In high school, I remember many occasions in which I was given the assignment to read a book, a piece of poetry, or a short story and then summarize its contents. The teacher then would helpfully remind the class that a good place to start would be, “The main message of _________ is …” I still remember having to read “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Admittedly, I didn’t like the book at the time, even though I was told it was it was a “classic” and I would like it when I was an adult (for the record, I have not read it since I was 15, so I cannot say if this latter statement is true). However, I do remember the assignment, specifically to summarize the main message.
When I got to college, I discovered a series of student guides called CliffsNotes & SparkNotes which present and explain literary and other works in pamphlet form or online. This would have helped.
This sad story of my English assignments leads me to ask a question: could I do this with the four gospels? Could I summarize the message of the Gospels or Jesus’ teachings simply and succinctly? Could you? Well, thankfully, there is a CliffsNotes version given to us by the Apostle John.
1 John 1 – 5 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2:2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
Thank you John! Here is a summary of “the message we have heard from [Jesus].” (I love it when it is that easy, don’t you?) So, let me break this down into three main points and hopefully this will help in your own life understand Jesus’ message as well as use this as a template for your evangelism.
“God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.”
John uses “light” here to speak of God’s perfection. His perfection in truth (Prov 6:23) and His perfection in moral purity (cf. Eph 5:8-13). Therefore, God becomes the standard of what to believe and how to live. To live differently is to live in darkness and not the true light, that is, God. The Apostle John’s gospel speaks also to Jesus as the light—“in [Jesus] was life, and the life was the Light of men”—pointing to the fact that Jesus and the Father are one.
John uses “darkness” to refer to sin, rebellion, and the works-realm of Satan (John 3:19; 1 Thess 5:4-7). In this “darkness” we are all naturally born and bent and when we live our lives in rebellion against God’s truth and moral purity as He defines it, then we walk in darkness. This truth leads to…
When sharing the gospel, I have spoken with countless individuals who say they are “good with God,” usually saying “I’m a good person.” But since God is perfect in truth and moral purity, then “good” must be defined by Him and only those who believe God’s truth and live in God’s moral purity can rightfully say they are good with God; that they have fellowship with God. This is exactly what the Apostle John says next:
6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
The point is clear: in spite of any claim a person has about their relationship to God, it is their habitual life-actions that show who God actually fellowships with.
“Fellowship” is a term that simply means “to associate, to have mutual interest, to be close in relationship.” Therefore, according to the passage above, the person who associates with God, who has a close relationship with God, is the one who makes their life-actions habitually in the light and not in habitually evil or rebellion.
Interestingly enough this “fellowship” with God is not merely with God, but is most undoubtedly plain in how we interact, associate with other Christians. In other words, a person who is a true Christian shows their life is in step with God by sharing their light-walk with other light-walkers. On the other side, if a person claims to be a Christian and yet has little-to-no care for other Christians, then the Apostle John is highly suspicious of your claim to be a Christian.
Now, if we are all honest and understand ourselves as God knows us, we are in big trouble because no one can muster up enough grit to habitually walk in God’s truth and moral purity. We are sinners from birth, dead to sin, enslaved to our own passions and lusts, hard-hearted, rebellious, greedy, and proud. Therefore, we have no hope to ever be in fellowship with the flawless God unless He does something to fix our problem. Well, He did.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2:2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
The point here is to say God made a way for you to be forgiven of your sin-filled life and be able to be in fellowship with our flawless God. The way is through Jesus Christ the righteous who became the satisfaction for our sin on the cross and that this forgiveness is an offer for everyone. How do we receive this forgiveness found in Jesus Christ? Through confession of sin. You have to see you are a sinner in need of a Savior. If you think you are a “good person,” and think that your “goodness” (as you define it) will get you into Heaven, you are deceived and make God a liar! Forgiveness starts with understanding your sin as God understand it—deserving eternal punishment.
But again, God has made a way and that way to forgiveness from your sin and out of darkness is through confession of sin, that is repentance, and through belief that Jesus Christ the righteous died on your behalf.
This the summarized message of the gospel. Do you know it? Do you believe it?
Now go out a proclaim it!