In our passage today, John wants to make sure we are sure. John is beginning his conclusion. He’s beginning to wrap up his epistle, and he wants to end it by making sure that we are sure. And that is why he uses this language of “testimony.”
Our brother Craig was called upon to give his testimony last week. He had to undergo a deposition and, if you ever have to do that, what you do is give your testimony. The lawyers are looking for your witness account on such things so that they can make their case.
That’s what John is doing here. He’s got one last chance to make his case. So he is spelling out the testimony he has concerning our Lord Jesus Christ. And again, his testimony is to make you sure that you are sure.
So we are going to look at his testimony this morning so that we can be sure we are sure. And I want you to notice three things regarding this testimony. First, the content or the substance of the testimony. Then, the veracity or the believability of the testimony, and then the purpose of the testimony.
Let’s begin with the substance of his testimony.
I. The substance of the testimony: Christ has two natures [6a].
In the first part of verse 6 he says, “This is he who came by water and blood--Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood.”
To what is it that John wants to testify? Well, it’s this fact that Jesus came by both water and blood.
Now, there are perhaps a thousand different views of what this means. I’ll give you the three main ones. One interpretation is that the water and blood refer to the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. You can see how those fit together; the water of baptism and the communion cup present a good analogy.
Another view is that John is referring to what he said in his gospel account. You remember that when Jesus was crucified he was pierced with a sword right through his side. They wanted to make sure that he died before the Sabbath, so they pierced him right through the ribs. And John records that a flow of water and blood came running down because of the puncture. Some people think that John’s words here refer to that event.
Another view is that the water and blood refer to two events in Christ’s life; his baptism and sacrifice. So this point of view says that John is emphasizing two big days in Jesus’ earthly life. Commentators give some reasons why there might be particular credence to this view. I’ll spare you that though. The point is, in this view, is that Jesus was really alive in human form and has some concrete events to which we can point to show it.
Now for the moment for which you all have been waiting! Which is the right view? Which of these do I believe is the right one? If you want to know which view I take, I’m sorry that I’m going to have to disappoint you. I really don’t know. I really don’t know if we can tell with precision what exactly John is talking about.
I can tell you this though: John is most definitely making sure that we know that Jesus was not just divine, but that he was most certainly a man too. I believe that John is emphasizing the two natures of Christ, specifically his human nature. Jesus came by the water and blood, not just the water, but also the blood. Whatever it might be referring to, the point is that Jesus was fleshy.
John’s audience was most likely struggling with an early heresy called Gnosticism. Gnosticism typically downplayed the physical dimension and stressed the spiritual and mystical. So they were making Jesus out to be a super spiritual entity that had little or no human element. And John wanted to make sure they knew that he most certainly had a human nature, as well as a divine one.
There is a tendency among men to gravitate to one or the other: the human or the divine. Typically in our day people tend toward the human element. But there are some who tip the other way. Some like to stress the mystical and the supernatural.
Islam is one such religion that does this. They don’t necessarily believe that Jesus was divine. But they do recognize him as a great prophet. He was a holy man. And since he was so spiritually inclined, they can’t fathom that Jesus was really crucified. They actually say that Jesus was taken up to heaven before his crucifixion. They believe that God put another person in his place.
Then there are people who eradicate Jesus altogether. They make it a mystical experience. They say things like “you have to release the Christ in you. You have to realize your Christ potential.” There is a sort of Eastern mysticism tone to it where Christ isn’t so much one who came to earth, but he is this thing you become.
Wherever you find people placing an emphasis on spiritual and mystical elements of religion, you will find that they downplay the historical and physical elements of Christ. The whole crucifixion thing typically gets lost too. Really, that’s one of the first things to go because that whole crucifixion thing seems a little too icky. It is too fleshy and physical.
But John says, “Make no mistake.” Jesus did come and he did have a real human nature, just like ours. And he did in fact die upon the cross. He shed a lot of blood, and his body was laid in a tomb. John wants to make that clear. That is the substance of his testimony.
Now, you can hear people of John’s day, can’t you? Here are the super spiritual people. You can just see them turning up their noses and saying, “There goes crazy Uncle John again—talking about that crucifixion stuff!”
So John needs to take his testimony to the next level. He needs to drive his point home. So in the next portion of the text—you might say the main portion of his testimony—verifies his argument.
II. The veracity of the testimony [6b-10]
How do we know that what he said is true? What’s going to make his argument believable to these super spiritually minded people? Well, how about talking about the Holy Spirit?
Look at what he says in the middle of verse 6, “The Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son.”
John’s saying, “You want to get spiritual? I’ll get spiritual with you. God himself has given this testimony. You don’t believe me? Then you do not believe the Holy Spirit who is right now testifying to these things! If you doubt me, you are doubting the Holy Spirit!” And you can kind of hear John saying, “Now how spiritual is that?”
But it is true. The Spirit does testify to the reality that Jesus came in the flesh and died on the cross for our sins. Where? You ask. It’s in the Scripture. It is in the gospel accounts. Certainly these people would have heard those stories which had been in wide circulation by this time. Perhaps they had even read the gospel John had written. We don’t know that for sure, but it is possible. The fact is, the Spirit was the one who had written the Scripture. The word of God was divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit.
That’s why John can then go on to say what he says in verse 10. “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.”
If you believe the Gospel accounts, then the Spirit who wrote them is living in you. You not only have the objective witness of the Bible, but you have the internal witness of the Spirit right in your own heart.
And John says, “If you don’t believe them, well then, you are calling God a liar. God said he wrote it, but you are denying it. You are essentially saying that he didn’t. So you are pointing your finger at God and saying, “You are not telling the truth!”
That’s a pretty good argument for spiritual people. John really takes them to task. You think you are spiritual? You are denying the Spirit’s testimony and you are calling God a liar! What kind of spiritual person does that?
You know, one of the greatest sins we have is thinking that we are smarter than God. When we fail to simply take the Scripture at face value and come up with something we think is better, we are trying to be smarter than God. That’s downright foolish. Don’t do that. Don’t call God a liar. Just accept what he clearly has laid down in his word.
That’s what John is telling these people to do. Don’t try to be so pious. Don’t try to go beyond the Spirit of God. Just take what the Bible says at face value. When you do that, then you really are being spiritually minded.
Now, if you look in verses 11-12, you’ll find out why John is so fired up about all this.
III. The purpose of the testimony: Eternal life
Read with me verse 11. “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
John’s purpose is quite clear isn’t it? He wants you to be clear on this; he gives you this testimony because he doesn’t want you to miss out on eternal life. He is so adamant about this because the consequences are so great! It is the difference between heaven and hell.
This is important because it emphasizes how necessary it is to believe in the right Jesus. John is showing us the importance of doctrinal accuracy, specifically when it comes to the person of Jesus.
This is why the early church took such great pains to hammer out the specifics regarding Jesus’ deity and humanity. They understood what John is saying here. They understood that if we get it wrong, the future will not be very pleasant. And that is why, after formulating the creeds that we have now, they said, “If anyone does not hold to this, let them be anathema.” That is to say, they are condemned. The framers of the creeds made no bones about it.
Now, we live in a day that is radically different. Ours is a day where we downplay doctrinal differences. Everyone just wants to hug and get along. And I’ve even heard people say that it really doesn’t matter what you believe, just as long as you are sincere. People will say, “It doesn’t matter if you are a Mormon or a Catholic or a Buddist, as long as you are sincere.” They think that’s what God really looks at.
But as you see here, that’s not true. John says that you can be sincere about the wrong things and go to hell. The only way to keep that from happening is to embrace Jesus Christ as he is offered to you in the gospel. If you don’t have this Jesus, then there is no hope for you.
I believe I’ve mentioned before how I love it when the cults come to my door. My parents will tell you how excited I get. They live across the street from me and they can always tell when they come. They say that the pitch and the volume of my voice increase—they can just tell I’m excited.
It’s true. I love it. Those of you who have played sports know what it’s like before you run out on the court or hit the field. You just feel it jumping inside of you. That’s the way I feel when I hear that doorbell ring and I see a white shirt through the window.
The other day some Mormons were walking down the street towards me. I don’t know if they saw me or not, but they turned down another road! I almost ran after them!
It’s true. I love to engage in that conversation. But that is not what made me want to run after them. It was more because I know that they have the wrong Jesus. And because they do, they do not have eternal life.
I might not have been able to talk to those Mormons. But I can talk to you. You must receive and rest upon the Christ that John describes here. He is the only one who is able to give you life. Listen to his testimony and
He who has him, has life.
Some have even said that 1976 was the year of the Born Again Christian. And ever since the term “born again” has been bandied about quite a bit. The thing is that virtually anyone can call themselves a born again Christian now.
I once was speaking with a lady and she made the remark that she wasn’t just any Christian, but she was a distinct kind of Christian. She was a “born again” Christian. The fact that she was living with her boyfriend at the time did not make any difference whatsoever. She was adamant about the fact that she was a born again Christian.
As of late, certain things have come to light regarding Jimmy Carter. He has recently broken with the Southern Baptist denomination because of their stance on what may be deemed certain “conservative social issues.” What’s more he is on record as supporting same sex marriage.
With the liberal use of the word today, it might be good to come back to the original sources and discuss what makes for a born again Christian.
That’s essentially what John does in the passage that is before us today. It may very well be that the people of his day were making much use of this “born again thing.” You may remember that John had written about it in the third his gospel. He tells the story of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. There you remember that Jesus told Nicodemus that he “must be born again.”
It may be that people latched onto the whole notion and were running around calling themselves born again Christians, when in reality they were not.
Whatever the case may be, in this passage John gives us some definition to the whole notion. He indicates how we can tell if we are truly born again or not. He lays out three basic truths that we can use to determine if someone is really and truly born again.
To determine if someone is truly born again the first thing you must ask yourself is if you have a Christian’s convictions.
I. Does he have Christian convictions? [1a]
A born again person will be convicted that Jesus is God’s appointed Savior. Look at verse 1. John here says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.”
How will you know if you are truly born again? Well, it’s going to be your conviction that Jesus is the Messiah. You are going to believe that He was the one God sent to be the savior. And you are going to put your faith in him and no one else.
Now, young people, I want you to understand what John is saying here. He’s talking about the true conviction that Jesus is the Messiah. He’s not talking about just knowing some information about Jesus. He’s not talking about someone who simply believes that Jesus lived a long time ago. For instance, I believe in George Washington. In other words, I believe that George Washington lived some 200 years ago. And I think that some of you children may think of Jesus in the same way. Sure, you know that he existed. Yeah, you know some things about Jesus—how he was born in a manger, how he was God in the flesh, and that he was crucified and put in a tomb. You may even acknowledge the fact that he rose from the dead. But you might not really have believed in him in the sense that John is talking about here. You still might not have the personal conviction that he is your savior and Lord.
Back in 1988 there was a segment on NPR that I think really helps to illustrate what I am talking about here.
In 1958, America’s first commercial jet air service began with the flight of the Boeing 707. A month after that first flight, a traveler on a piston-engine, propeller-driven DC-6 airliner struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger. The passenger happened to be a Boeing engineer. The traveler asked the engineer about the new jet aircraft, whereupon the engineer began speaking at length about the extensive testing Boeing had done on the jet before bringing it into commercial service. He recounted Boeing’s experience with engines, from the B-17 to the B-52.
When his traveling companion asked him if he had yet flown on the new 707 jet airliner, the engineer replied, “I think I’ll wait until it’s been in service for a while.”
Now you see what I mean? Here is a man who knew jets quite well. He knew so much about them that he could talk for a long time about the intimate details of the jet. But, despite his extensive knowledge, he did not yet trust it. He had not yet put his faith in the aircraft. He did not have the conviction that this plane could really carry him to his destination.
Some of you here today may be in that very same position when it comes to your faith in Jesus Christ. Sure you may be able to describe Jesus. You might be able to talk with some enthusiasm about his divinity or the nature of his death. But you have not yet truly trusted in Jesus.
