The last two weeks we have considered two of the major themes in John’s first letter—the essence of sin and the essence of belief. Today we’re going to consider a third major theme. It really is the point at which our sin problem and our mental belief come together. That is, love. This discussion about love, though, begins at the end of chapter 2:28: And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
Last week we saw that the Christian faith is not just a community, but a family. John continues this language by calling this church, “Little Children” and gives them a command to “Abide in him so that we can be confident when he returns.” Chapter 3 is how we go about abiding in him. This is how we fulfill the command.
Do you ever get really honest with yourself? I mean, in the moments of silence and when your defenses are down. Do you ever ask yourself, in what real way does my faith affect my day-to-day life? How does a belief in a first century Jewish man make my life any different than my neighbor who doesn’t believe in God? Like I said, it’s an honest question. It’s a challenging question. It’s a question we need to consider all the time. Too often faith can become merely theory. Belief can be merely cognitive.
But this morning, John is going to show us that sin and belief are not merely ideas without substance. Our most intimate beliefs about God and his world will always work themselves out in real life. Have you ever listened to John 15 where Jesus says, “I am the vine you are the branches. Abide in me” and thought, “How in the world do I abide in Jesus?” John is going to answer that for us.
- Children of God practice righteousness
The idea of being born again is all over the place in this short letter…10x to be precise. This is the same language that Jesus uses when he spoke with Nicodemus in chapter 3 of John’s Gospel.
Our relationship with God is one that needed, not merely a fix, it needed an entire reconfiguration. Not just a few character trait improvements, but a new birth. A new creation.
We have been born as new creatures and we, like babies, have to learn how to walk and talk and live in God’s world once we see it as he intended. Righteousness, therefore, is not merely a matter of rules that we are to keep. Righteousness is a life lived rightly in God’s world. Now I hear this and immediately think about the folks in my home town saying, “You gotta live right.” Or “He ain’t livin’ right.” This is only part of the equation. Living righteously is not merely about following marching order…it’s about following dance steps. It’s following God’s lead and being in tune with how he navigates his own world.
There’s a movie called Man on the Moon with Jim Carrey. It’s about the life of the deceased comedian Andy Kaufmann. But there’s a documentary that was just released called Jim & Andy. In this documentary it follows Carrey throughout the filming of that movie, Man on the Moon. It’s quite surreal because Jim Carrey actually embodied the mannerisms and voice and way of being of Andy Kaufmann, not merely while the camera was rolling, but when the cameras were off. At first you think, “This is so crazy!” Then you find yourself believing that Jim Carrey is Andy Kaufmann. In fact, there’s one scene where Carrey is interacting with Andy’s family. They are talking and you think there will be a moment when they tell him to cut it out. Stop doing this. It’s not real. Instead, you see the dad and Carrey fighting. But it’s not the dad and Carrey, but the dad is talking to Jim as though he is actually his son!
This is analogous to what the Christian life is meant to be. A walking out of the life of God on earth. Of course, it is always in part. But it will be brought to completion when he returns. And all those who love him are waiting for him. They are longing for his return. They place their confidence in him. Verse 3: Everyone who hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Waiting on Jesus’ return is not about sitting around the house. It is a matter of cleaning up the house to welcome him into it.
Verse 4-10 illustrate this cleaning. But this cleaning is not a matter of cleaning to be accepted. It starts with being accepted. You are not welcoming a stranger into your house, but a long-awaited husband from war. You know him and therefore you clean. You don’t clean in order to know him.
The very ability to be able to clean our house starts with the victory Jesus won over Satan. Look at Verses 8-9: 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. Our practicing of righteousness and lawlessness starts with who our Daddy is.
In order to understand this relationship correctly, we have to go back to the Garden. There was one Law that God gave our first parents—you can have everything here…except that one Tree. Satan crept into the Garden and asked one question: Did God really say? At the heart of this question is: “Do you really trust God?” “Don’t you think you know better?” This is the heart of what John calls lawlessness. Lawlessness is more of an attitude toward God than it is the mere breaking of God’s law. That is, to be lawless means you don’t want to live under God’s rule.
So when a child of God transgresses or steps over God’s good boundaries…when the child of God steps on God’s toes in the dance of life—as it were—she apologizes. She recognizes she has misstepped and seeks to follow his lead again. The lawless one, the one who is still following the deception of Satan doesn’t even want to be on the same dance floor.
From Genesis 3 through Malachi is a story of God being gracious to give his Law. Other Ancient Near Eastern religions relied on priests and necromancers and diviners to tell people what the gods wanted. But the God of the Bible is not like other deities. He tells the end from the beginning. He is near to his people. He tells them exactly how to navigate and move in his world.
So the child of God practices righteousness, but John tells us that our spiritual lives are not merely about obeying rules. We are not called to keep an account and think that we have done what God intended us to do by giving us new life. Our attitudes and actions toward each other is just as indicative of our relationship with God as doing the right thing.
2. Practicing love for each other
Our culture has made the word “love” synonymous with affection. Emotion is one aspect of love. Biblically speaking, love is affection that works itself out in action. If I were to say, “You have to love the person sitting in front of you.” Most of us, if not all of us, would think I am telling you to like or to feel some kind of emotion for him or her. While that, of course, would be a great thing…and really is what complete love entails…it only part of the equation of love. Emotions and affection are one half of love. If I were to say, “I love my wife” but don’t lift a finger to ease her burdens or rejoice in her victories…you would rightly question my love for her.
John uses the picture of the first brothers in history—Cain and Abel—to make his point. For our purposes this morning, look at 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. So the converse of John’s statement would be “Whoever loves abides in life.” To love each other is to promote and encourage true living. Flourishing.
What is the greatest picture of love? Verse 16: By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. Isn’t this what Jesus said in John 15.13: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
This, of course, doesn’t mean we lay down our lives as a sacrifice for sin…but could it not mean that we are to lay down our lives for each other when we sin against each other? Could it not mean that we choose to be quick to forgive and extend forgiveness? After all, listen to the verses before and after Jesus’ statement: “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.”
But John also gives us a very challenging explanation of what it means to lay down our lives. Verse 17: 7 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? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
Consider for a moment money. It is neither good nor bad. It is how we use it that determines that. But what is money. It, typically, represents our time. I say “typically” because you could receive an inheritance or win some amount of money. But, It, typically, represents our lives. When you and I give money to someone or something else, we are giving a bit of our lives to that someone or something. We are meeting their need. We believe that something is worth investing my life into.
But our laying down our lives is not merely physically visible in the here and now, it is how you and I are re-assured of our salvation. There is a lot of talk about the doctrine of assurance of salvation. It is true. When you and I confess our sin and lay our allegiances down to King Jesus, we most assuredly are saved. Yet, as we have seen in John’s letter, the Christian life is a dance. It’s a walking in the light.
Do you get discouraged by how you continue to struggle with the same sin? Do you feel condemned and unsure of yourself? Do you wonder sometimes if you’re a Christian?
Where can we find such reassurance when we feel condemned? We look to God. We look outside of ourselves. Outside of our obedience.
Surely, we are called to be pure and to obey and to walk as he walked and to talk as he talked. But any of us, if we’re honest, do not find our confidence there. We can find our assurance that we even want to obey. That is a gift from God. We can find assurance that we hate sin. That, too, is a gift from God. But these are all in part. Indeed, we continue to step on people’s toes. We continue to be tempted by the beat of the Tempter’s drum.
So our re-assurance. Our confidence cannot find its sure footing there.
Verses 19-21: By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God.