What the Bible actually says about apostasy: 1 John and Walking in the Light, Chapters 3 – 5

by Jay Guin

Love and righteousness

Beginning with chapter 3, John makes the same points again, but often with greater explanation or emphasis.

(1 John 3:10-11) This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right [does righteousness/justice] is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. 11 This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.

“Do what is right” is really “do righteousness.” Thus, John here connects loving one another with doing righteousness. They aren’t really two different commands or two different tests. Rather, ”do righteousness” explains the content of Christian love.

(1 John 3:16-18) This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

John reinforces the point: love leads to righteousness because love requires action to help those in need.

(1 John 3:19-22) This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20 whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.

“Obey his commands” in verse 22 summarizes the teaching that just preceded: love, do righteousness.

Sometimes we wish to gain confidence or to feel justified because we have the correct number of acts of worship or pure congregational autonomy. John says: want confidence? Check to see if your actions prove that you love those in need.

He explains the commands he has in mind in the next verse.

Faith and love

(1 John 3:23) And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

In verse 22 John said we must obey Jesus’ “commands.” And he defines “commands”: believe in Jesus, love one another. He calls these two commands but a single “command” following Jesus’ own wordplay quoted in John 15 above.

It’s all just one command stated two different ways. After all, if I believe Jesus is the Christ, then I accept that he’s the Messiah (“Christ” is the Greek word for the Hebrew word “Messiah”), the king of kings, lord of lords. How can we truly believe and not obey? And what obedience does he require? Plainly, John says we must love one another.

The Spirit

(1 John 3:24) Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

Well, now it gets confusing! Just how on earth does John expect us to know that we’re saved “by the Spirit he gave us”? Well, it’s not really fair for me to ask because I skipped the part with the answer earlier.

(1 John 2:20) But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.

“Anointing” is a reference to the Spirit (Acts 10:38; 2 Cor. 1:21-22). Luke declares that Jesus was anointed by the Spirit (Luke 4:18). Of course, “Messiah” and “Christ” mean “Anointed One,” referring most immediately to kingship and the oil of anointing ceremonially used in designating a man king.

Therefore, John is speaking of the indwelling Spirit possessed by all Christians (Acts 2:38-39) as the anointing we’ve received just as Jesus was anointed by the Spirit.

Next, to understand this important passage, we need to consider the meaning of “truth” in 1 John 2:20. “Truth” is generally used in the New Testament as shorthand for the truth about Jesus — the gospel. This is strongly suggested by the three following verses —

(1 John 2:21-23) I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist — he denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

John contrasts “the truth” with the “lie,” which is the denial that Jesus is the Christ. Therefore, the truth is plainly that Jesus is the Christ.

“Truth” is not used in the logician’s sense of any true proposition. Rather, “truth” is the truth about Jesus. If you take the time to search the meaning of “truth” as used throughout the New Testament, you’ll find that this is how the word is routinely used, making its use here less mysterious than at first appears.

27 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit — just as it has taught you, remain in him.

Compare this to this passage from Jeremiah quoted in Hebrews —

(Heb. 8:10-12) This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

It’s characteristic of our new life in Jesus that the Spirit indwells us and teaches us how to be more and more like Jesus — to have faith, to love in action and deed, and to do righteousness. The Spirit teaches us truth.

“All things” is not all human knowledge, but all truth. All Christians have the truth because the truth is what sets us free. You can’t become a Christian unless you know the truth about Jesus.

Thus, we see that John adds another test: does the Spirit indwell us? But there’s no Spirit-o-meter that we can hold up to our hearts to see if the Spirit lives there. Rather, we test the Spirit by looking for the work of the Spirit in our lives.

(John 3:8) “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Jesus told Nicodemus that the Spirit cannot be apprehended directly but only by its effects.

Returning to 1 John, John tells us one way to test who has the Spirit —

(1 John 4:2-3) 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, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

Those who have faith in Jesus have the Spirit. Those who don’t don’t.

[We will post a very short explanation of our view of the Spirit shortly.]