Don’t think that your knowledge alone is sufficient. It is not. Young people, the Lord does not care how much you know about Jesus. What really matters is whether or not you have personally acted on that knowledge. Have you really believed in him and accepted him as the Messiah (your Messiah)?
I want you to know that it is only this kind of person that is really born again. If you do not have this deep seated conviction, if you do not personally trust Christ and believe that he is able to bring you to your heavenly destination, then you are not born again.
And maybe this is the day you do. Perhaps right now God is speaking to you and convicting you that you need to put your faith in him. Perhaps you have known about Jesus for some time, but never actually put your faith in him. If you’ve grown up in a Christian home, that may be true. You’ve heard about him for a long time, but now you feel that Jesus is really calling you to rise to the deeper level. It is time to make that step and trust him. If you are here today and feel like you’d like to do that, then know that Christ welcomes you. He is more than happy to be yours, and he promises that he will take you to heaven to be with him.
If that’s something you are convicted about today, I want you to talk to your parents about it. I want you to let them know that you took that step today. It’s a big moment in your life, and they need to know about it.
Let it be understood though, that this is what makes for a true Christian. To be a born again man you first need to ask yourself if you have faith in Christ. Do you have the conviction a Christian must have? But you should not only examine your convictions, but you should examine your connections.
II. Does he have Christian connections? [1b]
Look at the next part of the verse. Verse 1 goes on to say, “Everyone who loves the father loves whoever has been born of him.”
He’s talking about what naturally happens to a Christian. He says, “Someone who loves God is going to love other people who love the Lord.” Once you’ve become a child of God, you are going to associate with the rest of the family on a regular basis. Your connection to God is going to be verified by his connection to the rest of the family of God.
Do you understand what I’m talking about here? We’ve talked a lot about loving the brethren over the last few weeks. But I want you to understand what I’m trying to communicate here.
We have a lot of people out there who claim to be Christians, but they spend very little time with other people that are Christians. They have no real, vital connection with a local church or to the Christian community in general. Sure they will mingle with the Christians from time to time. They will talk about how much they love God. But they do not have a real bond with the church.
But think about it: To love someone or something, means that you spend a significant time with them. How do you know that I love my children? It’s going to be by how much time I spend with them. I can talk with my neighbors about how much I love them, but if they rarely ever see me outside playing with them then they should have cause to doubt my words.
You know what, I love ice cream. Do you want to know how I can tell that I love it? It is because I keep coming back to it again and again. I just seem like I can’t get away from it. As a matter of fact, I am happy to report that I have had ice cream almost every single day this week.
My love for it is shown by the time I spend with it.
We used to have neighbors with whom we were very much concerned. From time to time we worried about the state of their marriage. That’s because we rarely ever saw them together. He hardly ever seemed to be home. We’d often see him going out with his friends in the evening. Or we’d hear how he had been gone all weekend on a special trip with the boys. And on those rare occasions when we did see him at home, we never saw him with her. When he was around she wasn’t. She was off somewhere doing something.
We could have been wrong. But from our perspective, they didn’t seem to have much of a marriage. And it was because it didn’t seem like they had much of a connection with each other.
And that is how a lot of people are who claim to be Christians. They don’t spend a lot of time with the church. They rather sit at home and watch TV than get together for Bible study. When it comes to getting up and going to worship, it’s a bit of a chore for them. Their too tired; they’ve stayed up all night playing video games or chatting with their friends. And because their attendance is so spotty, you have to wonder if they really do love the brethren.
Now, I understand that there can be certain providences that prevent one from attending church or getting out to Bible studies. I just want you to think about your connection to the church though. Do you really have a yearning for Christian fellowship? Do you naturally associate with the body of Christ? Can you say that it is priority in your life?
James says that friendship with the world is enmity with God. And he’s saying there what John is saying here. What you love will be proven by how much time you devote to them.
I will tell you that this is one of the main reasons Elizabeth and I have always practiced morning and evening worship on Sunday’s. Some people think we are crazy because we do church twice in one day. We’ve actually had people tell us, in so many words, that they think that’s a bit overboard.
Yes, it is true, we want solid worship. We want good teaching. But what we really love about evening worship is the chance to be among the people of God. Even if the preaching is shoddy, it’s not that big of a deal in comparison to having the chance to fellowship with other believers.
I’m not saying that the ultimate test of one’s Christianity is how many times they go to church on Sunday. I’m simply trying to reiterate something of what John says here. Your connection to the church will tell you something of your connection to the Lord. And if you are not devoting a lot of time to the fellowship, then your love for the brethren ought to be questioned. And if your love for the brethren is not running all that deep, then you may want to question your love for the Lord. Because as John says here, the two are interconnected.
If you are born again, then you will have the conviction of a Christian; and you will have the connections of a Christian; and, as John goes on to say, you will have the compliance of a Christian.
III. Does he demonstrate Christian compliance? [2-5]
In verses 2-5 John talks about the law of God and the believer’s devotion to it. Look at verse 2. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.”
Do you see how compliant a Christian is? If you love God, you keep his commandments. How do you know you love God? You keep his commandments. You don’t object. You don’t make a big fuss over it. You willingly and happily comply with whatever he asks you to do.
This is what should make us doubt the validity of Jimmy Carter’s profession of faith. Yes, he might have called himself a born again Christian, but he doesn’t affirm certain things God has clearly said in his word.
A true Christian will not begrudge marriage as God defines it. He will delight himself in it. He will delight himself in all of God’s law.
That’s what makes the rest of verse three so amazing. It says, “His commandments are not burdensome.” The Christian says with the Psalmist, “O how I love your law!”
Sure, the law can really get us down sometimes. When you study the commandments, you see your sin a lot more clearly. It really drives you to Christ. But ultimately, you don’t think that these commandments are a kill joy. You don’t see them as restrictive and oppressive. They are a joy to you. Instead of being burdensome, you find it to be a delight. You might not comply to the degree that you want to because of your sin, but you wish you could.
And there is a sense in which you do comply because you’ve overcome the world. That’s what he talks about in verses 4 and 5. You’ve overcome the world. You have victory over those things that have kept you from obeying the in the past. Now that you have been born again, there is a new freedom that you experience. Obedience becomes much easier and even enjoyable.
Roy Matthison has a very good illustration of this compliance in his commentary on this passage. He gives the illustration of two women. Both women are equal in most every respect. Both women are married and have the same number of children. Both women have the same amount of work to do in a day and pretty much have the same responsibilities at home. The difference lies in their attitude towards their chores. The first woman finds her duties a chore. When she does not like the fact that she has to prepare the meals each day and play with the kids. It is a burden to her that there are dishes to do and laundry to wash.
The other woman has a different attitude. Yes, it is laborious work at times. But it isn’t as much of a burden to her. She doesn’t mind that she has to get supper ready. She enjoys playing with the kids. And when it comes to the laundry is done with a more cheerful attitude.
When you consider which of these ladies loves her husband, the answer is rather obvious, isn’t it? The first lady does her work, but her heart really isn’t in it. And it’s likely that her heart isn’t all that warm to her husband either. The compliance of the second woman indicates something of her love for him. She finds the work a joy because she loves her husband and wants to serve him.
The same holds true for the Christian. The work God gives may be difficult at times, but it will not be a chore.
And we have to ask, which of these two ladies represents you? When it comes to the law of God, do you find it a burden? Is it something that repulses you? When the law of God tells you to honor your parents or love the brethren, do you find that to be a cumbersome thing?
Or do you delight in the law of the Lord?
Maybe the illustration of the two women hits a little too close to home for you. Maybe you are one who is convicted that you don’t do your chores with a good attitude. And now you are saying, “Ok, I’ll try to delight in the laundry.” But you are saying it with a curmudgeon’s heart.
Others of you might be saying, “You’re right. I do need to change my attitude toward that mountain of dirty clothes.” And as you say that, there is a spirit within you that really embraces it. You know it is going to be a challenge, but there is sense in which its not just something you need to do, but it’s something you want to do.
That would be a good indication that you are truly born of God. It is exactly the attitude of the righteous man in Psalm 1. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
The one who has been born of God demonstrates a joyful compliance to what the Lord has commanded in his word.
I entitled this sermon, “The born again Christian uncovered.” It is because this passage helps us discover the real marks of a born again believer. John does nothing other than strip away the masks of false Christianity.
At my house we often like to play hide and seek. And sometimes my daughters like to pull one over on me. They will tuck their pillows down on their beds and cover them up with blankets so that it looks like a person laying under there. So when I come up, I tear the covers back only to expose a bunch of pillows.
That is exactly what John does in this passage. He pulls back the layers of in order to expose what lies beneath.
If you are here today and what you have found is nothing other than a true born again believer, praise God! Praise God that he has given you that firm assurance upon which you may stand.
But if you are here and you have found nothing but pillows (nothing but a false belief and imagined Christianity), then let this be the day that you are truly born again. Let this be your first birthday. You must be born again. And if you feel the Lord’s hand upon you, do not refuse it. Receive and rest upon Christ today. He offers you peace and forgiveness. Though all your days up ‘til now have been that of ignorance and false belief, today you can have salvation through faith in Him.
For the last couple of months all it seems like we do is talk about the guy to my left.
I wouldn’t doubt that some of you are starting to think that we’ve lost our focus; church is not as spiritually inclined as it used to be. It seems like things have gotten a little too man centered for your liking, and maybe its time to start thinking about finding a place that’s not so “worldly.”
It is true. Liberals love this epistle. It really fits well into their playbook. As we’ve said before, this epistle is very much the book of love. And liberals love to quote some of these passages, “God is love!” “We have to love one another.” And we will sing, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”
And, on the opposite extreme, some people who go by the name Christian—people who might label themselves “conservative Christians”—they can get a little queasy with this book. They want more preaching on Jesus. They want to hear more about Christ. They have had enough of this love your neighbor thing and they want to hear more sermons on true devotion to Christ.
Well, if that’s your attitude, you should be unsettled. As a matter of fact, really tears into that kind of mentality in this passage. We like to harp on the liberals—you know, the people who make too much of the horizontal aspect of the faith and they don’t put any focus on the vertical—our relationship with God. But we need to beware that there is a false piety that is just as wicked. To make the vertical the central focus, to the neglect of the horizontal, is just as wrongheaded.
In this passage John writes to show us what true piety looks like. He wants us to focus our attention on that horizontal aspect of the faith and understand that Christianity is very much a practical religion.
We see as much there in verse 20. He wants us to get our minds out of this mystical world that we can get caught up in; where it is all lovey dovey on God.
I. True piety is not a bunch of religious blather.
Look at what he says in verse 20. He uses rather strong language. “If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar.”
Now the word liar there is where we get our word “pseudo.” You’ve heard of a pseudonym. That’s someone who uses a fake name. He’s lying about his true identity. Well, John says there are pseudo Christians out there. There are people who think they are Christians, but, in all reality, they’re not. They are mistaken about their true identity.
And the reason they are mistaken is because they do not evidence any real love the brethren. They’re religion is all hype. They may seem like very pious people because of how much they talk about God, but in all reality they are not all that pious. Theirs is a false piety because there are no social or moral implications to their faith.
John wants to dispels this notion that you can have a love for God apart from loving your brethren.
Now, again, liberalism is a damnable heresy. And you know that liberalism is associated with the social gospel. It stresses the love of man to the neglect of any true love for God. Essentially it becomes all horizontal in its orientation and has no vertical element.
But John’s saying here that the exact opposite is just as heretical. If our religion is all vertical and has no horizontal implications, you’ve made an equally heinous mistake. John says, I don’t care how wrapped up in God you are. If you do not evidence any practical love for the brethren, you are not a Christian! You are a liar.
