In 2011 I had the great joy and pleasure of preaching through the book of 1 John. It was a series birthed out of the necessity to ensure that those who heard had 1. definitely been exposed to the gospel and 2. Had known without question what genuine Christianity was to look like.
In this epistle, the Apostle of love, writing under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, provides for us three tests for genuine Christianity which of course should be applied first personally (2 Corinthians 13:5) and then to professing believers (Matthew 7:20). These three tests, by way of gleaning through and interpreting the epistle, may be summarized as follows:
- Knowledge of God
- Growth in Holiness
- Love for Believers
First, knowledge of God. This knowledge of God is more than just accumulating facts about who God is, or what He has done. Instead, this knowing is more intimate, it is far more relational. In fact, in 1 John it is called fellowship, “6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:6-7 This mention of fellowship, namely the “with him” is further defined in verse three as “fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.”
Concerning this fellowship, Martyn Lloyd- Jones says, “Here we are given, without any hesitation, a description, the summum bonum [highest good], of the Christian life; here, indeed, is the whole object, the ultimate, the goal of all Christian experience and all Christian endeavour. This, beyond any question, is the central message of the Christian gospel and of the Christian faith.” As the Apostle instructs us, walking in darkness is incompatible with having fellowship with God.”
Which brings us to the second test, growth in holiness. An extended quote from chapter 3 is necessary to establish the significance of this in the apostle’s message
4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
Clearly, a practice of sinning is incompatible with practice of righteous, or growth in holiness.
Finally, love for believers.
9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:9-11
A genuine Christian profession, by necessity, manifests love for the brethren. It is not optional. Commenting on this test and its relationship with fellowship with God, Lloyd-Jones writes, “To fail to love the brethren will interrupt our fellowship with the Father and therefore rob us of many of the blessings of the Christian life.”
This trinity of genuineness, in the form of these three tests, cannot be broken. If one has perceived knowledge of God, but lacks any noticeable evidence of growth in holiness, then their profession is simply disingenuous. How many scholars have waxed eloquently on philosophical musings of the attributes of God, yet their words have lacked any notion of charity or love. How many preachers of doctrine of God have garnered a spot in the public eye only to fall hard and fast from scandalous sins.
Similarly, if one would appear outwardly to be holy, perhaps by living a moral life, but internally lacking any knowledge of God through His Son Jesus Christ, then again, the result is a disingenuous profession of faith. It is by grace we are saved through faith in Christ, thus drawing us to an intimate knowledge of the Father through the Son. Works have their place after salvation, but despite the efforts of men simply cannot contribute towards a coming to faith. We throw around the label of a “good man” far too liberally, yet why do we call anyone good? No one is good but God. (Mark 10:18)
Finally, love for believers is sometimes the most misconstrued quality because it seems most naturally connected to the condition of the heart, i.e. good heart, and this may sometimes prove to be true. Downstream of genuine knowledge of God and growth in holiness is a necessity to show love for the brethren. It is an indispensable consequence. However, charities, hospitals, and mercy organizations by the legion have been started by men and women who could care less about who Christ is, yet alone the demand of holiness placed on their lives. Additionally, there have been those whose great goal in life was the establishment of social justice, yet lack genuine knowledge of God and any semblance of holiness. Would anyone dare doubt the love for humanity that someone who rings the bell for social justice, be it race, class, economic or otherwise? (unless of course there were ulterior motives, but that could never happen…right?)
The motivation for this post has primarily been driven by recent conferences in which men have ascribed genuine Christianity and then celebrated a man who has certainly rung the bell for social justice louder than any other in the United States, yet without question there is documented evidence of failing the first two of these tests. Is he then among the faithful? No. Should he then be celebrated and held up as a Christian model for showing love to the brothers? No.
Brothers and Sisters I implore you, do not let personal agendas or feelings, even if they are for friends or family members who you genuinely desire to see saved, compromise the written and holy word of almighty God. As we know, our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, yet God’s Word is true and provides a plumb-line, a compass for navigating this life through the revelation of Himself.
If you are struggling to know whether you are genuinely saved, look to the epistle of 1 John and humbly ask the Lord to apply these tests to your heart. For those who do not struggle with assurance, these tests are a good reminder and litmus test for where you are currently in the process of sanctification. Are you growing in the knowledge of God, a desire for holiness, and expressing love for the brothers? Finally, if there are those within your circle, even those whom you admire from a distance, apply these tests to their lives and take the results into consideration before ascribing to them the label of a genuine believer in Christ.