The Father’s Love For His Children
1. Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God; and such we are. For this cause the world knoweth us not because it knew Him not.
2. Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if He shall be manifested, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him even as He is.
3. And every one that hath this hope set on Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.
As John 3: 16 presents the measure of the love of God towards sinners, so this verse speaks of the manner of the love of the Father towards His children. As God’s love reached out to guilty sinners, so loving them as to give His only begotten Son for their redemption, so the Father’s love is expressed in making such saved sinners the children of God, bringing them into this wondrous place of relationship and into the possession of all the blessings attendant upon that relationship. The love of God is great—John mentions that phrase, “the love of God,” five times in his Epistle.
Here he brings before our hearts the manner of that love, that we should be called the children of God. Upon the acceptance of Christ as our Saviour, God became our Father—a title John uses so often in his writings. And because God is our Father, we are very dear to Him. “For the Father Himself loveth you, because ye have loved Me, and have believed that I came out from God”—John 16: 27.
We must notice that the word translated “sons” in the A. V. is really the Greek word for “children”— “born-ones”. John never uses the Greek word for “son”—huios—when speaking of the spiritual relationship of believers, but always the word “children”. He employs the term “son” only of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Paul on the contrary often makes use of the word “son” when speaking of believers. The words have distinct meanings in Scripture.
Children suggests relationship; sons, fellowship.
We are children of God by birth; sons by adoption.
All God’s people in all ages were children of God; only believers of the Christian dispensation are sons.
In Galatians we learn that believers in the Old Testament days, among Israel, though heirs of God, only had the status of children. As children in an earthly family are under rules and regulations, have to obey their parents, teachers, etc., so it was with Jewish believers under the rules and regulations of the law. But now, we who are redeemed and no longer under the law, we have the status of sons. That is, the adoption of sons (the having been given a place as sons, which the word “adoption” means), now bestows upon us all the privileges that go with being grown-up sons and daughters of God. A son in a family is taken into the secrets that could not be revealed to a child; perhaps he is taken into partnership with his father (we never see a firm named “Smith and Child,” but only “Smith and Son”); and a son no longer is under “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not,” that govern the activities of a child and circumscribe its privileges. Even so son-ship brings to a believer all the privileges of the Christian blessings and rights that are his. Paul speaks much of this in his writings; John never. To him it was given by the Spirit of God to reveal to us the blessed joys and delights, and responsibilities too, of being a child in the Father’s family, which is equally true of all believers. And since we are children by birth, therefore the characteristics of our Father are seen in us. We are like Him. Children are imitators of their parents, as we are of our Father in heaven—see Eph. 5:1. How it pleases a good earthly father to see his children walk in his ways and act like him. How he loves to hear folks say that his children take after him. So the life and nature of God our Father are reproduced in us His children.
Verse 1. We read therefore that “the world knoweth us not, as it knew Him not”. It is precious to a Christian to notice how naturally and smoothly the Spirit of God passes from speaking of the Father to speaking of the Son, as in this verse. We are children of the Father, therefore the world knows us not, as it knew Him not. Here the “Him” evidently is the Lord Jesus, in His life on earth. This same easy transition from the Father to the Son, without any specific explanation, occurs again and again in this Epistle. To the believer this is a sweet proof of the equality of the Persons of the Godhead. It establishes in this artless and delightful way the glory of the Son, Him Whom men despise and slight. For He it is that displayed the Father here on earth. He that hath seen Him hath seen the Father. The world did not know nor understand Him, because it is a world away from God, ungodlike. And thus it does not understand the thoughts, ways and works of God. The people could not understand our Lord when He was here below. They said: “If you do these wonderful things, why don’t you show yourself to the world?” It was a mystery to the men of that day how anyone with the ability to speak and to do miracles as the Lord proved to have, did not make the most of it. It is even so in regard to Christians. The world can understand the pursuit of earthly and seen things, but not the Christian’s disregard of them. To be guided and controlled by heavenly and unseen realities is a dark mystery to the worldling. And the world not only does not understand the believer in Christ; it resents him if he lives to please the Lord. As Jesus said: “If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you”—John 15:19. All that is of the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye and the pride of life is of the world, and is therefore not of the Father. Therefore anything that is of the Father is diametrically opposed to what is of the world. Hence, since we as children of the Father partake of His nature and life, why should we expect that the world should know or want us? The believer should be content to be nothing here; content to exhibit His Father’s life and love down here, so that some at least will be saved out of this world, for His glory and for their blessing.
