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1 John 1:1 by Robert Dean
Series:1st John (2000)
Duration:1 hr 3 mins 10 secs

Kosmic vs. Biblical Spirituality; 1 John 1:1


Since the fall of man in Genesis 3 the human race has been continuously under assault. We have been under assault because of our involvement as extensions to the angelic conflict. As part of that Satan has a plethora of concepts, philosophies, religions, ideas, rationales, which he continuously promotes among the human race in order to deceive mankind, to blind our minds. That involves thought, ideas, beliefs, and Satan is involved in blinding our minds to captivate the human race and to destroy the witness of believers. John writes this first epistle to church age believers who are threatened with false teaching coming from those who at one time had been associated with the apostles and with truth, those who had at one time had known doctrine and were squared away doctrinally and are now teaching pseudo systems of spirituality which threatens the spiritual life of these believers to whom John is writing.

There are a lot of parallels to what was being taught in that day in terms of false doctrine and what is being taught today. This comes under the general category for the most part of the cosmic system. Christians throughout the church age have been under assault from the outside and from the inside—internally within the church. The external assault that come from the world or the cosmic system are seen mirrored and reflected back and echoed by strange doctrines, new theological developments and concepts that are promoted within Christianity and under the guise of spirituality, Christianity and the truth. So it is vital for Christians to be able to spot these deceptions so that we are not taken in by false doctrine, so that we are not distracted from the spiritual life, and so that our fellowship is not broken. The main idea in 1 John is the concept of fellowship and the one thing that comes across that just ought to smash every modern Christian right between the eyes is that John is saying that it is false belief that that breaks fellowship with God, not simply wrong behaviour. John's emphasis throughout this epistle is going to be more on the wrong beliefs that produce wrong behaviour than the wrong behaviour or sin itself.

So for believers in the church age we are assaulted from the outside and from the inside. The outside assault comes from what the Bible calls the world. The Greek word for world is kosmos [kosmoj] and it has to do with an orderly systematic arrangement of something. God is looking at this from the fact that Satan has various systems of pseudo-truth that he uses to influence, distract and deceive the human race. This is a major theme in the first epistle of John. In 1 John 2:15 John writes NASB "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Worldliness is ideological, it has to do with the way we think. That, of course, culminates in certain actions but the emphasis is kosmos is thinking. [16] "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. [17] The world is passing away, and {also} its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever." In 1 John 3:13 he writes NASB "Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you." This emphasises the fact as a believer we are going to be in conflict with cosmic thinking. It is a war. What we think is antithetical to what the world thinks. In James 3:13-15 worldly thinking is identified as earthly, natural [yuxikoj]—related to the soulish man not the spiritual man—and demonic, i.e. it is the same kind of thinking that Satan has, it is rooted and grounded in arrogance. There is going to be a battle, there is a conflict that rages between the way a Christian is supposed to think and the way the world wants us to think. 1 John 4:5 NASB "They are from the world; therefore they speak {as} from the world, and the world listens to them."

It is important for us as believers to be able to identify worldly concepts, the basic ideological trends of our age. First of all, mysticism. Mysticism is the idea that ultimate knowledge and authority, how I know what is true, is confirmed by my intuition, that somehow I know it when I hear it, I will intuitively grasp it; I know that this is God because of my experience. The problem with mysticism is that not once in history has God ever acted in a way that is not confirmable and verifiable by external data. So if people say God spoke to them, how do they know it was God? Whenever God spoke to the prophets in the Old Testament He gave them a sign by which they would know that He had indeed spoken in space-time history. It wasn't just liver-quiver. Mysticism is the core concept underlying the entire realm and web of ideas that has come to be known as new age thinking. Then there is secularism, humanism, and rationalism. Then there is the influence of moral relativism, that there are no absolutes. Pragmatism, a deadly infection in Christianity: what works must be right, e.g. if I go out and use whatever techniques I can come up with and I build a church of 5000 it must be the work of God. Just because it works doesn't make it right. A right thing done in a wrong way is never right. Then in our culture as a whole we have to deal with postmodern thinking. Postmodernism is basically the idea of empiricism and rationalism that grew out of the enlightenment, and is a rejection of rationalism and everything that the enlightenment in the 19th century stood for, and so the path to truth is through inner impression, experience, there is no truth, everybody has their own truth and every truth is equal—that is called multiculturalism and its emphasis is on cultural diversity. Postmodernism goes hand in hand with mysticism and the new age movement. All of these external forces pressure the church so that there are developments of all kinds of new concepts of the spiritual life and Christianity.

