True Fellowship with God

The True Fellowship with God that Leads to True Love – 1 John 3-4

Thus far in our study of 1 John we have seen that the primary purpose the Apostle John wrote this letter was that his readers could experience the same true fellowship with God that he and other followers of Jesus had. Secondarily, John wrote that by such fellowship with God they could experience fullness of joy in their lives (1:3-4).

In the second part of the first chapter John speaks of God’s holiness in terms of light (1:5) and then makes the case that its necessary to deal with sin honestly if one wants to enter true fellowship with God (1:6-10).

Sin is what keeps us from relating properly to God. John didn’t want to give the impression that sin was inevitable therefore he discusses in 1 John 2 that it is possible not to sin (2:1a). But John is realistic. Knowing that it is likely that people will sin, he then discusses how we can deal with sin and the things we should be aware of and avoid in order to increase our chances not to sin (2:1bff). Jesus is our Advocate when we sin and His advocacy on our behalf is based on His propitiation for our sins made on the cross (2:2).

John wrote this letter in part because there were evidently people in the church who were teaching aberrant teachings that excused outward sinfulness based on a dualism that rationalized sin away. It seems this caused confusion amongst the believers and may have caused them to wonder or ask, “Just who is a follower of Jesus anyway?” John answer this throughout his letter but in particular here by saying the person who is living in this true fellowship with God is proved by keeping His commandments which can be summed up in loving like He did (2:3-8). John often speaks in contrast and in this chapter he defined light as loving and darkness as hatred (2:9-11). True fellowship with God is also pictured by John as familial relationships: children, fathers, young men (2:12-14).

A poison to be avoided by the one in true fellowship with God is love for the things of this world (2:15-17). John also adds that we should be aware of the lying influence of the spirit of antichrist (2:18-23). The means by which we are enabled by God to discern and then resist the deception of this spirit of antichrist is the anointing of the Holy Spirit within the born again believer (2:24-27).

John spoke of it being the “last hour” (2:18). And continuing that truth he segues into the next section by ending chapter two with a reference to the coming appearance of Jesus (2:28). John exhorts his readers to abide, or stay close to Jesus so that when He appears we will not be ashamed. He says the one “born of Him” is evidenced by the righteous life they practice (2:29).

John has alluded to love as the true indicator of being in true fellowship with God (2:5). Such love is not sentimental or worldly oriented love but is defined by walking as Jesus walked; it is Christlike love (2:5-6). That love, that true love, is so important and integral to the true fellowship with God than brings fullness of joy, that John will now focus on this love in the bulk of his letter in chapters 3 and 4.

Almost everyone loves a true love story. You know, the one where a couple are attracted to one another, but then are faced with what appears to be nearly insurmountable obstacles to that love, but then in the end overcome those obstacles and walk off into the sunset hand in hand love completed, fulfilled, victorious. As I get older I see a sentimentality growing in my nature. I watch “chick flicks” with my wife and find I’m choking back tears of emotion. My wife looks at me with her “there, there honey” look and just smiles. I hate it if in the end love is unrequited or ended in some way. I love it when love triumphs in the end. I want love to triumph!

Though you’d have to edit out or use your fast forward at certain parts, and though the love portrayed is at times more worldly than substantial, movies like Regarding Henry, The Notebook, Family Man, are successful and have become classics because they tap into the idea of a love that perseveres through trial and which shows itself to be of greater worth than the mere material things of this world. The only problem with such stories is that they leave out the most important part, Jesus. By cutting out Jesus in such love stories the love portrayed is stifled and limited to this life. The true love God offers in Jesus is eternal! [1]As good and as sentimental and as emotionally moving as the love portrayed in such love stories is, the love portrayed is limited and less than what it could and should be.  That is because the love portrayed is a “love” without Jesus.

Now I’d like to interject here that the love, the real love we see in this world in those who do not know Jesus, is still real love. It’s not “perfect” love like we find in scripture, but it is love. Love that is persevering and selfless in the world is a gift of God’s grace. Every good thing comes from God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation of shadow of turning” (James 1:17). God blesses people with such love in hope that such love provided in the “goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering of God” will lead people to repentance (cf. Romans 2:4). Love is from God.

There are those who try to straddle the fence of love and true love. For instance, another resource for love stories is the Hallmark Channel. Hallmark is known for its wholesome love stories and family oriented productions, and they even allude to or mention “God” at times. But they mostly miss the mark by bowing to political correctness and cutting “Jesus” out of their love story formula.

What is true love? That is something everyone is craving and looking for. In these next two chapters the source of true love and the characteristics of true are defined. These two chapters are a true love story of God’s true love.

1 John 3 (NKJV)

3 Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!

First, true love’s greatest and most accurate description is in God’s familial agape love. The Bible and here the inspired Apostle John refer to God as “the Father.” And the followers of God the Father are referred to as children. It is in this familial loving relationship that God the Father’s love is exemplified. The love of a parent for their children is a heaven sent portrayal of the love that the Father has for us.

Such familial “love” (Greek noun agape) of the Father, who was willing to send His Only Son Jesus to pay the penalty for humanities’ sin and make a way for the lost sons and daughters of humanity to be brought back home to Him, that is the greatest picture of what true love is all about. God the Father adopts the lost rebellious sinner into His loving family as a gift of His grace through faith in the Savior Jesus Christ.

In this verse we find an ABCDs of Biblical true love:

A – God’s true love is adoptive. God adopts the sinner into His family. When you enter into true fellowship with God you become family to Him. The closeness, faithfulness, loyalty, dependability, and love that exists or at least should exist in a family is what we enter into with God. God loves family. God uses family to illustrate our true fellowship saving relationship with Him.

This has implications for the church.  A church is supposed to be a place where people are adopted into a family type of setting. A church isn’t or shouldn’t be, a cold corporate facility. A church, if it is to be a New Testament church, should have an adoptive family atmosphere where loving adoptive family ties are established in the true love of God.

B – God’s true love is bestowed. Bestowed” (Greek verb dedoken: Present/Active/Indicative of dodomi) means give, give out, hand over, entrust, give back, give up. When we see “give” in relations to God we should think “grace.” God freely offers as a gift of His grace, this wonderful true adoptive love. And we see “entrust” as part of the definition of this word we should think responsibility. God has entrusted us with true love so that we can then bestow it on others. We find it easy to receive such love, but are we reciprocating and bestowing it on others. Are we only taking and not giving such love? If so we are not walking in true love.

