The Test of Love

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.”
1 John 3:14

In my previous posts I stipulated that 1 John was written to give assurance to the doubting believer – pointing out the birthmarks of those born from God – namely, Righteousness, Love, and Truth. These marks aren’t things that we do in order to earn salvation and God’s favor, but are signs to which we may look in order that we may know we are indeed saved.

We come to salvation, as John writes in chapter one, by knowing Jesus is the manifestation of the Word of Life, and by entering into fellowship with him as we confess our sins and trust in His atoning work for our forgiveness and cleansing. John then tells us, and repeats throughout the letter, that the first mark of those who are in Christ is a life of righteousness, obedience to His commandments, living as He lived, walking in the light.

The second of the three birthmarks is this – Love. If there was one word that jumped off the page when reading 1 John, it would be “love.” I would put John’s letter next to 1 Cor 13, maybe even before it, in its impassioned call for us to love one another. Consider the call to love in 1 John –

  • (1 John 2:10) Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.
  • (1 John 3:10–11) 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. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
  • (1 John 4:7–8) Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
  • (1 John 4:19–21) We love because he first loved us. 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. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
  • (1 John 5:1) 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.

Certainly, the list is not exhaustive, but the evidence is clear. If we are in Christ, we will love God, and we will certainly love one another.

J.C. Ryle put articulated the point so well:

A man born again, or regenerate, then, has a special love for all true disciples of Christ. Like his Father in heaven, he loves all men with a great general love, but he has a special love for those who are of one mind with himself. Like his Lord and Savior, he loves the worst of sinners, and could weep over them; but he has a peculiar love for those who are believers. He is never so much at home as when he is in their company. He is never so happy as when he is among the saints and the excellent of the earth. Others may value learning, or cleverness, or agreeableness, or riches or rank, in the society they choose. The regenerate man values Grace. Those who have most Grace, and are most like Christ, are those he most loves. He feels that they are members of the same family with himself. He feels that they are his fellow-soldiers, warring against the same enemy. He feels that they are his fellow-travelers, journeying along the same road. He understands them, and they understand him. He and they may be very different in many ways-in rank, in station, in wealth. What matter? They are Jesus Christ’s people. They are his Father’s sons and daughters. Then he cannot help loving them.

The evidence given, then, for every believer is this: Love one another. Here are the evaluative questions: Do I love fellow Christians? Do I look forward to our fellowship together? Do I seek forgiveness and willingly give it because of our shared grace in Jesus Christ? Will I invest my time, my life, my energies, to show my love to those in need?

Beloved, let us love one another!

SDG

Christian Birth-Marks

How can I know if I am saved?

Is there some way of knowing whether or not I’m maturing in my faith, growing stronger in my walk with the Lord?

I think these are questions that everyone asks, everyone who is sincere in their faith.  We are assailed by doubts, overcome by anxieties, and can easily be frustrated by the persistency of sin in our lives.  Does this mean we’re really not saved after all?

Last week I mentioned that my class at Bible Camp this year was simply a study through the letter of 1 John, and these are the kinds of questions that John is answering in his letter.   John’s letter begins with the essential: We must have fellowship with God through Jesus Christ, the manifest (incarnate) Word of God by 1) believing in Jesus Christ, and 2) confessing of our sins and trusting in the atoning work of Christ on our behalf. This is the entry point, the beginning of new (and eternal) life. So the first evidence we have of our salvation is found in knowing Jesus and trusting in Him (1 John 1:1-2:2).

But John doesn’t leave us there.  As every child resembles his or her birth-parents, and grows in that resemblance every day, so to the adopted children of God, those called and redeemed by His grace in Jesus Christ, also bear resemblances with their heavenly Father.  Through John’s letter, you find that there are 3 essential birth-marks that will be found in every believer: Obedience, Love, and Truth.  These are not things that we must generate within ourselves in order to be saved. Rather, they are marks that will be evident in the lives of all who have been saved.  Like the fruit of the Spirit that Paul writes of in Galatians 5, these marks are the gracious work of God in us, and we can look to them for assurance in times of doubt.

(It is interesting to note: John writes differently than Paul.  Paul is a western writer, who builds a logical argument to its final point, then gives the application of that point – moving from A to B to C and so on.  John is an eastern thinker, and he writes in cyclical patterns, repeating for emphasis, until the point is driven home – A-B-C/A-B-C/A-B-C. Click here for a copy of 1 John outline to see what this looks like).