Verse 2. Both in the first and second verses we are told that we are the children of God. Evidently it is something of such transcendent importance and preciousness that it must be re-stated. The believer must always remember this, and act according to it. We are the children of God, no matter how little external evidence there is for such an exalted, glorious relationship. For it is not yet manifested what we shall be. It is impossible to tell now, as the world looks at us or as we look at each other as Christians, what we are going to be by-and-by. It is impossible to tell by looking at that ugly little black seed that it will develop into such a gorgeous flower, dressed as even Solomon in all his glory never was. So, as we look at one another, we have not the faintest idea what we shall look like in that glorious day when He is going to display us to wondering worlds as His own. In that day, when He shall be glorified in His saints and admired in all them that believe. Now this mighty treasure of God’s divine life and nature, as it is imparted to us and indwells us through faith in Christ, making us His children, is hidden under the external shell of sin-stained humanity. Now it does not yet appear what we are going to be, but we know that when He shall be manifested, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Praise His holy Name! Morally we are like Him now; we shall be altogether like Him—spirit, soul and body—in that day of transforma- tion when He shall change this body of humiliation and shall fashion it like unto His body of glory. Corruption shall then be changed to incorruption; dishonor to glory; weakness to power; a natural body into a spiritual body. Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
Often now, when jostled on a busy street by the hurrying crowd, I feel like turning around and saying: “Hey, there, do you know whom you are pushing? You are pushing a son of God and a king of glory”. Today men do not know that, they can’t see it yet; we ourselves do not see yet what we shall be, but, praise God, someday we shall shine in the matchless perfection of our Lord; we shall shine like the Sun (the Son) in the kingdom of our Father. How this should content us Christians to be nothing and nobody today. For it is if we suffer with Him that we shall reign with Him. This is the time to suffer with Him, bearing His reproach, because the time of sharing His glory awaits us; and it shall last for all eternity.
If He shall appear, we shall be like Him. It does not say we shall be made like Him at His appearing. As a matter of fact, we are made like Him before He is publicly manifested to the whole world. When He comes to display Himself to the world (an event of which so many scriptures both in the Old and New Testaments speak), then we shall be like Him, for we have been transformed into His likeness previously. Our New Testament teaches that the Lord Jesus will come for His Church in the air, at the same time raising all those who have died in Christ, from Adam down—1 Thess. 4:16, 17—catching all up together in the air, so to be forever with the Lord. It is then that we shall be changed into His likeness. This is clearly seen when comparing 1 Cor. 15:51-57 with 1 Thess. 4:13-18. In the first passage we read how believers are transformed into His likeness physically, while the second passage identifies that fact with the coming of the Lord Jesus. A close comparison of the two passages shows that both have the same event and the same occasion in view. In 1 Corinthians the transformation is emphasized; in 1 Thess. 4 the time when it takes place—the rapture. Phil. 3:20, 21 unites them both—the coming, with the transformation into His likeness. Thus we are made like Him when He comes for us, and shall be displayed with Him to admiring worlds at His public second coming, for then it shall be manifested that we are the children of God. Col. 3: 4 refers to that by saying that when He shall be manifested, we shall be manifested with Him.
“The heavens shall glow with splendor,
But brighter jar than they
The saints shall shine in glory,
As Christ shall them array.
