TESTS OF FAITH 1 John 2:3–3:24
“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence” (1 John 3:18–19). Love and obedience are inner and outer tests of a personal relationship with God.
John identified three tests of knowing God (2:3–11), and expressed confidence in his readers (vv. 12–14). He urged us not to love the world (vv. 15–17), and warned against antichrists (vv. 18–27). We are to live as children of God (v. 28–3:3), doing what is right (vv. 4–10), and loving one another (vv. 11–15) as God in Christ has loved us (vv. 16–20), assured by our lives and by the Spirit that we live in Him (vv. 21–24).
Understanding the Text
“We know that we have come to know Him” 1 John 2:3–11. Somehow the young woman in Canada got my Phoenix phone number. She began to call me, sometimes several times a day. She was anxious and afraid. She didn’t know if she was a Christian, though she believed in Jesus. When the fears came flooding back, she dialed my number. She was an extreme case, but many Christians have moments of uncertainty. How can we know that we’ve come to know Him? John gave three tests. First, we obey His commands (v. 5). A person wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army obeys the orders of officers over him. That’s part of being a soldier. Obeying Jesus is part of being a Christian, and shows that we acknowlege His authority. Second, we “walk as Jesus did” (v. 6). If we belong to Jesus we become more and more like Him. So when we respond to others and to life situations as Jesus did when He was here on earth, we show that we belong to Him. Third, we love our brothers (v. 9). You can’t hate others and belong to Jesus, because Christ loves others. People can say they belong to Christ, and be hateful and hating. But their actions deny their words. So take a look at yourself. Do you find you keep Jesus’ commands? Do you try to act as you think He would? Do you love your fellow Christians, and enjoy being with them? Then relax! You know Him. And others know you know Him as well! “I write to you” 1 John 2:12–14. John’s letter wasn’t intended to convict, or to create anxiety. It was intended to encourage. It was written to those John knew were true believers, who showed the mark of Jesus in their lives. How good it is when others let us know they have confidence in us. It can mean a lot to your family and friends if you give them the same kind of praise. “Do not love the world” 1 John 2:15–17. In this famous paragraph “the world” is the total system of values and perceptions that together are expressed in the culture of sinful human beings. John revealed the nature of this system, saying that the roots of every human society are anchored deeply in the selfish cravings of sinful man, in man’s tendency to greedily desire the materialistic things he sees, and in man’s drive for ostentatious self-importance. Each of these is antagonistic to God, and a culture that weaves society from these values is corrupt. We have to abandon the values of human society and adopt the values of God the Father. Man’s culture is not ours, and we should not be comfortable in it. “Many antichrists have come” 1 John 2:18–25. John did believe that in the future a specific individiual, the Antichrist, would appear. John also believed that false Christians who even then were seeking to lead believers astray were antichrists: enemies of Jesus and the Father. We know two things about antichrists from this passage. We know that they were once members of the church, but “went out from us.” They set up their own splinter movements. And we know that they revealed themselves by denying that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. John said flatly that no one who denies the Son as God has any knowledge of the Father. Not everyone who calls himself a Christian is one. In time, however, such folks reveal themselves, by causing schism in the church, and by denying the deity of Jesus. “His anointing teaches you about all things” 1 John 2:24–27. What protects us from false teachers? Objectively, we make sure that “what you have heard from the beginning remains in you.” The doctrine of the early church and the Apostles is preserved in the inspired Word of God; we study and stand on it. But there is a subjective source of security as well. This is the Holy Spirit, that “anointing you received from Him,” who “teaches you about all things.” The inner voice of the Spirit and the objective Word combine to witness to the truth. We don’t need any human authority to tell us what is true and what is false. If we listen to the Word, and to the Spirit, we will know. “And that is what we are!” 1 John 2:28–3:10 Our dog Mitzi has this fixed idea that she’s a member of the family, and ought to have a place at the dinner table. If we don’t watch out, she jumps up on a chair, rests her chin on a place mat, and waits for the opportunity to grab a bite to eat. We have a hard time convincing her that she’s a dog, and dogs don’t eat people food at the dinner table. John wants us to develop a fixed idea too. He wants us to understand that, even now, we ARE the children of God. We can’t tell what that means ultimately, other than the fact that when Jesus comes we’ll be like Him. But, knowing that we are God’s children and that we will be like Jesus, has a tremendous impact. Mitzi’s wrong when she thinks she’s a person and tries to act like one. But we’re right if we think we are God’s children. If we are totally convinced we’re God’s own, John says we’ll begin to act like God here and now. If you ever wonder how to act in a particular situation, just remember that you’re a child of God. And act as you believe a child of God should. “Do not be surprised . . . if the world hates you” 1 John 3:11–15. In the first and second century of our era the world did hate Christians. The Christians refused to take part in public life because sacrifices offered to gods and goddesses were a traditional element in political and social gatherings. Christians were condemned as atheists and as haters of humanity, for to the pagan those who did not shoulder their civic responsibilities seemed to attack the social order. Otherwise Christians were good citizens: honest, moral, responsible, but still hated. So these words of John were important. Hatred comes from sin, and if Christians were hated and killed, the persecution revealed the sin that infected society. But the obverse must also true. If hatred is the mark of evil, love is the indelible sign of good and godliness. Some, even in America, are hated because their stand strips away the cloak that hides the basic immorality of such things in our society as abortion, exploitation of sex, and media corruption. They feel the hostility John wrote of. But all of us are to show love, the unmistakable evidence that God has touched, and entered, our hearts. “If our hearts do not condemn us” 1 John 3:21–24. Deep down, you and I do know what’s right. And we know when we do wrong. We may try to hide it, but even if we attempt to deceive ourselves, there remains a nagging certainty that we’ve done wrong. What a powerful motive for choosing what is right and good! When our conscience is clear, when we know we’ve done our best, John says we “have confidence before God.” We have confidence to pray, and confidence to claim the answer to our prayers. And most important of all, we have confidence that He does live in us. Only Jesus within can motivate us to gladly choose what is right and good.
Toward the Light(1 John 3:4–10)
I remember when I was in grade school I had to do an experiment growing a lima bean. I guess education hasn’t advanced all that much, because now, 50 years later, the nine-year-old in our house has grown a lima been too. But what’s interesting is that, the sprouting plant will always grow toward the sun. Somehow the life of the bean is drawn toward the light. You can turn the plant around, even lay it on its side. Whatever you do, the sprout will orient toward the sun. That’s what John was saying about us when he wrote, “No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning” (v. 6). The NIV captures the vital tense of the verb. It’s not that a Christian never sins. It’s that believers will not “keep on sinning.” John said the reason is that God’s seed—the principle of divine life —has been planted in our personalities. God’s life within us grows in the direction of godliness. His life is oriented toward purity. And if God’s life really is in us, there will be a definite tilt toward what is right, and away from sin. Anyone may sin at times, and in all likelihood will. But you can still tell the DIRECTION in which a person is growing. And so can everyone else!
The direction of your life is more important than where you are now.
“Glorious God, give me grace to amend my life, and to have an eye to my end without begrudging death, which to those who die in You, good Lord, is the gate of a wealthy life. “And give me, good Lord, a humble, lowly, quiet, peaceable, patient, charitable, kind, tender and pitiful mind, in all my works and in all my words and all my thoughts, to have a taste of Your holy, blessed Spirit. “Give me, good Lord, a full faith, a firm hope, and a fervent charity, a love of You incomparably above the love of myself. “And give me, good Lord, Your love and favour, which my love of You, however great it might be, could not deserve were it not for Your great goodness. “These things, good Lord, I pray for, give me Your grace to labour for.”—Thomas More