C – God’s true love is a calling. God’s true love calls us to be “children of God.” There is a calling to true love by God. As His children we should love like He loves. He offers such love to us but implied is a calling to bestow such love on others. Truly, true love is only experienced, experienced to its fullest, in that we receive it and pass it on to others. True love calls us to let is pass through us from God to others. True love is powerful. And the power of true love is released when we act in love toward others. Is that what you are doing? Are you passing such love on?

D – God’s true love is devoted. The true love God passes on to us is demonstrated most clearly in the sacrificial atoning death on the cross of Jesus. At the cross God showed us what true love by nature is; devoted to sacrifice. Are you devoted to sacrificing for others? Are you acting in a lovingly redemptive way toward them? Are you merely looking for others to sacrifice for you, or are you acting sacrificially toward them? Would you act in God’s true love and put your needs aside to meet the needs of others? Is your love willing to sacrifice, leave its comfort and serve others in a redemptive way?

True love is adoptive, bestowed, a calling, and devoted. What kind of “love” are you experiencing, living by, “true love”?

Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.

Second, true love is not understood by the world. The world does not know those in true fellowship with God and the love that binds such fellowship together because they do not know “Him” or Jesus.

The world can write and speak and even experience some “love” (as provided by God), but it does not understand or know or experience the true love that those in true fellowship with God do. Any “love” without Jesus is less than the true love offered by God. Any love without Jesus is less than what it could be. Any love without Jesus is not truly love as it was intended by God to be. Without Jesus, your love just doesn’t measure up.

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

Third, true love is experienced in the revelation of Jesus. The greatest picture of the depth and extent and power of God’s true love, is the cross of Jesus. At the cross we see the willing sacrifice of true love. At the cross we see the obstacles to true love which is sin, and we see the cost willingly paid to redeem from sin at the cross. Salvation is freely offered but it wasn’t cheap (cf. 1 Peter 1:18-19). God reveals the nature of true love through the redemptive love story that has Jesus as the main character (e.g. Romans 5:8).

John refers to his readers as “Beloved” (Greek adjective agapatoi from agapatos) which is a word of esteem and being loved and valued. John says, “we are” (Greek verb esmen: Present/Active/Indicative of eimi) which has the idea of we are and continue to be “children of God.” He is speaking of a life, a living condition of being children of God. And John is conveying this to be a reality.

He says, “and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be” which points the reader to the future (“shall be” – Greek verb esomethe: Future/Middle/Indicative of eimi) and what the future holds for us. That future revelation (“revealed” – Greek verb ephanerothe: Aorist/Passive/Indicative of phaneroo to manifest, show, reveal, disclose) of what we will be hasn’t yet be discloses. Apparently those in true fellowship with God will be changed in some way in the future.

This change is tied to when Jesus is revealed, “but we know that when He is revealed.” This is a reference to the return of Jesus at the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). When Jesus returns in the clouds to receive His church composed of those who are born again and living in true fellowship with God, we shall be changed. What will that change consist of? It will consist of true transformation into the likeness of Jesus – “we shall be like Him.” This doesn’t mean we will transformed into gods. It means we will become in Jesus all that God has purposed for us to become since He first created us. In Romans Paul is inspired to explain, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” Romans 8:29).

How will such a change take place? How can such a change take place at all? John says we will be changed, “for we shall see Him as He is.” When we see Jesus all the parts of the puzzle for redeemed humanity will fall into place. When we see Jesus we will see Him in His transfigured glorious state and He will change us into His Christlike family members in every outstanding way. Our physical limitations will be removed. Our eternal condition will be implemented in us. To that all we can say is “Glory to God!”

And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Fourth, true love is hopeful and pure like Jesus. The true love God provides is based on His promise of a good future. And as we await the return of Jesus and the changes He will implement in us and in His creation, it purifies us because it helps us keep our priorities rightly vertical and not merely horizontal. When we look toward Jesus and hope in His return, we are purified from living life merely for the thing sof this world and rather we live to love others into His family.

“Hope” (Greek noun elpida from elpis) is expectation for the future or hope. The “hope” John refers to here is “in Him” which means that comes in a relationship with Him. This would be the hope of God fulfilling His prophetic promises of Christ’s return and the culmination of all things. More generally it refers to the hope we have the God will fulfill all His promises in His word.

But hope itself is defined by looking at Jesus. Jesus lived His life in light of its culmination at the cross. Everything He said and did was in view of the cross. In the Garden Gethsemane Jesus prepared His heart for the cross by hopefully looking at the blessing it would bring. He knew the will of the Father was best (cf. Matthew 26:36-46). And later in the New Testament it states, “Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus looked at the cross before Him in hope that His sacrificial redemptive act would open the door for others to enter into true fellowship with God which leads to fullness of joy. That same hope enables us to look at God’s mission call in our lives, whatever composition that calling takes, and to press on to finish what God has called us to do, because of the blessing of true fellowship with God and the resultant joy it will bring to others. We are not Christ, but we are Christlike (or should be) in the way we live.

“Purifies” (Greek verb hagnizei: Present/Active/Indicative of hagnidzo) which means a continual cleansing or a continual purifying. When we hope in Jesus the promises of God are has a cleansing effect on us. And the particular cleansing is described as, “just as He is pure.” “Pure” (Greek adjective hagnos) means holy, pure, pure from every fault, modest or pure from pride and it is connected to the purity of Jesus. Just as Jesus was pure from every fault and from pride in particular, the promise of His return humbles us and purifies our heart. It purifies us to become more like Jesus “just as He is.” It purifies us from pride and the sins connected with loving this world (cf. 2:15-17).

Therefore, true love is something that involves hoping in Jesus. True love purifies us and makes us like Jesus. We can see from these verse how it is so shallow and misinformed to think that a true follower of Jesus can live in a true loving way and still live in sinful lifestyles. I think there are many Christians who need to re-examine the way they are living.

Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.

