The Gospel in 1–3 John

This article is part of the Christ in All of Scripture series.

Gospel in the Life of the Church

The word “gospel” never appears in the letters of John. Yet it is hard to imagine a book more intimately connected to the gospel of saving grace in Christ Jesus than John’s first letter, and in each of his other two letters John deals with a practical issue arising directly out of a care for the integrity of the gospel in the life of the church.

In 1 John the themes of fellowshiping with God (1 John 1:3, 6; 2:6, 13; 3:1–2), genuinely believing in the unique person and work of Jesus (1 John 2:1–2, 22–24; 4:2–3, 10, 14–15; 5:1, 5–6), walking in the light (1 John 1:7; 2:9–11), practicing righteousness (1 John 2:4; 3:7–10; 5:3), loving other Christians (1 John 2:10; 3:11–17, 23; 4:7, 11, 20–21), and especially, being assured of eternal life (1 John 2:3, 5; 3:10, 14, 19, 24; 4:17; 5:13, 20) are all deeply rooted in gospel reality, especially its transformative power.

John writes his first letter to “you who believe in the name of the Son of God” so “that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Two purposes are contained here: (1) that professing believers might test themselves to see the genuineness of their faith; and (2) that true believers would be assured of their right standing with God. In these purposes John helps all professing believers avoid a dangerous presumption and he helps all genuine believers avoid a debilitating uncertainty.

Agreement regarding Christ’s person and work is necessary for church fellowship.

Truth, Obedience, Love

The bulk of John’s first letter is taken up with three tests of genuine faith: (1) the moral test—do you obey God’s commands? (2) the doctrinal test—do you believe Jesus is the Son of God? (3) the love test—do you love God and his children? Early in the letter these tests appear distinctly, but as John proceeds they are increasingly intertwined into a unified picture of the truly gospel-transformed life.

In his second letter John reiterates the same themes of truth, obedience, and love. But now he especially addresses the church regarding the danger of false teaching, and in particular teaching that denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (2 John 7). From the opening verse his emphasis is on “the truth” (2 John 1–4), and he clearly instructs the church to have nothing to do with those who have departed from the truth of the gospel (2 John 10–11). Agreement regarding Christ’s person and work is necessary for church fellowship.

ESV Gospel Transformation® Study Bible

The ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible features 375,000+ words of gospel-centered study notes, book introductions, and articles that explain passage-by-passage how God’s redemptive purposes culminate in the gospel and apply to the lives of believers today.

John’s third letter is, to a large degree, addressing the opposite side of the issue raised in his second letter. Here the exhortation has to do with how to respond to faithful ministers of the gospel (as opposed to how to respond to the false teachers addressed in his second letter). John again emphasizes the priority of truth for the health of the church (3 John 3–4), but then proceeds to commend Gaius (and presumably those in fellowship with him) for actively supporting those in gospel ministry, and he encourages all believers to do the same (3 John 8).

This article is adapted from the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible. Browse other articles in this series via the links below.

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New Testament

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