I John – An Introduction

When God created the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, and joined them together as husband and wife, the Bible tells us, “They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25; cf. Mark 10:6-9). To be “naked” and “not ashamed” suggests something more than not wearing any clothes. These words describe Adam and Eve’s relationship with God and with one another. They were able to be completely open with the Lord and each other without holding anything back or hiding their true selves. Adam and Eve were fully known by God and each other and they were okay with this. This enabled them to experience uninhibited intimacy with God and with one another. 1 They knew that they were totally accepted and loved by God. There was nothing to fear and nothing to hide from the Lord and each other.

Prior to the Fall, they did not experience any self-consciousness regarding the uniqueness of their personhood as man and woman. For example, Adam probably did not doubt his masculinity or his ability to impress Eve as a man. He was not concerned about his biceps being big enough or being a good enough lover for Eve. Nor did Eve wonder if her beauty was enough to attract Adam or if her ideas were as significant as his. With an unwavering assurance, both knew that who they were and what they offered to one another was more than just good enough – it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). 2

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:1-6), they experienced shame for the first time. The complete innocence and vulnerability they once had with God and one another were now lost. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings” (Genesis 3:7). They were now self-conscious and ashamed of their nakedness before one another, so they tried to remove their shame by covering themselves with fig leaves. They went from holding nothing back from one another to hiding and covering their true selves.

When they put their own desires ahead of God’s will for their lives, they may have realized they could also put their own interests ahead of the other’s. Would Adam be able to trust Eve after she violated God’s trust? Would Eve be able to trust Adam after he did the same thing? Once transparent and vulnerable with each other, Adam and Eve now hid their physical nakedness and the nakedness of their souls with fig leaves. Instead of trusting each other, they were afraid of being hurt by one another, so they chose to protect themselves by hiding under the cover of fig leaves.

But their sin and shame also adversely affected their closeness with God. “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8). Instead of being open and vulnerable before God, they now hid themselves from His presence when He pursued them. God is presented in this verse as pursuing His fallen children by walking in the garden in the cool of the day as if this was something He had always done to connect with them. We might assume that God came to them to punish and shame Adam and Eve for the wrong they had done but notice that God does not seek to shame His fallen children. He seeks to restore them. “Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:9). Why would an all-knowing God ask Adam a question to which He already knows the answer? Because the Lord wanted a confession from Adam. “Where are you in relation to Me?” God asks. God knew where Adam was, but did Adam know where he was in relation to the Lord? Do we know where we are in relation to God?

When Adam told God, “I was afraid because I was naked” (3:10), God replied, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat” (3:11)? God never told Adam and Eve they were naked. This was the natural consequence of their sin. Satan also reveals our shame to us when we sin (true shame) or don’t sin (false shame). His accusations against believers produce shame in their lives. The Devil uses shame to isolateChristians from God and one another. Like a roaring lion who focuses on those who are isolated and weak, Satan focuses on believers who are alone and weak (cf. 1 Peter 5:8).

Would Adam and Eve believeGod is still the same loving and merciful God that He had always been prior to their disobedience? Or would they believe the lie of the serpent who implied that God could not really be trusted (cf. Genesis 3:1-5)? The Lord did not abandon Adam and Eve when they sinned and felt ashamed. He soughtthem out to restore them to fellowship with Himself.

But instead of trusting the Lord, Adam and Eve were now afraidof Him. “So, he said, ‘I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself’” (Genesis 3:10). Their sin and shame now became a barrierto His loving and merciful pursuit of them. Not only were they self-conscious of their nakedness before one another, they were now self-conscious of their nakedness before God. By covering themselves with fig leaves and hiding themselves among the trees of the garden, Adam and Eve removedthemselves from being able to receive God’s love, grace, and mercy which He was freely offering to them. Their faith in God had now changed to fear. Unfortunately, their shame pushed them away from the Lord instead of drawing them near to Him. And shame can do the same to us today.

We learn from the first man and woman, that intimacy with God and one another is broken when we sin against God or each other. Instead of love characterizing our relationships with one another, fear and shame disrupt the closeness we once enjoyed.

As a result of the Fall, all people are now born with a sin nature which creates huge barriers to love and intimacy (Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12-21). Dr. David Anderson identifies two of those barriers in his book Maximum Joy:

“It is selfishness. Selfishness focuses on getting, not giving. Love, by definition, is giving, but the sin nature grabs and gets. People often confuse love and lust, but the main difference between the two is selfishness. Love asks, ‘How can I meet your needs?’ whereas lust asks, ‘How can you meet mine?’ So, the sin nature works against intimacy because it is selfish.