Fifth, true love that abides in Jesus overcomes sin. John defines sin as “lawlessness” (Greek noun anomian) or being without law. Sin is living outside the holy boundaries of God’s law and word. And as we have said earlier in our study, “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10). Jesus didn’t come to destroy the law of God but to fulfill it (Matthew 3:15; 5:17). By living a life of sinlessness as it pertains to keeping the law Jesus was the only Human Representative worthy to give His perfect sinless life as a sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world (2 Corinthians 5:21). Once that redemptive work was accomplished and a just righteous payment for sin was made, anyone who repented of their sin and trusted in Jesus as Savior was justly forgiven their sin by God (Romans 5). And once forgiven, the Holy Spirit brought regenerating spiritual life to the repentant believer in Jesus. And when the Spirit enters a person He brings love (Titus 3:4-7; Romans 5:5). And it is by such love and living in such Spirit brought Spirit empowered love that we are enabled to fulfill the law in our lives (Galatians 5:22-24).

The idea here is not committing a single solitary sin but a living a lifestyle of sin. “Commits” (Greek verb poion: Present/Active/Participle of poieo) means practicing, doing, creating, producing, making, accomplishing, performing, acting in some way. Here it means to be practicing lawlessness or practicing sin. John said its possible not to sin (2:1a). If we do sin, we have an Advocate in Jesus (2:1b). But no one who claims to be in true fellowship with God should be accepting of living in a sinful way outside of the stipulations of God’s law and word.

This is because to live in sin goes against the purpose of why Jesus came. “And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.” There is no sin in Him because in Him Jesus’ righteousness is put to our account or imputed to us (e.g. 2 Corinthians 5:21). But also, in Christ, there is a very practical imparting of power to resist sin that is provided to us. John says, “Whoever abides in Him does not sin.” “Abides” (Greek verb menon: Present/Active/Participle of meno) means continuing in, abiding in, remaining in, standing fast in, enduring in, waiting in something. “Sin” (Greek verb hamartanei: Present/Active/Indicative of hamartano) means here to sin and continue to sin, to miss the mark and continue to miss the mark, to err and continue to err. Again, John isn’t saying that if a person sins once they lose their salvation. He is saying that if a person abides in Jesus they will not live a lifestyle of sin.  Power to resist a lifestyle of sin comes from living with Jesus.

John then states, “Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.” Sins” (Greek verb hamartanon: Present/Active/Participle) again implies a lifestyle. The person who lives a life of sin has “neither seen Him” (Greek ouch [particle] heorakin [verb] of horao) or has not looked upon Him, has not contemplated Him, has not perceived Him. The person who goes on sinning has not known Him or “nor known Him” (Greek verb egnoken: Perfect/Active/Indicative of ginosko) meaning known, perceived, understood, or become conscious of Jesus in the past in a sufficient enough way to have a continuing impact into the future. Bottom line, if you live a life of sin you really haven’t understood what true fellowship with God is.

 

Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.

 

Sixth, true love is truly enlightened about righteousness and sin. The person living in true fellowship with God should learn to trust their spiritual eyes. John lays out the truth clearly and unmistakably here. If a person is living righteously they are righteous and of the Lord. If they are sinning, they are sinners and of the devil. Jesus purpose for coming into the world was to destroy the works of the devil. The person who is born of God does not continue in a life of willful sin. Indeed, John says they cannot because of their spiritual new birth in Christ.

“Deceive” (Greek verb planato: Present/Active/Imperative of planoo) means led astray, misled, deceived, seduced, deluded, err. This is an emphatic statement by John. DON’T be deceived by anyone (Greek medeis absolutely no one, none, no one). 

It’s important to read these verses closely and not misread what John is speaking about. “He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.” “Practices” (Greek verb poien: Present/Active/Participle of poieo doing, making, acting, performing) speaks to us about a lifestyle of living righteously. Similarly, when John speaks of “he who sins. . . does not sin, . . . cannot sin” John phrases in the original language convey the thought of ongoing actions and therefore allude to a lifestyle (3:8 - poion – practicing; hamartenei – sins; 3:9 – poiei – practicing). 

Some have read verse nine fearfully thinking that a solitary sin jeopardizes their fellowship with God. It’s always important to look a scripture in its context. John speaks of practicing righteousness. He is also speaking about “sins” plural or in practicing sinful activity. The person who comes to Jesus from an addiction of some kind or some other life of sin will not continue in that lifestyle of sin. Their transformation from a life of sin may involve a struggle and that struggle will involve a gradual lessening of sin on into victory. What is to be emphasized is that change aspect of what John is saying. For some who come to Jesus they are instantaneously delivered from their lifestyle of sin. For others, certain areas of life, for a host of reason, may involve a more protracted battle unto victory.

John will revisit this at the end of his letter when he contrasts a sin leading to death and a sin that doesn’t lead to death (1 John 5:16-17). The sin that leads to eternal death is the sin that is freely and unrepentantly indulged in. Truly a person who indulges in sin in a lifestyle does not know not have they likely known Jesus as Savior. But a person can know Jesus and be battling through to bring and area of particular weakness in their life. During the course of the struggle against such sin they will fall. Such incidental sins committed in the struggle toward victory are not unto death. We will discuss this more when we get to it.

John says clearly, “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning.” The person who lives a lifestyle of sin is of the devil. If you are living in sin you belong to the devil. That’s not a good place to be because the devil is a tyrant and merciless taskmaster. He will whip the sinner into submission. The devil is an expert sinner himself since he “has sinned from the beginning.”

 

Devil” (Greek diabolou) means slanderer, false accuser, adversary. Jesus taught that the devil is real. John His disciple did the same. The devil is not a figure in a red suit with pointy tail and a goatee and a pitch fork. The devil usually comes as an “angel of light” or as someone who is good (e.g. 2 Corinthians 11:14). The devil is real. He is a created being and no match for God (Isaiah 14; Ezekiel 28). But he has caused and will continue to cause a great deal of deception, difficulty and despair.

Jesus is our Advocate. The devil is our adversary. The devil does not only bring accusations against the sinner that are based on facts, he twists and presents the “facts” of our sin in ways that are damning. He wants to slander our good reputation. He wants to bring not only true accusations against us but false ones too. He is the ultimate propagandist. That he is described by John as being a sinful creature “from the beginning” (Greek noun arches) refers to the beginning of his being created by God. The devil has been sinning a long time. He is an expert in sinful activity. We are therefore no match for him on our own.

