Enjoying the Life That is Real (preaching resource for Easter 2, 4/7/24)

This post exegetes 1 John 1:1-2:6, providing context for the 4/7/24 (Easter 2) RCL Epistle reading. This exegesis draws on commentary from Warren Wiersbe ("Bible Expository Commentary"), Stephen Smalley ("Word Biblical Commentary") and Leon Morris ("New Bible Commentary").

"Christ with His Disciples" by Mironov (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)


The New Testament epistle known as 1 John is probably a written sermon in which the elderly apostle John addresses the deep longing in every human heart for what is real —what truly satisfies.  Sadly, many try to fill this longing with things that are transitory—wealth, thrills, power, achievement and even religious knowledge and experience.  Though none of these are wrong of themselves, they do not bring lasting satisfaction.  They are like biting into cotton candy—a quick rush, followed by a mouthful of nothing!  Through his personal experience, John has discovered true satisfaction, not in things or in thrills, but in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God who, in himself, is the life that is real.  

Facts about the real life (1:1-4)

In 1 John 1:1-4,  John starts by sharing three vital facts about this real life and our part in it: it is a revelation to be received, a life to be experienced, and an identity to be expressed. 

1. A revelation to be received (1:1)

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

To speak of the life that is real in this letter, John uses certain key words, including appear. He writes that, “the life appeared” (1 John 1:2). This life was not something we discovered. No, it appears to us—it is revealed (NRSV). And that revelation appears to us in several ways: In the creation, though creation alone cannot tell the full story. Also in Scripture, though the inspired written revelation only points to, not substitutes for, the ultimate revelation which has appeared to us—that revelation is a who not a what. It is Jesus Christ who is God’s preeminent “Word of life” (1 John 1:1, see also John 1:1). In Jesus we have the full and final revelation of God. He is God’s Word, God’s plan and God’s purpose for us all. Jesus is the life that is real.

Jesus shows forth perfectly and fully who God truly is and who we truly are as his dearly loved children. John is clear on this: when we say Jesus, we are saying the Son of God (he is fully God) and the Son of Man (he is fully human, now glorified). This identification of Jesus with God and all humanity is vitally important to John because false teachers were troubling the church. Some were denying that Jesus is fully God: “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ” (1 John 2:22). Others were denying that Jesus is fully human: “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:2–3). To know Jesus for who he truly is (divine and human), is to know both God and the truth about all humanity. Jesus is our life—the life that is real! That is why false teaching about Jesus is so harmful (see 2 John 9–10). 

When we speak of Jesus, we necessarily speak of the Trinity. John, speaking of the one God as Father, Son, and Spirit: “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:2, and also note 1 John 4:13–15).  The word “trinity” is a combination of tri-, meaning “three,” and unity, meaning “one.” A “trinity,” is a three-in-one, or one-in-three, tri-unity. Though the word is not used in the Bible, it was coined by early church teachers to summarize a profound biblical truth. The Bible teaches that the one God is not unitary—he is relational. The one God is a  tri-personal community: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

When we speak of Jesus, we also necessarily speak of God united with humanity in Jesus. Scripture declares that the eternal Son of God, one with the Father and the Spirit, became human for us—and as our human representative and substitute united all humanity to himself. So when we speak of Jesus, we speak of one in union with God as God, and one with all humanity as human. Jesus: Son of God and son of man; the One who is THE revelation of and source of eternal life—the life that is real. And that life has come to us, and is ours to receive. And note that we receive it, not by merely imitating Jesus (as though he were nothing more than a perfect model to be emulated), but by embracing Jesus—by believing the truth that is revealed about who Jesus is, and about who we are in union with him. 

So we learn first from John that this real life, this Jesus, is a revelation to be received. Then John tells us that it’s a life to be experienced…

2. A life to be experienced (1:2)

The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.

John’s encounter with Jesus was no mere, secondhand, “religious experience.” Nor was it merely religious adherence to a moral code. No, John experienced Jesus personally. He and the other apostles saw Jesus and heard him speak. They watched him as he lived with them. In fact, they studied him carefully, ate with him, and touched him. They knew Jesus was real—not a phantom or vision, but God in real, human, bodily form.

