How to Grow in Christ from John’s Letters

Summary: John talks about loving one another and how to test the spirits of this world in his letters. He teaches us how to imitate good and godly people. We grow in Christ and in Christian character as we read John’s three letters.


In my last post, I taught on Christian character development from 2 Peter and Jude. In this post, we continue to discuss developing as a disciple of Jesus from the letters of John.

In his later years, before Emperor Domitian imprisoned him on the island of Patmos, where he wrote the famous book of Revelation, John was the elder stationed at Ephesus. He was the only apostle of Jesus to die in old age of natural causes. He had much to teach the Ephesians and us. We focus on his three short letters to discover how to be better disciples of Jesus. Let’s get started.

Recognize Jesus

John writes much about the difference between Jesus, the spirit of wickedness in the world, love and truth, and the world. The only way we as Jesus’s disciples will recognize the spirit of wickedness and the push of the world on us is to know Jesus. John spends as much time talking about who Jesus is as he outlines the wickedness of the world.

He opens his first letter by talking about Jesus, whom he walked with daily (1 John 1:1-5). He uses words for senses, describing Jesus as a real Person. False teachers in the first century, and even today, suggested Jesus was a spirit being with a fake body. They were called Gnostics because they believed you had to know Jesus by a secret, mystical knowledge.

John says the opposite. The disciples heard, saw with their eyes, and touched Jesus with their hands. You cannot touch a ghost. Jesus is real. We serve a real, risen King. Jesus is real, eternal life. Before the Secret Service protected the president, and still today, they investigated counterfeit currency. They did not study counterfeit money. Instead, they handled the real thing in all its denominations. Their philosophy was, “If you know the real thing, you will easily identify counterfeits.”

John says Jesus was with the Father, an echo from the beginning of his Gospel (John 1:1-3). He gives eternal life to all who trust in Him. We have joy with Jesus and Christians through sharing Him with one another in fellowship.

Jesus is on our side. He is our Advocate if we sin (1 John 2:1-6). He stands in our defense. John uses a specific word for Jesus, our propitiation. Propitiation has a rich meaning, referring to Jesus as our sin offering, and sacrifice to atone for our sins that brings forgiveness. Jesus sacrificed Himself to save us and reconciled us to Himself. If we sin, He stands in our place.

John says Jesus will return for His disciples (1 John 2:28-3:3). We remain holy until Jesus returns so we will not be ashamed before Him. He introduces tests to tell the truth from the lies. One test here is that if you live a righteous life, it proves you are born of God. We become God’s children because of His love. The world doesn’t recognize as because they don’t know God. Part of our hope in Jesus is by And recognizing us because we are righteous like Him.

Another reason we know we are born from God is through our love (1 John 4:7-21). Love comes from God. This is another test. If we love others, we are born of God. He made the first move by sending Jesus out of love. He teaches us how to love others. God lives in us as we love others. Jesus is the Savior of the world. If a person doesn’t confess that, the Spirit is not in him. Jesus’s perfect love casts out all fear.

He came by water and blood (1 John 5:6-10). There are several theories on what the water and blood represent. Some say it’s because water and blood flowed from Jesus’s side on the Cross. I think this may be accurate because John gives three witnesses: water, blood, and the Spirit. Jesus gives us eternal life when we put our trust in Him.

Deal with Sin

John uses sin as a test of a true disciple. He opens his first letter by talking about fellowship with Jesus and other Christians (1 John 1:6-10). Many Christians misunderstand John’s teaching here. Knowing Greek helps you parse how John approaches sin. He says you cannot say you walk in fellowship with Jesus while you live a lifestyle of sinning.

We must keep walking in Jesus’s light in fellowship with Him. This requires us to deny our fleshly passions and temptations. Jesus’s blood keeps cleansing us from all sin. When John says we deceive ourselves if we say we have no sin. This does not mean Christians can sin whenever they want. It means we sin once in a while.

If we sin, the great promise John gives us is that Jesus is faithful and just when we confess it, and cleanses us from our unrighteousness. This is how Jesus’s blood keeps cleansing us from all sin. We cannot say we have not sinned, or never sinned. We are not yet perfected in Christ. We will struggle with our flesh and sin, but we must not be sinning regularly.

He is clearer about not sinning regularly when he says we must not make a practice of sinning (1 John 3:4-10). Similar to Paul’s comments in the opening of Romans 6, John makes a distinction in practice sin regularly. He says sin breaks the law. Jesus came to take away our sins, so when we are in Him, there is no sin. God seems His perfect Son when He looks at us. When we abide in Christ, we don’t keep sinning. He says we don’t know Jesus if we do this. John relates one who keeps on sinning to being of the devil. The children of God do not keep sinning.