The beauty of the Saviour
Shall dazzle every eye,
In the crowing day that’s coming
We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Not as He was, but as He is. He was here once on earth, in the form of man, with a humanity suited to this earth. We shall never again see Him so. In resurrection He assumed a new form of body—a glorified body, suited to the realms of light above. We shall be transformed into that likeness. It was ever God’s purpose that man might be like Him. But alas, man sinned, and while he retained the image of God, he lost the likeness completely. Man became ungodly—ungodlike. The image is like the picture we take of friends or ourselves; the likeness is quite something else. Folks often show me pictures in their homes; and I can easily tell whether they are good pictures, but oftentimes I can’t express any opinion as to the likeness, simply because I don’t happen to know the person represented in the photograph. So man is the image of God still—1 Cor. 11:7. It is true that even the image is marred and faded greatly, so that it is hardly recognizable, but the likeness to God is gone altogether in the sinner. The Lord alone is the express image of God’s Person (that is, He represents God perfectly); man does so in a very faint measure. Even as a sinner man still has some of the marks to prove he was in the image of God, as, for instance, his ability to think, to speak, to understand, etc. But in the natural man there is absolutely no moral likeness to God. Man, sunk in sin, finds it impossible to become like God, though he has tried it world without end, and is still trying. No, if man is ever to become like God, it becomes necessary for God to become like man. It is this we read in that marvelous 3: 16 of 1 Timothy: “Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness (godlikeness); God was manifest in flesh, justified in Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” Here is the secret of how guilty and sinful man may become like God. Not by climbing up, as Satan suggested to Eve in the garden, saying to her that if she would eat of the forbidden tree, then she and her husband would be like God. No, it is not by climbing up but by God coming down, that man can be like God. That is the high and wondrous plan of God, to lift man into moral and spiritual likeness to Himself. By God being manifest in flesh (our blessed Lord coming into this world to be our Saviour), laying down His life on the cross to make expiation for our sins, and thus raising man from the death of sin into divine life, through faith in Christ’s atoning death; only thus will absolute likeness eventually be brought to pass. Here and now the believing soul becomes spiritually like Him, receiving by faith in Christ God’s life and character. Then at His coming we shall be completely like Him—physically as well as morally—and shall be displayed as such. He shall confess us to the universe as His, the purchase of His blood. We shall be glorified with Christ.
Believers shall see Him as He is. It appeals to me that we, the “Bride of Christ,” His Church, shall be the only saints who shall see the Lord Jesus as He is. The world shall not see Him as He is, for the unsaved shall see Him only as He sits as King and Judge upon the throne of power. The saints in heaven and on earth (apart from the Church) shall not see Him as He is, for they will see Him only in regal robes and reigning in power and glory. It seems to me that only a bride sees her husband as he is. The Queen alone sees the King as He is. Not only when she rides out with Him on State functions, or when he executes the duties of his high office, but she sees him in the close intimacy of daily life—she alone knows what he is as man, as lover. She alone knows his tenderness and consideration, as well as his official position. So the Church alone shall see Him as He is—she alone shall share with the Lord Jesus all the sweetest intimacies of that holy union with her Lord and Lover. The New Testament ever speaks of going to be with Him; never of going to heaven, or even of going to be with the Father. The supremacy of joy and glory ever is to be with Christ. We shall see Him as He is. And one look at His blessed face, shall instantly transform us into His likeness eternally. What a day of wonder that shall be! John is fond of this expression, “As He is”.
Chap. 1: 7—as He is in the light.
Chap. 3: 2—as He is like Him.
Chap. 3: 3—as He is pure.
Chap. 3: 7—as He is righteous.
Chap. 4:17—as He is so are we, in this world.
In these two verses just considered we have three facts:
Outstanding—we are now the children of God.
Our misunderstanding—the world does not know us.
Our understanding—we know we shall be like Him at His appearing.