A definition from Boston University: "We could really see religion as the modern world adapting faith as it sees fit…" It is conforming to the world, the cosmic system adapting faith it is, not doctrine transforming the world. "… scaling back its dogmatic edges and replacing intolerance with flexibility…" Intolerance now is juxtaposed to flexibility; intolerance is now the great, horrible sin in our modern society; it has shifted its meaning from  meaning that you will allow someone have another view and respect their view without attacking them but you don't affirm their view. In the modern definition of intolerance to be tolerant you not only have to allow somebody to have an alternate view but you have to approve of it. If you don't approve of it as well then you are intolerant. Replacing intolerance with flexibility means everything can be right. "… The result is religion lite, something strongly influenced by the needs of the self. The "needs of the self" is the dominant force in the spirituality boom. People are looking at the role that spirituality can play in making them a better, more effective and more fulfilled person…" Psychologised religion!

"Jesus scholar" (the group of scholars who get together once a year with their razor blades and go through the Gospels and try to decide which verses were actually spoken by Jesus—about five or six verse so far, the rest were just invented by the apostles!) states: "We live in a time when the traditional truth claims of religion are deeply suspect. People maybe too aware of the relativity of everything, that every statement of truth is ultimately a human product conditioned by various historical contexts." This is as postmodern a statement as you can find! What he is saying is that every statement of truth isn't truth, it is just something conditioned by the environment at that time. We can ask the question, then: is that statement true? Hasn't his statement been conditioned? If it has been it is a meaningless statement, so why did he open his mouth? What we are pointing out is that the human viewpoint position ultimately reduces to logical inconsistencies, fallacies, and it doesn't work in the real world. For him to utter a statement he has to deny the basic presuppositions of his statement. He goes on to say: "The danger of such an approach (the modern approach of spirituality) is it produces a spirituality mainly associated with the needs and satisfactions of the individual. Attaining a certain level of spiritual awareness, then, becomes a kind of consumer item: 'I've got what I want materially and spirituality too.'" What it leads to is spiritual narcism.

This is not new, the same kinds of things were going on in the ancient world at the time that John wrote this epistle, and what was happening was that there were believers who had come out from their apostolic association, who had been taught the truth and had believed the truth but no longer taught the truth. They had succumbed to the ideas, the thought world that surrounded them. The cosmic system is like this envelope that we live in, like water is to a fish and air is to us. We live in air, we don't see it or fell it, are never aware of it, but it surrounds us and is part of everything that we do. That is the way the ideas in the cosmic system are. We all grew up in a situation where we were raised, educated and influenced by cosmic thinking. We pick up on these things because they are attractive to our sin nature and we use them because they make life work. The two common assumptions that underlie all of this sort of deception are, first of all, that doctrine really doesn't work, it really can't help us solve our problems, and that if we really want to solve our problems we have to have a more warm, nurturing, caring emotional environment where we relate to other people. But that is not what the Bible says. The Bible says it starts with doctrine. That is the key. Belief affects the behaviour, not the other way around. The second assumption is the concept that doctrine isn't sufficient, it's not enough, that doctrine alone isn't what I need to solve the problems in my life, I need something more.

So the epistle of John hits us with this strong emphasis on the reality of doctrinal absolutes: that we can know certain things and they are true, and the solution to the problems in life are based on the absolute truth of God's Word. He further goes on to say that fellowship with the apostles is based on doctrinal agreement with the apostles. Fellowship with the apostles is based on agreement with their doctrine. If you can't have fellowship with the apostles you can't have fellowship with Christ. That is the logic. The only way to have fellowship with Christ is to have right doctrine; wrong doctrine means no fellowship. It is not just behaviour, it is belief, and that is what was being attacked at that time. 