I fear for some people today. They are all caught up in their supposed love for God. They sing their praise songs at the top of their lungs. They can raise their hands and demonstrate an exuberance in their worship unlike anyone else, but they are all vertical. You can see them having a radical mystical experience with God. But they continue to be are some of the most irritable and impatient people.
You know, I used to run in Pentacostal circles. I got burned out on the liberal, mainline churches that had nothing to do with God. I used to sit in a mainline church and just try to count the number of times they just mentioned the word God. I would actually put notches on my bulletin when I heard them just say the word. I didn’t even care if it was Allah that they mentioned, I was just listening for any vague reference to the divine. And there were some services that I never even heard the word.
So I left that church, and I was really drawn to the Pentecostal churches. I spent a lot of time there because they loved to talk about spiritual things. Their services were rocking. There were times where they were so caught up in the worship and praise of God that they said, “You know what, the Spirit is really moving here. So let’s just skip the message and continue to focus our attention on His praise.” And I loved it. I loved that these people loved God and were truly adamant about setting their minds on the things of the Lord.
Later I became a bit disenfranchised with that. It was almost like I had gone way off in the opposite direction from my mainline church. I began to find that there was very little in the way of focus on the commandments of God. There a huge emphasis on speaking in tongues and these radical mystical experiences, but people’s lives were not changing all that much.
I continue to look back on those years as beneficial. I still have a great affection for my Pentecostal friends because of that zeal for the Lord that they have. But I recognize now that a lot of that was a false piety because there was no weight given to the social and moral side of the faith.
And before you go looking down at those Pentecostals, don’t think that we Reformed types are all that different. We tend to favor this kind of thing too. The thing about Reformed people is that we like to focus on God, right. That’s what Reformed theology does. It gets back to putting the god-ness in God. It puts God at the center of the faith and it emphasizes his sovereignty and his majesty.
So, like the Pentecostals, we get caught up in grand expressions of devotion to God. We just like to be a little more geeky about it all. That’s even the thing, we make the faith into this cerebral affair, as if Christianity consisted of a bunch of intellectual propositions. And what we end up doing is that we talking a lot about God. We’ll wax eloquently on the nature of the Trinity. We’ll expound the intricacies of the two natures of Christ. We’ll look like we are super Christians because we love to talk about the Transcendental argument and the intellectual preconditions of intelligibility.
And while such things might be nice, such things may be true, we have to remember that this is not the sole focus of the faith. It is not even the primary focus of the faith. If that is the way we are, then we’ve missed the whole point of Reformed theology—we’ve missed what John says, “for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
I will tell you, I don’t care how many Christian songs you have on your ipod. It doesn’t matter how many Together for the Gospel conferences you go to. You might read every single blog that is posted on the Gospel Coalition’s website. Whoop-t-do! If you are not loving the brethren, then you might as well be looking at porn because God does not take pleasure in it.
As John shows us here, our love for God cannot be divorced from real, tangible acts of love for our brethren.
You must understand this: Christianity does not consist of a bunch of pious sounding, holy hype. John is very clear about that. Instead, he says, ours is a religion of proactive service.
I. It is a religion of proactive service
That’s exactly what we find in verse 21. You’ll notice that he says things there in a more positive light. He clarifies what true piety when he says, “And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
Friends, I am not pleased with an esoteric religion. We will have failed in our duty before God if we neglect the parts of Scripture that talk about our duty towards one another. We will have grieved God to no end if we give no thought to the needs of those around us and we are not actively seeking to meet those needs.
And really that gets at the heart of what love really is. You know, one of the sources I looked at this week really helped to put things in perspective. He said that we usually think of hatred as the opposite of love. But that’s not true. Hatred is not the opposite of love, hatred is the absence of love.
You don’t have to do anything to hate someone. We think that hating someone means fire-bombing their house or calling someone a bad name. But that’s not hatred in the biblical sense. Hatred, in the Biblical sense, can be just standing there and doing nothing at all.
“Whoever loves God, must also love his brother.” When he talks about loving the brother, he’s talking about doing something on their behalf. He means actively seeking his welfare.
This is exactly what Jesus meant. Ok, you want to get spiritual and talk about Jesus. Let’s do that for a minute. Let’s talk about what Jesus said. Jesus gave us the Golden Rule. And what is that? Did he say, “Don’t do to others as we wouldn’t have done to us?” Absolutely not. He said, “DO to others as you would have done to you.” He stated it in the positive, which means he wanted us to be proactive.
“Don’t do to others” gives you more leeway, doesn’t it? You are allowed to stand by and just leave other people alone. As long as you are not interfering with their lives, you are Ok. But that’s not what Jesus said. He said, “DO to others.” His intent was that we do interfere with people’s lives.
You remember the context of Jesus words. There in Matthew 7, where this Golden Rule is mentioned, it’s actually in the context of his discourse on prayer! He’s just said, if you need anything, pray about it. Your Father in heaven will not give you a scorpion if you need bread. He stands ready to help. And the very next words are, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Perhaps the context even means that the Lord’s bounty will be supplied through you. From my perspective Jesus is saying, that your proactive service will be the means by which those prayers are fulfilled.
I might even suggest that this be a way you tweak the way you pray for people. When you get an email through the church list asking you to pray for someone in particular in this congregation, don’t just say a quick prayer for them. Yes, ask the Lord to help them. But along with that prayer ask the Lord if there is anything you can do to assist in the matter.
Don’t get me wrong, its good to pray for them. And given their circumstances, you may not be able to help beyond a simple prayer to God. That’s fine. But there may be times that the Lord shows you something more you can do. You might think of a tangible way that you personally can help.
All in all, in praying this way, you will at least begin to avoid the pitfall of simply “being spiritual.” And you can really begin to show your love for God in the way in which He desires.
Legend has it that the Apostle John lived well into his 90’s. It is said that in those later years of life he was so feeble that he had to be carried to church each Lord’s Day. But that did not deter him from continuing to speak. They say that upon arrival he would always declare one message: “Little children, love one another.” When he was asked why this was the only thing he ever said, he would respond by saying, “After you have done this, you have done all.”
We don’t know if that story is true, but based on what we have seen here in this epistle we certainly would not be surprised if it were. That legend most certainly affirms what he says right here.
And we must take it to heart. The vertical aspect of our faith will never mean anything to God if it does not have this horizontal affirmation. It is only after we have done this, that we have done all.
on to another church for something different.]
I asked myself this just this week, “Do I really need to deal with this topic again?” After all, you all have certainly demonstrated a great deal of love towards us over this past week. For which we are very thankful.
But the fact of the matter is, yes, I think it is important. I think you will agree that it is far too easy for us to forget that this is our chief duty before God. And I sincerely believe that the only reason why John stresses it so is because he knows that the embers of our hearts can turn cold rather quickly.
He was obviously writing to a congregation that was failing to see the necessity of loving one another. John needed to stoke their hearts and affections. And the way he does this is by repeating the message over and over. And as he calls us to love he give us reason after reason why we must do so. It is almost as if he is simply trying to add more and more kindling so that the flame of love might be increased all the more.
And in our passage for this morning we see a few more reasons added to the list. This time, as he calls you to love the brethren, he zeros in on God’s love.
Really, our eyes are lifted heavenward to see the love God displays in himself, in his Son and in us as his people.
In the first part of our passage, verses 7-8, John says that we must love one another because of the love God possesses inherently.
I. We must love because of the love God has in and of himself [7-8]
Read it with me. It says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
Now you see what John is saying here. He’s saying that Christians love because they have this personal connection to the Lord. We’ve been born of God. We know him [i.e. we have a personal relationship with him]. And since love comes from God and since God is love there is absolutely no way that we can do otherwise.
A couple of weeks ago Caleb spoke on the attribute of God’s love in our Confession of Faith. There you saw something of the overwhelming beauty of our Lord. Caleb reminded us that our when it comes to love, no one does it better than our God. That is because his nature is love. As light is in the sun, so love is in our God.
This is not to neglect the other attributes in God. Don’t think that John is saying that God is only love or that God’s attribute of love is greater than any of his other attributes. Not at all. John is simply stressing this attribute for this particular point that he is making. He is singling out the fact that God’s nature is to give of himself. His whole orientation is to bring about the blessing or good of others. And since we have a relationship with the very source and fountain of love, John says, “How can it be that we do not love?”
Think about it this way, if you come to have a personal relationship with a light socket, what’s going to happen to you? You will be filled with the same charge that that light socket possesses. And if you come into contact with anyone else while connected to that light socket, then they are going to experience something of the same jolt.
That’s something of what John is saying here. That which you are connected to should influence you and how you relate to others.
Perhaps we could draw upon the language of biology that John uses. My wife thinks that my daughter is a direct reincarnation of myself. There are some things that are obviously biologically inherited. She has a rather high pain tolerance, like I do. Her energy level parallels mine. And much to Elizabeth’s chagrin, she even has the same weird sense of humor.
This is my child. She has been born of me. She knows me, and so she has come to share some of my same traits.
The same is true when it comes to our relation to the Lord. If we truly are God’s child—if we really know him the way a Christian should, then we will demonstrate something of the love that is inherent in him.
But that’s just one reason why we should love one another. We must love because God is love. He has love in and of himself.
You’ll notice though, that after John talks about the love God has inherently, he talks about the love he has for us. His love in Christ.
II. We must love because of the love God displays in and through Christ [9-11]
In verses 9-11 John speaks of Christ’s sacrifice. And what he’s trying to do is get you to see the sheer grandeur of his love.
You know, it’s one thing to say that a guy is rich. But it is a whole other thing to see just how much money he has or see how much he can purchase with that money.
And that is what we see in these verses. John shows us how great God’s love is by telling us what he did to purchase our salvation. He wants to overwhelm you with the measure of his love, so that you will be moved to love each other. As verse 11 says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
Well then, how great is his love? You can begin to see the immensity of it in verse 9. John mentions that God sent his “only Son” into the world.
I do not suppose any of you would be inclined to give up any of your children. It would be heart wrenching to lose just one of your offspring. But if you only had one child, certainly losing that child would be even greater in its sensitivity.
If you have multiple children, you sort of have to split your affections between them. Not that you love any one less, but you have to share your love and split it between them. But if you only have one child, then all of your love has no other place to go. That child becomes the center focus of your affection. And so you showered your love upon them and cherish him in a particularly high way because he is the only one.
To have to part with this child would most likely be even more heart wrenching because of his increased endearment to you. Perhaps you have even seen TV shows or news broadcasts that do this. Your emotions ache more when you see someone lose their only child.
Yet God did not spare him. And when you remember that He sent his one and only son into the world, to be mishandled by men, and ultimately killed, you have to say “What love!”
Add to this the extremities that Christ underwent. Verse 10 says that Christ came to be the “propitiation for our sins.” You might have a different word there. Perhaps you have a translation that says “atoning sacrifice” or “expiation.” None of them are words we use in common parlance. The word means “an appeasing” or “something that satisfies.”
Yesterday some of us went out to the Radar’s for Joy’s party. When I got there, I was quite hungry. I got to propitiate my hunger with the delicacies that they served up. They encouraged me to do my part to help clear out some food and I was happy to oblige.
Well, John is saying that Christ’s sacrifice appeased God’s appetite for justice. The wrath that God has due to our sin was completely satisfied because Christ gave his life for us.
Now think about this in regards to the love of God. Many people misrepresent God’s love. They think, “God is so loving that he would never create a place called hell.” But this is to distort God’s love. It is to make it something that it is not; a love that is flimsy and over-indulgent.
Here we see that his love is not like that at all. We even see that it is a greater kind of love than that. It is a love that would not hold his son back from the terrible violence of hell. It is a love that is greater because of the sacrifice involved.
Is this not a great love?
But that’s not all. The love God is highlighted in that he gave his only Son, and that he sent him forth to undergo the torturous pains of hell. But John says, “Wait a minute!” That he would even love you is something! Look at verse 10, “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us.”