 

Thankfully there is hope. John says, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” Jesus came and went to the cross and rose form the dead to “destroy the works of the devil.” “Destroy” (Greek verb luse: Aorist/Active/Subjunctive of luo) means loose, untie, set free, destroy, break up, abolish. The devil has tied up the world in sin. Sin by nature is enslaving. Sin is like a spider’s web and we are the caught prey in the web of sin. Jesus came to destroy chains of sin, to unshackle the sinner, to loosen the hangman’s neck tie of sin around the sinner’s neck, to break up the cement shoes of the devil, to eradicate sin and blow it away.

This is why John points out, “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” To sin is to live by the nature of the devil. To live righteously is to live according to the new life that comes with being “born of God.” An alligator or crocodile grows and lives to be an alligator or crocodile. They have vice grip jaws that clamp down on its prey. You can’t reason with them because they have a brain the size of a walnut. They have an outlook on life that is driven by living, feeding, reproducing and that’s it. When you think alligator or crocodile, you’re not likely thinking “love.” A human is birthed to live in a way that is more than that of a crocodile’s life. They are given the capacity to reason, to live with meaning, to love. And the human existence is fulfilled to its full potential in true fellowship with God. What if God transformed an alligator or crocodile into a human being? There would be a drastic change in the transformed being. Swimming would be different. Eating would be different. But you’d have a bigger (hopefully better) brain. You’d have a heart that was more than physical but also the seat of the will and emotions. Life would have more meaning than simply acquiring the next meal or survival of the fittest. John here is saying, when a person is “born of God” they experience a life change that would be clearly evident. It would be like transforming from a crocodile to a human being. How about you? Are you living more like a crocodile or a Christian walking in true loving fellowship with God.

10 In 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. 11 For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, 12 not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.

Seventh, true love has no sinful evil intentions. Here John draws a clear line of demarcation between the “children of God and the children of the devil.” What separates these two groups? Those who do “not practice righteousness” are not of God. What is “righteousness”? John tells us here that righteousness is loving one another.  John says this message of love “is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” Then John goes back to the book of Genesis where the account of Cain is given (Genesis 4).

Cain of course murdered his brother – “not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother.” Cain lured his brother Abel into the field and in a jealous premeditated rage killed him. John adds, “And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.“Wicked” (Greek ponerou) means pain-producing, grief producing, bad, wicked, evil, depraved. “Murder” (Greek verb esphaxen) refers literally to the premediated slaughter of an animal. It means to cut the throat of a sacrificial animal in order to drain the blood out. And to do that to another human, a brother no less, is certainly “evil” (Greek ponera) or spiritually rotten.

True love has no evil intent. It isn’t selfish. It isn’t jealous like Cain was of his righteous brother Abel. It certainly does not murder or cut anyone in any way. True love has no evil intentions.

13 Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. 15 Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

 

Eighth, true love is the life breath of one in true fellowship with God. John says not to be surprised if the world hates us. “We know” (Greek verb oidamen of oida) or fully know and fully understand and recognize that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.” In other words, loving our “brethren” (Greek adelphous- other Christians) is the indication of true life spiritually. “Hates” (Greek verb misei of meseo) means hates, detests, abhors, prefers against and this is what we should expect from the world. The world is like a swamp filled with crocodiles and they are looking to devour us. But we have stepped out of the swamp.

When John says, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” He’s saying that if we have been lifted out of the worldly swamp we shouldn’t live any longer like the crocodiles we once were; hatefully. Jesus said if we even think angry thoughts toward someone we are guilty of murdering them in our heart (Matthew 5:21-26). True love breathes deep and loves those around them. Hate suffocates people spiritually.

 

16 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.

Ninth, true love practically sacrifices for others. John says we understand love by looking how Jesus loved. The Apostle Paul’s words give insight here when he wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Paul also wrote:

Philippians 2:5–8 (NKJV) - Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Jesus didn’t love us with words only but in deeds. He spoke love but He also acted love in going to the cross. In the same way we should invest in others by meeting their practical needs when we can. We should be willing and even eager to sacrifice for the benefit of others. This is a heart matter. John says we should not shut up our heart but instead we should open the faucet wide and pour out love lavishly on others. Jesus was willing to leave His throne to come and serve and not only that, but give His life on the cross. Jesus was willing to humble Himself. He was obedient to the point of death. Are we like that in our attitudes and actions when others are in need? Indeed, if we have the means to help a brother or sister in need and don’t do it, John says, “how does the love of God abide in him?” That’s a rhetorical question meaning, if we shut our hearts to those in need God’s love is not abiding in us. True love, to be true and really what it ought to be, should be like Jesus. True love walks as He walks (cf. 2:6).

It is easy to dismiss helping those in need by saying we don’t want them to become dependent on us or on “handouts.” While it is true that God’s order is for those who can work, to work to support themselves (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15). But that does not excuse us from helping when we can. We should never be heartless or without compassion. We should always be merciful and loving toward people. We should be willing to sacrifice in order to help those in need and do so practically. John says, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” True love is real. True love acts. True doesn’t only talk about love it lives out and demonstrates love in tangibly helpful ways. That is the way of true love.

19 And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. 20 For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.

 

Tenth, true love breeds assurance. As John speaks of tangibly loving others he says there is a benefit to this. When we love others it helps us to “know that we are of the truth.” When we experience that true love of God and see it working in and through us in tangible ways to help others, it proves to us that we are of the truth. Why is that? Because such love is beyond us. Such love, such Christlike agape true love is otherworldly. It is from God, pure and life changing not only for those who we help, but on we ourselves as we are driven by God’s true love to help at all (e.g. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

True love makes our true fellowship with God self-evident. We see the Spirit working in us to change us. And so this true love “shall assure our hearts before Him.” “Assure” (Greek verb peisomen: Future/Active/Indicative of peitho) means will assure, will convince, will persuade, will appease, will satisfy. “Our hearts” (Greek kardias) which refers to our heart as the seat of our emotions and will. Salvation is aimed at the heart (Romans 10:9-10). And it is often our heart that condemns us or questions whether or not we are truly saved. When that happens we need to remember that we will come “before Him” and that it is by His standards of grace through faith in Jesus that we are saved.