What about our experience? We’ve never seen Jesus in the flesh or talked with him face-to-face. But it was not John’s physical experience of Jesus that made the difference. It was his spiritual encounter with Jesus that transformed him. The original apostles, including John, committed themselves to Jesus as Savior and Lord. Jesus was real and exciting to them because they trusted him, loved him and obeyed him for who he revealed himself to be. 

Six times in this letter, John speaks of this spiritual, personal experience of Jesus as being “born of God.” This was not a term John invented; he heard Jesus use the same word picture several times: "I tell you the truth, no one can see [and “see” means “experience”] the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). John proclaims in 1 John 5:1 that “everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.” Our believing (receiving) does not create this new birth; this new life—but it does give entrance into the profound experience of that life that is ours already in Jesus, who included us all in his vicarious life and then gave new birth to all humanity through his own incarnation, life, birth, death, resurrection, ascension and continuing intercession. 

In Jesus we are all born again – recreated.  But for that new life to be personally “real” to us, it must be personally experienced. We must personally be “born again.”  John wrote his gospel to tell people how this happens (John 20:31), and now writes this epistle to help believers find assurance that they truly do possess that new (real) life (1 John 5:9–13). This assurance is vital. And note this: that assurance is not grounded in ourselves, but in the truth of who Jesus is, and thus of who we are because of who he is. And so John focuses our attention on Jesus and how he may be personally experienced as we trust him and embrace his love and life—the life that is real.

So now John has shared with us two important facts about “the life that is real”: it is a revelation to be received, and it is a life to be experienced.  And now he adds another fact: it is an identity to be expressed…

 3. An identity to be expressed (1:3–4, 2:1)

The gospel declares that all people are included, through Jesus, in God’s life and love. We are all God’s dearly loved children. Yet not all people know of or express that true identity. Rather than living as God’s children, they are entrapped in a false identity as children of the devil (1 John 3:10). But believers know who they are in Christ, and they are now living out of their true identity as God’s children. Of course, they are not perfect—they are not without sin. However, the trajectory of their lives aligns with their true identity. They strive to do “what is right” (1 John 2:29) and do not habitually practice what is wrong (1 John 3:9). Sin does not define them; their sonship with God does. 

And that true identity finds expression.  In this letter, John mentions multiple ways it is expressed including in fellowship, in joy, and in freedom from sin:

a. Fellowship (1:3) 

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

Fellowship is a key way we express our true identity as God’s children. God in his own tri-unity, is a communion—a loving fellowship—of three divine persons. And Jesus, through his incarnation, has included us all in that fellowship. Thus our true identity—our true home—is with God has his children. We are included with Jesus in divine-human fellowship. As we receive Jesus, and as we begin to experience Jesus’ true life, we are able to increasingly “participate in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). The term translated “participate” in Peter’s epistle is from the same Greek root here translated “fellowship.” John explains how the eternal life—the real life—we have in Jesus is expressed through our fellowship with God and with people.

b. Joy (1:4) 

We write this to make our joy complete.

Karl Marx, architect of 20th century communism, wrote: “The first requisite for the people’s happiness is the abolition of religion.” But John strongly disagrees; he writes, in effect, “Faith in Jesus Christ gives you a joy that can never be duplicated by the world. I have experienced this joy, and I want to share it with you.”  Fellowship is Jesus’ answer to the loneliness of life. Joy is his answer to its emptiness. In this letter, John uses the word “joy” only once, but the idea runs throughout. Joy is not something we manufacture for ourselves; it is the wonderful by-product of fellowship with God. Note what King David wrote: “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psa 16:11). Sin promises joy but produces sorrow. The pleasures of sin are temporary (Heb 11:25). But God’s pleasures last forever—they are real. Our identity in Jesus finds expression in joy. Jesus, the night before he died, promised his followers: “No one will take away your joy” (John 16:22). “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).

c. Freedom from sin (2:1) 

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense-- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

John faces sin squarely and announces freedom from its enslaving power in the person and work of Jesus. Our Savior not only died for us to cancel sin’s eternal penalty, but rose from the dead to live as our “Advocate with the Father” (1 John 2:1, NASB).  As our substitute and representative, Jesus stands in for us (and with us) at the Father’s throne, presenting us faultless to God. Satan may stand there as our accuser (Zech 3; Rev 12:10), but Jesus stands there as our Advocate. 

