2. I hope you will consider doing 2 and 3 John when you finish 1 Jn. My theory is that they were “cover letters” for 1 Jn and that 1 Jn is essentially a sermon put in print. 2 Jn is the cover letter to the church (the “elect sister”) to whom 1 Jn was first sent, 3 Jn the cover letter to the pastor of that church. There is rich truth in these two epistles that enhance 1 Jn.

    3. The writings of John represent to me the reflective thought of the second generation of the church, though John, of course, is 1st generation. The rest of the NT was complete by about AD 75 or so. Some date the gospel as early as 80, but I tend to think that it was closer to the epistles and Revelation. So we are closing in on a 20 year gap in inspired revelation. The “Johannine corpus” [that’s just to show I can play the pseudo-intellectual game!!] is the work of a man who has been a Christian for over 60 years, who has seen it all, Christ, the apostolic age, the second generation of the church. Now he writes. (Of course under the moving of the Spirit, but I am speaking of the human component here.)

    My point in this last one is that the writings of John are basically the period in God’s sentence to man. Mastery of these writings will give us a mastery of the entire Bible, in my opinion.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. Hey, Don. Thanks for the reply. Sorry for the delay in getting back to this.

    I’m not exactly sure about the distinction between John’s gospel being for the lost and the others being for believers. It seems to meet that they all have a strong evangelistic thrust, though I think John’s probably is the most aggressively evangelistic. In particular, many take Luke as an evangelistic presentation, whereas Luke’s history of the early church (Acts) is seen as being addressed to a believer. Interesting. I admit that I haven’t looked into these things in detail, however.

    I will certainly preach through 2-3 John when I’m finished with 1 John. I’ve spent a bit of time studying and preaching them in the past, and look forward to returning to them.

    Interesting thoughts about John’s writing so late. I’ve understood it as an historical fact, but I haven’t given much thought to how the late date effects the content of his…um…corpus. I’ll have to think on it some more.

    Thanks again for the discussion. These sorts of posts don’t tend to generate a lot of back-and-forth. :-)

    Does the distinction between the topic of John and 1 John and the illustration of portraits make sense to you? Think it’s generally accurate?

  3. What most commentators don’t see about John’s Gospel was that it was written around 90 AD for a specific purpose. When you read I and II Peter you see that the apostates are coming, in Jude they have arrived and 15 years later John is charged with reclaiming the old doctrines of the faith that were now disappearing. You don’t read of the doctrine of the New Birth, sanctification, Deity of Christ, Holy Spirit in the Synoptics becuase these were not needed truths as they were a given amongst the first generation of believers. However, God in His Sovereign wisdom kept the youngest Apostle to write at the last of the Apostolic Age to restate in written terms these cardinal doctrines.

    That is why John deals with Deity (Ch1), New Birth (Ch 3), the Holy Spirit (Ch 14, 16), and Sanctification (Ch17).

  4. Hi Chris and Sam

    I had missed your response on this one Chris. Sam’s post brought it back to the top of the list on your site.

    Yes, I think your distinction between John and 1 John are generally accurate.

    As to my point about the Synoptics being discipleship manuals and John being an evangelistic tract, I think I am going to back off on being dogmatic there. Matthew’s emphasis on fulfilled prophecy does seem to be evangelistic towards Jews especially. (I have been preaching some of these passages over Christmas.)

    But as a general comparison, I think that John would have a more evangelistic purpose than the Synoptics do, and the Synoptics have a more discipleship oriented purpose than John. There are a number of reasons why I think this, starting with the purpose statement in John as compared to the one in Luke, and next the similarity of content in the Synoptics with ‘people-group’ orientation shifts distinguishing each of the three.

    I agree with Sam that an additional purpose of John is polemical and doctrinal in light of rising, incipient, or anticipated heresies (anticipated by God, I mean).

    Clearly there is a difference between the Synoptics and John in style. The more I study the Bible the more interesting and profound the purposes of the Author is. It is a great delight to meditate on the interconnected storyline of the Gospels. Since we did our Thru the Bible series, I find that I am constantly trying to set the scene for our people in the chronology, no matter where I am in the Gospels. I also am finding the Gospels to richer and more blessed than ever. I am working on the audio from that series and hope to have a DVD available of all the preaching as well as the notes etc. I am still a few months away, I have to edit most of the OT messages yet.

    Anyway, blessings to all at this Christmas season. I managed to spin out on the highway home from my brother’s house last night, but the Lord was with us. We only lost a tire in the incident, no one was hurt. Praise the Lord for his watchcare.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. Don,

    Thanks for that. I am a strong believer that the Bible is its own internal interpreter and if you search carefully you will find the keys. That is why I emphasize studying the comments of I and II Peter as well as Jude before seeking to understand the motive and purpose of John. I have recently written for a paper on the Synoptics – here is an extract about the Gospel of Matthew:

    The Gospel according to Matthew narrates an account of the life and ministry of Jesus, from his genealogy to his post-resurrection commissioning of his Apostles to go and “teach all nations.” It would appear from the internal evidence and Church Tradition, the Apostle Matthew wrote it for the Jews in the Holy Land, around fifteen years after the ascension of our Lord; being himself an eye-witness, as he was one of the original twelve apostles.