John says, “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.” Our heart will at times condemn us or judge us. Our heart may lose its sense of true fellowship with God. When that happens we need trust in what the Lord has revealed in His word. “God is greater than our heart” in the sense that when there are two competing voices within us, our heart and the Holy Spirit, we need to listen to the Spirit and God’s word rather than simply go by what we are feeling in our heart.

John reiterates, “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.” When our heart is right before God there is peace and we can have “confidence” (Greek noun parrhesian from parrhesia) which is outspokenness, frankness, unreservedness in speech, plainness, freedom to speak, openness, courage, assurance, boldness, fearlessness. And this confidence is “toward God.” Confidence in a relationship is extremely important. It frees us to speak our mind. This is not freedom to be irreverent toward God but a freedom to speak honestly to God about the contents of our heart and what we are thinking. This confidence demonstrates itself in our prayer life.

 

22 And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. 23 And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.

 

Eleventh, true love communicates with God in prayer. When our heart does not condemn us, when our heart is right with the Lord, it frees us to pray openly and honestly and that is why John moves to how we relate to God in prayer. Prayer is our way of communicating with God. A healthy true relationship, healthy true fellowship with God has healthy prayerful interaction with God. John says, “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” These words serve as a great confidence builder in our prayer lives. John says when our heart is right with the Lord we can be confident that “whatever we ask we receive from Him.” Just think about that for a moment. How can that be true? “Because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” In other words, when our heart is right with the Lord we will pray for things that are in accord with God’s word and which are pleasing in His sight; we will pray for things that are in the will of God. When we pray for things that are pleasing in God’s sight we should have every reason to believe that He will answer such prayers.

What commandment guides our prayer? “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” To “believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ” means to pray in the way Jesus would pray for things. And the way Jesus would pray for things would be in a way that we would “love one another, as He gave us commandment.” Be motivated to please God and love others in your prayers and you can rest assured God will answer those prayers positively.  

24 Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

Twelfth, true love relies on the Holy Spirit. To abide in Jesus is to keep His commandments. Keeping God’s word brings us closer to the Lord. But this unity and true fellowship of true love that abides in us is “by the Spirit whom He has given us.” All of this confidence and true love in our true fellowship with God is a product of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We must rely on the Holy Spirit to produce this wonderful true love in us. Otherwise it all breaks down and degenerates into a work of the flesh. If we are going to experience true fellowship with God and the true love of God we will need to rely on the Holy Spirit.

1 John 4 begins by John telling us to “test the spirits, whether they are of God.” This tells us that the devil who deceives even tries to deceive people about the Holy Spirit. The anointing of the Spirit will help us discern as we have seen (e.g. 2:20, 27). But we need to be aware that not every spirit is of the Holy Spirit.

Test the spirits

 

1 John 4 (NKJV)

4 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

Thirteenth, true love is discerning. John warns to “not believe every spirit.” This tells us that true love is not gullible. Walking in true love doesn’t mean we simply accept everything everyone says. Yes, “love believes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). But that doesn’t mean we check our brains at the door or disregard relying on the Holy Spirit to help us discern truth from falsehood, light from darkness, good from evil, or what is of God from what isn’t of God. John tells us we need to “test the spirits.”

When we look at the context of these verses, a discussion of true love, the call to “test the spirits” implies not all love is true love. Looking at 1 John 3 we can discern true from false love in the following ways:

  1. True love is from God and is familial – False love is worldly and disregards familial ties (1 John 3:1).
  2. True love is Christlike love – False love is unchristlike; devilishly deceptive (1 John 3:2-3)
  3. True love drives us away from sin and practices righteousness – False love indulges sin and practices lawlessness (1 John 3:4-7).
  4. True love is the product of being “born of God” and seeks to destroy the works of the devil – False love is not spiritually alive and therefore works with the devil (1 John 3:8-10, 14).
  5. True love genuinely loves others – False love is a Cainish love that is rooted in evil and therefore is given to jealousy and hate (1 John 3:11-13).
  6. True love copies Christlike love that lays down its life for others – False love is selfish and “shuts up his heart” to others (1 John 3:16-17).
  7. True love is practical and actually loves in deed and truth – False love pretentiously loves only in word and tongue (1 John 3:18).
  8. True love assures us before God – False love does not assure us before God (1 John 3:19-21).
  9. True love confidently prays to God – False love is prayerless (1 John 3:22-23).
  10. True love obediently abides in God and has an assurance from the indwelling Holy Spirit – False love disobeys and is distant from God and without an assurance from the Spirit (1 John 3:24).

At this point you might want to examine your brand of love. Is your love true or false based on what we’ve seen in 1 John 3?

“Test” (Greek verb dokimadzate: Present/Active/2nd Person Plural of dokimadzo) means to prove, to scrutinize, to test, to examine. It was a word used in the secular realm to describe a metallurgical proving of the genuineness of a metal or coin. John is instructing us to test for counterfeits or disingenuous spirits in people. The word “spirits” (Greek noun pneumata) refers to a disposition, spiritual state, a spirit (angelic or demonic) wind, breath, soul, self. The “spirits” John is speaking of here points us to the underlying spiritual condition in those we interact with.

Whether they are of God” tells us that not every “spirit” is of God. There is an adversary on the loose and he and his demonic spirits can influence people through sinful thoughts, manipulation, or on some occasions demonic possession. An example of those under the influence of spirits that are not of God are, “because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Just because someone claims to be from God or of God doesn’t necessarily mean they are. And it is not beyond the realm or character of true love to test the spirits to see whether or not they actually are from God.

In the particular environment of the recipients of this letter from John, the proof of whether or not a spirit is from God is, “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.” This statements rejects the dualistic idea of the Gnostics that Jesus was only an apparition (i.e. false teaching of Docetism). John states that the spirit that is from God affirms Jesus came “in the flesh” or in an actual, tangible, material human body made up of actual flesh. Whether or not a spirit is of God is based on their confession that Jesus’ incarnation was to an actual physical body and not merely an apparition. John states anyone who refuses to proclaim Jesus as come in the flesh is a spirit of antichrist: “And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.” It is likely that, based on this passage, when the Antichrist does come on the scene He will present a false view of who Jesus was and is. The Antichrist will purposely misdefine and deceive people as to the nature of Jesus. The spirit of Antichrist can be seen in history in every cult and faulty view of the nature of Jesus. Cults are identified in part by their less than scripturally sound promotion of Jesus as less than fully God and fully man.