Having this hope in Christ, we purify ourselves, as He is pure. Not as He purifies Himself, but as He is pure. Neither while our Lord was on earth, not now that He is in the glory, did our Lord Jesus need to purify Himself. He always was pure. It has been remarked that our Lord Jesus is called both holy and pure, but God Himself is never said to be “pure”. In James 3:17 the wisdom that is from above is said to be “first of all pure”. That wisdom of course, was perfectly exhibited in the life of Christ; He is called the “Wisdom of God.” Purity implies freedom from all stain. As holiness suggests the absence of all evil and vileness, so purity suggests absence of evil as a result of resistance thereto. Since divine holiness cannot possibly be assailed by any polluting influence, therefore God is never said to be pure, but only holy. But the Lord Jesus became Man, and as a man He was tested in every way, assailed and tried by every vile and sinful surrounding and temptation. His resistance to every assault proved that He was indeed pure. We believers, however, do have sin dwelling in us, therefore the necessity of purifying ourselves daily; seeking even now to be more like Him who is pure. The Word of God furnishes this sanctifying power, for we are sanctified through the truth, as John 17 declared. The Holy Spirit furnishes the means to accomplish this desirable end, and the hope of His coming pro- vides the stimulus. As we look for that blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, we shall deny ungodliness and worldly lusts (impurities) and live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world. Nothing could possibly have a more salutary effect on the conduct of a child of God than the thought of the imminent return of his Lord and Master.
Christ’s Person And Work Separating The Believer From Sin
4. Everyone that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.
5. And ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him is no sin.
6. Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not; whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither knoweth Him.
7. My little children, let no man lead you astray; he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous.
The Authorized Version gives quite a wrong conception of the exact truth revealed in ver. 4. It is not that sin is the transgression of the law. No, that is merely one of the manifestations of sin. Because sin resides in man, therefore he breaks the law of God; he transgresses. As has often been said, man sins because he is a sinner; he is not a sinner because he sins. Verse 4 gives the divine definition of what sin is—what it really is. It sums up that mighty and evil force very clearly and concisely by stating that sin is lawlessness. Sin is not what a man does, but what he is. Whosoever doeth, or practiseth, sin practiseth lawlessness, for sin is law- lessness. Man breaks God’s law, because he is a lawless being. He does not want anyone to rule over him, but prefers to do that which is right in his own eyes. There is that in every natural man that resents authority. It is because of this that God put man under law, in order to bring out this evil tendency and thus to convict man of his sinful condition. Adam was put under but one law, and he broke that; Israel was put under ten commandments, and that nation, as well as all men ever since, have broken those commandments. Instead of being subject to God’s will, and His will is good, acceptable, and perfect, man wants to, and does, exercise his own will. Lawlessness increases as the days go by. In these latter days it is becoming increasingly manifest by the bold defiance of all God’s righteous claims upon man. This apostate attitude is called in 2 Thess. 2:7, “the mystery of lawlessness” (the word “iniquity” in the A. V. is the Greek word for lawlessness). At present, the presence of Christians upon the earth, and the ministry of the truth through them, by the Holy Spirit’s power, restrains the full manifestation of human wickedness and opposition to God. But when the Church is gone, “that wicked one (the word is really ‘lawless one’) shall be revealed—2 Thess. 2:8—whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming.” Praise God, Christians already now are in a large measure delivered from this attitude of defiance and disobedience to God and His Word, for the Lord Jesus gave Himself for us that “He might redeem us from all iniquity (again the word is ‘lawlessness’), and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”—Titus 2:14.
But, as ver. 5 now tells us, in Christ our Lord is no sin, no lawlessness. Only of Him has this always been true. Praise God, some day it shall also be true of us! As we have already considered, we shall be absolutely like Him at the time when He comes for us to receive us to Himself. But with Him it was ever so. There was no lawlessness, no insubjection to God, in Him. He came to do the Father’s will. Only over Him could the Father open the heavens and say: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The Lord could say, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work.” John in his Gospel frequently speaks of that, of the devotedness of the Lord Jesus in every step He trod. Adam became disobedient unto death; Christ was obedient unto death. His obedience went right on to the bitter end, to the death of the cross. He was manifested, as our verse says, to take away our sins, and this He did when dying on the cross of Calvary. As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous. Hebrews 9: 28 declares that He bare the sins of many, and also, in ver. 26 of the same chapter, that He was manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Thanks be to God, because of Jesus’ precious death, both sins and sin shall ultimately be forever removed. Our sins are gone the moment we believe in Jesus; sin shall be banished when we are changed into His likeness at the rapture. We are reminded in our verse that the value of His work, the work of taking away our sins, depends on the fact that in Him is no sin. All the value of the work of Calvary rests upon the perfection of Him who did that work. The Sinless One was made sin for us, and bore our sins in His own body on the tree. Of Him it is said in God’s word that:
“In Him is no sin”—1 John 3: 5.