“But there is something else contained in the sin nature which is a block to intimacy, and that’s fear. Fear is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to opening up. You can’t be intimate with someone if you don’t open up. You can’t be close to someone if you don’t share the things which are close to you. But we are afraid to do that. We are afraid to let the other person see what is deep down inside. We are afraid they won’t like what they see. We are afraid they will simply reject us.

“This fear of rejection keeps us from opening up and getting close. But there is good news. God has given us I John to show how to have intimacy after the fall, to show how we can have our most fundamental need for love met even though there is sin in the world, in the universe, and resident within us. That’s why I John was written.” 3

Not everyone agrees with this understanding of I John. There are several popular preachers and teachers who believe I John was written to provide tests to see if you are genuinely saved and going to heaven when you die.

For example, one popular author and speaker wrote a book entitled Saved without a Doubt. 4 He argues that I John provides eleven tests which can help you determine if you are a genuine Christian on your way to heaven:

1. Have you enjoyed fellowship with Christ and with the Father?

2. Are you sensitive to sin?

3. Do you obey God’s Word?

4. Do you reject this evil world?

5. Do you eagerly await Christ’s return?

6. Do you see a decreasing pattern of sin in your life?

7. Do you love other Christians?

8. Do you experience answered prayer?

9. Do you experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit?

10. Can you discern between spiritual truth and error?

11. Have you suffered rejection because of your faith? 5

When I read this list of questions, they raised more questions than answer. What if I could only answer “yes” to five of those questions and not all eleven of them? Does that mean I am not a Christian? How much fellowship must I enjoy with Christ and the Father? How do I measure that? How sensitive to sin must I be? How much of God’s Word must I obey to know I am truly a Christian? Must I obey His Word perfectly or most of the time? Do I have to obey all of God’s commands or just the major ones? 6 No one can obey all of them or they would be perfect, and the Bible says that does not happen in this life (I John 1:8, 10). So, who determines how much obedience is enough?

What if I became a Christian when I was nine years old, but I fell away from the Lord when I was a teenager and lived a wayward life for the next ten years? During those ten years I could not answer “yes” to any of those questions. Does that mean I was never saved to begin with, or I lost my salvation during those years? There are different groups who would say I was never saved, or I had lost my salvation during those wayward years. 7

The point is that these kinds of questions do not give us the certainty we are saved without a doubt. They only increase the doubts of an introspective or thinking person. They increase one’s fear or guilt. 8

As we approach the book of I John, it is important to understand that the apostle John 9 is writing to Christians (2:12-14) prior to 70 A. D. 10 fromJerusalem (2:19) 11 so they could experience the joy of intimacy or closeness with God and other believers (1:3-4). While the gospel of John was written primarily to non-Christians to tell them how to receive the gift of eternal life simply by believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31), I John was written to believers in Jesus so they could experience the joy of fellowship or closeness with God (I John 1:3-4).

John is writing to this community of believers because their fellowship with the Lord Jesus (1:3, 7) was being threatened by false teachers whom he calls antichrists (2:18-26). Hodges observes that these antichrists:

a. Thought physical contact with a divine being was impossible (1:1-4). They believed spiritual things (soul, spirit) are divine and good, but material things (body) are created and evil. Therefore, what you did with your body was irrelevant.

b. May have taught that good and evil, light and darkness, originated from God; therefore, to fellowship with God involved participation in good and evil (1:5-6; 2:29; 3:6-9).

c. Undermined John’s readers assurance of salvation (2:25-26) to entice them into a worldly (2:15-17; 3:4-10a) and unloving lifestyle (3:10b-4:21).

d. Were probably believers who defected from the Christian faith (2:19), denying that Jesus was the Christ come in human flesh (2:22-23; 4:1-3). Believed Jesus was only a man and the divine Christ descended on Jesus at His baptism and left Him before His crucifixion (5:6-8).

e. May have practiced idolatry (5:21), including immorality with temple prostitutes. 12

Anderson emphasizes the importance of understanding I John from the backdrop of the gospel of John. He observes that the outline of the gospel of John is parallel to the temple or tabernacle (see diagram 1). 13