The large proportion of heretical false teachings throughout history have centered on the nature of God and in particular the nature of Jesus. You can’t know God unless you actually know who He has revealed Himself to be. We don’t worship a human image of God because human images are inevitably distorted. The only true revelation of God is in His word and in particular in Jesus Christ (e.g. John 1; Hebrews 1 and 2). It is when humanity fiddles with God’s revelation of Himself that people get off course and into false heretical misrepresentations of God.

In the early church during the third to fourth century, there arose a false teaching on the nature of Jesus by an apostate named Arius. His story demonstrates just how deceptive and cunning the enemy can be when it comes to undermining the truth about Jesus:

The Bible warns about people like Arius (c. A.D. 250 - 336), a Christian priest from Alexandria, Egypt, who was trained at Antioch in the early fourth century. About A.D. 318, Arius accused Bishop Alexander of Alexandria of subscribing to Sabellianism, a false teaching which asserted that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were merely roles or modes assumed by God at various times. Arius was determined to emphasize the oneness of God; however, he went too far in his teaching of God’s nature. Arius denied the Trinity and introduced what appeared on the surface to be an inconsequential difference between the Father and Son.

Arius argued that Jesus was not homoousios (of the same essence) as the Father, but was rather homoiousios (of similar essence). Only one Greek letter – the iota (i) – separated the two. Arius described his position in this manner: “The Father existed before the Son. There was a time when the Son did not exist. Therefore, the Son was created by the Father. Therefore, although the Son was the highest of all creatures, he was not of the essence of God.”

Arius was very clever and did his best to get the people on his side, even going so far as to compose little songs that taught his theology, which he tried to teach to everyone who would listen. His winsome nature and revered position as a preacher and one who lived in denial of himself contributed also to his cause.

With respect to apostasy, it is critical that all Christians understand two important things: (1) how to recognize apostasy and apostate teachers, and (2) why apostate teaching is so deadly.[2]

Truth is important because eternal destiny is based on truth. Those who are led like a lamb to the slaughter by false teachers are culpable for not being discerning. But those who do know the truth of God’s word should offer assistance to guide people into God’s truth even if it has to be done at the risk of being called “judgmental” or “intolerant.” True love cares enough to test the spirits and be discerning and to help people to walk Jesus narrow way (cf. Matthew 7:13-14). 

Is it of God?

 

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God;

because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” – 1 John 4:1

 

How do we determine if something is of God or not? This is an important question because we are in a spiritual war in which our adversary the devil is a master liar, deceiver and destroyer. The apostle John was inspired to warn his readers to “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). He wrote this in love.

The Last Days will be characterized by “deceiving spirits,” “doctrines of demons,” and lies spoken by psychopathic hypocrites (1 Timothy 4:1-2). Satan’s aim is to murder you spiritually and physically (John 8:44). His main tactic is appearing as something good and luring people into evil. Therefore, if we ignore or take this question lightly we risk being victimized by the enemy or worse, being manipulated into a position where we give the enemies of the Lord reason to blaspheme God (2 Samuel 12:14). Because of this God has given us clear precautions in His word to help us discern what is of Him and what is not of Him.

There are many scriptures in the Bible which help us discern whether or not something is of the Lord. Below we list these scriptures with questions we ought to be asking when we are seeking to discern whether or not something is of the Lord.

Is it scriptural? Just because someone uses scriptures does not mean they are of the Lord? Satan used scriptures (out of context) against Jesus in the wilderness temptation (Matthew 4:1-11). Cults use scriptures, as do false teachers. How can we know if scripture is being used in the right way?

We need to see if the interpretation is correct based on the context, or the way it was used in the letter or book in which it is found. Usually you can determine this by reading before and after the scripture to see the proper interpretation of the verses. You may have to read the entire letter or book in which the verses are found. You should also ask whether or not the interpretation in question contradicts other parts of the Bible. God’s word does not contradict itself. We need to determine God’s truth based on the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

Does it bring me closer to God? You should ask if this use of scripture or thing in question is drawing you closer to or pushing you further away from God. The Bible tells us to draw near to God and move away from the devil (James 4:7-8). This is a question that can be tricky because our hearts are deceitful and we can’t know them on our own (Jeremiah 17:9-10). We need to ask God to search our hearts and see the truth in us (Psalm 139:23-24). And the way we do this is to bring our hearts and thoughts prayerfully to the altar of God’s word (Hebrews 4:12).

There is an interesting scripture in this regard and it states,   “If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).

Notice it is not the sign or wonder or impressiveness of something that determines whether or not it is of God. It is whether or not something draws us closer to God and moves us to love Him more and more that determines whether or not something is of God. Jesus said eternal life is to know the One true God and Him (John 17:3). That in a nutshell is the prime reason Jesus came to be with us (John 17:4). We should be asking, “Is what I’m doing bringing me closer to the Lord? Is it making me more spiritually sensitive to His voice? Is it helping me to know Him better? Can I see Jesus involved with what I’m doing?”

Is it causing me to worship the Lord? God is looking for true worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and truth. Those who are trying to determine if the music they listen to is of God should be asking themselves, “Is this causing me to love God more? Is it causing me to worship the Lord in spirit and truth?”(John 4:23-24). Does the music put me in awe of the Lord and cause me to fall at His feet in worship?

Does it bring pleasure to God? Contrary to the popular philosophy of the day, we do not exist for our own pleasure. Humanity was created for the Lord and His pleasure! (Colossians 1:16; Revelation 4:11 KJV). Christians have been purchased by God and redeemed from their sin by the precious blood of Jesus on the cross (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Christians should especially be asking questions like, “Is what I’m doing pleasing to God? Is it selfish? Does it risk displeasing God in some way?”

Is it really worth it? Is what I’m doing really worth the time? If I’m being tempted to do something that is questionable, is it worth risking my walk with the Lord in any way? Nothing is worth risking a single drop of closeness to the Lord.  Greg Laurie once shared some questions we could ask to help us make good sound spiritual decisions. When you come to something that is questionable or really in any situation you should ask yourself five evaluative questions. First, “Will it build me up spiritually?” We have great freedom in Christ, but we should use our freedom judiciously and wisely to assure what we do is edifying. It’s very easy to get entangled in things that will fuel the flesh rather than support the spirit (1 Corinthians 10:23; Galatians 5:13; Hebrews 12:1-2).

