It didn’t take long for people to develop wrong ideas about Jesus.
While we cannot guarantee what the issue is facing John’s community, we’re sure there was some kind of belief that stood opposed to the real death and resurrection of Jesus. That’s the reason John, or someone writing in his name, wrote 1 John. Again, we aren’t for certain, but the common thought is the letter defends faith in the risen Christ against the heresy of docetism.
The Greek word dokeĩn means to “seem” or “appear.” Docetism, therefore, was a belief that Jesus only seemed to have a physical body. He was a spirit being or an illusion, of sorts. That flies in the face of both our understanding of the Incarnation and even the faith that Jesus died and rose again. If he wasn’t a real person, how could he die?
That helps make sense of several themes in 1 John. It helps us appreciate some of the bodily language John uses. For example, one of my favorite Bible passages is 1 John 2:6: Whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.
In one sense, that is metaphorical. Jesus had a way of life that he walked. He once said, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matthew 11:30). His yoke is his way of interpreting scripture, how to love God with all your life. His yoke is his walk, which is a perspective, a way of viewing the world and my place in it.
Another way to understand that Jesus walked, is that he actually walked. He used his two feet and sense of direction to go to particular places. Where his kingdom perspective led him, he literally walked from place to place.
If Jesus only appeared to do things, I can let myself off the hook.
I don’t have to do some of those things he only appears to have done. But if I see Jesus reaching out his real hand to a woman shamed by her past that tells me something about him. And if I see him feeding his real hunger while sitting at a table with a hated tax collector that reminds me of what I am to be.
Jesus chose where he walked and with whom he walked. That was a part of his real life. In that light, you and I are no different than Jesus. You are a real person. You have a real life.
You must decide where you will walk, what you will do with the life God gave you. It’s easy to make it seem like believing in Jesus’ way is all that’s required of us. A full biblical understanding of discipleship, however, says that we make real choices about going to the places and people where and with whom Jesus walked.