We must understand what John means by fellowship. It is not a matter of social interaction, it is not a matter of having fun times, dinner together, going out and having a good time or just simply enjoying good conversation with other believers. That is not what the Bible means by fellowship. What the Bible means by fellowship is the behaviour and activity that is specifically centred and under girded by doctrine, by a relationship with Christ where even the subject of conversation is doctrinal. Over against society that is immersed in relativism John asserts that we can know things absolutely, and that gives us confidence. Thirty-six time John uses one of the two Greek words for knowledge. So a major theme in the epistle is on what we know, and this then gives us confidence. Four times John asserts that we can have confidence is our knowledge. 1 John 2:28 NASB "Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming." 1 John 3:21 NASB "Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God." "Heart" is the mental function of our soul where doctrine resides, and if the doctrine doesn't condemn us we can have confidence before God. 1 John 4:17 NASB "By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world." 1 John 5:14 NASB "This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us." Therefore as believers we can know certain things that are true and have confidence in that knowledge. The Bible, biblical truth, is not based on the subjective, shifting sands of subjective impressions, experiences, emotions, psychological theories or sociological methods, but on the correct understanding of God's Word. John is saying that right belief produces right behaviour which culminates in maximum happiness. Joy is the end product of the spiritual life. But to get to that point we have to start with right belief that then produces right behaviour, and only then will we ever get to the goal of having the maximum happiness that Jesus Christ promised.

Reduced to a formula: The filling of the Spirit + knowledge of doctrine + application of doctrine = maximum happiness. That is the only way we can get to stability, contentment and maximum joy in life. But if it stops with knowledge of doctrine and it never eventuates in changed thinking and changed behaviour then all it is is an intellectual trip which is tantamount to Gnosticism.

We have to understand the purpose for this epistle. There are four purpose statements in the epistle. The first is 1 John 1:4 NASB "These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete." What we will see as we go through our verse by verse analysis is that each purpose statement comes at the conclusion of that section. Fellowship and the message of eternal life is the subject of the first three verses, and he is writing that so that our joy may be complete. The next purpose statement is 1 John 2:1 NASB "My little children, I am writing these things [1:5-10] to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." The next purpose statement is 1 John 2:26 NASB "These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you." There is a warning to those in this epistle to those who have "gone out from us but were not of us" and who were deceptive. That statement governs the section from 2:18-2:24. The last purpose statement, which relates to salvation and knowing that we are saved, only covers the section from 5:6-5:12. 

One of the major problems that John is dealing with in this epistle is that there is opposition. There is a threat to the congregation. They are being threatened by false teachers and false doctrines that if they follow those false doctrines  it will break their fellowship with the apostles because it will be a false doctrinal system. What we see here is the seed of what later became in the Roman Catholic church apostolic succession. What John is saying is that apostolic succession is based on truth. If you don't have apostolic truth there is no apostolic succession. Apostolic succession in the first three centuries of the church was a succession of doctrine, an agreement with apostolic doctrine, not the idea that one man put his hand on the other and passed it on from person to person. That became the aberration and it probably had its roots in the pre-Gnostic heresy that we begin to see as a problem here in 1 John.

