The Essence of The Gospel (1 John 1:1-4)

The Essence of The Gospel (1 John 1:1-4)


I.) Contending for The Gospel

We come again to the beginning of John’s epistle. Last week we considered the purpose of his letter and the importance of us making certain about Christ’s choosing and calling us.[1] The necessity of us as new creatures in Christ to examine ourselves to see whether Christ is at work in us for His good pleasure.[2] All who walk away seeing Christ doing a sanctifying work in their life according to God’s definition of good fruit, will:

“Know that you have eternal life…that the Son of God has come, and given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true…so that our joy may be made complete.”[3]

Tonight we will consider why John would give believers in Asia Minor a biblical basis to examine themselves and assure them of their salvation. In other words we are going to discuss the reason he took on such a purpose. The reason ultimately reveals that the essence of the gospel was at stake.


II.) The Letter from The One Whom Jesus Loved

Now, John the Apostle does not name himself as the author of this letter, so some wrongly conclude he did not write it. There are three reasons we should assume that John, the brother of James and the disciple whom Jesus loved, is in fact the writer:[4]

The first reason is that the church has consistently maintained that John is its author. Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John the apostle, credits him as the writer.[5] Eusebius, who was a church historian in the 4th Century, said this:

“But of the writings of John, not only his gospel, but also the former epistles, has been accepted without dispute both now and in ancient times.”[6]

The second reason is the author claims to be a very close follower of Jesus Christ:

“What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands concerning the Word of Life.”[7]

The Word of Life is Jesus Christ.

The third reason is the similarities between the gospel of John and this letter. I will simply just give you how each one begins an ends.

“(Gospel) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth…(Epistle) What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life.”[8]

“(Gospel) These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name…(Epistle)These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”[9]


III.) The Heresy of Gnosticism

John wrote his gospel so that people may be saved, and he wrote his epistle so that those who are saved are assured of their salvation in Jesus Christ. The reason he took on such a purpose was because Gnostic heresy had crept into the church and distorted the gospel which both saves and sanctifies sinners.

Gnosticism is the result of Christianity syncretizing with Jewish mysticism and Greek philosophy. Gnostics taught that the spirit was good, and that all matter was evil, which drew them to grossly distort the gospel by denying the incarnation of Christ.

Docetists taught that Jesus did not have a real, physical body; it only appeared to be real. Cerinthus taught that the Christ Spirit descended on the man Jesus at His baptism but left Him before the crucifixion. In other words, Jesus was not God at His birth or His crucifixion. Both views undermine Christ’s atoning work. If Christ did not have a real physical body He could not die in the place of man. If Christ were not God on the cross, His blood is of no use to us because it was not  the blood of an infinite and eternal being. The reason one Man’s death can atone for the sins of the world is because that Man was God in the flesh. To be the sufficient sacrifice for our sin Christ had to be truly God and man when He suffered and died.

Gnostics also touted secret knowledge and upheld a god who could only be known by the spiritually elite, and not the common people. Only those who could attain to the upper echelons of spirituality could experience true genuine fellowship with God.

John opens his letter by delivering a fatal blow to Gnostic heresy in one fell swoop:

“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life— and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”[10]


IV.) Firsthand Experience with Emmanuel

The first thing John makes clear is that he is not writing about a Man who became God for a time. He is talking about the eternal Word of Life who has always been “from the beginning.”

This statement stresses the eternality of Christ, and refutes the idea that Jesus was only a man until the Christ Spirit came upon Him:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”[11]

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”[12]

“Before Abraham was, I AM…”[13]

“I am the Alpha and Omega…who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”[14]

The second thing John makes clear is that he is not writing about a Man that merely appeared real:

“What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life.”

In other words, “The One Who is the image of the invisible God, and the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature; He took on flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory.[15] When I read John say this, the Apostle Peter’s words echo in the back ground:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”[16]

Look at how John describes his interaction with the Word of Life who was from the beginning:

“We have heard…We have seen with our eyes…We beheld…Our hands handled.”

This was not some transcendent spiritual experience, or some Phantom of the Gnostics; the Word of Life was tangible:

“Although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”[17]

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”[18]

“They shall call His name Emmanuel…God with us.”[19]

John was an eyewitness of Him.

3.) There is certainly a progression of interaction here when he says:

“What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled.”

John is saying that he heard Him, but sometimes we are mistaken by what we hear and rely upon sight to confirm or deny:

“We have heard…We have seen with our eyes…”

John explains that it was not just their ears that perceived the Word of life, but their eyes as well. If we are honest, sometimes we are mistaken not only by what we here, but by what we see as well, so John says:

“We beheld…”

This is not a repetition; it is describing their scrutinizing of Jesus Christ who they had both heard and seen. To behold something is to look upon it attentively and closely examine it. The Apostles did not simply examine the Word of Life with their sight, but John says:

“Our hands handled…”

John himself rested his head upon Christ at the last supper.[20] After the resurrection Jesus appeared to the disciples and they thought they saw a spirit but He said:

“See my hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see it.”[21]

Jesus was not an apparition; He is flesh and bone and He is from the beginning. Phillips Brooks said:

“Jesus Christ, the condescension of divinity, and the exultation of humanity.”


