NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson LXXIII) 03/17/21
A. B. Earle (1812-1895), an American Baptist evangelist shares a story about the time he conducted evangelistic services in San Jose, California. He relates the story of a well-known and highly respected gentleman in the city. He founded a local college and applauded for his efforts. At the request of his wife, he came to converse with Earle on the subject of religion. The man said: I will state to you my feelings, then you can give me the proper advice. You see, I believe in God, the Father Almighty, but do not, and cannot, believe in the Son, that is in Jesus. Now sir, what am I to do.
“You will be lost forever unless there can be a change,” replied Earle. He congratulated him for believing in God the Father. But there is no other name under heaven given to people to be born-again, but Jesus. So, there was no possible hope for this gentleman unless he changed his views. But the man was adamant. He never believed in the Son of God and had no plans to start now. Earle told him that settled question as long as he felt that way. Earle informed the man, “The Father has no blood to shed for you, and without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission of sin.”
That’s when Earle asked him if he would kneel and pray with him. Yes, he said, I will pray to the Father. It was a chilly prayer. Earle said to the man that his case was not hopeless. After a little further conversation, he asked him if he would agree not to grieve the Holy Spirit? The man nodded and said he pledged not to resist the Spirit on purpose. Earle prayed with him that the Spirit would reveal Jesus to him.
About three days later, the man knelt and offered this prayer: “O Lord, I promised that I would not resist the Holy Spirit, and He has melted my heart, and I have had a glimpse of Jesus.” A few days later, he stood before a great crowd and made this statement: “Ten days ago, I was nothing more than an infidel, but now I have sweetly embraced Jesus as my Savior.” While it is true that no one can find or come to the Anointed One, except by the Holy Spirit, it is equally valid that if we resist Him, we will be lost forever.
William Kelly (1822-1888) points out that there is something great significance in the creation of humanity. Satan’s work is to make them feel like a lowly creature here on earth, shutting their eyes to all that is coming and thus denying God’s Word and judgment. Many no doubt are experiencing varying degrees of unfaithfulness, especially in our day. Still, we may assume that the first step is denying Scriptures as God’s Word. If it is not outright rejecting the Anointed One in the preached Gospel, then lowering themselves to the level of an animal. That way, there is no reason to love heaven or fear hell. It will remain that way throughout the ever-darkening clouds of faithlessness. But this also carries the danger of presumption, for the flesh will abuse anything and everything. Most of all, the flesh strives to pervert grace and likes to do so unless a person becomes a new creation. And even where there is that nature, the believer is only kept right by dependence upon God in the faith of the Anointed One’s work.
Daniel Steele (1824-1914) notes that verse seven clarifies verse eight, showing that sins before the new birth are used in both passages and not believer’s daily sins. The Gnostics who professed to be Christians denied the fact of past sin. Hence, if they dismissed past sinful acts, they could deny that they had sin. To “have no sin” refers to a sinless state. The whole context of these verses shows that both refer to sin. It includes those committed before regeneration and those done while in a backslidden condition. As such, they’ve lost their kinship with God. In so doing, they also cease to grow into His likeness.
When it comes to how we make Him a liar, says Steele, it is clear that John does not include himself in this word “we,” but he means “anyone” or “they who.” John uses the editorial “we,” as James does, in which he does not mean that he is guilty of moral “offenses,” nor that he is a horse trainer, nor that he blesses God and at the same time curses people, nor that he should “receive the greater condemnation.” And when it comes to the accusation, “His word is not in us.” John does not include himself or faithful Christians in the word “us.” What John does mean is that God’s word is not in anyone who accuses Him of being a liar by denying that they never did sin, since God has said that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
Robert Cameron (1839-1904) gives us this scenario: At the last supper, the Apostles had just bathed and were clean. As they passed from the place of bathing to the Passover feast, dust accumulated on their feet, and not until they washed were clean again. When we believe in the Anointed One, we are washed, justified, and sanctified. It does not need repeating. But when we contract defilement in our daily walk, it must be removed, for God wants us to be whiter than snow. Jesus is now “girded with the towel” and present with the water to remove whatever soils the soul. This washing of the feet and cleansing of the walk results from confession.