He’s saying, “It’s easy to love God. God is very lovable. There’s nothing not to love about God. But that’s not true when it comes to you!” You are not very loveable. Because you are a wretched sinner, there is nothing in you that would draw God’s affections naturally.
John’s reiterating something of what Paul says in Romans 5, “God shows his love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
You know, the greatness of your love is shown in what you are able to love. They say, “He’s got a face only a mother could love.” But really, if mom could see you the way God does, she wouldn’t love you.
The fact that God would even dare to glance at you, let alone crucify his only son for you, should show you the great measure of his love.
And the application is easy to make, “Since God so loved us, we ought to love one another.”
John brings up one other reason why we must love one another. He says we must love one another because of the love God reveals through us.
III. We must love because of the love God expresses in and by us 
When we love one another something glorious happens. God works through it to manifest his own love. He even reveals himself by it.
Look at verse 12. He says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”
Now get what is being said here. Since God dwells in us, something of his very own nature comes into view when we love one another.
You young people know that you can’t see God. He is a Spirit and does not have a body like we do. But John says that there is a way we can become acquainted with him. We can grasp something of God’s nature when we see his people loving one another. When we interact the way we are supposed to interact, then God becomes visible to those who might not otherwise see him.
I believe F.F. Bruce says it well in his commentary. Bruce says, “The love of God displayed in His people is the strongest apologetic that God has in the world.”
I think that this is what Peter gets at when he talks about the women submitting to their unbelieving husbands. Peter says that these unbelieving husbands can be won without a word simply by the conduct of their lives.
How can this person be won to Christ without a single gospel word being spoken? How can they know God if it be not through the Scripture? It is through the unvocalized preaching of our love.
I’m glad to have the opportunity to serve this congregation. I look forward to having the opportunity to expand the ministry of the church, particularly when it comes to doing some outreach. I have a deep desire to do some evangelistic work.
But no matter how important it is to be going out to the highways and byways to preach the gospel, it is no less important that this church be knit together in love. When someone enters this community of believers, it should be as if they walk out of the cold of night. The love that they see here should be in direct contrast to the lack of love that they experience in the world. In drawing near to us, they should see something different—something divine. It ought to be the character of God himself that they detect in our midst.
We've been focusing on this notion of love for quite some time now. And it will come up again in future messages. However, I personally think that this is John’s best argument.
I began by talking about how John keeps mounting up reasons for us to love each other, like putting kindling on a fire. I find that this is not just putting a few sticks on the fire to help it grow. Every now and again I’ve seen guys take oil and dump it on their camp fires to increase the intensity of the fire.
I find that this passage is like pouring oil on the argument. We have had the opportunity to consider the very nature of God—how he is pure and infinite love. We also considered the greatness of that love as it is shown in Jesus Christ. Then, to top it all off, we are told that we can be that which causes people to see the invisible God.
I pray that these glorious truths would be oil upon your hearts—the fuel that will make your love for each other burn brightly.
This story is only funny because there is an element of truth to it. Our churches are typically characterized by this divisive kind of spirit—a spirit that is contrary what we are called to here.
Unfortunately, our churches are not typically characterized by love. That is why it is good to return to the subject this morning.
I began last week by saying that the passage that we are looking at is here in the heart of John’s epistle. It is, you might say, the core of his message. The message of love is sprinkled throughout the letter. But here in the exact center he devotes his attention in to the topic in greater detail.
It is good that I didn’t have time to cover all the material last week. It is good to come back to it again because it is important to stress this message as much as possible. This is to be a place where love thrives. Love is to emanate from us in abundant measures. It is to be our defining trait as Christians.
Jonathan Edward preached a famous sermon entitled, “Heaven is a world of love.” In that sermon he explains how love is perfected in heaven. As you read it you can’t help but think how grand the world to come will be. But we must never forget that we are to make every effort to replicate that realm here on earth. John says here that the church is to be a world of love.
We can see that in the verses with which we began this morning. In verses 16-18 John deals with the practice of loving one another. He dives right into the practical ramifications of this love. And he puts it in no small terms.
I. The practice of loving one another [16-18]
When it comes to the practice of loving one another, you can sum what John says in these verses with just one word: sacrifice.
In verse 16 he points us to the quintessential act of love—the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. He says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.”
It is interesting the way he puts it too. He’s saying that this is not just the highest expression of love, but this is how we know what love is! This is what defines love for us.
Now understand that this is the answer that man has been searching for since the beginning of time. John has solved one of the most perplexing philosophical questions that has ever faced mankind. The greatest thinkers throughout time have tried to define and understand this thing called love. However, it has been an elusive mystery. And the reason is because love cannot be truly understood by intellectual examination alone.
To really understand love (to really be able to show love!) you have to experience the divine manifestation of it. You can’t look it up on Wikipedia. You can’t simply go to Webster’s Dictionary and think that you know what love is. The only way to know what love is to understand it by way of personal encounter with the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. You have to experience the overflow of God’s love as it is found in the crucifixion of the Son of God.
I wish I could say more about how important this is. Because there could be so many marriages that could be saved if people only knew what love was. There are so many children who would not be estranged from their parents if those families had only grasped this truth. I see so many today who just don’t know what love is. And all their relational problems would be solved if they simply came to understand what Christ has done on our behalf.
So many in the world today define love in a different way. They define it more in terms of infatuation. They think of love as attraction. Somehow something or someone catches their fancy—it makes them feel a certain way, and they are attracted to it.
But as soon as the emotion wears off the attraction dies. The relationship disintegrates.
John’s saying here, that’s not love. Real love goes way beyond personal attraction. John’s saying that the kind of love that we are to share is sacrificial in nature. It doesn’t give a hoot about your personal feelings or level of attraction. Real love isn’t even about you. The orbit is completely different. It is focused on the gain or good of someone else. And if it does have anything about you, it is about what it may cost you.
That’s what we see in Christ, is it not? Jesus laid down his life for you! He demonstrates love in that he was willing to sacrifice his very life for your eternal welfare.
I thought about this in terms of my vacation that I just took. There were some days that were just excessively hot that week. Temperatures were sitting in the 80’s and 90’s. When it was the most uncomfortable part of the day, I didn’t want to venture out of the house at all. On the other hand, Lake Michigan’s temperature was in the 60’s! It was a lot like swimming in a bucket of ice! I couldn’t get up the gall to go in it with my daughters most of the time.
If you think about it, the conditions were much worse for Jesus Christ. Do you think it was easy for him to step out of his domain in heaven? Waiting for him beyond those doors were the ice cold hearts of men and the scalding hot blaze of God’s wrath and curse.
Yet out of his love for you he left his heavenly home. He underwent all the miseries of this life, even death itself; in the form of crucifixion, and he did it for you.
This is the love we know, and that is the kind of love we are to show. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”
When it comes to the practice of loving the brethren, it is to be extended in the same manner. Hopefully you grasp the full weight of this. I don’t want you to let those words pass by lightly. We are to be ready to imitate our Lord and give our very lives for one another.
You might say, “Yes, I’m ready to give my life for them.” But what John says next really gives some definition to what he means. In verse 17 he gives a practical illustration. He says, “But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?”
In other words, you can die daily by making these smaller kinds of sacrifices for one another. And if you think about it, if we are not willing to make these smaller sacrifices, could we really be willing to die for someone?
I think that John chooses one of the hardest things one can do next to giving up your life. For some people, parting with some of their hard earned income can be like parting with a limb.
I like what Martin Luther said regarding this. He knew how hard it was for people to begin giving regular offerings to the church. In speaking of converts to Christianity he said that it typically takes 6 or 7 years before God baptizes their wallets.
It’s true. It is very difficult to part with one’s money, especially after working so hard to gain it.
Of course, this is just one area where we can show this kind of sacrificial love. John generalizes it in verse 18, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” In other words, let’s not just say we love each other. Let’s really show it.
Mark and I were talking just this week about the whole health care debacle that has just transpired. We were talking about how this is the future for the church. Once again, Christians will be called upon to bear one another’s burdens when it comes to health care. Not just financial burdens (which I know this church has had a history of doing), but providing bedside service for those who are hurting or perhaps even dying.
Perhaps this is even why the Lord has allowed this turn of events: so that we may truly be knit together as we ought.
As these things begin to transpire, and even now, let us be thinking about how we can practice the sacrificial love that God calls us to display.
And as we do, I want you to know that you shall reap the benefits of it. Yes, don’t think that doing these things will not be without its reward. Loving the brethren will profit your spiritually.
In verse 19 John moves from talking about the practice of loving one another to the power of it.
II. The power of loving one another
He says, “By this [i.e. by these sacrificial deeds of love] we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him.”
He’s saying that your acts of love had a certain amount of power. As you love others, your love will in turn help you when you question your faith.
You may remember last week I talked about the principles of loving one another that John lays out in verses 11-15. One of those principles I mentioned was that love is concentrated in the true believer. John said up in verse 14, “We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren.” I mentioned briefly the fact that our love for one another is evidence that we can look to when we are struggling with the assurance of our salvation. Or if we want to know if we really are a Christian or not, John says all you have to do is check and see if you are loving the brethren.
Now we went on to talk about how this implies commitment to a particular church. But I want to return to this notion of assurance. This is something that I want to make sure we are clear on. It is common to have doubts about your faith.
If you need proof of this, just look at verse 20. John says, “For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.”
John says that our hearts, sinful as they are, can get the best of us sometimes. It is understandable why we go through this: We all sin. We all know that we are not supposed to sin. We all know that God hates sin and judges those who sin. If that is the case, it is obvious that deep down inside we will start to think, “How can I be a Christian?”
What’s important to see is that John seems to say that he himself goes through this. He says, “Whenever our hearts condemn us.” He uses the first person plural, and seems to say that he too knows what it is like.
So if you are struggling with whether or not you are a Christian, just understand that this is something that is not untypical. It is something that is quite common. And maybe even take comfort in the fact that the apostles (of all people!) struggled with it from time to time!
And what does John say that we should do? To get out of that rut John says look at your love for the brethren. “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him.”
Our love for the brethren is to be an evidence of our faith. That we have committed ourselves to a local church should be an indication that our faith is real. That we do pray for them and are genuinely seeking to assist them should be something that confirms us in the faith.
John even goes so far as to speak of it in terms of our union with Christ in verse 24, “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him.” This is not saying that our keeping of the commandments makes us to abide in God. No, that can’t be. If it were up to us, God would run from us. (After all, this is why our hearts condemn us. We are sinning too much).
He’s saying here that since God abides in you and you abide in God, the natural outworking of this is the keeping of the commandments. To some degree, the life of Christ is evidenced in you and that should be an indication that you are of that stock and breed.
There is a building in Constantinople called St. Sophia. Originally it was designed to be a church. Unfortunately, now it is used as a mosque. But when it was first constructed, it is said that the architect had them mix large amounts of musk into the mortar. Since they were saturated with the sweet smelling perfume, the walls of the church gave off a pleasing aroma to all who entered. And even now, after a thousand years, the fragrance can still be detected. Because the perfume abides in the bricks, the bricks give off the aroma.
John’s saying here that if the fragrance of love can be detected in you, then you have all the evidence you need to know that the source of love abides in you.
Loving acts of sacrifice will have that kind of power.
So if you find yourself wondering about your state of salvation, don’t wallow in it. Just look at the record of your life. Think about how these people. Think about what they mean to you. And let the fragrance of your love be that which sets your heart at ease.
It is said that every time Alfred Lord Tennyson went to publish a book of his poems the publisher had to purchase an extra supply of l’s and v’s. It was because this poet had an unusual infatuation with one particular word: love. You could say that the print shop was not used to that much love.
It is my hope that this church exudes love like Tennyson’s poems. May this place be so saturated with the sacrificial love of Christ. And because it is may it be that no one questions their eternal state.
of Reformed theology. I wanted to stress the love that should characterize a truly Reformed church.
