What Is the Purpose of the Tests in 1 John? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In the previous blog post we argued from Joseph Dillow’s book, The Reign of the Servant Kings, that John’s intended audience in 1 John are true Christian believers who have been born again and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. If this is the case, then how are we to interpret all of the tests John gives his readers in the epistle?

Dillow explains that some theologians misunderstand the purpose of the letter.

It is common to seek the purpose of John’s epistle in his closing words: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:13 NKJV).

According to the [strong Calvinist] interpretation, then, John writes to give believers several tests by which they can reflect upon whether or not they are saved. If they pass these tests, then they are truly saved. However, such a view of the purpose of the epistle depends entirely on the interpretation of the tests.

Are these tests of life, tests of whether or not one is born again, or tests of whether or not one is walking in fellowship with God? One cannot assume the former, which is the very point in question, and then use that to determine the meaning of the purpose clause. To do so is to argue in a circle. In a word, are they tests of regenerate life, or are they tests of abundant life?

The above verse is written to those “who believe,” that is, to regenerate people. How do born-again people acquire assurance that they are born again? It is not by reflecting on their works. Rather, as the immediate antecedent to “these things” says, “the one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself” (1 Jn. 5:10). He who believes has the Son, and “he who has the Son has the life” (5:12).

Although works can be a method of assessing one’s sanctification (process of becoming more Christ-like), the method for assessing your justification (regeneration by the Holy Spirit and adoption by God so that you can enter heaven) is to simply assess whether you are right now placing your trust in Christ alone for your salvation. You either are or you aren’t. Christ is the sole object of our salvation and our assurance. There is no need to wonder about whether you are being good enough or whether your works are sufficient to prove that you have been justified.

To argue that the tests of 1 John are there to help a person assess their justification is simply missing the boat. Our justification is about our belief, our faith, our trust in Christ for who he is and what he has done.

But if the tests in 1 John are not about our justification, then what are they about? The answer in part 2.