Tag Archives: 1 John

Considering the Love of God

In the first epistle of John, much like his gospel account of our Lord’s life and ministry, the apostle of love rightly earns this familiar title through his expositions on the love of God.  In many respects, several of these verses have become the most recognizable, most recited verses on the love of God in all of Scripture.  Surely a testimony to their simplicity, but moreso to the truths behind them.

One such passage is found in 1 John 4:10

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

In order for us to comprehend and feel the weight of a passage like this one, concerning the love of God for us in Christ, we need to first understand the love of God for His Son.  If we are to properly appreciate the love that God has for His adopted children, and similarly the love that Christ has for those for whom He died, and subsequently avoid a man-centered understanding of these truths, then we must begin with the love between the Father and the Son.

When we consider the love that the Father has for the Son, we have only limited, imperfect examples from which to draw upon.  For instance, the Father’s love for His Son far exceeds the love that a husband has for his bride.  A husband may care for his bride, love and cherish her, protect her, but this is an incomplete, finite love when compared to God the Father’s love for God the Son.  Additionally, the love that a parent has for a child, closer in relationship, but again inadequate.  God the Father’s love for His Son far exceeds both that of a husband for his bride and a parent for their child.  In fact, if you consider anything in this world that you love, so much that you would die for it, you have but a pale shadow in comparison to the love that the Father has for the Son.  It is an infinite, everlasting, and eternal love.  It knows neither beginning or end.  It cannot be exhausted nor measured.  Our language fails to properly describe it, though we may begin with the word, perfect.  The love of God, this intra-trinitarian love, infinitely exceeds any example of love that we could possibly imagine.

To draw our minds to even an initial comprehension of the love that the Father has for the Son, Puritan John Flavel offers the following

How this gift of Christ was the highest, and fullest manifestation of the love of God, that ever the world saw: and this will be evidenced by the following particulars:

(1.) If you consider how near and dear Jesus Christ was to the Father; he was his Son, “his only Son,” saith the text; the Son of his love, the darling of his Soul: His other Self, yea, one with himself; the express image of his person; the brightness of his Father’s Glory: In parting with him, he parted with his own heart, with his very bowels, as I may say. “Yet to us a Son is given,” Isa. ix. 6. and such a Son as he calls “his dear Son,” Col. i. 13. A late writer tells us, that he hath been informed, that in the famine in Germany, a poor family being ready to perish with famine, the husband made a motion to the wife, to sell one of the children for bread, to relieve themselves and the rest: The wife at last consents that it should be so; but then they began to think which of the four should be sold; and when the eldest was named, they both refused to part with that, being their first-born, and the beginning of their strength. Well, then they came to the second, but could not yield that he should be sold, being the very picture and lively image of his father. The third was named, but that also was a child that best resembled the mother. And when the youngest was thought on, that was the Benjamin, the child of their old age; and so were content rather to perish altogether in the famine, than to part with a child for relief And you know how tenderly Jacob took it, when his Joseph and Benjamin were rent from him. What is a child, but a piece of the parent wrapt up another skin? And yet our dearest children are but as strangers to us, in comparison of the unspeakable dearness that was betwixt the Father and Christ.——Now, that he should ever be content to part with a Son, and such an only One, is such a manifestation of love, as will be admired to all eternity.

Now, considering this love that the Father has for the Son, consider that He gave, out of love, His son to be the propitiation, literally the wrath-absorbing-atoning sacrifice, for us, disgusting and vile sinners.  Stained not only with the guilt of sin, but filled to the core with rebellion against this same God that loves His Son without measure.  Consider that this same God, loving His Son as He did, freely offered Him up for sinful man.  As we are told in the passage above, this free offering of His Son was because God loved us.  This is the manifestation of the love of God, in Christ, for sinners (1 John 4:9; Romans 5:8).  This is what it means that God so loved the world (John 3:16).  When the Apostle writes, God is love, this is the starting point towards untangling the complexity of this divine attribute (1 John 4:8).

