Bible Studies/1 John
QUESTION: Hello and thank you for your time. What is your thoughts on how the apostle John believes compared to Paul. For example Unlike Paul, who presented exceptions, and dealt so often with believers’ failures to meet the divine standard, John does not deal with the “what if I fail” issues. Only in 2:1,2 does he give some relief from the absolutes. The rest of the book presents truths in black and white rather than shades of gray, often through a stark contrast, e.g., “light” vs. “darkness” (1:5,7; 2:8–11); truth vs. lies (2:21,22; 4:1); children of God vs. children of the devil (3:10). Those who claim to be Christians must absolutely display the characteristics of genuine Christians: sound doctrine, obedience, and love. Those who are truly born again have been given a new nature, which givesevidence of itself. Those who do not display characteristics of the new nature don’t have it, sowere never truly born again. The issues do not center (as much of Paul’s writing does) inmaintaining temporal or daily fellowship with God but the application of basic tests in one’slife to confirm that salvation has truly occurred. Such absolute distinctions were alsocharacteristic of John’s gospel.
ANSWER: Hi, Josh. It's nice to hear from you.
You asked, "What are your thoughts on how the apostle John believes compared to Paul?"
I'm not completely clear on what you're asking, but allow me to take a stab. By way of example, you mention that John and Paul approach the doctrine of salvation in different ways. If I understand you correctly, you believe that John focuses on tests of salvation in terms of black and white, while Paul deals with the shades of gray, the exceptions, the failures to meet the divine standard, and with ongoing fellowship with God.
Perhaps you think that they believe differently or are teaching different things. However, that cannot be the case. We are told in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." And 2 Peter 1:20-21 says, "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."
God is the author of the Bible. He guided men to write exactly what He wanted them to write, down to the very word. And he did so in a way that reflects the personalities and backgrounds of the human penmen. If God authored the Bible, then every bit of it is true, and the Bible cannot contradict itself.
So if two writers (John and Paul) seem to be saying different things, we need to look more closely and determine exactly what they are saying. In doing so, it's important to consider the background and mindset of the writer, his perspective, and the purpose for which he is writing.
Let's start with John. From what we can tell, John was the youngest of the apostles and one of the closest friends of Jesus, if not the closest. He was basically a young fisherman who came to know and value Jesus and wanted to tell the world about Him. John's purpose in writing his gospel is found in John 20:31: "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." His purpose in writing his first epistle is found in I 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."
So John's focus was that of leading people to faith in Jesus Christ and providing assurance of salvation through characteristic signs of a true believer.
Paul was a Pharisee--a very educated man who knew the Old Testament very well. He was a bit older than John when he wrote various letters included in Scripture, and his focus seems to be on doctrine. In other words, he wanted the reader to know and understand God's truth, and then to respond to it appropriately. He was a scholar, a teacher, a thinker.
Paul also deals with the doctrine of salvation, among other things. But he delves deeper into the complexities of this doctrine. He also talks about discipleship, or following Jesus Christ, and what that looks like. Often he talks about salvation--the new birth--as the basis, the foundation, the starting point. Then he builds on that by explaining how one is to grow and mature in his new relationship with Jesus Christ.
Different writers. Different perspectives. Same author. Same truth.
Is this helpful? If I did not fully understand your question, or if you would like to discuss further, feel free to write to me again.
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QUESTION: Thank you so much Mr Scott. Yes you understood what I was saying lol. Yes I agree with the bible as being whole and given by God. I understand there is no contradictions. Really I guess what I was trying to say is this: If I came up to Paul, and said I am a Christian, but I have killed 4 men in the past two days, stole many things this week, I'm bitter, I love sin, and I have cheated on my wife 5 times this week. It seems like Paul might say, well you need to repent because you are a carnal Christian. But I see John saying, No, you need to get saved. See what I am saying? John seems to write in black and white and absolute. You are either saved, or unsaved. You are either a sheep or a goat. On that day there wont be the saved, unsaved, lukewarm, carnal, was saved but fell away, sinning Christians, it will be Sheep and goats. So I see John saying your saved or not. This walking in sin and darkness shows you are not converted. Were I could see Paul saying well you are a carnal Christian and need to repent. See What I mean?
Yes, I think I understand what you're asking. John and Paul seem to take different approaches to the idea of salvation. John seems to be saying that if you do this, this, and this, and you don't do this and this, then you're saved. Paul seems to delve deeper into the theological complexities of the doctrine of salvation, emphasizing grace, mercy, forgiveness, and the importance of discipleship and maturity that should follow the new birth.
However, I still believe they're addressing the same issue from slightly different angles.
If you walked up to either Paul or John and told them you were a Christian but you "killed 4 men in the past two days, stole many things this week, I'm bitter, I love sin, and I have cheated on my wife 5 times this week," I think they would both give fairly similar answers.
Paul might ask what it is that leads you to believe you are truly a Christian. Did you trust Christ fully for your salvation, placing your faith in Him to do what you cannot do for yourself? Did you repent of your sin and acknowledge the need for deliverance from condemnation? If so, then what steps are you taking to grow in your faith? Are you just "saved, so as by fire," or are you growing in your walk with God? Is there anything--anything at all--that bothers you about the extremely carnal life you are living?
John might ask similar questions but acknowledge that he has some doubts about your salvation. He might refer to James' teaching that "faith without works is dead." In other words, true faith is evidenced by a changed life. If nothing changed, one has to wonder if there was genuine faith. But only God knows for sure what is in one's heart.
Paul focuses on what one must do to be saved. John focuses on the outward signs of what a true believer looks like after he has been saved. Both are right. If one is truly saved, his life changes.
At the same time, both John and Paul acknowledge that Christians still struggle with sin. Paul acknowledged his own struggle with the flesh and knew that all Christians will battle with the old nature until this life is over. And John, speaking to believers, acknowledged that we still sin when he said, "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
The key to understanding the differing perspectives of John and Paul is this. When one is truly saved, something changes. We don't become perfect. But we are New Creatures, the Holy Spirit lives within us, we become more sensitive to our sin, and things just are not the same. If nothing changes, then one has to wonder if there ever was true faith and repentance leading to salvation.