The first twelve chapters of the gospel of John focus on evangelism. John presents seven miraculous signs of Jesus so his readers may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, so they may obtain eternal life (John 20:31). “John’s signature phrase for a new believer is the Greek construction pisteuō eis (believe in). This phrase is found nowhere in Greek literature outside the New Testament, and of the thirty-four uses in John, thirty of them occur in the first twelve chapters.” 14

But when we come to the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-16), there is a shift in John’s presentation. Instead of focusing on sharing the gospel with non-believers, John addresses believers about discipleship. This is why Judas, who is not a believer (John 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11; 17:12), must be sent out of the room as one of two steps to prepare Christ’s believing disciples for the intimate truths of discipleship (John 13:1-30). 15

The second step of preparation was to wash the feet of the remaining believing disciples. Since Judas was not a believer, he did not belong in this setting. Non-believers had to come into the temple/tabernacle through the blood, but believers could only go into the Holy Place through the laver of cleansing. The truths Jesus wanted to share in the Upper Room were intended for believers. But even they needed to be cleansed daily of their sins to enjoy fellowship with God. If they were not in fellowship with Him, they wouldn’t be able to absorb the truth He wanted to impart to them. 16

The truth Christ gave to them involved Positional/Relationship Truth and Practical/Fellowship Truth. Christ presented this symbolically as taking a bath (Positional Truth) and foot washing (Practical Truth). When Jesus bent down to wash the feet of Peter, Peter resisted (John 13:5-8a). When Peter submits, he asks Jesus for an entire bath (John 13:9). Jesus explains that Peter is already “completely clean” because he already had a complete bath (John 13:10). All he needs now is to have his feet cleansed. If Christ doesn’t wash Peter’s feet, Jesus said Peter would have no “part” (fellowship) with Him (John 13:8b). 17

Hodges states, “This truth, of course, is more fully elaborated in I John 1:5-10 where fellowship is related to the question of the believer’s walk’ (which one’s ‘feet’ suggest) and it is conditioned on the cleansing that comes in response to confession of sin (I John 1:9).18 Peter could not have fellowship with the Lord until He was willing to receive His cleansing ministry.

How is it possible for Peter to be completely clean and yet need to have his feet washed? This is where we see Positional/Relationship Truth combined with Practical/Fellowship Truth. Peter had already received Jesus’ gift of eternal life early in Jesus’ ministry (John 1:35-2:11). Therefore, Jesus said Peter had already been “bathed” (John 13:10). In the first century, there were no bathing facilities in small houses. So, a person had to go to a public bathhouse to bathe. When invited to a meal, a person would first go to the public bathhouse and bathe, and then put on clean clothing, anoint himself with fresh oil, and proceed to the home where he would be served a meal. On the way from the bathhouse to the home, the guest’s feet got dirty. Hence, the host provided a basin of water so that the one who already had a bath and cleansed his entire body could sponge the dirt off his feet. 19

Jesus is referring to two types of cleansing in John 13:10. The first type of cleansing refers to the complete cleansing of regeneration or salvation which takes place at the moment of faith in Jesus (cf. Titus 3:5; Revelation 1:5). This is seen in the word “bathed” (louō) which refers to bathing the entire body. 20 This verb is in the perfect tense which conveys the idea of a permanent cleansing. A person only needs one complete bath spiritually. This is a one-time experience. The Holy Spirit performs this complete cleansing at the moment of faith in Jesus for eternal life. Some believers think they need to be totally bathed repeatedly. They fail to understand that God’s water or soap is guaranteed for eternity. Have you experienced this one-time permanent cleansing? If not, Christ invites you right now to believe or trust in Him alone. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). Once you believe in Christ, you will need the second type of cleansing that He speaks of next.

This second type of cleansing refers to daily forgiveness to have fellowship or closeness with God. This cleansing is represented by the word “wash” (niptō) which means to wash parts of the body. 21 This fellowship forgiveness (cf. Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 11:4) is based upon the confession of sin (I John 1:9). So, Christ is saying in verse 10, “He who is bathed [Positional/Relationship Truth] needs only to wash his feet [Practical/Fellowship Truth] but is completely clean.” Every bathed person (Christian) needs daily cleansing of his dirty feet to have fellowship or closeness with Christ.