Second, we should ask, “Will it bring me under its power?” We have to guard against indulging things that will bring us into slavery. Jesus said he who sins is a slave to sin and that the truth of His word can free us (John 8:31-36). Again, are the things you do lead to sins’ dominion in your life? It should not be so! (1 Corinthians 6:12; Romans 6:14).

Third, “Do I have an uneasy feeling about it?” Whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). We have an anointing from the Spirit to help us in discerning truth from falsehood (1 John 2:27). If you have an uneasy feeling about something or someone, it just may be the Spirit warning you.

Fourth, “Will it cause someone else to stumble?” We should always hold a person’s spiritual welfare as a top priority. We should be others oriented. We should restrict our own freedoms for the eternal welfare of others. This is what love is all about (Romans 14:15; 15:1).

Fifth and lastly, “Will it bring glory to God?” This is the bottom line and most important question to ask. Can you say that what you intend to do brings glory to the Lord? Would you be embarrassed to bring Him with you where you are thinking of going? Would you be embarrassed and ashamed if He were to return and find you doing what you are doing? (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17,23).

Satan is a brilliant enemy who is the master of deception. He disguises himself as something good when he is really the worst of the worst. Those he uses practice the same deception (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Satan does not usually try to sidetrack or victimize people with what is blatantly bad. No. His tactic is to rob people of God’s best by tempting them with what is second best. Unfortunately too many Christians have passed up God’s best because they were impatient and settled for something good, but not God’s best. The choice is not necessarily between good and bad as much as it is between God’s best and an alternative.  That tactic is as old as the Garden of Eden, but it is no less effective today (Genesis 3).  So beware, pray to the Lord and ask Him for help to discern. Go to God’s word and let His peace be your guide (Colossians 3:15-16). But above all, care whether or not something is or is not of God.

 

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

 

Fourteen, true love overcomes. Overcome” (Greek verb nenikekate: Perfect/Active/Indicative of nikao) which means be victorious, prevail, conquer, overcome, win. Those in true fellowship of true love are winners spiritually. They overcome the obstacles that are thrown at them. “Them” would refer to those “false prophets” and it wouldn’t be a stretch to encompass the trials due to spiritual warfare and a fallen world.

This victory is in Jesus; “because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” “Greater” (Greek adjective meizon) means greater, even more, of greater degree. It can refer to great size, greater rank, greater external form, greater intensity of feeling, greater wind, greater noise.  The idea here is that the indwelling Holy Spirit is always greater than anything the enemy throws at you. Praise the Lord! We always have all we need for every need.

John contrasts the false prophets who “are of the world” with “we are of God.” And because the false prophets are of the world they “speak as of the world,” or from a worldly perspective on life. And “the world hears them.” These false prophets speak the world’s language and so they attract a worldly crowd. Some might draw a parallel to some churches today that are so “seeker friendly” that they are more like seekers than saintly, more worldly than holy.

“We are of God” and “He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us.” Those born again of the Spirit of God are united in hearing the voice of the Spirit of God. There is a comradery and connection amongst those who hear each other; they speak the same language.

 

“By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” Who you listen to, the world or the Spirit determines how we know “the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” There are a number of spirits in the world; unseen attitudes and agendas. Some follow God and are known as the “spirit of truth.” Others follow the world and are under the influence of our enemy Satan and these are composed of the “spirit of error.” The Holy Spirit who indwells the born again believer is the One who is greater and always provides us a greater amount of whatever we need in our times of need in this battle of contrasts.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Fifteen, true love, loves actively like God does. The presence of God’s love in a person is an indication they have been born again. John says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” The lack of love in a person is an indication they are not born again. John clearly states, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Love and its presence in a person is the true indicator of whether or not they have been born again. But the brand or type of love is important to recognize. It isn’t sentimental worldly love. It is God’s love.

“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” The way we know God’s particular brand of love is by looking at God and how He has spoken and acted in history. The greatest defining act of God relating to love is “that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world.” And the purpose God sent Jesus is “that we might live through Him.” Through Jesus we experience our second birth, our spiritual birth; we are born again (John 3). And through Jesus and abiding in Him we live our lives (cf. John 15). Jesus gives us life and shows us what life that is abundant is all about (e.g. John 10:10).

John states, “In this is love, not that we loved God,” or not that we in and of ourselves have come up with the idea of love. No, the way we know love is “but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Love is redemptive. Love is sacrificial. Is your brand of love sacrificial and redemptive or do you expect others to sacrifice for you?

God demonstrated His love to us (the undeserving) by giving His Only Son Jesus. And John says the bottom line is, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” If we really want to walk in the fullness of what God has for us in Jesus, then we will seek to love others like God loved us. That means we need to love the unloving, love the unlovable, even love our enemies, love even when your love is not reciprocated. True love walks as Jesus walked (cf. 1 John 2:6). It’s not easy to walk in such love. That is why John now mentions the Holy Spirit as the One who empowers us to love like God loves.  

12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

Sixteen, true love is a work of the Holy Spirit Who perfects God’s love in us and is characterized by abiding fully in God. John describes God in His triune fullness in these verses. True love that “has been perfectedabides in God and His full disclosure of Who He is in the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit; the Trinity.

The phrase “has been perfected” (Greek verb teteleiomene: Perfect/Middle/Participle of teleioo) means having been perfected, having been completed, having been finished, having been perfected. The idea here is that God’s love has been perfected in His act of loving us in giving His Son Jesus to redeem us. Our love is “perfected” or brought to maturity as we learn to love like that.

John states, “No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.” God has revealed Himself in Jesus (e.g. John 1; Hebrews 1 and 2). God reveals Himself in His word (e.g. Psalm 119; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). But there is a third way God reveals Himself. God reveals Himself through the love Christians exhibit to others. That is because God’s love is exceptional, supernatural, other worldly. When we love like God does it demonstrates how He has miraculously changed and transformed us; it demonstrates He is real through the very real life changes He works in Christians.