The Father’s response to Jesus’ intercession is to continually extend to us his forgiveness. That is true freedom!  Of course, Christians are not without sin; but they know they are forgiven sinners. And thus they are quick to confess their sins and gratefully receive the forgiveness they already have in Jesus. And they are open to receiving Jesus’ ongoing help through the Spirit who leads us out of the sins that so easily entangle us (Heb 12:1). The life that is real, gives us a true identity that is expressed in freedom from sin.

Overcoming obstacles to enjoying the real life (1:5-10)

John wants us fully to experience and enjoy the communion (fellowship) that is ours in Christ. But certain obstacles stand in the way—and one is the habitual practice of sin, which destroys fellowship with God and one another. Four times John writes of those who claim to have fellowship with God (1 John 1:6, 8, 10; 2:4)—but they lie, because their walk does not align with their talk.  If we are in deep fellowship with God, our lives will show it. 

John is writing about Christian discipleship, asking us to see our lives as a journey with Jesus. The journey begins before we even meet Jesus. He included us in his life when we were his enemies—dead in our sins.  And then, at a certain moment, the Spirit opened our eyes to see Jesus and we took a first step of faith, saying “yes” to the Savior who had long ago said “yes” to us.  But that first step was only the beginning of a journey with Jesus, in the Spirit, into deeper communion (fellowship) with God.  John refers to this journey as our “walk” with Jesus “in the light.” A fundamental obstacle in the way of forward progress in this journey is the habitual practice of sin. Note that John sees sin as not merely doing certain wrong things (though it includes that), but as a trajectory of life pointed toward darkness rather than light. Thus John defines sin as “lawlessness” (1John 3:4)—an attitude and a lifestyle of dependence on self rather than dependence on God. If a believer is walking in independence, they cannot walk in deep fellowship (communion) with God. 

Note that John is making these points about sin and its impact on fellowship to believers.  Sometimes we forget that beginning a journey with Jesus does not eliminate our old (fallen) nature. The old nature fights against the life of Jesus that he is sharing with us. No external rules, religious practices, or the most powerful human will can kill (control) that old nature. Only the Spirit—God in us—can “put to death” that old nature (Romans 8:12–13) and produce in us the life-giving fruit of Jesus’ life (Gal 5:22–23).  So John is calling upon believers to face the reality of sin in their lives. Why?  So that we might be discouraged and give up?  No—so that we might participate more fully in and thus more fully enjoy the life that is real—the life we share with Jesus.  

John helps us by discussing three strategies for dealing with sin. He starts with one that is common among many believers; but it never works: 

1. Hiding our sins (1:5–6, 8, 10; 2:4)

1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth….8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us….10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives….2:4 The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

“God is light; in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). God called us out of darkness into his glorious light (1 Peter 2:9). And now, as believers, we are children of the light (1 Thes 5:5). Indeed, the light of Christ shining into our lives reveals our true nature as God’s dearly loved children (Eph 5:8–13). And as we walk in that light, God’s true life shines forth from us more and more. But sin is darkness, and darkness and light cannot coexist. If we walk in the light, the darkness is dispelled. But if we hold on to sin, the light is gradually diminished. Unfortunately, we sometimes hold on to sin by trying to hide it. But this strategy backfires—it leads only to lies:  

a. We lie to others (1:6) 

We want them to think that we are walking in the light, though in reality we are walking in darkness. 

b. We lie to ourselves (1:8) 

A classic example is King David (2 Sam. 11–12). He first lusted after Bathsheba. Then he committed the act of adultery. Instead of openly admitting what he had done, he tried to hide it. First he tried to deceive Bathsheba’s husband, made him drunk, and had him killed. Then he lied to himself and tried to carry on his royal duties in the usual way. When the Prophet Nathan confronted him with a similar hypothetical situation, David condemned the other man, though he felt no condemnation at all for himself. Once we begin to lie to others, it is not long before we begin to actually believe our own lies.

c. We lie to God (1:10) 