This doesn’t mean if you sin wants, confess, and ask for forgiveness that you are of the devil or not a child of God. There’s a big difference between practicing sin regularly and a momentary lapse as you walk with Jesus. If you stumble into sin or fall into temptation, get back up and walk with Christ again.

John addresses interceding for a fellow Christian who has committed a sin “not leading to death” (1 John 5:16-21). This can be a confusing concept. Scripture teaches all sin leads to death. But he makes a distinction between sin that leads to death and sin that does not. The best understanding I have of this is that John has talked about certain sins that are sins of darkness, since that don’t show allegiance to Jesus.

Such sins include denying Jesus is the son of God, refusing to obey God’s commands, loving the world, and hating one’s brothers in Christ1.

But if you sin and still want to be in fellowship with Jesus and seek repentance, confession, and forgiveness, this sin does not lead to death. Those are the kinds of sins we intercede with other Christians in prayer. And Jesus grants our request to restore our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus protects those who do not keep sinning, and the evil one cannot touch them. We must also avoid idols and remain true to Jesus.

Love One Another

One core concept John teaches is to love one another. He has shown us that God taught us how to love (1 John 4:19). We must love one another if we love God (1 John 4:20). We love one another because God showed us how to love. Just like in John 15, he calls loving one another a new commandment (1 John 2:7- 11). He says we must not hate our brother or sister in Christ. Such a sin comes from a dark place and is unacceptable in God’s children of light.

He also calls loving one another the message we have heard from the beginning (1 John 3:11-24). Cain is an example of one who hated his brother because his brother was righteous. Jesus laid down his life for us, and we should do the same for other Christians. We should love not only by our words but by our actions. Loving one another shows we believe in Jesus’s name and abides in God.

Our love for one another should give us complete joy as we want to fellowship and spend time with one another (2 John 12). When we love one another, we celebrate others when they walk in truth (3 John 3-8). We offer support to help and minister to them.

Love and Truth

As John writes to church leaders, he stresses loving one another because we are in the truth of Jesus (2 John 1-11). Walking in the truth is following Jesus’s commandments. One commandment is to love one another. So we do both, loving one another and walking in the truth Jesus has spoken to us.

Only those who obey Jesus’s teachings have the Father and Son living in them and walk with God. Part of living out the truth of Jesus means we do not have fellowship with those who do not believe in Jesus. It doesn’t mean we aren’t friends with them, but that we have nothing in common with them as we do with Christians. Paul has no greater joy than when we walk in love and truth (3 John 1-2).

Reject the World

John warns us to not love the world or the things in the world (1 John 2:15-17). People love the world don’t love God. James teaches about friends of the world and enemies of God (James 4:1-5). John describes those born of God as those who overcome this world (1 John 5:1-5). Through keeping God’s commandments we overcome the world. Our faith overcomes the world. When we believe Jesus is God’s Son nothing can overcome us. John has said that the One in us is greater then he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).

He warns us to watch ourselves so we do not lose our full reward (2 John 8). We must not indulge in the temptations of this world and our fleshly passions. Momentary pleasures are not worth losing our reward in heaven.

Spirit of Wickedness

John speaks of the spirit of wickedness in the world (1 John 2:18-27). Anyone disobedient to God is acting out the dark sins John mentions is in league with the devil. He calls us to test the spirits we face (1 John 4:1-6). False prophets in the world have spirits against God. Does the spirit have the earmarks of God or does it resemble the activity of the devil and his demons?

Only spirits that confessed Jesus is the Christ (Anointed and Chosen Son of God) and that He came as a human to earth to save us our godly spirits. But spirits that refuse to confessed Jesus is from God are from the enemy. John speaks of the spirit of antichrist that opposes Jesus and comes from the world. We are not afraid, for the Spirit in us as overcome the one in the world.

These evil spirits control the world because the world understands them and likes them. These are the spirit of error, but we listen to God and God’s leaders because we are from God. This spirit of antichrist goes into the world and deceives people (2 John 7). It’s a spiritual fight between God’s truth and the devil’s lies.

John writes about a person in the church who does not acknowledge apostolic authority (3 John 9-14). He is prideful, refusing to welcome Christians into the church. He speaks nonsense. Instead, John endorses Demetrius, who has a good testimony from Christian leaders. We should imitate good, not evil.

Growth Challenge

Has anything John said resonated with you? That’s the Holy Spirit telling you that you have business to do with Him to improve your character and making more like Jesus.

Up Next

Now that we have gone through John’s three letters and seeing how he talks about Christian character development, we turn to the last book of the Bible, Revelation, to see what the disciple of Jesus looks like there.

Image by annca from Pixabay


  1. I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), 247.

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