Ever present in John’s mind is the challenge posed by the secessionists. The secessionists have been suggesting that faith alone is necessary for salvation, without any corresponding deeds. The issue, as Raymond Brown notes, isn’t hypocrisy. The issue is the secessionists “taught that actions or deeds were not salvifically important since one already possessed eternal life though faith in Christ.”29 In this we see a strong resemblance between John’s message and that of James, who declared that “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:14-17). As we have seen, John does have a place for grace— “if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous” (1 John 2:1-2), but grace doesn’t let a person off the hook. Love, like faith, requires action.Robert D Cornwall, The Letters of John, p 54-55
It is action that provides reassurance that one is from the truth. Action is related to conscience. But if our hearts do condemn us, God is greater still, and thus there is hope. As Eugene Peterson puts it in his translation: “For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. (vs. 20).
Therefore, if once our hearts are no longer condemning us, then we will have boldness before God. There remains the commitment to the perfection of faith as a goal. The secessionists, however, emphasizing faith over deeds, may have offered an attractive pathway. Raymond Brown offers this interpretation: “One is begotten by God through faith in Jesus, and deeds cannot change that. But the
author refuses to concede that the need of showing the truth of love in deeds must lead to a lack of confidence about one’s status before God.”30 Concern for action does not negate God’s forgiveness or
acceptance. That might be the point. They couldn’t be bold in their proclamation of the Gospel, because they lacked the confidence rooted in the love of God.
29 Brown, Epistles of John, p. 476.
30 Brown, Epistles of John, p. 478.