The ethical emphasis in John's first letter is quite strong, and it is always grounded in his Christology. Jesus Christ, who alone is truly righteous (1 John 2.1), will judge the world at his coming in accordance with his true righteousness. Every person will get what is coming to them, since the judgment and repayment is according to works.
But this doesn't mean that Jesus Christ is totally removed from us, a distant and cold judge who is disinterested in the outcome of the judgment either way. On the contrary, Jesus as the revelation of the eternal life from the Father (1.1-3) gave himself for our sins; indeed, he is the propitiation for the sins of the entire world (2.2) and he came to take away our sins and to destroy the works of the Devil (3.5, 8). So he performs his work—indeed, his work is what lies beyond our power to accomplish for our salvation—but there remains a work for us, as well.
Yet even in our work, Christ is not totally removed. John commends all his audience to maintain fellowship with Christ, because in this way they will not be ashamed at his return (2.28). The implicit premise is that, if a person is to have any hope at the judgment (which will be according to deeds!), she must maintain fellowship with Christ. This fellowship in the Holy Trinity is what transforms us and turns us, with our cooperation, into images and likenesses of Jesus Christ the Righteous.
For this reason, all of a Christian's life in anticipation of the return of Christ is a continual purification. John says: all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure (3.3). This purification is never removed from Christ's grace and intercession on our behalf (1.8-2.2). But we must always remember and spur each other on to living in this transforming fellowship with the Son of God.