“He knew no sin”—2 Cor. 5:21.
“He did no sin”—1 Pet. 2:22.
“He put away sin”—Heb. 9:26.
Verse 6. Whosoever therefore abides in Christ—walks and lives in communion with Him—will not commit, or practice, sin. This, of course, is quite evident. It is unthinkable that anyone who knows and loves the Lord Jesus could live a life of insubjection or rebellion against God. John says, as it were, “How can a believer, while lying on Jesus’ breast and feeling the heartbeats of his blessed Lord and looking up into His blessed face, how can he sin?” On the other hand, this very statement suggests that when a Christian is not abiding in Christ, he is capable of sinning. That subject was thoroughly gone into by the Spirit of God in chap. 1. We should not sin, but often do. And for this reason, our Advocate pleads for us in the Father’s presence. Scripture elsewhere shows how the believer is capable of committing the most serious of sins when out of touch with God. Only while treading the path of dependence on God, and breathing the atmosphere of heav- en through the ministry of the Word by the Spirit, is a believer safe and apt to live a life that glorifies Him. However, no true Christian lives in sin, though he may be overtaken by it, or fall into sin. It has often been remarked that a sheep may fall into a mud-puddle, but is not going to wallow in it, as a swine does. The latter part of ver. 6 clearly shows this, for it tells us that one who sins has never been saved at all. It does not say that such an one is not saved—does not see or know Christ—but that he has not known Him at all, has never been saved at all. In other words, living a sinful life proves one to be a sinner, and not a Christian. This verse is a rather puzzling one for those who believe, mistakenly, in the sinless perfection of a Christian as to practical life. All such admit that a believer is capable of sinning, and they even teach that when he sins he is lost, and needs to be saved again. But, unfortunately for their teaching this verse shows that one who sins was never saved at all; he has not seen nor known the Lord. The explanation of the verse is found in realizing that it is not referring at all to a believer, but to a sinner as yet unsaved. The point is that the verse contrasts the believer in its first clause with the unbeliever in the second part. The Christian is marked by the fact that he lives for God; the sinner by the fact that he doesn’t. That’s all. A sinner proves he is a sinner by living in sin; a Christian proves he is a Christian by living as such. It is true that a believer may commit sin and does, but that does not mark him; it is not characteristic of him.
Verse 7. He that doeth righteousness is righteous. We might think that this should be put the other way around, namely: “He that is righteous doeth righteousness.” Just as we say of the unconverted, “He that is a sinner sins.” But it is put in the reverse order, because John is speaking of the evidence of Christianity in the lives of the children of God, of eternal life manifested in us. And thus, the fact that we do, or practise, that which is right, proves we are righteous. As in ver. 6, we have the inner spirit of the believer, so in ver.7 we have the outer practice that follows. For we have seen that sin is spoken of in these verses as the lawless attitude of guilty man, his spirit as set against God. We are told therefore in ver. 6 that the Christian no longer has this lawless spirit, and therefore no longer lives in sin. Because of this, he does what is right; the world around sees his life to be a Christian life. Ver. 6 expresses rather our attitude before God; ver. 7, our conduct before men. According to ver. 6 the soul that maintains this attitude of insubjection to God has never known Him at all. The first thing that marks a child of God is obedience to the Father’s will; and, as we saw in verses 1 and 2 of this chapter, conformity to the Father’s character.
Let us notice what this Epistle so far has had to say about this subject of righteousness:
1. Chap. 1:9—God is righteous in forgiving us our sins.
2. Chap. 2:1—He can do this because Jesus Christ, the Righteous, is the propitiation for our sins.
3. Chap. 2:28—Practical righteousness, or righteous living, marks us because we are born again.
4. Chap. 3:1-3—These verses speak of the Father’s love, and the hope of the Lord’s coming, and they supply the stimulus for living righteously.
