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1 John 2:3-17: Three Important Questions Print E-mail
1, 2, 3 John
Sunday, 15 November 2009

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The Bible divides the world into two types of people: those who have eternal life with God and those who do not.  Some see this as overly simplistic.  In fact, some even argue that the Bible teaches that there are more.  Some recognize more types of people even though they might not put it in these terms.  They say things like: “Oh, you know Joe, he is one of those nominal Christians.”  Or like: “Yeah, Jimmy may not be a Christian but he is still a good person.”  Thus, from this, you have four types of people: good Christians (or those who attend Church and obey the Lord), bad Christians (those who make a profession of faith but do not really follow hard after Christ), good unbelievers (those who don’t go to Church but they are nice otherwise), and bad unbelievers (those who are openly mean).  Although we may not realize what we are doing, we often use these categories to describe people.  Yet, even though the Biblical writers may recognize immature and more mature believers, they still only recognize two types of people: believers and unbelievers, those who have eternal life and those who do not.

John divides people into these two types.  We have already noted that he wrote 1 John that you may know that you have eternal life (5:13).  You either have eternal life or you do not.  John has written so that you can know the difference.  How does he teach us to distinguish between the two?  He offers three categories of tests: moral, social, and doctrinal. 

He has already alluded to the doctrinal category in 1:1-4 by speaking of Christ as from the beginning and made manifest.  A person must believe these truths about Christ in order to have fellowship with the Father and Son and other believers.  He introduces the moral category in 1:5-2:2 by stating that only those who walk in the light truly have fellowship with God.  He will go on in our passage this morning to further elaborate on these ethical issues.  Likewise, he will introduce the social category in his call for us to love one another. 

In all of this, John is writing so that we might know that we have eternal life.  He gives us these categories and tests so that we can examine ourselves to see if we are truly in the faith.  Note that he is not giving us ways to earn our salvation.  Rather, these tests simply evidence that we already have or do not have eternal life.  I want to identify three particular questions from our text this morning (two from the moral category and one from the social) that we can use to test if we have eternal life.

First, do you keep God’s commands (v. 3-6)?

Again, this is a moral or ethical test.  John introduces it in verse 3.  Look at that with me.  John says that if we keep God’s commands then we can know that we know Him.  Jesus teaches us that knowing God is eternal life (see John 17:3).  Thus, those who obey the commands of God have eternal life because they know God.  John will contrast this in verse 4 and state another truth about those who obey God’s commands in verse 5a.  Look at what he says there.  The love of God is perfected in the one who keeps his word.  What does John mean by this?  Although it could be viewed in a few different ways, I think that John is referring to the believers love for God which is being perfected by obedience.  Again, Jesus teaches us that we love God we will keep His commands.  Love for God is evidenced by obedience to God.  So then, those who obey God’s commands demonstrate that they know him and love Him.  Their obedience to His commands evidence that they indeed have eternal life.

What about those who do not obey God’s commands?  John describes them in verse 4.  Look at that with me.  Notice what they claim: ‘I know him’.  These are people who maintain that they know God.  Yet, to claim to know God while not keeping His commandments is nothing short of a lie.  Again, John uses strong language to correct this error and we need to hear it this morning.  Anyone can claim to know God, but only those who truly know him will actually keep His commands.  If we are indifferent to God’s commands, if we can knowingly live in sin and refuse to repent, then John offers us no assurance that we know God, no matter what we might claim. 

Paul Washer’s illustration is helpful here.  What if I told you that on my way to the Church this morning, my truck had a flat and I proceeded to change it, when all of a sudden, a Mack Truck swerved over and hit me?  How many of you would believe that story?  Of course, you wouldn’t because here I am standing before you preaching.  Everyone knows that such an encounter with a Mack Truck would change a man.  Well, John is saying that a true encounter with God will change a man.  A saving encounter with the living God through His Son will drive a man to love and obedience.  John says that anyone who claims otherwise is a liar.

John sums up what he is saying here in verses 5b-6.  Look at those with me.  We are called to live as Jesus lived.  He is our example.  Granted, He is more than just an example, but He is not less.  If we truly have eternal life, then our lives will look like His.  I have purposely not offered a caveat up to this point, so let me just speak about what this obedience means.  Does it mean sinless perfection?  No, John has already told us that we are sinners (see 1:8).  But what is does mean is that our lives will be characterized by obedience and not disobedience.  We will regularly and continually obey our Lord by His grace.  The eternal life that Christ has given us by paying for our sins will be evidenced by a life of obedience to His commands.

