The Sufficiency of Scripture

Tom J.Nettles

John, in writing this letter, uncovered the intensity of his heartfelt love of truth, love for Christ, and love for Christians and their well-being.  He wanted his master, the Lord Jesus Christ, to be trusted, honored, worshipped,, and obeyed. He wanted those that professed faith in Christ to have sound reasons for a solid confidence that their faith was real. He wanted false doctrine to be rejected and seen for what it is, the lies and purposeful deception of demons in their opposition to Christ. He described several vital elements that were the natural outflow of the new birth and served thus as clear marks by which a person could examine the credibility of his standing in relation to the saving work of Christ. Verse four of chapter one reads, “And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” We will use that verse as a key to understanding this opening text as well as the entire epistle.

I. Writing  – “We are writing” – John with focused intention points to the medium of writing as a vehicle for communicating divine truth. When the apostles spoke in the execution of their public ministry either as teachers in the churches or as evangelists in unchurched areas, they spoke, as ministers “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1) and as ministers of “a new covenant” (2 Corinthians 2:17; 3:6) bearing the revelation of God concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Just as surely moreover, as their spoken words were the “word of God,” even so their written letters to the churches were to be treated as revelation. The evidence for this apostolic confidence is abundant.

A.  John mentions the purpose of writing on several occasions in this epistle

1. Chapter 2:1, 7, 8, 12, 13 (3 times), 14 (2 times), 21, 26; 5:13. Clearly he believed that his apostolic authority undergirded his teaching and instruction through his writing in the same way that it did in face to face work. He is certain that a true understanding of what he has written will be essential for the assurance of eternal life.

B. See also gospel of John: 20:30, 31 and 21:25 – Note the emphasis on the writing of books and the sufficiency of what is written. Those events and discourses recorded by John will be used to bring to believe that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

C. Peter – Like John Peter was persuaded his apostolic authority extended to his writing and  even gave a more certain meaning to the Old Testament prophets.

1. 2 Peter 1:15 [“after my departure”]  Peter was writing so that the words he had preached and given in personal instruction would be preserved in a permanent form after his death. The permanent maintaining of the gospel witness depended on the preservation of the apostolic words.

2. 2 Peter 1:19 [“we have the prophetic word more sure”];  Translators and interpreters differ on the meaning of this phrase, but I believe that the entire context gives a certain sound. The word of the prophets arose from their experiences with God and the special revelation of the Spirit speaking through them and to them, so that their recorded writing were considered as divinely inspired. They knew, however, that their revelation, though completely true, was incomplete. Peter is claiming, in an argument (from the lesser to the greater) that the apostles’ writings give certainty to the meaning of the prophetic. They heard the living word of God Himself, saw his glory in miracles, heard his wisdom in teaching, and saw the manifestation of his heavenly glory accompanied by the voice of the Father from heaven. In the words of Peter as well as in the testimony of John, the apostolic writings have given a clear meaning and unmistakable focus to the Old Testament types and prophecies. (Compare 1 Peter 1:10-12).

3. Chapter 3:1, 2, 15, 16 – Again Peter links the recording of the apostles to those of the prophets and calls the writing of the apostle Paul “Scripture”.

D. Paul – Ephesians 3:4; Colossians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:14; 2 Timothy 2:8, 9, 15; 3:8, 10, 14-16 – A quick survey of these Scriptures will reinforce our understanding of the importance that the apostles placed on the abiding authority of their writings. Note in particular the very powerful claim he makes when he says, “When you read this you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ.”

E. Joshua 1:8; Psalm 119:65 ff; Ecclesiastes 12:10-12

II.  These Things – When John says “these things” he refers to his immediately prior testimony of the temporal and created life of the One who also was eternal, the giver of all life, and the content and source of eternal life, He also looks forward to the teachings that follow.

A. The eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ – “That which was from the beginning . . . which was with the Father” 1:1, 2. Father and Son are eternal and their relation as Father and Son is eternal. Though they share the same essence as deity, they are distinguished from one another by certain persona; properties. For created things generation means that the one generated is later in time than the one who generated. The real focus of the word, however, is that the one generated shares the same essence as the one who generated. So, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all share the same nature.  The Son, as begotten of the Father (1 John 5:18) shares his nature which must be eternal, infinitely excellent in all moral expressions of his nature and invincible and unopposable in all expressions of will and power.