Today I want to do that with all of you. I want you to understand what we are called to as Christians. Being Reformed means nothing if we are cold and disinterested in one another. We can be as pure and clean in our doctrine as any of the greatest theologians, but if we lack love we have missed all the intent of Scripture.
John presses that upon us in the passage that is before us. Throughout this epistle he emphasizes the idea of loving one another. And in the passage before us, we have an extended discussion on it. Right here in the heart of his epistle as if to say, “The central focus of this book—the meat and core of what I want to communicate is this: You must love one another.”
I believe the passage can be divided into three heads. In the first section he deals with some general principles having to do with our love for one another. Then he deals with the practice of loving one another. Then he wraps up the chapter by talking about the power of it.
I had every intention of dealing with the whole chapter today. But as I was preparing this morning, I found that my manuscript ran long. So I’m going to pear things down and just deal with verses 11-15.
So let’s focus on the principles that John lays out in regards to this topic of loving the brethren. The first principle that I want us to be aware of is that this love for the brethren is commanded by Christ.
I. Love is commanded by Christ
This is exactly what is stated in verse 11. “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”
In other words, ever since you started running in Christian circles, this is the refrain that has been repeated over and over. You have been taught that you are to love each other. This is something that was handed to us through the apostolic teaching. Christ himself said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another.” In another place he says, “These things I command you that you may love one another.” And again, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for a friend.”
These are just a couple statements that I came up with without much research. And it shows that loving one another is nothing other than a divine imperative.
However, we could go back even further. The text may suggest that this isn’t referring to the beginning of your Christian walk or even since the time Christ walked the earth. In the next verse he cites Cain. So he may be saying, “This is the message that you have heard ever since the beginning of time.”
This could be a way to interpret the verse. It is simply stressing that God’s ways have never changed. Ever since the Garden of Eden God has commanded us to pour out our affection for one another.
I want to stress this. I don’t think I need to spend a lot of time on this point. I believe we all know that we are commanded by Christ to love one another. But let this permeate your mind: We are under divine obligation to do this. Do not take that lightly.
Some of you might be in rebellion to God right now. You’ve been holding a grudge against someone who is sitting in this room. You might be one who has not been very loving towards another brother or sister in Christ. Your language and demeanor has been rather cold or stand off-ish. If that is the case, you need to recognize that you are breaking God’s law, and you need to repent of that.
You are commanded by Christ to love that person. Don’t think that this is something you can fudge on. When it comes to life in the body of Christ this isn’t optional. You are not allowed to pick and choose who you love and who you don’t. Christ commands you to love them. And so you must.
Again, I don’t think I need to stress this too much. I think it is obvious that we are to love one another. There probably isn’t anyone in the world who does not know that. Even the heretics would agree with me on this one.
The point of departure is found in the next verse. After John tells us that love is commanded by Christ, he shows us how love is contrasted with Cain.
II. Love is contrasted with Cain
Look at verse 12. Here we find another principle that should guide our understanding of our love for one another. He says, “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother.”
Now the original language here is interesting. It is a little difficult and the editors of our Bibles try to help us by putting a period after the 11th verse and starting verse 12 with a new sentence. However, the Greek does not have periods. All of them are inserted by our Bible translators to help us. So, techinically, it could be read like this, “This is the message we have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother.”
It could be one sentence like that. And verse 12 could be modifying verse 11. So it is telling us how our love should look. Or at least, how it shouldn’t look.
It is my belief that John is saying that Cain thought he was doing the loving thing in murdering his brother. Now that sounds absolutely bizerk, I’m sure. But that seems to me to be the thrust of the passage. Cain was attempting to show love when he shed that blood.
Now certainly, this was a self-love that had captured his heart. The way he treated Able was a perverted kind of love. It was due to his love for himself, which clouded his love for his brother.
I think what is happening here is an echo of what we find in the book of Proverbs. In the Proverbs it says, “The love of the wicked is cruel.” That is to say, since men are lead by their own thoughts and intentions, rather than the law of God, their love that they think they are showing ends up hurting people.
I remember a story about how a couple was cited for the way they treated their dog. The owners had indulged their chocolate lab’s appetite so that it weighted well over 150 pounds. The thing had become so fat that it could barely walk. And when it did, it had to rest every few steps because it couldn’t bear its own weight.
Now there is no doubt in my mind that these people thought they were good pet owners. They were just letting their little pooch eat all he wanted. But that is wicked. That is some sort of cruel and unusual punishment. That’s not regarding the life of the beast. It is a violation of God’s law. It is not treating your pet in accord with what God’s word says about gluttony & proper health.
But you can think what was going through their minds, “Awe, look at the little poochy eat. What a good boy!”
The point is that there are different standards for love. And our love must be contrasted with the rule that Cain used. Our rule must be different than the world’s. Our love must be governed by the law of God and not our own selfish and wayward intentions.
So remember that. As you love one another, make sure you are consulting the Scripture. Don’t just think that you are doing someone a favor. Our love must be affectionate in that it is Christ centered love.
You could easily see someone here saying, “Well, that person wouldn’t want me to talk to them anyway.” Is that the way Christ tells us to treat each other? Of course not. Unless it is a petty thing that we should overlook, we are to go to them and settle our disputes. If we can’t, we bring it to the elders. Christ lays out for us how we are to deal with the problems we have with one another. He shows us what love is. Anything else is hatred and murder.
Yes, that’s right. It is murder. Look at verse 15. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer. John is reflecting the language of Jesus here. In the sermon on the Mount Jesus talks about how hatred is the root of murder. And to hate someone is to be a murderer at heart. It is to have a murderous spirit.
And, ultimately, it reveals our true status spiritually. And that gets to the last principle mentioned here. Love is not just commanded by Christ and contrasted with Cain. John also shows us that love is concentrated in true belief.
III. Love is concentrated in true Christians
He says in verse 14, “We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” Then in verse 15 he says, “You know that no murderer has eternal life in him.”
John’s point here is that the mark of a true Christian is his love for the brethren. Love is concentrated in a Christian. His life will be one that displays kindness and shows tenderness to others who are aligned with Christ.
Of course, he is going to show love to everyone. That’s obvious. A contrast is drawn here though. In the verse before John says that those who are decedents of Cain—those who are unregenerate and still under the power of Satan, will not have this spirit. Their tendency is to hate those who love Christ. They may never shed their blood, but they have that murderous spirit in that they don’t have our welfare in mind. They would think it just the better if we didn’t exist!
Not us though. If we really are a Christian, our lives will be marked by our love for one another.
As a matter of fact, this is one of the ways we can determine if we are a Christian or not. We’ve seen before that John gives us various tests whereby we can find out whether or not we are truly united to Christ. Here is the test of love for the brethren.
Are you struggling with assurance? Are you wondering if you are really a Christian? It is a common thing. I would say that the question enters our minds on occasion. If it is something you are dealing with, John says “Look at yourself.” Look at your life and the way you are treating other Christians. Can you say you have an affection for them and that you are concerned for their welfare? This then may be the confirmation that you are needing.
I don’t want to say much about this now. John returns to this thought later on in the passage. So I think it would be best to tackle that one later.
However, I would like to say this. Throughout the history of the church, this has been one reason people have stressed membership in a local church. Really, it has never been much of a question. It has always been assumed that you will associate with a church. But, logically speaking, if you are going to love the brethren it necessitates being associated with the brethren!
I say this because there is a widespread tendency today to be unaffiliated with a church. It is common for people to float from one church to another, we sometimes call it church-hopping. And there are others who have given up on church attendance altogether.
I understand why. There is a skepticism of authority that permeates our culture and a lot of people have had bad experiences with the church. And so people can be inclined to shy away from church membership and attendance.
I have seen this with a lot of people who are inclined towards home education too. After all, if there ever were people who were skeptical of governing authorities, its us!
But we should not let those things deter us from participation in a local church.
I understand that I am preaching to the choir. But I want to make sure the young people hear this. And you too, just in case you catch wind of this spirit that seems to be growing in many Christian circles.
It is imperative that we choose a God fearing church and remain committed to it as best we can. We are to be marked by our love for our brethren. And that necessitates regular interaction with the brethren. And the only way we can truly do that is through membership in a local church such as this.
In conclusion, let me just say that this topic of loving the Brethren was so important that Francis Schaeffer said that it should be one of the distinctive marks of the true church.
Since the time of the Reformation theologins have said that the marks of the church are the pure preaching of the word, the right administration of the sacraments, and church discipline. They are right in saying that. When a church compromises those things, it ceases to be a true church of Christ.
But I think that Schaeffer was right too. Love is also that which distinguishes a true church of Christ. The preaching of the gospel is to move us to love. The sacraments show us what love is and remind us of our duty towards one another. And you discipline people because they are not being loving as they should.
You might say then that love is the chief mark of the church. It is the one to which all others point.
And so I will put the challenge to you. Christ’s commandment could not be more clear. You must love one another. You must show the world that you are not of Cain’s linage. You must show the world that love really is concentrated in you.
So I will end where I began: Let love be the defining feature of this church. May you show the world that Love is the basis and constitution of this church.
I. Awe [1a]
That’s exactly what you find in verse 1. At the beginning of this chapter John just marvels at the thought of being adopted into God’s family. He says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”
Now, if you’ve ever been amazed at something. Perhaps there was a fantastic sunset. I remember a few years ago we were on vacation in Erie, PA. We were right on the lake, and we got to see the most dazzling sunset. The sky turned a myriad of colors. And I remember my wife just kept saying, “Look at that. Look at that.” She was just astounded by the beauty of it.
Here you have the same thing. John says, “See!” or “Behold!” or “Look at this!” It is the language of pure awe. And the way he phrases this backs this. When it says, “See what manner of love,” understand that the editors of your Bibles are helping to smooth out the language to make it more understandable. Literally it reads, “of what country of love is this.” John’s saying that this love is so awesome—being adopted into the family of God is so radically amazing—that he can’t even express it with normal everyday language.
If someone walked in here today and started speaking to you with a thick accent, what would you think? You’re going to say, “You are not from around here, are you?” That person would be from a whole other country. They are so different. They are so foreign to our everyday experience that we marvel a bit at them.
This is what John is doing here. God’s love is so different. Being adopted into his family is so amazingly profound that he says, “Look at it! It is out of this world!”
And this is the experience of every child of God. The thought that God would take a sinner like you—that he would take one of his greatest enemies, and bring you into his very own family, and lavish upon you all the rights and privileges that belong to an heir, this should cause you to stumble back with awe and say, “Look at that love!”
But not only will your adoption produce awe. It also produces alienation.
II. Alienation [1b]
Look at the second part of the verse. John says, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” I like what the ESV Study Bible says on this verse. It says, “There is a built-in friction between those who know and serve Christ and those who do not.”
Since you have come into the family of God, you have been excommunicated (or extracted) from the family of the devil. You are estranged because you know Christ and your faith radically alters your life. Your likes and dislikes are different.
It is odd sometimes too because people you used to fraternize with on a regular basis. You used to fraternize with the world, but all of a sudden you find yourself being somewhat distanced from people who were close friends.
During this time of year I hate going to play basketball in the mornings. Its not because I dislike basketball. I love playing. I look forward to it every time. But this time a year it takes forever to start a game. I want to start playing, but they love to shoot the breeze and talk about the playoffs. They talk about Lebron doing this and the Celtics doing that. This team will beat that team because of this guy who can do this move. They love talking about it. Me and another guy are just left standing there waiting for them to finish. It’s because we don’t know anything about professional basketball. And so for a few minutes we experience a bit of alienation from them. They know the NBA; we don’t. So until they are done sizing all the teams up, we find that we don’t have any real association.
That’s the way it is with you who know Christ. Once you become a member of his family you will find that you don’t always in.