John continues, “By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” John has already said that abiding in God consists of: walking as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6); loving your fellow Christian (1 John 2:10); doing the will of God (1 John 2:17); does not practice sin (1 John 3:6); keeping His commandments (1 John 3:24a); and has the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 John 3:24b). Now John gives the summary statement that when we love it is an indication of God abiding in us and we abiding in God (1 John 4:12 and 16). And in particular our abiding relationship with God is a product of the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 John 4:13). The Holy Spirit is the Engineer of all that John is teaching about love.

The prime message of the indwelling Holy Spirit about God’s true love is – “14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” True love is the Spirit revealed enlightened understanding and testimony that God the Father has sent God the Son as Savior of the world. Confessing that Jesus is the Son of God is further proof of God abiding in a person and that person abiding in God. True love knows and believes in God’s love for us as revealed in Jesus. This is the substance of abiding in God.

17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.

Seventeen, true love of God that has been perfected is the basis for not fearing judgment. Some live in fear of death and the hereafter. To some death leads to a vast unknown, a big black hole of darkness. Others sense there is a judgment after death and face it with no certainty of whether or not they will be sentenced to heaven or hell. But for those who walk in true fellowship and true love the fear of death and a negative judgment is removed. That is because God’s love assures them. The “perfect love” or mature love of God “casts out fear.” That is because, “fear involves torment.” When you know how much God loves you and have received such love, you need not fear any torment. If you fear God’s judgment, you have a way to go in the maturity of your love.

19 We love Him because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

Eighteen, true love is not mystical or esoteric, it loves people here and now as an expression of love for God who is unseen. We love Him because He first loved us.” Any and all genuine love we experience or pass on to others is due to God’s love of us. We can take no credit for such love. John Wesley referred to this verse as “the sum of all religion.” [3]

You can’t hate and love at the same time – “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar.” God’s love will take the hate right out of you. God’s perfect love is more than paying lip service to loving. True love practically loves others. In fact, John tells us “for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” If you can’t love the one you see, how can you love the One you don’t see? You can’t. The reality and truth of true love is, “And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” That’s simple. That’s clear. That’s the truth. And by the Spirit of God we will love others. Do you truly love God? The answer to that question is bound up in whether or not you are actively loving others.

Perfect love, true love needs to be practical. When it is, it is a powerful instrument in God’s plans. The following story illustrates this power:

Jack had been president of a large corporation, and when he got cancer, they ruthlessly dumped him. He went through his insurance, used his life savings, and had practically nothing left. I visited him with one of my deacons, who said, "Jack, you speak so openly about the brief life you have left. I wonder if you've prepared for your life after death?"

Jack stood up, livid with rage. "You *** Christians. All you ever think about is what's going to happen to me after I die. If your God is so great, why doesn't He do something about the real problems of life?" He went on to tell us he was leaving his wife penniless and his daughter without money for college. The he ordered us out.

Later my deacon insisted we go back. We did.

"Jack, I know I offended you," he said. "I humbly apologize. But I want you to know I've been working since then. Your first problem is where your family will live after you die. A realtor in our church has agreed to sell your house and give your wife his commission.

"I guarantee you that, if you'll permit us, some other men and I will make the house payments until it's sold.

"Then, I've contacted the owner of an apartment house down the street. He's offered your wife a three-bedroom apartment plus free utilities and an $850-a-month salary in return for her collecting rents and supervising plumbing and electrical repairs. The income from your house should pay for your daughter's college. I just want you to know your family will be cared for."

Jack cried like a baby. He died shortly thereafter, so wrapped in pain he never accepted Christ. But he experienced God's love even while rejecting Him. And his widow, touched by the caring Christians, responded to the gospel message. Even if people reject the gospel, we still must love them.[4]

If only true love had reached this man a little earlier. The story may have had a happier ending. How many loves could be impacted by true love? How many souls won to the Kingdom of our loving God? If only we would tap into our true fellowship with God and love with His true love.

John Wesley (1701-1791) was one of the founders of Methodism. He along with others in this movement were credited with redeeming England from a historical time of decadence. Wesley was one of the first to adopt the concept of open air preaching. Where he preached thousands gathered. The Methodist movement spearheaded ministry to prisons, the destitute, and was involved early in the abolitionist movement. The early Methodist movement saw thousands of souls saved and disciples made. When Wesley preached to the coal miners exiting the coal mines after their shift it is said that their coal blackened faces would be tear streaked from the impact of the Spirit on them through Wesley.

Wesley and these early Methodists were a far cry from what declining Methodism has degenerated into in our present day. Wesley was a theologian, an academic able to converse and study in various languages, a great mind of his day, but he described himself primarily as “man of one Book” the Bible.  As a man of the Bible, what made Wesley and these early Methodists so impactful on their world? We catch a glimpse of the reason in his sermons on what he called “Christian Perfection.”  In one such sermon entitled On Perfection John Wesley wrote this:

What is then the perfection of which man is capable while he dwells in a corruptible body? It is the complying with that kind command, “My son, give me thy heart.” It is the “loving the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind.” This is the sum of Christian perfection: It is all comprised in that one word, Love. The first branch of it is the love of God: And as he that loves God loves his brother also, it is inseparably connected with the second: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself:” Thou shalt love every man as thy own soul, as Christ loved us. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets:” These contain the whole of Christian perfection.[5]

That should be our life ambition and purpose, to love God supremely and love other sacrificially. We need to truly love those around us as we love ourselves. Oh that we would have ears to hear this message of love from the Spirit. Oh that our hearts would surrender to God to have that love put there by Him. Such true love is not always easy to live in, but it is worth if it brings us closer to God and His true fellowship. What’s more important to you, true fellowship with God or something less?

 


[1] Which is not to imply that there is marriage in heaven. Jesus said there is no marriage in heaven (Luke 20:27-40). But we can rest assured there will be abundant love in eternity with our Lord.

[3] Wesley Study Bible notes for 1 John 4:17-21.

[4] http://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/2020/true-love/ Reported by Ralph Neighbour, pastor of Houston's West Memorial Baptist Church in "Death and the Caring Community," by Larry Richards and Paul Johnson. Account by Van Campbell

[5]Wesley, J. (1999). Sermons, on several occasions. Sermon #76 - Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.