V.) Made Known to be Made Known

The next thing John declares is that Jesus Christ is not hidden in a place where only the spiritually elite of the upper echelon can find Him. Jesus Christ, the Word of Life from the beginning:

“Was manifested…”

For Jesus to be manifested means for Jesus to make Himself known. The God of Christianity is not distant like the god of Gnosticism; rather He is intimate with His creation and wants to be known by it:

“He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth…not wishing for any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”[22]

When man fell into sin and hid from God, He alone was the One who was searching for man; He alone was the One crying out in the garden, “Where are you?”[23] It was Christ who came to seek and to save that which was lost; it was Christ who sought those who were not seeking Him.[24]

John, speaking about the life which was with the Father and was manifested to them says:

“We have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you.”

God made Himself known to them so that they in turn may make Him known among the world:

“He said to them, ‘Go and preach the gospel to all creation.’”[25]

“You shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”[26]

“Teach Me, crucified and risen again!”[27]


VI.) The Essence of The Gospel

This brings us to the crescendo of the introduction to the letter of 1 John. The essence of the gospel lies before you:

“What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”[28]

The gospel does not concern itself with getting people into heaven; it concerns itself with reconciling people to the Living God:

“Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

This fellowship is one of great intimacy and communion.

When the gospel is properly taught, it does not confront people with the question:

Q.) Do you want to go to heaven when you die?

It confronts them with the questions:

Q.) Do you want to be made right before the Holy God whom you have sinned against, and from whose glory you have fallen short?

Q.) Do you realize you are cutoff from Life, and are destined to perish forever under His wrath?

Q.) Do you want to be saved?

Q.) Do you want to be reconciled to Him?

Q.) Do you want to be untied to Him?

The gospel beckons a person to be united to the Word of Life who is with the Father. Jesus says this in His high priestly prayer:

“Father, the hour has come; glorify Thy Son, that the Son may glorify Thee, even as Thou gavest Him authority over all mankind, that to all whom Thou hast given Him, He may give eternal life. And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent…Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us.”[29]

“Because I live, you shall live also. In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.”[30]

Eternal life is to know the Father and His Son Jesus Christ and being eternally joined to God to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. In order for this unity with God to be possible, peace between God and man needed to be restored. In order for that peace to be restored there needed to be a mediator that could represent both parties. This mediator needed to be one who could fully represent God and fully represent man. The Scripture is clear:

“There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”[31]

“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”[32]

 “Since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.”[33]

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”[34]

Jesus declared His exclusivity when He said:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life no one comes to the Father but through Me.”[35]


VII.) Contend For and Proclaim The Christ

John opens his letter by saying:

“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life— and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”[36]

He did not just hear and see The Way The Truth and The Life, he beheld His glory and touched Him. He watched as Thomas place his finger into the side of the resurrected Christ.[37] Remember what Jesus said to them regarding His death, burial, and resurrection:

“After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.”

In other words, “My resurrection will prove to you that your fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

We must ask ourselves:

Q.) What is John doing here?

A.) He is contending for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.[38]

The Gnostics were distorting the gospel into something that was incapable of saving people from their sin and reconciling them back to God. He refutes their teaching by stating that Jesus is God in the flesh and all who come through Him will be united to God.

The response of a soul that knows they have true genuine fellowship with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ is overflowing joy; a “joy made complete.” It was John Calvin who said:

“The Son of God became the Son of man that the sinful sons of men might become the sons of God.”

God has made Himself known to us, and has commissioned us to make Him known to others that they too may partake of His eternal life. Proclaim Him so that sinful sons of men may become the sons of God, and their joy be made complete.


[1] 2 Peter 1:10

[2] 2 Corinthians 13:5; Philippians 1:6; 2:12-13

[3] 1 John 1:4; 5:13,20

[4] John 21:20

[5] The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1-3 John, John MacArthur; Page 3

[6] Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius; 3.24

[7] 1 John 1:1

[8] John 1:1,14; 1 John 1:1

[9] John 20:31; 1 John 5:13

[10] 1 John 1:1-3

[11] Hebrews 13:8

[12] John 1:1-2

[13] John 8:58

[14] Revelation 1:8-18

[15] Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3; John 1:14

[16] 2 Peter 1:16

[17] 2 Philippians 2:6-7

[18] Isaiah 9:6

[19] Matthew 1:23

[20] John 21:20

[21] Luke 24:39

[22] 1 Timothy 2:4;

[23] Genesis 3:1-9

[24] Matthew 18:11; Luke 19:10

[25] Mark 16:15

[26] Acts 1:8b

[27] Luke 24:44-49

[28] 1 John 1:1-3

[29] John 17:1-3,21

[30] John 14:19b-20

[31] 1 Timothy 2:5

[32] Philippians 2:8

[33] Hebrews 2:14

[34] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[35] John 14:6

[36] 1 John 1:1-3

[37] John

[38] Jude 3

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