I want you young people to understand this. There are going to be times when you find yourself in awkward situations. You will be with some people—maybe even some friends of yours, and you will feel like you are a complete oddball. They might even look at you strange, almost as if you are from another country. It may even come to the point where they treat you like you are from a completely different planet!
And there is some truth to that. Because when you love Christ you will be something of an alien. You are alienated because your life has been changed by your membership in God’s family.
And you need to understand that you shouldn’t change in order to fit in. That is not what you are to do. Never conform in order to be accepted. Just accept the fact that you are different. Be willing to be different. Be willing to endure the scorn that may accompany your differences. But above all know that your differences are due to the fact that you belong to God.
You are a member of God’s family. That produces awe. It produces alienation. But you’ll notice that our text says that it also produces anticipation.
III. Anticipation 
In verse 2 John talks about what is in store for us in the future. He says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
John is talking about the resurrection. He says, “Yes, we are God’s children now. But we have not yet experienced the fullness of this adoption.” At some point Christ is going to come again and it will be consummated. We will be resurrected—that’s what he’s talking about when he says, “What we will be has not yet appeared.” We are still waiting for the finalization, so to speak.
When my wife and I adopted our two children there was a probation period. We had to wait for 6 months before we could formally finalize our adoption. They were our children, but there was something that we were anticipating. It was that court date where we appeared before the judge. Once we did that the adoption was completed.
That’s analogous to what is being said here. We belong to the Lord. We are members of his family right now because of the shed blood of Christ and faith in him. But, in a sense, we are waiting for our adoption to be finalized. We know that there is a date where we will be called to appear before the Judge of all the Earth. He will come again in his flesh, just like he did 2000 years ago. And on that great day the finishing touches will be applied to our adoption: we will be resurrected and be given glorified bodies.
But it’s not just the resurrection that we anticipate; we also anticipate the relationship that accompanies it.
The verse goes on to say that “we will see him as he is.” In other words, Christ will no longer be at a distance. We will be able to look at him. Presently we are only able to see him with the eyes of faith. But then we will be able to be see him with the eyes he has given us. We will be able to enjoy his very presence!
Do you remember what it was like before you were married? Do you remember being apart from your beloved? It was tough, wasn’t it? You wrote letters. You talked on the phone. And every once in a while you got to see each other. That was different, wasn’t it? Seeing each other was a thousand times better than talking on the phone. Even now, with the advent of Skype and face to face calling over the internet, it does not compare with seeing each other in person. But you anticipated that meeting. You looked forward to it. You counted down the days. You couldn’t wait to see her or be near him.
That’s what every Christian feels in his heart. He anticipates that great day with great fervor. It’s just burning in you, and you cannot wait for that time.
I know that there are people who say that there is no such thing as a second coming of Christ. But that just shows that they are not true Christians. Every true Christian not only knows that it is true, but they have a deep yearning for it embedded in their hearts.
Once you are a member of God’s family you will find that it only produces awe or alienation or anticipation. But you will find that it also produces action!
IV. Action 
In verse three John says, “Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
John is thus saying, “You become what you are.” Once you enter the family of God, your life will change. You don’t go on acting the way you did before you entered his family. Your life changes. You start living like you are one of God’s children. You purify yourself by purging the sin that characterizes your life.
It sounds like the basis for a Walt Disney movie, doesn’t it? You can see it can’t you? You have a little girl who grew up in a rough neighborhood. She didn’t have anyone teaching her her manners. So she’s a little rough around the edges to say the least. But then she becomes a part of royal family. She’s adopted by some regal king and brought into his house. When she enters that family she knows she’s not supposed to act the way that she did back at her old bungalow. She’s got to start living like a king’s daughter should. She’s got to purge her old lifestyle. She can no longer run around in dirty clothes. She can’t put her elbows on the table at dinner time and slump over her plate and hog it down. She’s got to be more refined now.
That’s the way it is when we are adopted into the family of God. Once we become a part of his household, we have to start living like the king’s children. We must seek to do away with the those habits that are not keeping with God’s law. We have to purify ourselves.
The logical question that I have to ask here is, "How is your adoption affecting you? Are you acting differently now that you are a member of God's family?" You fathers, can your children see in you the love of God that we spoke of earlier? Do they come to marvel at the affection that you show them? As a father your love for them ought to reflect the tender firmness that God has shown you.
You ladies, do you find that you are purifying your life? When your husband makes a bad decision, do you support him lovingly? Or is it a time for you to peck away at him? Wives shouldn't be like vultures who prey upon the the open wounds of the afflicted. The rolling of the eyes, the "I told you so's," the comments to friends about the latest failure all should be purged.
And young people. Do you find that your actions are reflecting your status as a child of heaven? Are you allowing yourself to be a ruffian, or are you seeking to be more refined in the way you life, as is characteristic of a child of royal stature?
Sometimes obedience to God's law can sound burdensome and legalistic. But when you see yourself in this light, it changes things. When you understand that you now belong to the most regal family in the world, you will understand that obedience is not a heavy yoke. It is one that is only befitting of your new status.
You all know that two of my three children are adopted. And you have witnessed over the years that there is no difference between them in my eyes. If you camped with us this weekend, you saw that I disciplined them with the same firmness. At night I took the same amount of care to tuck them in and make sure that they were comfortable in the tent.
This is exactly the way the Lord treats us when we come to trust in Christ. He bestows all his fatherly affection upon us. He tenderly looks after us with his special providence. This is a glorious thing. The blessings of which cannot be fully expressed in human terms. And thought it may make us to be outcasts (or aliens) in the world's eyes, we know that it is wonderful thing to be a member of this family. May God grant that it does change the way we act.
And I want to talk how we do that today. This passage is here to help us distance ourselves from the world. If we understand this passage well, and if we take into consideration the terminology of the passage, as well as its rational and the ultimatum that it contains, then we will find ourselves well on our way to breaking with the world.
In order to distance ourselves from the world do this we need to first understand the term used here. What in the world does John mean when he says, “do not love the world”?
I. We must understand the term
When he uses the term “the world,” what exactly is he talking about? Mind you, this is a question that has haunted the church for much of her history. It has been defined differently in different ages. And of course, it has therefore affected the way people have acted. And if you define it incorrectly, then your obedience will be skewed.
For instance, in the early church many people believed the world to be society at large and the things associated with normal everyday life. They believed you had to isolate yourself. So there was a tendency towards what we call asceticism.
Back then many people separated themselves from the world by breaking off all connection with society. This is what gave rise to monasticism. The monks thought that if they left the “secular” world and cut off as much connection with people who were doing common everyday things, then they would be more spiritual.
With time things became more and more pronounced. The “separatedness” became more and more fantastic. It came to the point where some monks built raised platforms in order to escape association with anyone. They wanted to escape society, and what better way to do that than by living by yourself in the clouds.
The most famous example of this is a guy by the name Simon Stylites. He sat on a raised platform for 37 years and would not allow a woman to come near him—not even his own mother!—for fear of falling prey to the world.
This ascetic lifestyle is not what John has in mind when he talks about the world. John isn’t simply talking about people or the general populous. As a matter of fact, I would say that kind of life is sinful. Cutting off contact with society is a violation of the cultural mandate (Gen 1:28).
So it is not asceticism or the people of the world that he is talking about. Neither is he talking about certain tabooed practices typically associated with fundamentalism.
In fundamentalist churches there are certain practices that usually called call “worldly.” There are people who say that you can’t play cards or dance because those things are worldly. If a guy’s hair is a little too long or a girl’s skirt doesn’t reach the ankles, then they are being worldly. In other words, don’t drink, smoke or chew or run with the girls who do.
Some people go so far as to say that we shouldn’t be involved in things like politics or social activities because these are worldly things. Politics is just a diversion from things that are truly spiritual. Politics is too concerned with this world and not the world to come. At least that is the rational.
I understand why people think this way. I hope you do too. There is a legitimate concern for purity that these people have. But this isn’t what John has in mind when he talks about worldiness. The things that God has created are not wrong in and of themselves. As Scripture says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
So do not misunderstand what John is saying here. He is not promoting asceticism or fundamentalism. He does not want us to withdraw from society or from the things that he has created. He’s talking about the ungodly systems out there. To talk about the world, as John does here, is to refer to the cultural patterns that are against Christ. It is the common mentality among men that ignores His lordship and his law. It is that lifestyle that seeks to live independently of Christ.
Now this is the way most people live today. This is the way most Christians live. Barna polls tell us that less than 10% of Christians have a basic Christian worldview. The consensus is that Christians think more like unbelieving people than like Christians.
When it comes to things like evolution, feminism, homosexuality, entertainment driven worship, abortion, being relaxed when it comes to doctrinal matters, most people have no clue how these are antithetical to the Christian way of life. That’s due to the fact that they are influenced more by Rush Limbaugh or CBS news than the Bible.
Our lives are to be guided by the principle in Proverbs 3, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him.” In everything we are to lean on the teaching of Scripture. To do otherwise is to be worldly.
So there it is. That is what is meant by this term. To be worldly is to live by the principles of men rather than the principles of God. It is to follow the rebellion of culture rather than to follow Christ.
That is what we must stand against. That is the kind of thing we are to avoid. To “Love not the world or the things in the world,” is to live in reliance upon the Lord and upon his revealed word.
With that in mind, let’s consider more of what this passage says. Now that we understand the terminology of this passage, let’s understand its rational.
II. We must understand the rational
This passage contains a very tightly knit logic. Each verse contains a reason why we must distance ourselves from the world. The first reason is found in verse 15. It says we should distance ourselves from the world because it defies the love we have for the Lord.
A. Defies the love we have for the Lord 
It says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
John wants you to see how antithetical these two things are to each other. You have two choices: You either love the world or you love the Lord. You cannot split your love between them. You cannot share your love or love them equally. It is either one or the other.
This is exactly what Jesus was saying when he talked about riches. He said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
John’s point is very much the same. If you love the instincts and the desires of the world, then you are crowding out the Lord. The two are mutually exclusive and completely antithetical to each other.
I want to be very clear on this. This is something that needs to be hammered home with every passing generation. That’s because the tendency is to comingle the two. We like to try and coddle both the Lord and the world. And we need to recognize that we cannot. One will always triumph over the other.
We need to distance ourselves from the world because it defies the love we have for the Lord. But it not only defies the love we have for the Lord, it also defies the law we have from the Lord.
B. Defies the law we have from the Lord 
Look at verse 16. It says, “For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world.”
That last part is what I’m really focusing you on. All these things are worldly because they are not from the Lord. They do not originate in him and flow from him. They arise out of the cesspool that is the world.
Now, what is from the Lord? Well, it is his law. The law of God comes from God. He delivers it to us in order to shows us the proper way we are to live. But the ways of the world, these are lifestyles that are completely opposed to the way the Lord calls us to live in his law.
John helps us out here by showing us the law of the world. It’s the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions. Lust, greed, pride. All these are the principles of the world.
If you don’t believe me, just turn on the television. You will find these great commandments promoted on every channel. Flip on Sports Center and you’ll see. Lust, greed, and pride are the basis for virtually every segment.
But that’s the way it has been from the beginning. The first sin was based on lust, greed and pride. Eve lusted after the fruit. She was greedy for the knowledge it would bring. She wanted to be like God. She fell from grace because she lived by worldly principles rather than the word of God.
And this is the system that we are called to reject. Since it defies the law of God, we must distance ourselves from it.
But a worldly lifestyle not only defies the love we have for the Lord, and the law we have from the Lord, it also defies the life we have in the Lord.
C. Defies the life we have in the Lord 
Look at verse 17. It says, “The world is passing away [that is to say it is going to end] along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
Do you see how fleeting it is? It is evaporating. It is all coming to an end, and one day it will not be around anymore. But those who fear God will find it otherwise. Those who trust in the Lord with all their heart—those of us who fear God and keep his commandments, we have the great promise that we shall live forever.