B. Manifestation by Incarnation of the Son of God –

1. Heard with abiding results, have seen with our eyes, gazed upon, handled  (verse 1) All these verbs are used emphasizing experience and knowledge channeled through the senses as evidence of the palpable reality of their knowledge of this eternal one.

2. (Verse 2) the life was made manifest – The eternal life that is resident in Christ mysteriously became manifest in the human life and ministry of Christ. Much that Jesus did, he did as a man under the measureless anointing of the Holy Spirit; on significant occasions, however, he set forth prerogatives and power resident within him as eternal God. E.g. forgiveness (Mark 2:7); authoritative teaching (Matthew 5:21, 22); control of the elements of nature, (Matthew 14:25-33).

3. Jesus in his incarnation still maintained his self-existence (John 5:26) for such is so identified with deity that it would be impossible for him ever to forsake it. How great the mystery that this self-existent, but eternally generated Son of the eternal Father, had become visible in our flesh and as a partaker of our nature.

B. His blood gives fellowship with God – Through this letter he emphasizes the saving efficacy of Christ’s substitutionary death, voluntarily inserting himself as the recipient of the wrath due to his people. – 1:7; 2:1, 2; 4:10

C. New Birth provides a witness within to embrace heartily the things that are written – As we will see later in this study, John concentrated on this issue more strongly than others. This book has a robust doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

causes us to love truth

causes us to love and pursue righteousness

Causes us to believe in Christ

Causes us to love our brother

D. To have confidence and not fear as we think about judgment. John indicates that it is possible, with a clear understanding of the love of God as expressed through the death of his Son, to have no fear as we approach the day of judgment. The absolute certainty of salvation for those that are united with Christ in his death, combined with careful attention to the full display of evidences of the new birth (4:17-19), one of which is believing that Jesus is the Christ (5:1) lets the believer approach the time of death and then judgment with confident joy (2 Timothy 4:8)

E. To give the assurance of eternal life. (cf. with 1 Cor 2 “To know the things freely given to us of God.”

III. Joy – (Luke 2:10; John 15:11; Hebrews 1:9, 12:2; 1 Peter 1:8 for other statements that Christ came that we might have joy.

A. What causes distress –

Original Sin brought condemnation for all men -1:8 Those that deny the reality of original sin will find difficulty in achieving real joy for they will have no understanding of what constantly gnaws away their best intentions and most earnest resolutions.

Actual transgressions that aggravate our condemnation and give us over to greater dissolution of life -1:10 – If we are unaware of actual transgression then we can not have the increasing knowledge of the perfect efficiency of Christ’s death to procure forgiveness for our sins (2:1,2) and such a position about sin probably means that “his word is not in us.”

internal corruptions that captivate our affections and will and brings us step by step into destruction – Chapter 2:verse 16 describes the distinction between those that remain captive to the corruption of the flesh and various allurements of this world

B. What is Joy?

1. Removal of everything that hinders a vision of the true glory of God – Hebrews 3: 18 “They could not enter his rest because of their disobedience.

2. Renewal and expansion of all that promotes the true knowledge of him – Look at Jesus in Hebrew 12:1, 2

IV. Full or complete John indicates that the writing he is doing has resident within it the potential to make their joy full, or complete.

A. This means nothing lacking. All that God has for us is revealed in his word and secured by the death of Christ and applied to the believer by the Holy Spirit.

B. All that the Holy Spirit does, he does in conjunction with the truth of the word he has inspired.

1. Would it give you joy to sense forgiveness – 1 John 1:9 – Christ’s death makes it just for God to forgive sins and even makes it a matter faithfulness to his character and covenant that he do so.

2. Do you see the need for righteousness – 1 John 2:1, 2  And 3:7. Jesus Christ is the righteous one. His righteousness becomes ours by a judicial judgment of God as he acted in our place as the perfect law-keeper. His righteousness then becomes our motivation for holy living and the God-ordained goal of the sanctifying operations of the Holy Spirit. “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous just as he is righteous.”

3. Love – “Herein is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” 1 John 4:10

4. Holiness –  “Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (3:3).

5. Assurance

C. Some seek joy in the world, but the world, and all that is in the world is passing away. The way of the wicked shall perish.

D. Christian joy is temporal or stinted to the degree that we do not embrace and make ours every truth of the word of God.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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