    The Gospel breaks a long period of silence of four hundred years which followed the ministry of Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets. During that time God was withdrawn from Israel and only a believing remnant anxiously awaited the appearing of the predicted One. This remarkable book is a key book of the Bible because it is the bridge to the Old Testament and draws more from Old Testament prophecies than any other book. However, it also moves farther into the New Testament than any of the other Gospels as, for instance, no other gospel writer mentions the church by name. Matthew is impressionist rather than particularist. He does not detail his descriptions as Mark and Luke does.

    Matthew was a publican which was a title given to a man who worked the public or the republic for Rome in the taking of taxation. They were generally wealthy men and whatever they got over the taxation levels for Rome they could keep which tended to encourage corruption and as a result they were hated by the Jews. Matthew was also called Levi which indicates he was of the priestly tribe of Levi but being a publican was probably a more lucrative position that the priesthood. God is going to choose this man to write the first perspective of the Gospel primarily to Jews, as the gospel pattern is always “to the Jew first.” God has prepared the background of world and especially Jewish history for the coming of Christ as He Himself testified, “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Matthew ultimately demonstrates that the religious man needs Christ and not religion.

    The message of the book of Matthew centers on the theme of proving that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah and the heir to King David’s throne, the rightful King of the Jews. Virtually every paragraph of Matthew points to something of His kingship, as he seeks to demonstrate that He “of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write” had the Fulfiller of the ancient prophecies in Christ. This is why the word “fulfilled” occurs in Matthew fifteen times, and why there are more quotations from the Old Testament in his Gospel than in the remaining three added together.The book is, therefore, full of allusions to passages of the Old Testament which the book interprets as predicting and foreshadowing Jesus’ life and mission. This Gospel contains no fewer than sixty-five references to the Old Testament, forty-three of these being direct verbal citations.

    There is a strikingly Jewish character and coloring of this Gospel. This is seen in the facts which it selects, the points to which it gives prominence, the cast of thought and phraseology (especially the Old Testament passages cited), all testify of the Jewish point of view from which it was written and to which it was directed.This is clear even from the beginning, where Matthew begins his gospel with the genealogy of the Lord – going back to Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people, through King David, Israel’s greatest king. He shows that Jesus is part of Israel’s history, as well as part of God’s plan for the mission to the Gentiles, a plan already implied in that history. To enforce this point, Matthew lists from among Jesus’ ancestors who evoke Israel’s rich Old Testament heritage, four Gentile women who came to participate in that heritage. Matthew is declaring to his Jewish readers that the Gentiles were never an afterthought in God’s plan but had been part of his work in history from the beginning.

    In calling Jesus the “Son of David,” Matthew gives Him the title of the rightful heir to Israel’s throne (as in Jer 23:5; 33:15), whereas in calling Him the “Son of Abraham” is especially significant for the Jews and later chapters further portray Jesus as Israel’s representative Who can communicate Abraham’s promised blessings to his people, the epitome of its history (for example, 2:15; 4:2). To a Jewish reader, accordingly, these naturally would be the two great starting-points of any true genealogy of the promised Messiah. By contrast in presenting Jesus as the great Servant, Mark gives no genealogy at all, because a servant’s lineage is irrelevant. Luke, in presenting Jesus as the Son of Man, His genealogy back to the first man, Adam, whereas in delineating Jesus as the eternal Son of God, John therefore gives no human genealogy or birth and childhood narratives.

    Matthew’s Account can be divided into its four structurally distinct sections: Two introductory sections; the main section, which can be further broken into five distinct discourse sections, each with a narrative component followed by a long discourse of Jesus; and finally, the Passion and Resurrection section. He presents the Messiah King who is revealed, the King who is rejected, and the King who will return. This King’s ancestry is traced, His birth causing troubled to an earthly King, He was given royal gifts from the east, His kingdom is heralded, and He is even offered the earthly kingdoms in a temptation. Many parables portray the mysteries of His kingdom and one identifies Him with a king’s son. After making a royal entry into Jerusalem, He predicts His future reign, and He claims dominion over the angels in heaven and that all authority has been given to Him in both heaven and earth (28:18).

    However, in Matthew we see a unique focus on the rejection of Jesus as King. From the beginning, Christ is pictured outside of Jerusalem and we see the blindness and indifference of the Jews to the presence of their Messiah. The personal attacks on His character and claims are more bitter and vile than in any other gospel. Even, the numerical place of Matthew in the Divine library as the fortieth book speaks of the testing of the nation of Israel in the place of probation,by the presence of Jehovah in their midst. Despite this rejection, Matthew shows Him as the King who will ultimately return to judge and to rule and the earth “will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory” (24:30) in glory and in judgment (25:31-33).

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