Acknowledging apostolic teaching

Next, John offers another test of who is saved —

(1 John 4:6) We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

Very simply, those who listen to and respect the teachings of the apostles are also from God. Those who listen to apostolic teaching have the Spirit and thus are saved.

Now, this does not mean that those who make any mistake at all in interpreting Peter or Paul are damned! That’s most certainly not the point! Rather, John is referring to the necessity of respecting the authority of the apostles. You and I may disagree on what Paul meant when he referred to “baptism for the dead” (1 Cor. 15:19), but we both agree that Paul’s teaching is inspired and authoritative. We listen to him. We may sometimes misunderstand him, but we listen.

Those who have the true Spirit — the Spirit of truth, that is, the Spirit of the gospel — acknowledge the simple truths of the gospel. They’ve confessed their faith in Jesus. They’ve repented. They try to live the life Jesus would have us live. And they’ve not surrendered either their faith or their penitence, as amply evidenced by righteous living.


(1 John 4:7-15) … Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. … 13 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.

John again repeats his simple tests: love, the Spirit, faith in Jesus.

Now, as we’ve worked through these scriptures, we have surely also noticed how John also declares that those without faith, without love, without righteous deeds, or without the Spirit are lost. He says these things repeatedly.

Therefore, in John’s way of thinking, there are only two kinds of people —

Saved Lost
Walk in the light Walk in darkness
Faith in Jesus Deny Jesus
Admit sinfulness Deny sinfulness
Obey God’s command Don’t obey God’s command
Love others Hate others
Do righteousness Don’t do righteousness
Possess the Spirit Without the Spirit
Purify themselves Continue to sin
Acknowledge the authority of the apostles Reject the authority of the apostles

Now, it helps to remember that John is speaking to Christians — being people who’ve come to faith, repented, and submitted to baptism. To repent thus means to admit your sinfulness and commit to a life of love in action, resulting in righteous living.

Thus, “faith” in John’s vocabulary also includes “repent.” He sees no possibility of having faith and not having love and righteousness. It’s impossible. If you don’t love, you don’t have faith! But this is inherent in the fact that faith includes submission to Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:9). And it’s inherent in the fact that saved people possess the Spirit — who leads us (Rom 8:9; Gal 5:18; Phil 1:19)

Now, any interpretation that falls outside of John’s categories misses his point. For example, if I worship on Sunday as I believe God wishes, after having diligently studied the Bible, fully intending to obey God’s will, and if I get it wrong, I still have faith. I still have love for others. I still do righteousness. I still listen to the apostles. I still have the Spirit. I’m still saved.

One could argue, of course, that I don’t obey God’s commands, because I misunderstood his will as to worship, but this argument would be mistaken. John isn’t saying that I have to get faith + love + obey commands + righteousness, etc. He is saying that it’s all the same!

After all, he repeatedly says that if I love, I’m saved and if I don’t, I’m not. If I have faith, I’m saved; if I don’t, I’m not. There’s no room in John’s thought for having faith and not righteousness. There’s no room for having love and not obeying his commands. You are either entirely in the left column or the right, because those who’ve been saved and who have any of the characteristics listed on the left have all those characteristics.

And this makes sense when we realize that, for saved people, God’s Spirit is in us, leading us, so that we become the kind of people God wants us to be. And it makes sense when we see that faith includes submission to Jesus as Lord. And it makes sense when we understand that love is the fulfillment of the law.

However, if John is saying that we have to get all the inferences right and repent of every individual sin, well, it would no longer be true that —

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.

Nor could John truthfully say,

Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.

There is no way to fit conservative theology into 1 John.


In his typical, non-linear way, John puts his thesis sentence near the end —

(1 John 5:13) I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

He doesn’t say whether you have eternal life — it’s “that you have eternal life”! John’s theology assumes that his readers are saved. They don’t so much need to know how to be saved or how to stay saved as to be assured that they are saved!

And they are saved because they “believe in the name of the Son of God.” Period. Faith is sufficient.

But faith, by the power of the Spirit and our submission to Jesus as Lord, inevitably produces love, works of righteousness, and obedience — but not perfect love, perfect righteousness, nor perfect obedience.

