Every book of the Bible invites us to use different stories, language, themes, and metaphors to describe the good news of what God has done in Jesus. If you’re a youth pastor or small group leader, here are 9 ways to talk about Jesus in the letters of John.
GOD CAN BE TOUCHED
A group of false teachers in John’s day denied the incarnation of Jesus. As a result, those who listened to them were plagued by doubts. “If God didn’t join himself to humanity, how can humans know they can be joined to God?”
John’s answer is simple. We have real fellowship with God because God has physically joined himself to humanity (1 John 1:3). Jesus was real. Eternal life was touched. That which was from the beginning was born to Mary. God has saved us just as certainly as we’ve been born of our mother.
And while we, like John’s community, haven’t seen Jesus with our own eyes, John was an eyewitness. John ate, slept, and walked with Eternal Life in the flesh. John watched Jesus die, and John looked into his empty tomb. God coming in the flesh is a matter of history, and all the apostles agree. God has come to the earth; his name is Jesus.
GOD IS LIGHT
The light of God has come to us in Jesus. Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12). Jesus has overcome both our own and the world’s darkness by his loving, sacrificial death (1 John 2:2).
But how do we know we’re in the light, that we belong to God and share his life? John says that assurance comes when we love one another. Love for each other is how we know that we belong to God and experience the fullness of God’s love and light (1 John 2:5). God’s light was most clearly seen in Jesus’ love on the cross, so it makes sense that we will most clearly experience our assurance as we live and love like Jesus.
And even when we fail to love, if we confess our sin to God in whom there is no darkness, we can fully expect the light of his forgiveness. Because of Jesus we have an example to follow, but we also have an Advocate before God who has covered our sins, takes away our guilt, and shines the light of his love on all who ask.
GOD IN US IS GREATER THAN EVIL IN THE WORLD
The One in us is greater than the one in the world (1 John 4:4). The battles with the desires of our bodies and eyes have been dealt a death-blow in Jesus. Jesus has died, covered our sins, and risen from the dead. And his resurrection power is a spiritual weapon we all have to fight the evil one (Ephesians 6:11). Because of Jesus, we’re armed to the teeth and the devil is on his back foot. We are all children of a victorious Father who only sends his daughters and sons into battle once they are armed with resurrection life.
Even if the evil of the world conspires to kill us, it can’t win. Jesus died and rose. We have been anointed with that same Spirit and same power (Romans 8:11). There is no power that’s ultimately threatening, because Jesus has risen from the dead and lives in us.
HOW DO I KNOW I’M SAVED?
Much of John’s letter helps assure followers of Jesus that they are still in God’s family, even in the face of persecution. God has sent his Son to take away lawlessness and Jesus has destroyed the works of the devil (1 John 3:5, 8.). If John’s community abides in Jesus, they will never be shamed for their allegiance to him (1 John 2:28). They can be confident, even in suffering, that their home has been secured forever. And Jesus has done everything to keep them in his family.
If you’ve ever wondered which family you belong to, there is a God who is greater than your doubting heart (1 John 3:20). He died to defeat evil and has risen to encourage us even in death. We don’t need to guess which family we belong to anymore.
GOD IS LOVE
John wants his disciples to be confident that God loves them. To John, God’s love is a matter of history. In Jesus and for love, God died in the past and was raised forever. God has loved us first through Jesus, and continues to do so (1 John 4:19). We don’t need to be unsure of God’s love for us because God’s love is objective and demonstrated on the cross. We have no reason to be afraid inside of God’s love (1 John 4:18)!
John goes on to say that fear has to do with punishment; we’re afraid we’re not enough and that God will reject us (1 John 4:17). But God knew all about our sin, lack of love, and hatred when he died on the cross. In perfect love, Jesus died fully aware of what he was paying for. There’s no reason for you to be afraid inside that type of unconditional love.
CONFIDENCE IN OUR LOVE TOWARDS ONE ANOTHER
God showed us the definition of love by giving us his Son. And now we can show the world God’s love by loving those around us (1 John 4:21). But that begs the question, can our failure to love like Jesus separate us from God’s love?
John says we know we love one another because we love God and keep his commandments (1 John 5:2). The work of loving others isn’t another reason to be afraid we’re missing the mark, but proof that we are already God’s children (1 John 5:2). Our love for others proves we love God and have not been separated from his love.
ETERNAL, POWERFUL, LIFE
John wants everybody who reads his letter to know they have eternal life in Jesus (1 John 5:13).
More than knowing that our life will extend indefinitely in Heaven, John wants us to know that our lives on earth will be marked by the power of God. John says if we ask anything according to his will in prayer, God will hear and will give (1 John 5:14-15). To John, eternal life begins now because God’s Spirit lives in us and always hears our prayers.
John doesn’t say God might give what we ask, but that he will. Even our prayers for brothers and sisters who are walking towards death will be answered with the gift of resurrection life (1 John 5:16). We pray infused with the life and power of Jesus because, like Jesus, we have been born of God (1 John 5:18).
Lies have always been the greatest threat to God’s people. In the garden of Eden, it was a lie that convinced Eve to abandon fidelity to God and his commands (Genesis 3:4, 13). Like the false teachers in John’s day, the serpent robbed her of the full reward of Eden, made her complicit in the Deceiver’s evil, and forfeited her eternal life with God (Genesis 3:23). The temptation to tolerate false narratives is one of humanity’s original failures. And no matter how far we are removed from the world of Genesis, holding onto the truth in a world of lies is always a problem.
But the good news is that the Truth has already won and will again win. God promised Eve that the Truth would one day crush the lie of the Deceiver (Genesis 3:15). And on the cross and by his resurrection, Jesus shows that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:16). God’s people conquer the Deceiver by the blood of Jesus and the truthful testimony the deceivers cannot admit (Revelation 12:11). By his coming and by his cross, Jesus has spoken Truth to a world cursed under a lie.
And the Truth is we will not surely die, but have eternal life in God alone through Jesus alone (John 3:16). And one day soon when Jesus returns, every lie will be silenced, all temptations will end, and Truth and Life will be all that’s left.
HOSPITALITY AND THE KINGDOM
John talks about loving one another in every one of his letters. It’s the defining mark of those who know God (1 John 4:7). In 3 John, John even says hospitality is a litmus test of inclusion in God’s Kingdom.
That’s because Jesus himself is a generous and hospitable savior. He gave the expensive wine to a wedding (John 2:11).). He offers his body and blood as a meal to be eaten (Matthew 26:26-28). And when he finally convinced his disciples that he rose from the dead, it was over a shared meal (Luke 24:35). Jesus is generous and hospitable to his people. And when his people are hospitable in kind, God shows up. And we become coworkers and God’s chosen partners in the proclamation of Jesus and his Gospel.
There are as many ways to worship Jesus in John as there are facets of a diamond. I hope this article begins a long journey of seeing and enjoying all the ways the Bible reveals the goodness of good news of Jesus.