Who were the opponents, the adversaries? Who were the defectors who now threaten the stability of the church? One solution has been a well-known pagan at that time by the name of Cerinthus. He was born in Egypt and was raised as a Jew, and he was the leader of a group of Christians who had Gnostic tendencies. Gnosticism is not really a problem yet; Doceticism is just beginning. The earliest literature we have documenting Gnosticism comes from about 150 AD. 1 John was written about 85-90 AD. So Gnosticism does really come on the scene as a full-blown system for another fifty or sixty years. But in the context of the ancient world there are a lot of ideas floating around that later come together into the Gnostic system. So it is not really correct to say that the problem that John is dealing with here is Gnosticism or Docetism because they haven't really developed. But certainly some of the ideas in those systems were prevalent at this time. Cerinthus was so hostile to John that Eusebius tells the story that at one time John was in a bath house in Ephesus and learned that Cerinthus was in there, and John got up and ran out screaming the building would collapse because the enemy of truth was inside. We don't know if that is true or not but that is the legend. Cerinthus is viewed as a major opponent here but what we know of Cerinthus and what he taught does not completely stack up with what John emphasises in 1 John. Cerinthus denied the virgin birth—typical of Gnosticism. Gnosticism rejects the material presence of God. Docetism means to appear; Jesus didn't really take on flesh, He just appeared to. All of this comes out of a background of Platonism where material things, matter, is evil and the spirit is good. So by definition God could not become flesh because if God became a man with physical properties he would become tainted with sin; if God suffered, then He couldn't be God. Therefore it had to be just an appearance and so God doesn't really become flesh. So there is an attack on the incarnation, the virgin conception and birth. Their idea was that Jesus was just the most prudent, wise teacher of all time. He believed that Christ's spirit descended on Him at His baptism and then departed from Jesus during His time in Gethsemane, so that the human Jesus died but Christ never suffered and never was there during the growing up period of Jesus' life.

John does emphasise some doctrines that relate to that. He emphasises that Jesus is the Son of God, which is the title of His deity. He emphasises that Jesus was incarnate and He was Christ in human flesh from the virgin birth. The point of all of this is that the system that comes along and says that the spirit of Christ just came on Jesus during those three years of His ministry is a denier of the fact that the entire life of Christ was a life of perfection which qualified Him to go to the cross. Therefore it is a subtle attack on the sufficiency of Christ because we know that Jesus grew and matured and handled all the problems of life. He was sinless but He did it all through the filling of God the Holy Spirit which sets the precedent for the spiritual life of the church age. If He is not fully God and is just some spirit that descended on Him for His ministry and wasn't there when He suffered on the cross, then Jesus couldn't be setting the precedent for the spiritual life in the church age. There is no qualification for Him to go to the cross and all that happens on the cross is a human being dies and there is no deity present, so therefore there is no salvation. So we see the assault is very subtle.

When we look at this epistle there ate ten things that are denied by the false teachers.

  1. They denied a connection between behaviour and fellowship with God. It doesn't matter what I do, as long as I confess my sins I'm in fellowship. The point of the Christian life, however, is to stay in fellowship. There are the antinomians who deny any connection between behaviour and fellowship: 1:6; 2:29; 3:6, 10.
  2. They denied the idea of personal sin and the sin nature. "They say we have no sin," John 1:8-10.
  3. They denied the reality of Christ's sufferings on the cross to propitiate the righteousness and justice of God.
  4. They denied the need to obey the commandments of Scripture, which is ultimately a rejection of the authority of Christ in the every-day life of the believer.
  5. They denied the importance of application of doctrine beyond just a certain academic intellectual or idealised level, 2:6. That was typical of Gnosticism.
  6. They denied the mandate to love one another, 2:9.
  7. They denied the need to confess sin for restoration of fellowship and filling of the Holy Spirit.
  8. The denied the necessity of identifying and removing human viewpoint thinking from the soul and replacing it with divine viewpoint doctrine, 2:15-17.
  9. They denied that Jesus was the Messiah, the eternal second person of the Trinity, 2:2, 21; 5:15.
  10. They denied the reality of the incarnation in 4:2.

The problem with denying the reality of the incarnation is that in the incarnation Jesus Christ establishes the precedent for living the spiritual life. it is in the incarnation that Jesus Christ demonstrates eight of the ten stress-busters. He doesn't have to demonstrate confession because he never sinned. He showed that through the filling of the Holy Spirit man can face and surmount any adversity or problem in life. That is the sufficiency of doctrine. If you reject the incarnation then basically what you are doing is attacking the foundation not only for salvation but for the entire spiritual life. That is why the thrust of 1 John is not about salvation, it is about the spiritual life.