Peter and the other ten believing disciples needed cleansing of their pride. They had been arguing among themselves at the Lord’s Supper about who would be the greatest in Christ’s future kingdom on earth (cf. Mark 10:35-44; Luke 22:24). So, these eleven disciples did not need a bath (Relationship Truth), they needed their feet and hearts cleansed (Fellowship Truth). Once Christ cleansed their feet and demonstrated what true greatness was (humble servanthood), their hearts were ready to hear Him share truths about loving Him and He them (John 14:21), how to stay close to Him so He could produce fruit through them (John 15). He also prepared them for future suffering and the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 16). 22

Anderson writes, “Again, the tabernacle may well have been in John’s mind when he structured his gospel. It is in the Holy Place that we find the table of shew-bread and the candelabra of light. Here is food and light for the believer who has been cleansed by the blood (relationship) and the water (fellowship). So, if we have Preparation in John 13:1-30 (the unbeliever is sent out and believers are cleansed with water), then we have Preaching in John 13:31-16:33. It is no coincidence that we find Prayer in John 17. Here the High Priest intercedes for those who are His own, His disciples and all who would believer through their ministry. The High Priest has entered the Holy of Holies to intercede for His people. But this High Priest does more than just intercede in prayer. He actually becomes our mercy seat (Romans 3:25) as He loved His own to the uttermost (John 13:1). Thus, in the Passion and Resurrection narrative of John 18-20, Jesus has become the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His sacrifice was accepted by the Father as fully sufficient, as proved by His resurrection. Now Jesus leads His own out of the tabernacle and into the world (John 21).

“The importance of seeing the parallels between the structure of John and tabernacle cannot be overstated. With this visual aid we can see that a major portion of John does not focus on evangelism or relationship. The focus of Jesus’ words in the upper room is on intimacy or fellowship. As we look at I John we will see that it is this theme of the Upper Room Discourse that is repeated over and over in this short letter. In fact, as noted in the diagram above, all the major elements of the tabernacle (blood, fellowship, confession, light, intercession of the High Priest) are also found in I John 1:5-2:2.” 23

It is with great anticipation we will begin to discover the joy of intimacy or fellowship with God and one another as we embark on this journey through I John. I hope you will join me in the weeks to come, Lord permitting, to grow closer to our God and to one another.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the book of First John which You have given to us so we may develop a deeper intimacy with You and Your Son, Jesus Christ. Please open our eyes and hearts to the wonderful things You want to show us. In the precious name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.


1. Michael John Cusick, Surfing for God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012), pg. 68.

2. Ibid., pg. 69.

3. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 14.

4. Ibid., pg. 15 cites John MacArthur, Jr., Saved without a Doubt (Colorado Springs: Cook Communications, 1992).

5. Ibid., pg. 15 cites MacArthur, pp. 67-91.

6. Ibid., pg. 15.

7. Ibid., pp. 15-16.

8. Ibid., pg. 16.

9. The ancient Greek manuscripts name the author of I John to be the apostle John, the son of Zebedee, who also wrote the gospel of John. The style and vocabulary of 1-3 John appear to come from the same author of the the gospel of John. See Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2329 and Zane Hodges, Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 587.

10. Hodges, pg. 587.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid., pp. 587-588.

13. Anderson, pg. 16.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., pp. 15-16.

16. Ibid., pg. 17.

17. The word “part” (meros) is a term for fellowship (cf. Luke 10:42) in the New Testament. See Zane Hodges, “Untrustworthy Believers – John 2:23-25,” Bibliotheca Sacra 135:538 (April-June 1978), pg. 147; Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Significance of Man, (Hayesville: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 326, 353, 401,593-594; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 215.  

18. Hodges, “Untrustworthy Believers,” pg. 147.

19. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 429.

20. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 603.

21. Archibald Thomas Roberston, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. V. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pp. 238-239.

22. Anderson, pg. 18.

23. Ibid., pp. 18-19.

Celebrated not condemned

“The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

I was drawn to a favorite verse today in the book of Zephaniah in the Old Testament. If you are like me, you may struggle with shame. I’m not talking about true shame. True shame is that feeling of disgrace or embarrassment when we have sinned. This is what Adam and Eve experienced when they disobeyed God in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:7-8, 10). All of us experience this kind of shame because all of us have sinned (Romans 3:23).

But what I am talking about is false shame which can be at the core of our being. False shame is that same feeling of disgrace or embarrassment about our personhood, not our actions. We can actually experience shame when we have done nothing wrong, but because of the actions of others we are ashamed. False shame says, “because of what was done to you, you are now bad,” or “this happened to you because you are bad.” For example, a child who was verbally or sexually abused may internalize what was done to him or her and conclude, “I am bad because that happened to me.” Or “because I am bad that was done to me.”