Having made ourselves liars; now we try to make God a liar! We contradict his word, which says that “all have sinned,” and we maintain that we are exceptions. We apply God’s word to others but not to ourselves. This downward spiral of lies is common and destructive. Sometimes believers lie about their fellowship (1 John 1:6); about their nature—“I could never do a thing like that!” (1 John 1:8) and about their actions (1 John 1:10).  As a result they lose the truth because they stop living the truth (1 John 1:6)—the truth no longer is the trajectory of their lives (1 John 1:8). And then, in self-protection, they turn the truth into lies (1 John 1:10). What starts with telling lies ends up with being a liar (1 John 2:4). Is it any wonder that God warns, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Prov 28:13).  

What John is urging here is not our perfection, but that we would walk in the light with Jesus (who is perfect) by being truthful and transparent. To embrace truth is to be “real”—honest, and sincere with ourselves, with others, and with God.  As we walk in the truth, we enjoy fellowship with God and with his children (1 John 1:6–7). Truthfulness leads to prayer that is honest and heartfelt; worship that is transformative; and fellowship that is joyful because it is no longer self-protective, defensive, and critical of others.  

Hiding our sins is not what brings us enjoyment of the life that is real.  But what does?

2. Confessing our sins (1:7, 9)

7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin…9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Note 1John 2:1-2 in the NASB translation: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;  and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”  Jesus is identified here as both advocate and sin’s propitiation. It’s important to understand these two titles, because they point to two ministries that only Jesus performs on our behalf.

a. Propitiation

If you look this word up in the dictionary, you may get the wrong idea of its biblical meaning. The dictionary tells us that “to propitiate” means “to appease someone who is angry.” If you apply this to Christ, you get the horrible picture of an angry God, about to destroy the world, and a loving Savior giving himself to appease this irate God. This is not the Bible picture of God or of his salvation! Certainly God is angry at sin—his wrath against sin is an extension of his love for humankind. God hates sin because it hurts his children. The Bible reassures us that “God so loved [not hated] the world” (John 3:16). And the word “propitiation” speaks to God addressing the wrath that both he and his Son have toward sin and their determination to deal with sin through their action on behalf of humanity in and through Jesus. In Jesus, sin is not merely “swept under the carpet,” but dealt with decisively—penalty paid in full; sin overcome!  In God’s act in and through Jesus, sin’s penalty is satisfied and forgiveness and thus relationship are extended. This is Jesus’ “propitiatory” role as the God who took on our sinful nature and destroyed sin in the flesh on our behalf.

b. Advocate

This word was usually applied to lawyers. But it is infused with new meaning to refer to Jesus who spoke of the coming of the Spirit to be our advocate (John 14:16, 26; 15:26). The word means, literally, “one called alongside.” When a man was summoned to court, he took an advocate (lawyer) to stand at his side and plead his case. Jesus finished his earthly ministry (John 17:4) and ascended to the Father where he continues his ongoing work of intercession on our behalf. As high priest, he sympathizes with our weaknesses and temptations and gives us grace (Heb 4:15–16; 7:23–28). As our advocate, he helps us when we sin. When we confess our sins to God, Jesus, in his advocacy, assures us of God’s forgiveness (which he secured for us and continues to extend to us) and he grants us help to change and thus to continue walking in the light with God. Jesus—his blood (his sacrifice and his continuing life) purifies us from all sin!  What an advocate we have!! Jesus represents (stands in for) us before God’s throne, and the merits of his life, death and resurrection are continually applied to us. In him, we are dead to sin; in him sin’s penalty is satisfied, in him we are re-created and risen to new life.  Jesus is our representative, our substitute—our advocate.  All he asks of us is that when we have failed we confess.

To confess sins means much more than simply to “admit” them. The word confess means “to say the same thing [about].” To confess sin, then, means to say the same thing about it that God says about it. Confession is not praying a lovely prayer, or making pious excuses, or trying to impress God and other Christians. True confession means facing our sin honestly and seeing it as God sees it and thus seeing God’s provision—his sacrifice for our sin—his forgiveness and his call to us to walk forgiven in his light as the Spirit delivers us out of sin.