The first birth-mark that John writes of is the mark of Obedience. You cannot read 1 John without realizing that those who say they follow Christ must actually follow Christ.  After the introduction, John writes “By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3) – it doesn’t get any clearer than that.  Here are a few of the verses through the letter that say the same thing:

  • 1 Jn 2:4-6 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
  • 1 Jn 3:6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.
  • 1 Jn 3:9 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.
  • 1 Jn 3:22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
  • 1 Jn 3:24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
  • 1 Jn 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
  • 1 Jn 5:18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.

This is no different than what we read in the gospels.  Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).  In the Great Commission of Matthew 28, Jesus said “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:19-20).

Let me be quick to point out, John isn’t preaching a salvation by works. Never does John write, “you must do X to be saved.”  No.  Instead, John is showing us that those who believe, those who have been saved, will know they are saved because they long to obey and keep God’s word. Not out of a desire to secure salvation, but out of love for God who securely saves.  This is not salvation by works, but a salvation that works.

Belief in Jesus Christ unto salvation must necessarily lead to a life of obedience to His Word.  Is He Lord? Then we are His people who listen and obey.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book The Cost of Discipleship,“Only those who believe obey, and only those who obey believe” (I added a link to the fuller quote).

The danger of looking only to this birth mark is that one can then think that salvation is dependent entirely upon one’s own works, rather than trusting entirely upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ for salvation.  We can be crushed by the tyranny of obedience if we think that it is up to us to perform in order to please God.  Throughout John’s letter, just as we feel like we’re failing at the tests, there are road-stops of refreshment, reminders of God’s grace.

  • 1 John 2:12 “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.”
  • 1 John 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.”
  • 1 John 3:19-20 “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our hearts before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.”

The beauty of the mark of obedience is the reminder that what Christ commands is not burdensome, but a command of love and faith.  In John 5, we read, “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?” (1 John 5:2–5). His commands are not a burden, they are victory, release, peace, in Jesus Christ.

And what is the command we are to obey?  According to John it is simply this: “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (1 John 3:23).

Beloved, having put your hope and trust in Jesus Christ, listen to His voice, and obey His gracious call.  This life of discipleship, this life of obedience is a grace of God, a means by which you may grow in your assurance of salvation and stand firm in the day of the Lord.

SDG

Readings from the Pastor’s Desk – Here are just a couple of the things I’ve been reading this week:

Don’t Play with Sin: Here’s a great illustration of what happens when we treat sin loosely and do not work constantly to be killing sin in our own lives.

Sunday Worship Starts Saturday Night: Usually Twitter barely rises above the inane and vitriolic of those who really shouldn’t have any influence in our lives – every now and then you come upon a treasure. Case in point, here’s the treasure I found over the weekend in the Twittersphere.

A Review of General Assembly: Since I could not attend, nor watch, this year’s General Assembly, I’m trying to read as much as I can by way of review of all that took place.  I found this to be a fairly straightforward report on all that took place.

The Christian’s Attitude Toward Sin

This year at Bible Camp, I led a Bible study through 1 John.  In the past years, I felt that my lessons were far too complex for young campers, so I really tried to bring the class back to the basics, and thought teaching how to study the Bible would be a great place to start.  Plus, 1 John is one of those books that is easy to understand, though deep in its application and wisdom.
While much of 1 John is given to demonstrating how there are three birth-marks of a genuine Christian (Obedience, Love, and Truth), the opening chapter serves as the gate through which all must pass if they are going to walk with Christ.  It is not a great theological hurdle, nor must one complete some rite or ritual to be found in Christ.  No, according to John, if you are going to have fellowship with God and with Jesus Christ His Son, you must have a proper understanding of your own sin and know how to deal with it.
John spells this out for us in 1 John 1:6-2:2 quite clearly through a series of contrasts, denials and affirmations, on the genuine Christian life. Let’s take the denials first and see what genuine Christian is not, then we’ll look at the affirmations.
What a Christian is not:
  • vs 6 – If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
  • vs. 8 – If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us
  • vs. 10 – If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
Here we see by negation what marks the life of a false believer.  Those who continue to sin while claiming to walk with God, those who deny that what they are doing is a sin, and those who deny that they have ever sinned, they do not practice the truth, they are self-deceived, and they make God to be a liar. If you deny your own sinfulness, then you deny your need for a savior from your sin, and you deny the clear testimony of God’s Word.  
So what then ought a Christians attitude be toward sin?
Let us look to what John says again:
  • vs 7 – If we walk in the light as He is in the life, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.
  • vs. 9 – If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
  • vs 2:1-2 … but if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins…
Those who are born of God, who have fellowship with Jesus Christ, walk in the light, living in obedience to His word, all the while trusting in the blood of Jesus to cleanse them from all sin. The genuine believer knows his own sin, confesses his sin, and trusts in the saving power of God in Jesus Christ for salvation – and this is all by the grace of God.
The Westminster Confession teaches, “repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience” (WSC 87).
What, then, is the gate through which all must pass in order to have fellowship with God in Jesus Christ, it is the gate of repentance.  Acknowledging sin, hating sin, turning from sin, and trusting in the righteousness of Christ as we seek to follow after Him.
SDG
Interesting Reading from the Pastor’s Desk
I’ve been reading this week about music and worship and thought I’d share some of the articles with you here:
The High Point of Worship – This is a longer read, but well worth it. It is a good refresher on why we worship the way we do as a Reformed and Presbyterian Church, what at the center of our worship, and will, hopefully, renew us in our devotion in worship on the Lord’s Day.
The Lord is My Salvation – From the Getty’s, here is a new hymn, a song of testimony, inspired in part by Psalm 27. There is a link to where you can download the song for free, as well as links for the sheet music of the song.
So Will I – This article demonstrates the kind of discernment that I try to apply to every song we use in worship. I have to admit, I love this song, but like the author of this article, I am troubled by the content of the second verse and what it would lead a congregation to think when singing it.  I could think of so many better words to use to describe sanctification than “evolve.”