True shame says, “I have done wrong.” But false shame says, “I am wrong.” Do you see the difference?  

When talking about false shame, we may believe deep down inside us that we are unacceptable or worthless before God. We may know the doctrine of God’s unconditional love, but we do not believe it nor experience it in the deepest part of our being. Deep down we think we have to earn God’s love or that God would never love us as we are.

Shame-based lies keep us from opening up to God and others. Lies that say, “Nobody would love me as I am.” “I am basically a bad and worthless person.” “I cannot get my needs met by depending on others.” “I don’t have what it takes to be a God-honoring child of God.” Satan uses shame to condemn us and isolate us from God and one another.

Our verse in Zephaniah 3:17 reminds us that God wants us to sit in His presence so He can delight in us. After revealing God’s coming judgment upon the world (Zephaniah 1:2-3:8), the prophet, Zephaniah, discloses God’s blessings to come upon His people (Zephaniah 3:9-20) to motivate them to live for the Lord during a time of spiritual decline in their nation.

In the future, after King Jesus defeats all His enemies at the end of the Tribulation period (Zephaniah 3:15; cf. Revelation 19:11-21), He will be in Israel’s “midst” like a “Mighty” Warrior to “save” them from harm (Zephaniah 3:17a). Like a Bridegroom, King Jesus “will rejoice over” His people, Israel, “with gladness” and “He will quiet” them in the security of “His love” for them as His bride (Zephaniah 3:17b). King Jesus “will rejoice over” His bride “with singing.”

Let’s get more personal in our application of this verse, especially as it relates to false shame. King Jesus has the “mighty” power to “save” us from shame-based memories or feelings from trauma in our past so they do not invade our present relationships, especially with those we care the most about. King Jesus “rejoices” over us, He does not reject us. He delights in us, He does not despise us. We bring King Jesus pleasure, not pain simply because we are His beloved children through faith in Him for everlasting life. King Jesus will “quiet” or calm us with His passionate “love” for us! His great love for us cannot be contained, but bursts into joyful celebration and “singing” over us.

King Jesus wants to celebrate us, not criticize or condemn us. He wants to delight in us, not despise us. Christ loves us, He does not loathe us. King Jesus rejoices over us, He does not reject us. He sings over us, He does not shame us.

Some of us are running from this false shame inside us. We stay busy to avoid these feelings of shame. We seek different coping behaviors to medicate our shame and fear inside us. They seem too overwhelming for us to face. But please hear me. Jesus wants to quiet your soul with His radical love. He wants us to stop running and rest in His loving presence.

For some of us, this may seem very disturbing because we have listened to shame-based lies all our lives. And if we slow down, we may start to feel unwanted emotions that we have buried under layers of self-protection. But King Jesus wants to walk with us through these painful emotions or memories to bring healing and restoration to our lives.

As we realize that we are loved beyond imagination by Jesus, we discover that this alone is what defines us (John 3:16; Ephesians 3:17-19; I John 4:9-11). We are His beloved. We are His delight. We are His precious possession by virtue of what Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross. And because of this, we are free from the compulsion to be someone we are not. We are free from having to impress, manipulate, or attempt in our own unique way to earn love. We are free to be our true selves in the presence of God and other people.

Take a moment to picture in your mind what kind of look Jesus has on His face when His eyes are fixed on you. Does He have a look of anger and disapproval toward you? Does He look apathetic or distant? Or does He have a look of delight and love? Is He celebrating you by rejoicing and singing over you? If it causes you discomfort to picture the look on Jesus’ face, ask the Holy Spirit to help you see Jesus the way Zephaniah describes Him in our verse today. Christ can do this in your life through the Holy Spirit’s application of His Word and through Christlike believers who are overflowing with His love.

Prayer: Hallelujah, Lord God Almighty! Thank You for Your unchanging and everlasting Word. By Your Holy Spirit, please renew my mind this day as I focus on Your truth so I may see myself more as You do – as a beloved and prized child of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Please quiet my heart with Your radical love for me. Please enable me to see that You celebrate me, You do not criticize me; You delight in me, You do not despise me; You love me, You do not loathe me; You rejoice over me, You do not reject me; You sing over me, You do not shame me! Thank You my Lord and my God for showing me that I do not need to perform or work to earn Your love. Therefore, I will not seek to earn anyone’s love, because Yours is more than enough. Please fill me with more of You and the worth You alone can give to me so I am not threatened by what others say or think of me. Thank You King Jesus. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.