At what point does our obedience rise to the level that we are walking in the light and continuously purified? Well, John says we meet that standard when we love — in action — and when we believe in Jesus.

Let’s go back to chapter 1 and solve a riddle we skipped.

(1 John 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.

What does John mean by “in him there is no darkness at all”? Is he saying we can’t be in God and have any sin at all? Of course, not. The point is simply this: if you are in God — at all — then you are completely cleansed from all sin. You see, the light of God is so bright that the darkness disappears.

(Rom 8:1) Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus ….

Explore posts in the same categories: Apostasy

13 Comments on “What the Bible actually says about apostasy: 1 John and Walking in the Light, Chapters 3 – 5”

  1. Royce Ogle Says:

    Again, excellent! You are right on the money!


  2. Anonymous Says:

    Sorry guys but my salvation doesn’t depend upon what the church of Christ denomination has to say. I depend on Jesus as my Savior and not anyone or anything can ever take His place.

  3. Dusty Chris Says:

    WOW! Good stuff. Glad I dropped by today.

  4. Alan S. Says:

    Anon – this discussion is about the churches of Christ. If you do not want to see churches of Christ discussion then why post here?

    God bless.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    When did I say I didn’t want to see the discussion? I just said my salvation doesn’t depend on what you say such as water baptism regeneration which is not in the Bible.

    I agree with Jay that we have to have the Holy Spirit to be saved the Bible tells us that those who have His Spirit belong to God – Romans 8:9 “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.”
    Acts 10:44-48 Cornelius and His household were given The Holy Spirit before they were water baptized they belonged to Him when God gave them His Spirit.

    I agree with Royce that this post is a very good post about the Spirit, though I don’t think any of you believe a person is saved if they haven’t been baptized with water.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Spelling correction

    Acts 10:44-48 Cornelius and his household were given The Holy Spirit before they were water baptized they belonged to Him when God gave them His Spirit.

  7. Weldon Says:

    And the problem is this
    We were bought with a kiss
    But the cheek still turned
    Even when it wasn’t hit

    And I don’t know
    What to do with a love like that
    And I don’t know
    How to be a love like that

    When all the love in the world
    Is right here among us
    And hatred too
    And so we must choose
    What our hands will do

    Where there is pain
    Let there be grace
    Where there is suffering
    Bring serenity
    For those afraid
    Help them be brave
    Where there is misery
    Bring expectancy
    And surely we can change
    Surely we can change

    And the problem it seems
    Is with you and me
    Not the Love who came
    To repair everything

    Where there is pain
    Let us bring grace
    Where there is suffering
    Bring serenity
    For those afraid
    Let us be brave
    Where there is misery
    Let us bring them relief
    And surely we can change
    Surely we can change
    Oh surely we can change

    Oh, the world’s about to change
    The whole world’s about to change

    -The David Crowder Band

  8. Glenn Dowling Says:

    Hey guys, Have you ever considered that when someone “falls away” they perhaps were never really born again? There are many manifestations of conversions. One is not self-justification. The truest is a life which reflects an indwelling of the Holy Spirit and includes service, obedience, devotion to God’s word, and hating sin. Consider God’s word: “Therefore, there is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus …Romans 8:1. With “no condemnation” – how could there be a loss of salvation for a true believer?

    At true, which it is then where is the condemnation? (Rom 8:1)

  9. Glenn Dowling Says:

    Please disregard the last line above.

  10. […] just so we’d know that we’re saved. He gives the test as detailed in this post and the next post. Therefore, in John’s way of thinking, there are only two kinds of people […]

  11. […] What the Bible actually says about apostasy: 1 John and Walking in the Light, Chapters 3 – 5, by … […]

  12. […] What the Bible actually says about apostasy: 1 John and Walking in the Light, Chapters 3 – 5, by … […]

  13. […] just so we’d know that we’re saved. He gives the test as detailed in this post and the next post. Therefore, in John’s way of thinking, there are only two kinds of people […]

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