Tag Archives: obedience

Summarizing the Christian Life

In the final chapter of 1 John, the letter to the believers of Asia minor penned under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we arrive at essentially a summary of the entire book.  Verses 1-5 serve to tie up loose ends and bring to a close the tests of assurance that have been scattered throughout.  The style of this letter, as has been pointed out, resembles closely that of a spiral.  In one instance John may introduce a singular point and abandon it, only to circle around to it again at a later point, which he develops more fully.  In this way, the author certainly is logical in his writing, though the pattern is less linear, as with Paul.  Never is this pattern more clear than at the beginning of chapter 5, as seen below.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Here, our focus is on three main ideas, seen in the passage above, which have been instrumental throughout the letter and often presented in a kind of test or measuring stick for professing believers.  They are, faith – sometimes expressed as an intimate knowledge of God, love – for both God and the brethren, and obedience.  Knowing God – Showing love – Growing in Obedience. (I write this just shy of a decade since I once preached these three themes at a fall youth retreat.)

Our first idea, faith, introduces the passage cited above.  Everyone who believes…that is those who have placed their faith in something, or better Someone.  This is the faith rooted in a knowledge of Who the object of faith is.  It is never a blind faith, never an ignorant faith, rather it is an informed faith, one that has come to know and believe that Jesus is the Christ.  Perhaps it should be pointed out that Jesus Christ is not our Lord’s first and last names.  Jesus is His name, Christ is His title.  It means Anointed One, or Chosen One, i.e. Messiah.  He is the object of the faith expressed here as the outcome, or evidence, of regeneration.  Without delving into a deep discussion on the ordo salutis (order of salvation), it seems most consistent to conclude that the Holy Spirit regenerates the heart giving a person the ability to repent and believe in Jesus, which is contrary to the idea that faith precedes regeneration.  The order in this verse describes those who have been born again are those who believe that Jesus is the Christ.  With this first summary point, John is wrapping up earlier  passages which expressed a similar idea, noteworthy among them are 1 John 2:22-23 and 1 John 3:23.

While being born again is the point of connection in the opening of this section, there is a transition from the evidence of faith to the evidence of love, our second major idea.  Expressing love for God the Father is a reality for those who have been born again.  This has been a prominent theme throughout the letter, most notably in 1 John 2:10-11; 3:1; 3:11-18; 4:7-21 and is really the central theme in the section before us today. The vertical love that a believer has for their heavenly Father is complimented by the horizontal love that they have for others who have also been born again, i.e. the brethren.  This common new birth creates a familial relationship.  Just as we have love for our physical, blood relatives, in a deeper and more profound way are we to have love for our spiritual brothers and sisters.  To love God without loving other believers is inconsistent, put more strongly according to 1 John 4:20-21, it is impossible.  We may conclude then that belief is the personal evidence of being born again while love for God and other believers is the outward, relational expression of that inward faith.

But this is not the only outward expression.  In verse 2 above, we are reminded again of the previously developed relationship between love and obedience, our third major idea or test in the letter.  To get there, we must circle back through the evidence of our love for the brethren, namely love for God, then arrive at obedience to Him.  In verse 1 we saw the order of:

regeneration –>faith–>love for God–>love for the brethren.

Here we see:

love for the brethren–>love for God–>obedience to God’s commands.

On a whirlwind summary of the Christian life, John has led us back to the starting point.  Faith and obedience are not contradictory, rather they are complimentary.  This isn’t a legalistic, external obedience, rather it is gospel obedience, obedience that comes from the heart.  Similarly, in 1 John 3:23 we see that the commandment of God is to “believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ.”  Furthermore, we have the commandment to love God and love the brethren (1 John 4:21, etc.).  Commandments to believe and commandments to love, neither of which can be accomplished in any meaningful way apart from the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit, changing our heart’s affections and giving us the desire to obey.  In a sense, we are not blazing a new trail in this 5th chapter, we are backing up over familiar ground laid down throughout the book in order to drive home these points.

This idea of obeying the commandments of God is further developed in verse 3, crystallizing the relationship between love for God and obedience to His commands.  This is one of the promises for believers in the New Covenant, that with the regenerate heart comes faith and obedience – a desire to obey, the law that has been now written on our hearts.  God says as much in His promise of the New Covenant found in Ezekiel, “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Ezekiel 36:27

In the latter half of verse 3, we find, as is typical with John, a pithy commentary on a point he’s just made.  In effect he says, evidence of loving God is obeying His commandments, and by the way, His commandments are not burdensome.  They’re not tiring.  They’re not laborious and draining as were their Old Covenant, external, written on stone counterpart.  Rather, because we now have the law written on our hearts, having been given both the ability and desire to obey, we therefore obey not merely as a duty, rather as a delight.

