This is a noble objection because it aims to squash a very popular view of 1 John, where various verses are seen as “tests” of whether a person is actually saved. This “Tests of Life” model is deeply flawed and completely indefensible. I’ve heard Lordship teachers say that 1 John is about “assurance of salvation,” but it’s not difficult to see why this doesn’t work: If you have to “test” whether you’re saved or not, you quite obviously have no assurance. The entire approach is an exercise in futility. And since the criteria for proving you “have life” are so subjective and poorly defined, the tests can’t ever be counted on to produce a reliable result.
Free Grace teachers generally advocate the “Tests of Fellowship” model in opposition to “Tests of Life” as if it doesn’t suffer similar problems. You see, to say that the test is for “fellowship” instead of “life” doesn’t get around the fact that the criteria are subjective and poorly defined. Such tests cannot give you reliable results. Given God’s character, it’s difficult to imagine how God could give us tests that are unreliable.
John says in 1:4 that his purpose for writing is “that your joy may be full.” But when you consider the flaws of either “test” model, it becomes clear that if these “tests” are taken seriously, no one’s going to come out of it with any “joy.” They’re going to see that, well, they don’t keep His commandments, and so they must not have life. Or they must not have fellowship. Neither is good. How are such tests compatible even with the very first purpose statement of the letter?
To deal with this objection, we have to explore this idea of “fellowship.” I need to be sure that I understand what the term means. Unfortunately, John only uses the word “koinonia” 3 times, and all of those are in 1 John. So if we were to limit our word study to John’s writings, that’s all we have to go by.
In 2 Corinthians 6:14, however, we get a clear idea of the word’s meaning when Paul writes:
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”Paul is concerned about being “unequally yoked together” with unbelievers. The metaphor relates to oxen pulling a cart, engaged in a common cause. The oxen are “yoked together,” a picture of “joint participation.” Notice how broad this is. And the two rhetorical questions which follow add some emphasis. In English, (NKJV) we can see there are two different words here that correspond to being “yoked together.”
“For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?”In the first question, the word “fellowship” is “metoche,” and then the word “communion” in the second question is the Greek word “koinonia.” When you compare the English translations, it’s clear that the two words are synonymous, meaning “fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation.”
Accordingly, I take “fellowship” to be a very broad term which simply means “joint participation.” It refers to two or more individuals being united in a plan, like two oxen pulling a cart. The question to ask here is: “Is ‘koinonia’ a word that can be used to describe our permanent identification with Christ, and our association with God through faith in Christ?” It seems that it’s used that way in 1 Corinthians 1:9 and Philippians 1:5, so the answer must be “Yes.” But does that mean it’s used that way in 1 John? Not necessarily, but the fellowship mentioned in 1 John is fellowship with God, so we’re already in the ballpark. I am convinced that “fellowship” in 1 John 1 does refer to our permanent, unbreakable union with God through faith in Christ and that 1 John 1:9 describes how that fellowship is established.
John’s Purpose:So if both “Test” models are flawed, what is the point of John’s letter? Well… John tells us in plain terms. Purpose statements are found in 1:4, 2:1, 2:12, and 5:13. Considered as a whole, these purpose statements fit neatly under a larger umbrella. John wants to assure people that they really do have eternal life. It’s clear that John’s audience had been exposed to some false teachers and this apparently left a mark. These believers had evidently come under attack by deceivers who were trying to undermine their confidence in the truth they had already believed. The emphasis the text places on personal sins in John’s letter suggests that false teachers may have capitalized on the personal failures of the members. John wants to reassure these people again. And how better to do that than to re-iterate those basic truths of salvation, truths that the audience had heard and believed previously, but had been brought into question? In 5:13 John wants them to know that they have eternal life. In 2:12 He says that their sins have been forgiven (perfect tense). In 2:1-2 John reminds them that Christ’s advocacy on their behalf is the solution to their sin. All of this adds up to making complete the joy of John’s audience in 1:4.
The objection is that 1 John is about “fellowship,” not “salvation,” as if they are two different things. When we trust in Christ, we become “yoked together” with God, and we cannot become “un-yoked.” This, I’m convinced, is what John had in mind with the word “koinonia.”