Second, do you love your brother (v. 7-11)?

After calling us to obey God’s commands in general in verses 3-6, John moves in verse 7 to speak of the specific command to love each other.  Look at verses 7-8.  In one sense, the command to love (which he will identify in verses 9ff) is an old commandment.  Since they first became believers they had been called to love each other.  God had repeatedly called His people to love each other (Old Covenant and New).  Yet, Jesus calls this a ‘new commandment’ (see John 13:34) because of the radical implications that His life and death will have on the love between God’s people.  This will become clearer as we work through the letter.  Yet, in the present passage, John goes on to speak of what it means if we do not love each other.  Look at verse 9.

Again, a person can claim to be in the light, claim to know God and have fellowship with Him, but if he does not love his brother then he is still in the darkness.  He describes this further in verse 11.  Look at that with me.  Hatred for our brother means that we are walking in the darkness.  We are lost and blind due to such hatred.  Yet, who would admit to such hatred?  Probably very few would actually claim to hate their brothers.  But what John is saying is that if you do not love your brother with the same sacrificial love that Jesus has shown you, then you hate him.  John has no middle ground (‘tolerate’ or ‘like’).  If you do not love, then you hate.

What does he say about the one who does love his brother?  Look at verse 10.  If you do love your brother, then John says that you abide in the light and will not cause others (or yourself) to stumble.  Again, abiding and walking in the light refers to fellowship with God and eternal life.  Love for each other is another way that we evidence that we truly have eternal life.

One of my professors began a chapel sermon with this statement (or one similar): if you are not faithfully attending a Church, then you are probably going to Hell.  Needless to say, he had everyone’s attention at that point.  Of course, the statement might be a little over the top, but it fits pretty well with what John is saying here.  If you are not actively involved in relationships with other believers, then how can you claim to be loving them?  Love is not just how we feel about someone.  Love is a verb (to use the cliché), it is active.  And John says that if we are not truly loving our brothers and sisters, then we are still in darkness.

Third, do you love the world (v. 15-17)?

We will come back to verses 12-14 in a moment, but we find the basis for the third question in verses 15-17.  Look at those with me.  Verse 15 contains a critical imperative (or command): Do not love the world or the things in the world.  What does John mean by not loving the world?  In this context, he is referring to the sinful and rebellious activities that are present in the world.  He states as much in verse 16: the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions.  We are not to love such sinful desires and actions. 

This is another ethical test.  We cannot claim to love the Father and the world at the same time.  John says that the two cannot co-exist.  It would be like a husband claiming to love his wife, while also claiming to love other women.  (Or a baseball fan who claims to have love for the Cardinals and the Cubs.)  You cannot have both.  Love for the world denies any claim to love God.  What results from these two exclusive loves?  Love for the world is passing away along with those who indulge in it.  It will not remain.  Yet, whoever does the will of God abides forever.  Again, we see the connection between this test and eternal life.  Those who love the world do not have love for the Father or eternal life.  Those who do not love the world but obey God do have eternal life.

John divides the world into two types of people.  First, there are those who disobey God’s commands, do not love their brothers, and love the world.  These people lie in their claim to know God and walk in the light, and their love is passing away.  These people do not have eternal life.  Second, there are those who do obey God, who do love their brothers, and who do not love the world.  These people truly do know God and walk in the light, and they have no love for the world and its desires.  These people do have eternal life. 

Some may dismiss these divisions as simplistic or judgmental or just old.  Yet, I believe that they do so at their own peril.  Rather, I encourage you to examine yourselves.  Answer these questions honestly.  Now let me be clear: John is not writing so that true believers will doubt that they have eternal life.  No, he is writing to encourage true believers.  That’s what he says in verses 12-14.  Look at those with me. 

Yes, he wants to correct the errors of the opponents and show them that what they are claiming is false.  But he also wants to encourage the true believers by showing them how they can know that they really do have eternal life.  He is writing to assure them that if they are obeying God’s commands and loving each other and not loving the world, then they can know that they have eternal life.  So again, I encourage you to examine yourselves this morning.  If you see that you are not obeying God and not loving the brothers, but are instead loving the world, then repent and believe in the work of Christ at the cross.  He died to pay for your sins and to give you eternal life.  If you do see this fruit in your life, then thank God for His grace and pray for even more as you continually seek to follow hard after Christ.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 24 November 2009 )

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