Good News from General Assembly

As the world around us continues to race headlong into the darkness of immorality and confusion, it is important for the Church to stand firm and speak clearly the truth of God’s Word.  Last week, during its annual General Assembly, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) voted to do just that by declaring the Nashville Statement as a “biblically faithful declaration.”  By this action, the PCA joins several other evangelical institutions in appropriating the Nashville Statement to  articulate its convictions on sexuality and gender.

The Nashville Statement articulates the teaching of Scripture regarding gender, sexuality, and marriage, but, more importantly, aims to bring glory to God by proclaiming the truth of God’s Word and calling all people to repent and seek salvation in Jesus Christ alone.  The statement was produced by the Counsel on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and has 14 articles of affirmation and denial.  The Biblical references are listed at the end of the statement.  For more information on the statement, to see who has signed it, please visit the CBMW website.

Article 1

WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.

WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.

Article 2

WE AFFIRM that God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.

WE DENY that any affections, desires, or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse before or outside marriage; nor do they justify any form of sexual immorality.

Article 3

WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.

WE DENY that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.

Article 4

WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.

WE DENY that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.

Article 5

WE AFFIRM that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.

WE DENY that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.

Article 6

WE AFFIRM that those born with a physical disorder of sex development are created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers. They are acknowledged by our Lord Jesus in his words about “eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb.” With all others they are welcome as faithful followers of Jesus Christ and should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.

WE DENY that ambiguities related to a person’s biological sex render one incapable of living a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ.

Article 7

WE AFFIRM that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.

WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.

Article 8

WE AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life.

WE DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.

Article 9

WE AFFIRM that sin distorts sexual desires by directing them away from the marriage covenant and toward sexual immorality— a distortion that includes both heterosexual and homosexual immorality.

WE DENY that an enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality justifies sexually immoral behavior.

Article 10

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

Article 11

WE AFFIRM our duty to speak the truth in love at all times, including when we speak to or about one another as male or female.

WE DENY any obligation to speak in such ways that dishonor God’s design of his imagebearers as male and female.

Article 12

WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.

WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.

Article 13

WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender selfconceptions and by divine forbearance to accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological sex and one’s self-conception as male or female.

WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s revealed will.

Article 14

WE AFFIRM that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Savior, Lord, and supreme treasure.

WE DENY that the Lord’s arm is too short to save or that any sinner is beyond his reach.


Scripture References*

Gen. 1:26-28; 2:15-25; 3:1-24; Ex. 20:14; 20:17; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Dt. 5:18, 21; 22:5; Jdg. 19:22; 2 Sam. 11:1-12:15; Job 31:1; Ps. 51:1-19; Prov. 5:1-23; 6:20-35; 7:1-27; Isa. 59:1; Mal. 2:14; Matt. 5:27–30; 19:4-6, 8-9, 12; Acts 15:20, 29; Rom. 1:26–27; 1:32; 1 Cor. 6:9–11, 18-20; 7:1-7; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 5:24; Eph. 4:15, 20–24; 5:31–32; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 4:3-8; 1 Tim. 1:9–10, 15; 2 Tim. 2:22; Titus 2:11-12; Heb. 13:4; Jas. 1:14–15; 1 Pet. 2:11; Jude 7

* Scripture texts are not a part of the original document but have been added subsequently for reference