One question raised by the previous entry is: How can you call a test like the moral test an assurance? It smacks of legalism, or salvation by works. Before we look at the relational test today, let’s take a few minutes to address this question.
All through the epistle John makes it clear that his purpose in writing is to give his readers assurance. There is no doubt in his mind that they are secure in Christ.
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one (2:12-14).
I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and no lie is of the truth (2:21).
These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life (5:13).
These verses sound an awful lot like John’s stated purpose of his gospel narrative: But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31).
We thus see that John’s purpose is to assure his readers of their standing before the Lord. But there is another purpose behind what he writes to them: These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you (2:26). Therefore the three tests–moral, relational, and doctrinal–are not designed to stir up doubt as to their own spiritual condition, but rather to help the readers distinguish the true sheep from the wolves, or impostors. This intention is clearly stated by John. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother (3:10). By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (4:6). In this last verse the reference is clearly to those who pass or fail the doctrinal test–adherence to apostolic teaching. A quick reading of the epistle reveals several other similar statements.
So before we move on and discuss the relational test, let’s answer the original question. John repeatedly assumes his readers are genuine believers. Nothing he writes savors of legalism or salvation by works. However, also implicit in the three tests is the assumption that the readers pass them–that is, as an ongoing pattern of life they practice righteousness, love other believers, and adhere to apostolic doctrine. They may not be perfect, but their habit patterns clearly distinguish them from those masquerading as true sheep. Were this not the case the three tests would be meaningless.
Now for the relational test.
He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes (2:9-11).
Two common responses to these verses will need to be addressed. First, walking in darkness could technically describe a Christian, so that these statements cannot be used as a test to distinguish a believer from an unbeliever. Secondly, the contrast is between the absolutes of love and hate. But what if you neither love nor hate your brother? Is a neutral position possible? To answer these objections we will need to see what else John has to say about the relational test.
In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, neither he that does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that does not love his brother abides in death. Whosoever hates his brother is a murderer: and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (3:10-16).
Two very sobering points are made in this passage. First, the contrast of believer and unbeliever is unmistakable: the relational test weeds them out. Secondly, the contrast between loving and hating one’s brother is re-stated as loving and not loving. Read the passage carefully and you will see that hating and not loving are virtually synonymous–there is no neutral ground. As difficult as it looks on the face of it, there can be no misunderstanding of John’s meaning: loving the brethren is not optional. We might spend volumes defining and expounding on the nature of love and how it ought to look in real life, but of its necessity in the life of the believer there is no room for argument. Next:
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God. He that does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwells in us, and his love is perfected in us…If a man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loves God love his brother also (4:7-12, 20-21).
According to John, the born-again child of God loves others who are born of Him (believers). Those who do not love are haters who are said to be in darkness, children of the devil, abiding in death, murderers, and devoid of eternal life. They neither know nor love God. But, again, the test is not meant to stir up doubt but to differentiate the true believers from the fakes. John seems to assume that his readers are walking in obedience and that they love one another. He nowhere tells them to try hard to love one another. It would seem that in John’s thinking for a true child of God loving other believers is a very natural thing. You would no more need to teach a believer to love the brethren than to teach a fish to swim or a cow to eat grass.
The Bible does not tell us that practicing righteousness, loving the brethren, and holding sound doctrine make you a Christian. On the contrary–being a Christian makes you do these things. Adherence to the three tests is not a means of salvation, but rather the natural result of it. Again, the emphasis in 1 John is not perfect compliance, but a heart attitude of willing loving obedience. Apparently the phonies in Ephesus not only completely failed all three tests, but saw no need to even be concerned about their unrighteous unloving conduct and their rejection of apostolic teaching. The contrast must have been stark.
Yesterday as I sat in the worship service reflecting, a thought popped into my mind: Be who you are! Do what your heart desires! And then a verse:
Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy (Revelation 12:11).
Brothers, the time for playing games has long since passed. Do you really want to walk in sin? Do you really want to remain aloof and apathetic with regard to the body of Christ? Do you really want to listen to the philosophy of the world instead of the truth of God? Do you want to be dominated by the world, flesh, and devil? No, I did not ask if you want to escape hell someday and go to heaven. Everyone wants that. It might just be, however, that for you heaven would seem like hell. If you love sin, what makes you think you would enjoy being in a place where there is no sin? If you hate the brethren, why would you want to be stuck with them in heaven forever? If you shun truth for false doctrine, how would you feel living in a heresy and apostasy-free environment?
I am on my face this morning before the Lord. That hunger and thirst for Christ I once knew is growing. I am sad to say I have wasted far too much time and squandered too much opportunity. As a steward of the talents God has given me I have a meagre showing. No longer can I sit back and make excuses, and neither can you. My thirty-two years of working in churches left me jaded, critical, and defeated. If you think you have seen Christians at their worst, trust me, you’ve seen nothing. I can top anything you can relate. But at the end of the day it is all so much blame-shifting and excuse making deflecting the light of God’s word away from the real problem–ME!
No more. The honest desire of my heart today is to know Christ and to live as HE directs me in His word and by His Spirit. He is looking for those who will worship Him in Spirit and truth. I want to be one of those worshippers today. It won’t take me long to fall on my face, but by His grace I will get back up and keep moving forward.
Who will come with me?