Young people, I want you to recognize this. The world is passing away. I know that it is alluring. The world will tantalize you and beckon you to come join in. The world will say, “Don’t play around with those old fuddy duddy Christians anymore. Come! Come join our merriments and give up those old fashioned ways.”
But just remember that it’s a short lived thing. The world is passing away and it will be gone in just a matter of time. It will be a faded memory, just like last winter’s snow. Only those who hold fast to Christ will have the privilege of enjoying life in the eons ahead.
Now, that is the rational of this passage. John tries to convince us to distance ourselves from the world by giving us these arguments. And they are powerful reasons. The logic that he employs here is sound.
But now I want to talk to you about the ultimatum of this verse.
III. We must understand the ultimatum
Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter how good the logic is. John’s argument is air tight. There isn’t a word here that is lacking in the least.
But you and I both know that it is going to take more than mere arguments to break our infatuation with the world. Be honest with me. Love isn’t always rational, is it? No amount of reasoning will convince a drunk to give up his drink, will it? You can talk to him until he is blue in the face, but he is not going to loosen his grip on that bottle by words alone. His love for alcohol defies logic. The only way you can pry it away from him is if he comes to have a new and greater love grip his heart.
The same is true for you when it comes to the world. Be honest. You don’t need to hide it. We all do it. We are all enamored with the world and the things of the world. There is not one of us who is immune from lust, greed, and pride.
No amount of words are going to be able to dislodge it from your heart. Not until you find a greater love to replace it. That’s why I say that this passage has an ultimatum.
In the 19th century there was a man by the name of Thomas Chalmers. He preached a famous sermon on this passage. It was entitled, “The expulsive power of a new affection.” His argument went like this: The only way our love for the world can be broken is if we come to have a new affection that is greater.
And he said that this passage ultimately points us to Christ. It is only if we come to see Christ in his redemptive beauty that our love for the world will be overcome.
So I want to point you to Christ. I want your heart to melt at the thought of him and how he has fulfilled this passage on your behalf.
You know, he did what Eve did not do. Eve was filled with lust, greed, and pride. But Christ wasn’t when he was tempted in the desert. The devil came to him and said, “Fill your lusts! Turn these rocks into bread.” But Christ wouldn’t do it.
Then he tempted him with the desires of the eyes. He showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth and said, “I’ll give these to you if you just bow down and worship me.” But Christ wouldn’t do it.
Then he took Jesus up on a high precipice to touch his pride. He said, “Show everyone once and for all who you really are. Prove you are the Son of God! Cast yourself down before all the people. The Scripture says you won’t be hurt. God will have to catch you. Do that and everyone will have to confess it.”
Each time Christ held fast. He did what you and I cannot. Moreover, he came down from heaven to undergo those pains that are mentioned here in this text. The world is passing away. The curse that God applies to the world was applied to Christ on your behalf. He suffered upon the cross and entered the tomb so that you would not have to—so that you might have the life that is spoken of here.
The ultimatum of this verse is found in Christ the fulfillment of the verse. It is my hope that you will see the great love of Christ for you. And in seeing how great his love is, you will have a greater affection for him. One that will have an expulsive power over your love for the world.
I believe that the old hymn has it right:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face;
and the things of this world will grow strangely dim,
in the light of his glory and grace.
You can imagine the way he felt. He was pretty bummed. Obviously there was no going back. Retrieving the shoe would be impossible. Who knows where it could have been. So he did the only thing he could, he plugged on and finished the race the best he could with only one shoe.
I wonder if you have similar sentiments today. Sometimes our walk with the Lord can feel like we’re trudging through a mud run. We’ve been trudging through this epistle for the last several weeks, and it’s getting to you. There might be someone here who is getting bogged down a bit. Mark and I have been calling you to do some lofty things. And I’ll let you know that it isn’t going to get any easier. Last week Mark said that it is your duty before God to love the brethren. As a matter of fact, if you don’t love your brothers in Christ, then you are showing that you are not a Christian. You may remember that a few weeks before I said that it is our duty to keep the commandments. I was putting before you a high and holy calling.
What’s more, in the upcoming section you are going to be told that you must love not the world or the things of the world. We are going to talk about the lust of the flesh the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.
Put all this together and you have one big mud run that you have to slog through. And in times like these hwere you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed, you need some encouragement. And that is what this section of the epistle is all about.
The section that we are dealing with today and perhaps next week is an interesting one. It seems like such an odd break in the text. As a matter of fact, some Bible scholars don’t even think it should be here. But other Scholars, who actually believe the Bible, understand why John inserts it. John knows that you need encouragement. He knows that the Christian life can be like a mud run that bogs you down. It can be rough, and you can become discouraged—perhaps even to the point of wanting to give up.
So John writes to offer some encouragement to keep pressing on. The passage that we are looking at today is designed for that purpose. John leads off with it because it is the greatest encouragement that we can have for our walk with the Lord. It is the encouragement that comes from reflecting on the forgiveness of our sins.
And I want to spend a few moments reflecting on this verse and what it says about the forgiveness of our sins. I want you to renew yourself in the glory of this central tenet of our faith.
As Christians we have the unique privilege of enjoying the remission of sins. God has forgiven us! That should be a boost to anyone here today who is down. But it you understand the nature of this forgiveness, you’ll be even more encouraged.
I. Its nature
The word here for forgiveness is apheontai. This word, apheontai is a very interesting word. It’s a word that has had a lot of different things happen to it.
It’s like the fellow that just started working with me at work. He used to be a professional chef. And as a chef he takes a piece of fish and he starts adding all sorts of things to it. Then, wala, he’s got a delicacy that will knock your socks off.
Our word here is like that. The root word from which this word comes is “eimi”, which means “go.” But the word we have here is not eimi, it is a construct of eimi. Our word is an intensive form of eimi, hiemi. If you ad that little h sound on the front you make the word stronger. So its not just go (eimi). What we have here is hiemi, “GO, GO!” You understand why it came to mean “to send.” You are sending them away, almost as if you are chasing them out the door. It is a lot like what you moms do to the kids here during the summer time. You get so fed up with them bouncing off the walls, you send them out side.
But we are not done yet. Our word is not eimi, and neither is it hiemi. It is aphemi. There is a prefix on it, “apo,” which means away. So our word means to send away. Literally, it means “GO, GO, GO AWAY!”
Now isn’t that a beautiful word? Isn’t that a wonderful picture of what forgiveness of sin really looks like? God says to our sin, “apheontai.” He says, “Sin, GO, GO, GO AWAY!” In the strongest he terms tells it to get right out of the house.
That’s exactly what the book of Psalms means when it says that God casts our sin as far as the east is from the west. How far away is that? It is a distance that is infinite. So when it comes to your sin God says, “GO, GO, GO, GO, GO AWAY!” so that he cannot see it anymore.
That’s not typically how we think of someone’s offenses, is it? When we forgive someone, we don’t typically send it away like that. When we send somoene’s sins away, it usually acts like a boomerang. We throw it out, but it comes right back to us and sticks right in the back of our heads. It is always in the back of our minds. We are still bitter about it and it is still making us sizzle.
But God’s forgiveness doesn’t boomerang. He sends it out and it never comes back to mind.
The nature of our forgiveness should encourage you as a Christian. But so should the totality of this forgiveness.
II. Its totality
You’ll notice that this is an all encompassing forgiveness. He doesn’t say that just a few of your sins are forgiven. Neither does he say that some of your sins are forgiven. He doesn’t even say that most of your sins are forgiven. He says your sins are forgiven—as in all your sins!
As a matter of fact, the verb that we were just looking at. It is in the perfect tense, and it might be better translated, “your sins have been forgiven.” If it is in the perfect tense it means that it is something that occurred in the past but continues to have effect up to this moment. So if I say, “he has been slapped” it means that this girl just put a welt on his cheek and its still stinging. It happened in the past, but its effects are still being felt.
That’s what is being said here. Once you came to Christ, at the very moment you first trusted him, all your sins were forgiven. Every offense you had ever committed up to that moment was wiped away. And every sin ever since has been treated in the same manner.
A story is told of a woman who came to a minister, carrying in her hands a mass of wet sand. “Do you see what this is?” she asked him. “Why, yes,” he replied. “It is a pile of wet sand.” “But do you know what it means?” “No, I cannot say that I do. What does it mean?” In great distress she answered, “It is the multitude of my sins, which cannot be numbered.”
The minister spoke calmly to her, and asked where she had obtained the sand. She said, “down upon the beach.” “Go back there,” he said, “And take a spade with you. Heap up a big mound of sand; pile it as high as you can.” The woman’s heart sunk even further, understanding him to say, “your sins are more than you think!” But he continued, “Once you have done this, stand back upon the shore and watch what happens when the tide comes in.”
Of course, when the waves begin to break upon the sand, the heap will be swept away. Even if you try to throw more sand upon it, it will be of no use. It will continue to be reduced to nothing.
That is the way the Lord treats your sins. The Lord forgives them in their totality and not one of them is left on the books.
You have experienced this flood of forgiveness. You have seen a title wave come in and wash all your sins away. Not one of them is remaining. But why? How is it that you can have the forgiveness of sins? What is the basis for this forgiveness? Well, you find the answer to that question right here.
III. Its basis
He says your sins are forgiven “for his names sake.” The basis for the remission of sins is found in Jesus Christ alone. To say that it is “for his name’s sake” means that it is on account of Christ. It is by virtue of his name and the merit associated with his name that you enjoy what you have.
Let’s say that you are completely bankrupt. There is not a dollar to your name. But one day you start working John D. Rockefeller. Mr. Rockefeller needs some things from the store downtown. So he sends you on an errand to get those things. When you get to the checkout counter the lady rings up your order. When she’s finished the amount that is due is $100,000! How in the world will you pay for all that? You can offer to do some chores around the shop. You can say, “I’ll be happy to sweep the floors and tidy things up for you a couple days a week.” But that’s never going to cover it. The only thing you can do is pull out the credit card that Mr. Rockefeller gave you. You see the name on that card makes all the difference. Only the merit associated with that name can clear the debt and make full payment for the amount due.
That’s what John’s talking about when he says that you are forgiven “for his name’s sake.” John is simply giving you a quick reminder that your forgiveness isn’t due to anything you have done. It isn’t because you were willing to have your sins forgiven. It isn’t because you were able to make it up to the Lord. It isn’t because of anything you did. It’s all of it is because of the riches of atoning mercy that is associated with the name of Christ.
You men know that when you get in the dog house with your wife, you know you got to make it up to her, don’t you? When she gets mad at you, you make a run to the flower shop. You know that an apology isn’t going to be enough to cut it. You know you have to make a peace offering of some kind. So you try to muster up the old charm and you pick out a nice bouquet of flowers. And maybe you even take her out to a nice restaurant in order to appease her and get her to forgive you.
That might be what you have to do in order to get right with your wife. But that’s not what happens when it comes to the forgiveness God gives. It isn’t based in anything you do. It’s only because Jesus Christ stands before the throne of God saying, “I have died for this poor wretched soul.”
This was the experience of Charlotte Elliott. She wrote the hymn, “Just As I Am.” You know why she wrote that song? For some time Ms. Elliot seemed to have everything going for her. She was a gifted artist and writer. However, in her early thirties she suffered a serous illness that left her weak and depressed. During her illness a minister came to visit her. He asked her if she had peace with God. She resented the question and said she didn’t want to talk about it.
A few days later though, she went to apologize to that minister. She then confessed that she wanted to clean up a few things in her life before becoming a Christian. The pastor looked at her and answered, “Come just as you are.” He was telling her to direct her attention to Christ. Remember that his satisfaction for her sins was enough. She couldn’t do anything to improve it or make it up to Christ.
Well, that was enough for Charlotte Elliot. She yielded herself to the Lord that day. Later on in her life she remembered that event. And in commemoration she penned the words to the hymn, “Just as I am”.
Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou biddedst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
Maybe you are here today and you’ve never known this. Maybe you’ve always thought that you needed to spruce up a bit in order to be a Christian. I hope you see that that’s not true. I hope you see that the only thing you need to do is cling solely to Jesus.
IV. Its result
It is my conviction that when John says, “Little children” he is not simply referring to children or people who are young in the faith. I believe that he is speaking to every Christian person. There are a number of times in this epistle that he does this. He does it at the beginning of this chapter (John 2:1), and again in verse 18 (John 2:18).
There is some debate about this. Commentators like to opine on to whom he is directing his attention. I don’t think it is of great significance. Even if he is directing these words to the babes in the faith, the words are heard by us all and apply just as much.
A long time ago the church I attended had what they called “children’s sermons.” It was a part of the service where the little kids came forward and gathered around the pastor. He would then talk to them and give them a little Bible lesson. He would put it in the simplest terms he could for the kids. But everyone else in the congregation was listening. And sometimes I thought that the children’s message was more for the adults than for the children.
Perhaps that’s what is going on here. Whatever the case may be, what is said is worth notice. We are called, “little children.” I believe that John is trying to remind us of what we are in relation to the Lord. We’ve not only had our sins forgiven, but because our sins have been forgiven we have been adopted. We’ve become part of the family of God.
We have a lot of kids from the neighborhood over to our house. During the summer our house is usually where they congregate. But of all the kids that come there, there are only three that are mine. And there is something unique about that. I have a relationship with them that is different from the relationship I have with the other kids. It is more personal and entails many other things.
And that is the way it is with us. We have become children of God. We are under his Fatherly care. We are able to relate to him in a personal way. God has told our sins to “Go, go, go away.” And as a result we have the unique privilege of belonging to the household of heaven.
So as you contemplate the things that you are called to do. When you are having trouble loving your brothers or feel like you just want to give yourself over to the world, remember this. Remember how you have been forgiven. For that changes everything.
In our passage this morning John expresses how one can know if you have a true relationship with Jesus. He helps us distinguish between the one who truly knows Christ and the one that merely says he knows Christ. In order to help us each determine where we stand, he provides us with a sure fire way of discerning which camp to which we belong. It is what we might call “the ethical test.” He says all we have to do to determine whether or not we really know Jesus is answer one question: Do we keep his commandments?
Verse 3 states the proposition, “By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” The next verse simply states the opposite. “Whoever says he knows him but does not keep his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him.” The following verses state it positively again, just with different words.
This is basically an echo of what Jesus himself said during his earthly life. You remember Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John simply reiterates this teaching in the verses before us.
I know that this will be a comfort to many of you.
I. There is a great comfort to those of us who are truly Christians.
There are many who struggle with this. There are people who absolutely do know Christ but do not have the assurance that they do. When asked if they are a Christian, they say to themselves, “I think I am. I hope I am. Or I wish that I was.” These people are in a pitiful state. They are living their lives in a continual state of frustration and confusion.
This may describe some of you too. One of you may very well be in this sorry state of affairs. You feel like you are in a night that is so dark that it makes midnight almost seem like high noon. This lack of assurance has robbed you of joy and you feel like you are in a state of spiritual flux.
Now your prayer life is being greatly hindered. It’s like your prayers are flitting around like butterflies—they go here and there, but they never truly fly unto heaven with any zeal or confidence. You find yourself praying, “Lord, if you are out there, can you please help.” You do not come boldly before the throne of grace as a Christian ought.
If you are one such person who lacks this assurance, I want you to know that you can know that you know the Lord Jesus. And it is imperative that you do know. Charles Spurgeon once said that, next to knowing Christ, there is nothing more important than knowing that you know Christ.
And John here provides a way for you to have this sure knowledge. All the comfort you need may be found in this: Are you really and truly obeying the Lord? Are you concerned that you are living the Christian life as fully as you can? Do you find it your aim to keep from sin and follow his commandments?
Now, understand, as you look at these commandments you will find that you aren’t perfect. As a matter of fact, the harder you look, the worse things will seem!
I remember the time when I led a study on the 10 commandments. For six months we studied virtually every nook and cranny of the law of God. And at the end of every class, we all walked out of there recognizing that we had failed yet again. There was not one point where we could kick up our heals and say, “I did it!” Not at all. Every time we came to class, we saw our failure.
So if you look at God’s law and see you failure, don’t let that worry you. That shouldn’t drag you down or make you more depressed. You have to remember that our relationship with the Lord isn’t built upon our performance. Our relationship is based on grace and what Christ has done on our behalf.
John doesn’t want you to think that your relationship is built on what you can do. He is simply saying that our obedience to the commandments can give us something of a confirmation. If we are truly seeking to heed these commandments the best we can, we may rest assured that we really do know Christ.
Notice what it says in verse 6 again, “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way that he walked.” Obviously, we can’t walk exactly like Jesus. That’s impossible. But we can mimic it in some degree.
My daughter Geneva is just learning to walk. And one of the things that we like to do in our house to exhaust some pent up energy is have races. We will start in our living room, race through the dining room to my office, and then race back to see who wins. The other day little Geneva saw Paige and I racing. Do you know what she did? She got up and started doing her little baby walk down to my office and back. Now it was hilarious to watch. There’s a reason why they call them toddlers! She teetered and tottered. She fell down and sometimes started slipping off to the side as if gravity shifted on her. But she did her best to race just like us.
Now was she just like her father? Absolutely not. But she sought to walk in the way her father did.
And that is what is being said here. You can know that you are Christ’s if you are seeking to walk as he did. You might just be a toddler, but you are walking.
So just ask youself: Do you take his commandments seriously? Do you really long to have no other gods before him? Do you love and cherish his name so much that you wish never to take it in vain. What about the Lord’s Day? Is it a day that you delight in? Is it your aim to honor your father and mother?” If you answer is yes, then there is your proof!
And if you can’t answer it without weeping—if you grieve that you don’t love him the way you should, then you can let that be your assurance. If you are saddened that you can’t please him the way you ought, then that’s a great proof. That’s what we call repentance. And that’s what He wants more than anything!
If you are walking, even if it’s not that great, then you should not let your mind rattle you any longer. Be comforted. Rest assured, good Christian, that you have a genuine relationship with the Lord.
But if that doesn’t describe you, then you better think twice about the genuineness of your faith. This passage will most certainly be a comfort to some in this congregation. But it very well may cause others a great deal of discomfort. For it serves as a warning to people who think they are Christians, but are not.
II. There is a great warning to those of us who merely profess to be Christians.
Some of you have been lying to yourselves. You’ve been walking around thinking that you have no worries when, in all reality, the fires of hell are ready to break upon you. You think that you are a Christian, but the truth is you have no relationship with Christ at all.
You’ve been duped. Maybe you are the kind that thinks that knowing Christ means having a great deal of doctrinal knowledge—as if a relationship was built on intellectual acumen. Though you might have known much about Christ, you have never really known Christ himself. You might be able to talk a great deal, you’ve read so many books and you follow all kinds of religious blogs, but when it comes to really having a relationship with Christ you’ve got nothing. It’s all been bouncing around in your head. If you really would take a look at your life, you’d see that there is a hardness—a coldness that is uncharacteristic of Christ.
You’ll even pull out the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. You’ll say, “Once saved always saved.” But making such a claim is to make a mockery of the doctrine. I believe that. Yes, it is true: Once saved, always saved. But if your life is bereft of any noticeable obedience, then dear friend, you’ve never been saved! If you know anything about Jesus, you then should know that he came to save us from our sins.
Maybe you are not the heady type. Maybe you are the kind who thinks you are a Christian because you once had a radical religious experience. I know that it is common today to think that you have a relationship with Christ because you have prayed a prayer once or because you walked down and “asked Jesus to come into your heart.” There was a time when you made some profession of faith and maybe it was even accompanied by all kinds of tears. You know, you just “felt something!”
But dear friend, if you are looking to something that happened long ago and far away, don’t think for a moment that you are a friend to Jesus. It is not your religious experience that makes you a Christian. If you do not continue to have tears of repentance and are not diligently attending to his word, then you are not a Christian.
Just look at what it says in verse 4. “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
I speak with people oh so often, and I have found many liars. I’ve found many who claimed to be Christians—they say that they love the Lord, and then in another conversation they go on to talk about women in some of the most offensive ways. Sometimes I am amused at how it all plays out. We’ll be talking about the Lord one moment, then in the very next they will be talking about how they can’t wait to go carousing this weekend.
But you’re going to say to me, “But I believe in Jesus!” Well, don’t you forget that even the demons believe. The only difference between the demons and you is that they actually shudder at the name of Jesus.
This is what Dietrich Beonhoffer called “cheap grace.” It can also be called, “easy believism.” It’s easy to say you believe in Jesus. But you have to understand: when Christ comes into your life, things must change. If you don’t think differently about the way your living—if you don’t have a different attitude towards sin and holiness, then that’s an evidence that nothing really has truly happened in your life.
The text here says that if you claim to know him but do not follow his commandments you have lied. You have lied to yourself about having a relationship with Christ. You have lied to yourself about having any hope of heaven. You have lied to yourself about ever having the chance to enjoy any of the joys that await us there.
If you continue on the path that you are now on, then you will one day find yourself experiencing a very rude awakening. After you close your eyes in death, you will awaken in hell. You will find yourself, not in the embrace of a benevolent Father, but in the strong grip of a very angry God.
You might say, “Pastor, you are making me very uneasy.” If that is so, good. There is no reason for you to be comfortable.
In Matthew 25 Jesus tells a sobering parable. You may be familiar with it. He says that on the last day there is going to be a great separation. When he comes again the goats are going to be put on one side and the sheep are going to be put on another side. And he’s going to say to the sheep, “Come you blessed of my Father, enter into the kingdom for I was hungry and you gave me bread. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me.”
And they are going to be surprised and say, “Lord, when did we see you in these conditions?” And he will respond by saying, “As you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.”
And to those on the left he will say, “Depart from me you cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And they are surprised! “Wait a minute!” they say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry? When were you thirsty? When were you in prison?”
Paul Washer gives a very good insight into this passage. He helps us to understand that this isn’t about doing prison ministry per say. But in places in this world you can be put in prison because you believe in Jesus. The life that you’ve lead, and the things that you’ve said, got you in trouble. So you are put in prison. And when you are in prison, they don’t treat you like we treat our prisoners. The guys I visit each week have it very good. In many places around the world, when you are put in prison, they don’t feed you. They don’t do anything for you. They just leave you there to die. And so they are dependent upon other people to bring them food and provide the essentials of life for them.
Now, if you go visit that person in that prison and you provide these things for them, you are basically testifying to the fact that you are a Christian too. You are placing yourself in jeopardy by virtue of your actions.
And Jesus’ point is that a Christian is one who is willing to turn his back on everything in this world. A Christian is one whose life is dedicated to following Jesus. He’s one who is willing to sacrifice everything to follow Jesus.
So you can’t just accept Jesus into your heart. What has to happen is that all the other gods in the pantheon of your chest must be emptied out. You must say good-bye and good riddance to your life of sin. You must say, I will follow Christ even to the death.
If this describes you, if you hate sin, then you may rest in knowing that Christ is yours. Maybe this story strikes fear in your heart. Maybe you don’t like it. But its not so much that you will be cast into hell, but your fear lies more in is that you might deny Christ. You don’t want to do that, but you’re scared that you might because you are not strong enough. If that describes you, then you don’t have to be scared at all. This proves that you do belong to Christ!
If this kind of adherence to the commandments of God does not describe you, then you ought to be very uncomfortable. You have been lying to yourself. And, if you do not repent of your sins, you will one day find yourself among the goats that are being herded off into hell.
I pray that you may not let that happen. I pray that you will learn to say with the rest of us, “O how I love your law.”
Kindled Fire is dedicated
to the preaching and teaching ministry of
Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.