5. Chap. 3:7—The Lord Jesus, the spring of righteousness, is in us. He is righteous.
This subject of righteousness is stressed first in John’s Epistle, as everywhere else in the teaching of the New Testament, before the subject of love is gone into. Love must be based on the solid foundation of divine righteousness. God cannot show love to man, except on the ground of righteousness; He must be just, ere He can be the Justifier. And He cannot justify a sinner, apart from the sentence upon sin having been righteously pronounced and executed upon our Substitute, the Lord Jesus. So in this Epistle we first read, chap. 1:5, that God is Light; and then later on, chap. 4:8, that God is Love. And now we, who believe in Jesus, must first of all live a righteous life, or we cannot take home to our hearts, and rejoice in, the matchless love of Christ.
Contrasts Between The Children Of God, And The Children Of The Devil. Righteousness And Unrighteousness; Love And Hatred
8. He that doeth sin is of the devil, for the devil sinneth from the beginning. To this end was the Son of God manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
9. Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because His seed abideth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God.
10. In this the children of God are manifest and the children of the devil; whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
11. For this is the message which ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
12. Not as Cain was of the evil one and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.
13. Marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you.
14. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not abideth in death.
15. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer; and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.
16. Hereby know we love, because He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
17. But whoso hath the world’s goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him?
18. My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue, but in deed and truth.
19. Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.
20. Because if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.
21. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God.
22. And whatsoever we ask we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.
23. And this is His commandment, that we should believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as He gave us commandment.
24. And he that keepeth His commandments abideth in Him, and He in him. And hereby we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He gave us.
Verse 8. He that practiseth sin is of the devil; he partakes of the nature of that evil being, for the devil sinneth from the beginning. It helps if we keep in mind the definition of sin, as given in ver. 4, namely, that sin is lawlessness. What marks Satan is pride, rebellion against God. Of him it is written: “Thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the cloud, I will be like the Most High” —Isa. 14:13, 14. Satan himself fell because of pride, and he ever tempts man to exalt himself. It has been noticed that while the woman saw that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was good for food, pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, Satan only tempted her in regard to the third count—the desire to be wise, to be like God. He did not tempt her to yield to the lower passions of the flesh, but to the desire for greatness, to pride and self-exaltation. It is in just that way the devil himself sinned from the beginning, as our verse states; and it is in that way that he tempts man to sin also. It is a matter of simple record that some who speak of being sinless in themselves, often exhibit a good deal of pride in making that claim. There is a subtle spirit of spiritual superiority in those who make that assertion. Pride shines out. and that is the very sin mentioned in our verse. Therefore, those who pretend to be sinlessly perfect in themselves are the very ones who do sin, according to ver. 8. When they speak of being sinless in the flesh, they really mean, I suppose, that they do not steal, or drink, or kill, or are guilty of unclean lusts. But our verse indicates that such types of sin are not considered here. It is quite evident that Satan did not commit any of those physical lusts and sins, for he had no body with which to sin after that order. No, Satan’s sin was pride, lawlessness, defiance. It is that attitude that marks a sinner as being of the devil. And it is needless to say that this can only be true of unsaved souls. A Christian may fall into sin, may even commit the most serious sins, when he walks a careless life, and out of touch with God, but no Christian is noted for a spirit of lawlessness and rebellion against God. That is wholly and solely true of unsaved ones alone; and in my feeble judgment it is not true of all sinners. It is only true of those who knowingly and deliberately maintain that attitude of soul—of pride and wilfulness. Matt. 13 clearly shows, I believe, that not all unbelievers are children of the devil. For in the first parable of that chapter, we read that, when the Word of God is sown in man’s heart, Satan comes along and snatches it away, lest