Bringing this passage to a conclusion, verse 4 serves somewhat as a note of application, bringing us back to the practical realities of regeneration and faith.  Having already seen that faith, love, and obedience, are interrelated, and that those who have these qualities, have been born again, further we read that those who have been born again have “overcome the world.”  Added to this is the supporting clause acting again as a commentary, And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”  Then Finally, this passage concludes with, Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”   Three times we see the author’s use of world, cosmos, which is a key word used throughout the letter, as well as in John’s gospel account. 

In order to understand what is referred to by the use of world, we need to at least look at some previous uses of it in 1 John.  In 1 John 4, we read that the spirit of antichrist, those who do not confess that Jesus is from God, is in the world.  Following that, we find a parallel use of world and overcomer, Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”  Here we see that one aspect of the world is its universal denial of Christ.  In contrast, overcoming the world is directly related to our union with Christ, a point we’ll need to tuck away for understanding chapter 5. Furthermore, in chapter 2, we read of the exhortation to not love the world, nor the things in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, all of which are contrary to the Father, and that this corrupt world is temporary and passing away.  The world, that which we overcome by faith, via our union and communion with Christ, is replete with those things which are contrary to the person and work of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as well as contrary to those who have been born again.  Our victory comes because Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33) and greater is He, in me, than he that is in the world.  This victory is secured by the supremacy of Christ, through His finished work on the cross, and His gift of faith to the regenerated hearts of all of God’s children. 

This is the summation of the Christian life, and it is a grand encouragement in this present evil age.  In all of the things that this world brings, we are more than conquerors, through Him who loved us. (Romans 8:37)  

The Heart’s Gauge

 

During our Lord’s earthly ministry, He repeatedly pressed upon His disciples, and those who heard Him speak, that the heart and affections must be set upon heavenly, spiritual, godly things, indeed upon God Himself, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  Desiring to convey both what he heard and saw from His Lord, the Apostle John provides this sentiment of proper desires in chapter 2 of his first epistle.

There are two major sections that lead into our passage under consideration in this post.  The first occurs in 1 John 2:3-6 in which the Apostle outlines the requirement of obedience to God’s commands as evidence for coming to know God.  Rather than leaving it as heartless duty, he intertwines it with love, “whoever keeps His word, in Him truly the love of God is perfected.”  With that statement he paves the road for our second passage, 1 John 2:7-11 which builds upon this concept of love.  Notably, John introduces love as a commandment, not a new commandment, but an old one, but not really an old one because it is new in Christ.  By weaving together love and obedience, John most definitely recalls the words of Christ from John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

But also our Lord’s words from John 14:15,  If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” As well as His words from John 15:9-14

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

With this context in mind, providing our framework for understanding what the Apostle is aiming for in this chapter, we arrive at the passage under our consideration

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” 1 John 2:15-17

Love continues to be the theme in this section of chapter two, though stated negatively, do not love, or we might even say dislike, or perhaps even more strongly stated, hate the world and the things of the world.  Said this way, we should be compelled to ask, what does John’s use of world here mean?  Surely not the created order that God made as recorded in Genesis?  Surely he doesn’t mean hate trees, and squirrels, and the sun?  Before unpacking this further, notice that John places a qualification on loving the world, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  As has been typical throughout the book, there is no room for gray area here.  Love the world, then the love of the Father is not in you.  Love the Father, obey His commandments, and love the brethren, then it is incompatible to love the world.

Here we are in need of further defining the use and meaning of world.  Thankfully, this is done for us in the verse that follows

  • the desires of the flesh
  • the desires of the eyes
  • the pride of life (or pride in possessions)

Puritan Matthew Henry sheds light upon the meaning of these three phrases when he writes, “The things of the world are classed according to the three ruling inclinations of depraved nature. 1. The lust of the flesh, of the body: wrong desires of the heart, the appetite of indulging all things that excite and inflame sensual pleasures. 2. The lust of the eyes: the eyes are delighted with riches and rich possessions; this is the lust of covetousness. 3. The pride of life: a vain man craves the grandeur and pomp of a vain-glorious life; this includes thirst after honour and applause. The things of the world quickly fade and die away; desire itself will ere long fail and cease, but holy affection is not like the lust that passes away.”

In our passage we are exhorted, or better commanded, to not love the world or the things of the world.  This was preceded by a test of our affections for God and a delight in the duty of obedience.  The issue under our consideration is where do our affections lie?  We ought to consistently, even daily, consider the gauge of our hearts to determine whether it is inclined towards loving the things of the world, or whether it is inclined towards loving God, obeying Him, and loving others.  It isn’t a matter of legalistic do’s and don’ts.  It is a matter of desire, at the heart level, of where the affections of our heart rest.  That is the genuine test of a Christian and it is one that we need to apply to ourselves on a regular basis.

Soli Deo Gloria