Cameron adds that there is not the remotest allusion to the modern “confessional booth” in this passage. The sin is against God, we make our confession to God, and then forgiveness will come from God through His Son, Jesus the Anointed One. Moreover, to confess is to say the same thing back to God, to echo from our hearts what He utters in His Word. He declares that we have sinned – identifies the sin – we just own the truthfulness of what He says. It is a scriptural confession. Cameron seems to be a bit more poetic than practical in comparing washing the saint’s feet to removing sins committed as believers. First, believers wash the feet of other believers. There is no confession involved; it is a sign of humility and service. But it does allow for us to see how washing the dust off one’s feet before entering our, or someone else’s, house and illustrate having been forgiven for all unrighteousness and cleansed by the blood of the Lamb is helpful before we enter God’s house.
Ernst Dryander (1843-1922) recalls that we have been born and bred up in an atmosphere of Christianity. We live amid Christian surroundings, and our minds are, more or less, impregnated with Christian ideas. We attend Divine services; we, no doubt, offer up our private prayers at home, and, to a certain extent, we respond to the demands of Christian morality. That, generally speaking, is the sum and substance of our religion. But we do not realize that, after all, this sample of Christian possession does not constitute more than a form of Christianity, not its essence; only the appearance, not the reality; only the husk, not the kernel.
Herein lies that terrible weakness of the Christian position, says Drylander. Those who look beneath the surface can see it on every side and at every turn. Inward truth is lacking, and, therefore, also the capacity for expressing it in action. But the lack of this discriminating quality drags with it a still more dangerous want, that of individual sincerity – genuine faith. Does the severe moral criticism in this truth point to any of us? Do we, in our religion, lack that inner genuineness and integrity without which the world can’t look with respect upon Christianity and those who profess it? Are our piety and inner life wanting in that sincerity without which it is impossible to see God?
Whatever the answers to these questions may be, John’s words point to this danger, which has constantly threatened Christians. Moreover, they urge us to carefully consider the question, whether this very danger is not present with us now. The central point of our passage is the announcement that “God is Light,” by what we have seen and heard (namely, of the manifested Word of Life) that we declare to you. It is what John wrote in the opening words of his Epistle, and now he tells us what he heard. It is a short, simple message, containing all that is needful for us in examining the mentioned danger of becoming disconnected from God.
Charles Gore (1853-1932) says that the object of this stern reminder from the Apostle John is twofold. We should cease to sin and that, when we fail and commit sin, we should know where the remedy lies. We cannot redeem ourselves from sin. But we are not alone as mere individuals guilty before God. We have One near us to speak to the Father for us – Jesus the Anointed One, who, being human like us, is perfectly righteous, free from all taint of sin; and it is to Him, we belong. He, then, is the propitiation for our sins. In Him—by His mediation—we are set free from our sins to begin again. And He is the answer, not only for us, not merely for any class among humanity, but the whole world. All alike can find the same forgiveness and the same freedom in Him.
But to deal with it for the Anointed One’s sake – to be able to feel the assurance of His support – we must belong to Him, says Gore. We must know Him. It is no mechanical process. How, then, are we to “know that we know him”? There is only one ground of assurance – faithful obedience to His commandments. To profess to belong to Him or to know Him without a life of actual submission is to show ourselves liars who are alien to the truth. But the willingness to practice His Word or teaching is the fulfillment in us of the love of God. It is actually to abide in the Anointed One – share His life and know that we share it. And no one can claim to share His life who does not live as He lived.
 A. B. Earle, Incidents Used… In His Meetings, published in 1888
 Kelly, William: An Exposition of the Epistles of John the Apostle, op. cit., pp. 48–49
 James 3:1-3, 9
 Steele, Daniel: op. cit., pp. 16–17
 Psalm 51:6-7; Isaiah 1:18
 John 13:4-5
 Cameron, Robert, The First Epistle of John, or, God Revealed in Life, Light, and Love, Philadelphia: A. J. Rowland, 1899, pp. 31–32
 John 13:14
 Dryander, Ernst. A Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John in the form of addresses, Translated by W. O. E. Österley, Ed, London: Elliot Stock, 1899, pp. 14–16
 Gore, C. (1920). The Epistles of St. John,, op. cit., pp. 72–73