men should believe and be saved. This is negative work; Satan takes away the good seed. But in the next parable, that of the wheat and the tares, we learn that the devil does positive evil work. He sows false seed, and we are told that the fruit of that false, imitation gospel is the children of the devil. This proves that not those who do not receive the true gospel; but those who do receive the devil’s false gospel are said to be the children of the devil. As by believing in Christ a sinner becomes a child of God through new birth; so by believing the devil’s lie, a sinner becomes a child of the devil. It is not the rejection of the true, but the acceptance of the false, that constitutes a sinner a child of the devil. By nature all men alike are children of Adam. By new birth a believer becomes a child of God; by Satanic birth a child of the devil. Thus, children of the devil in Scripture are those who are marked by open defiance of God, because they have aligned themselves with Satan. The Lord Jesus in John 8: 44 spoke of the wilful and wicked leaders of the Jews as being of their father, the devil; He never spoke of the ordinary unsaved people in that manner. So Paul spoke of Elymas, the sorcerer, as a child of the devil—Acts 13:10—not because Elymas didn’t believe in Jesus, but because he was an enemy of all righteousness, and prevented the right ways of the Lord. In every single case where children of the devil are mentioned, the thought is that of deliberate opposition to God; it is the mark of an apostate. The same truth is suggested here in our Epistle. In ver. 8, we see the attitude that marks the rebel—the devil’s sin; in ver.9, that which marks the child of God—His nature, for God’s seed remains in him. And in the early part of ver. 10, these two are sharply contrasted. There we find that the Spirit of God is not now speaking of the positive attitude of the apostate or the Christian, but of the negative state of the unbeliever. Here it does not say that the unbeliever practises sin, but that he does not do right. Not that he hates, but that he does not love. Here it does not say, as in vers. 8-10, that such an one is of the devil, but that he is not of God. These contrasts are of the utmost importance. The apostate is marked by deliberate opposition to God, which is the devil’s characteristic; the ordinary unbeliever is rather noted for a lack, an absence of what he should be and do. One sees these two distinct classes among unbelievers every day. Some are noted for their pride, defiance and blasphemy, their hatred of all that is divine. On the other hand, there are millions of unsaved people who are kind, friendly, and apparently humble folk, yet who have never believed in Jesus. God does not confuse these two classes, however much even mistaken believers often do. It is fully granted that all men alike are sinners and need to be saved. Nevertheless, there is a difference between them, and there will be a distinct difference in the severity of their punishment when they die without Christ. Our Lord Himself assured the Pharisees of that difference when He told them that it would be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for those highly favored cities in which His mighty works were done. And while it is true that even in the most amiable sinner, pride dwells (as it does in the most godly believer, for remember that Paul was given a thorn in the flesh, lest he should be exalted), yet the distinction between the child of the devil and the average unbeliever is a very real one. For note that in the verses we are considering the Apostle is not speaking of what dwells within, but of what is manifest. Ver. 10 states: “In this the children of God are manifest and the children of the devil.”
Again, referring to ver. 8, we rejoice to read that the Son of God was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil. Hence, our blessed Lord did exactly the opposite of that which marks Satan. If Satan, who is only a created being, albeit the chief among the angels, aspired to be like the Most High, then our holy Lord, who did not consider it a thing to be grasped at to be equal with God, emptied Himself and took upon Himself the form of a servant. He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Through death He destroyed him that had the power of death; that is, the devil. He destroyed Satan and robbed him of his power by taking that place of deepest humiliation and lowliness. Not by aspiring to be God, as Satan did, but being God, He came down and became Man, so undoing all the awful evil Satan inaugurated. And it is true for us too that the way down is the way up. If we Christians would in our little measure destroy the works of the devil, then we must ever take the humble, lowly place. “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted”. Satan is called the king of the children of pride. Our precious Lord is the king of the children of humility. “Learn of Me,” says He, “for I am meek and lowly in heart and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” A believer must, above all things, dread any feeling of superiority, or self-exaltation. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”