John also says that when we confess our sins, God will forgive us (1 John 1:9). Does this mean that God withholds forgiveness until we confess?  No, that would reduce forgiveness to a transaction: we pay our confession and God doles out his forgiveness in return.  The gospel truth is that in Jesus all sin has been forgiven.  All humanity has been reconciled to God in Jesus.  Why then confess our sin?  Because through confession we are agreeing with God’s provision—acknowledging the need for the forgiveness that God has granted to us already, and thus deeply receiving it and agreeing with it as God in the present extends the reality of that forgiveness to us.  It is now becoming “real” to us: it restores fellowship in our hearts toward God. So confession is part of our journey with Jesus into deeper and deeper levels of communion. 

This leads to a third way to deal with sins…

3. Conquering our sins (2:1–3, 5–6)

1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense-- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands…5 But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

John makes it clear that Christians are not without sin, yet they have conquered it – not in their own effort, but in Jesus. The secret of this victory over sin is found in the phrase “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7). To walk in the light means to share in Jesus’ life by being open and honest—by being sincere. Paul prayed that his friends might “be sincere and blameless” (Phil 1:10, NASB). The word sincere comes from two Latin words, sine and cera, which mean “without wax.” It seems that in Roman days, some sculptors covered up their mistakes by filling the defects in their marble statues with wax, which was not readily visible—until the statue had been exposed to the hot sun awhile. But more dependable sculptors made certain that their customers knew that the statues they sold were sine cera—without wax.

“God is light,” and when we walk in the light, there is nothing hidden; we are honest with God, with ourselves, and with others. Walking in the light means that when the light of God reveals our sins to us (and John says we all have them, we immediately confess them to God and claim his forgiveness (which Jesus has secured already). And if our sins have injured other people, we ask their forgiveness as well. 

This walking in the light with Jesus means walking along the path of God’s word (1 John 2:3–4)—sharing Jesus own life, which means obeying his commands.  There are three possible motives for this obedience: because we have to, because we need to, or because we want to. A slave obeys because he has to. An employee obeys because he needs to. But a true disciple of Jesus obeys the Word of God (Jesus) because he wants to—his obedience flow from love for Jesus. "If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15) says our Lord. 

Mature Christians obey Jesus because they love him and are actively sharing his life and love. This obedience is not mimicking Jesus as though he were merely a great example. True obedience flows from deep communion—deeply “abiding” in Christ (John 15:4, KJV). It is our sharing in Jesus’ own human obedience.  He alone is “the righteous one” who has atoned for all sin and who leads his followers ever deeper into the life that is real. Sharing his life means walking “as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6)—“in this world we are like him” (1 John 4:17). We walk in the light, “as he is in the light” (1 John 1:7). We are pure, “just as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).  We are righteous, “just as he is righteous” (1 John 3:7). All of this is ours in union and communion with Jesus who purifies us. Does that mean we are perfect?  No, but we are, by the Spirit, united with the one who truly is perfect. My life is in your Lord!

To abide in Jesus means to depend completely on him for all that we need in order to live for him and serve him. It is a living relationship. As he lives out his life through us, we are able to walk as he walked. Paul expresses this experience perfectly: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20, KJV).  Notice that we live “by the faith of the Son of God”—this is an accurate translation. It’s Jesus’ faith manifested in and through us.  

No, it is not by means of mere imitation that we abide in Christ and walk as he walked. Rather it’s through incarnation: “Christ lives in me.” To walk in the light is to walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Gal 5:16).  As we walk in the light and see sin as it actually is, we will hate it and turn from it. And if we sin, (and we will) we will confess our sins to God and claim his forgiveness and receive his ongoing cleansing. And through this, our fellowship with God through Jesus, in the Spirit grows and grows.  Glory to God!


This, then, is the life that is real: it’s a revelation to be received; a life to be experienced and an identity to be expressed. Let us not be tempted to embrace anything else. God’s invitation to us today is this: “Come and enjoy fellowship with me and with each other! Come and share the life that is real!”Sin diminishes fellowship.  But God is faithful to forgive and cleanse us as we walk in faith with Jesus.  Instead of trying to cover our sins, let us confess them to God and in doing so experience even more deeply  Jesus’ victory over sin. Let’s enjoy the life that is real!