In comparison with both the love of God for Christ and the love of God, in Christ, for us sinners, how weak and feeble are our own declarations of love for our Heavenly Father.  It is not that we loved God, but that He loved us (1 John 4:10).  Yet despite this, one of the very evidences of the love that God has for us in Christ, which we share in and experience upon being born again, is that we love one another, “if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12)  An evidence of the indwelling nature of God’s Spirit within us is love, for one another.  This outward, horizontal expression of love can only come from a heart that is oriented vertically with love from God and love for God.  As the Apostle exhorts,

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

Therefore, dear readers, come often to the fount of God’s love and consider, meditate, draw upon the love that God has for His own Son.  Allow this to frame your understanding of the love that God has for you, in giving His only Son to die in your place.  If after contemplating the magnificent reality of God’s love, your heart is not drawn to love Him more, hardly moved closer to Him by increased affections, then perhaps the love of God does not abide in you.  Perhaps you have not come to either  be born of God or know God.  In that case, repent of your sins, turn to Christ for forgiveness with a genuine desire to love God and be loved by Him.

The Emphasis on the Son

In John’s first epistle, He begins with establishing himself as an eye-witness to the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He emphatically states that he had seen, heard, touched the Lord and now from that experience He proclaims Christ.  For this purpose, we would expect the entirety of the book to be focused on Christ, and this is true, however there is a remarkable pattern that emerges when one examines how it is that John brings his emphasis to the Son, particularly through His use of the terms Father and Son.

In the opening chapter, God the Father is mentioned in 1:2 and 1:3, while the Son is mentioned in 1:3 and 1:7.  However, at the beginning of chapter 2, it is the Father who is mentioned again, not the Son, as we might expect his pattern of proclaiming Christ to proceed.  The use of Father appears in the discussion from 1 John 2:1, and again in 2:13, 2:15, and 2:16.  Meanwhile, though Jesus Christ is mentioned in 2:1, the actual use of Son does not occur again until 1 John 2:22.  This is rather shocking given that we would expect the bulk of references to be about Christ, the Son of God, given John’s own emphasis on his experience with Christ’s earthy ministry.  But then something remarkable happens.

In 1 John 2:22-24, there is a transition that takes place from emphasis on the Father to the Son.  Note the passage below

22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.

Here we see the use of both Father and Son in verse 22 and again, twice, in verse 23, followed by the fourth pairing in verse 24.  These pairings single a massive shift in emphasis from the Father to the Son.  From this point forward, God the Father is only referenced 3 times in the remainder of the letter, whereas God the Son 14 times, after only being mentioned twice up to this passage.

The question we need to ask at this point is why?  Is there a purpose for John to withhold and then subsequently emphasize the Son?

Interestingly, on the heels of this shift from Father to Son, we find a passage describing believers as children of God, those marked with consistent obedience and desire holiness.  For instance, 1 John 2:29

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

then again in 3:1

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.

The development of the teaching that believers are children of God extends from 1 John 2:29 to 1 John 3:10 and includes specific mention in 3:2; 3:8 (negatively stated); 3:9 (2x); and 3:10 where it is stated both positively and negatively.

This pattern is simple enough, if one slows down long enough to see it, but it brings up another question.  What is John’s purpose in connecting the emphasis on God the Son with believers as children of God?

Quite frankly, it is to show the relationship that exists between God the Father and God the Son is parallel with God the Father’s relationship with those who have been born again,

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”  John 1:12-13

Similarly, as we read in Ephesians, we are co-heirs with Christ.  Not only that, but as the emphasis on the Son continues, we also see impeccability, i.e. sinlessness, righteousness, and purity attributed to Him, but not in isolation from us.  He died to remove sin from us; as He is righteous, so too ought we be righteous; as He is pure, so too will we be pure.  The relationship is familial, but also one of shared identity – holiness – through our union with Christ.

Oh the wisdom of God, who by way of simply shifting the emphasis from Father to Son, draws attention to the person and work of Christ and His holiness, but subsequently uses it to transition into our relationship as His children, that we too ought to look like His only begotten Son and walk in purity.

3 Tests for Genuine Christianity

 

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:

  1. Knowledge of God
  2. Growth in Holiness
  3. 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, If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 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

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 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. 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.

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.