Thursday, April 05, 2007

1 John 1:8-10 --- Who, What, Why?

8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

Who was John writing to? He was writing to “Christians” in the churches of Asia (modern day Turkey). What was going on at this time? What were the issues facing the early church? The primary threat to the church was Gnosticism. One of this early heretical movement’s ideas was that the flesh was evil and the spirit was good. When they took this to the extreme they believed that whatever the flesh was engaged in didn’t matter because only what the spirit did mattered. Therefore, they did not see the sinful actions of their bodies as being true sin. The actions of the flesh didn’t matter because the flesh didn’t have anything to do with the spirit or the person’s relationship with God.

This brings us back to 1 John. Why did John write these passages? Let’s interpret 1 John 8-10 with this context and the reality that many “Christians” were being influenced by Gnostic thought were buying to the heresy. The Gnostics were claiming to be without sin because of their belief that what the body/flesh did wasn’t a factor in their relationship with God. Therefore, John in verse 8 clearly states that “if they claim to be without sin, they deceive themselves and the truth is not in them”. And in verse 10 he further underscores the danger of following the Gnostic belief by stating that “if we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives”.

Interpreting and studying these verses in the context of the author, audience, and circumstances sheds light onto these passages and why John would be making these statements to Christians. Some use these verses to argue that all Christians still sin and that it is a natural aspect of a Christian’s life. In context, this does not appear to be the point that John is trying to make or the issue he is attempting to address. In fact, John later states in 1 John 3:6 that “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him”. So, it does not correlate that John is making the argument in chapter 1 that all Christians continue to be bound by sin. Rather, he is urging Christians to not believe the Gnostic lies that the sin of the flesh is not sin and to instead get into the light and stop sinning.

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