Verse 9. This verse has often been employed by those professing Christians who boast that they do not sin any more, to bolster their theory. But the trouble is that if this verse meant what they pretend it does (namely, that it proves a Christian can live practically a sinless life), the verse would prove altogether too much. For this verse states that it is true of all believers, that those born of God do not commit sin. This “whosoever” is just as world-wide, or universal, as the “whosoever” of John 3: 16. That is the “whosoever” of “sinners”; this, the “whosoever” of “saints”. Every one that believes in Jesus has everlasting life; for “whosoever” means every one; so every one, none excluded, that is born of God does not commit sin. It does not say whosoever has attained to the second blessing does not commit sin, nor whosoever has had the evil nature eradicated, but whosoever is born of God, and that includes every believer on the face of the earth, the moment he or she is saved. Therefore, this statement does not speak of any attainment, or superior spirituality; it is true of all Christians everywhere. Our verse states the simple truth that every one born of God does not live in sin any more. We spoke of that at length when discussing ver. 6. But this verse carries the truth even further, by saying that a true believer cannot sin, for His seed remaineth in him; he cannot sin, because he is born of God. When born of God the believer receives God’s life and nature, and it is impossible for sin to be attached to the life of God. It is as impossible for the new life in the believer to sin, as it is impossible for the old life not to sin. God is speaking in the verse abstractly; He is speaking of what is characteristic of the new life that indwells every believer. The Spirit explains the statement that a believer cannot sin by reminding us that His seed (God’s seed), remains in the believer. It is an inexorable law that every seed produces after its own kind, and produces nothing else. Evolution is absolutely out of touch with all known natural laws. A peach-seed will never produce apples, or a plum-seed potatoes. As James says, “Can a fig tree bear olive berries, or a vine figs?” Of course not. So the believer is born not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God. By new birth, there is implanted within him a divine, and therefore a sinless life, and that life can never do anything but produce that which is holy and sinless. Therefore a born-again soul cannot sin. What confuses men is that at present the believer has the two seeds (Adam’s and God’s) in the one body. He has a divine, sinless, and a human, sinful life in the same body. Sometimes, alas, he permits the evil to show itself forth, and then again the divine life is active. James speaks of this, and tells his hearers that it is not right to let blessing and cursing come out of the same mouth. He shows them that no fountain yields salt water and fresh at the same time. Therefore, since it is evident that no fountain can produce two kinds of water, it is also clear that no fountain, no spring of life in the human body, can produce both evil and good. This proves therefore that there are two springs of life in the Christian, and since we have only one body they manifest themselves through that same body. Blessing and cursing at times come out of the same spot, out of the same mouth. It is with the believer somewhat as with our present modern plumbing; lavatories furnish hot and cold water, yet they both flow often out of the same spigot. Yet we all know they do not come out of the same pipe, but out of two pipes. A believer has two springs of life within; he has a sinful heart and a new heart. The wise man tells us that a fool’s heart is at his left, and a wise man’s heart is at his right—Eccl. 10:2. Yet the thoughts originated in those two hearts are expressed by the same pair of lips, and they come out of the same mouth. It ought not to be so, of course. The saint of God should keep his body under, and bring it into subjection, so that only that which is of God shall be seen and heard in his life. But when all is said and done, it remains true that this new, divine seed remains in the believer, and that it is impossible for it to produce sin. That is the meaning of ver. 9. What is theoretically true of every believer, should be practically shown forth in our lives; sin should be kept under and the life of God lived. We can only do so by walking in daily dependence upon God, as our Lord set us the example in His wonderful life down here.
We have already referred to ver. 10. The first half of this verse sums up the truth set forth in verses 8 and 9. In ver.8, we have the out-and-out characteristic nature of the sinner; in ver. 9, the nature of the believer. The one is a sinful, the other a sinless nature; the one is of the devil, the other of God. The one is marked by rebellion and lawlessness; the other by obedience and submisson. The second part of ver. 10, on the contrary, does not show the active devilish, or the active divine nature, but rather the negative condition of the sinner—what he does not do. As has been said before, many who are not deliberately living wicked lives, yet lack divine righteousness and love. A believer, in contrast, not only does not exhibit the devil’s loathsome pride and self-will, but also does show forth righteousness and love. He does love his brother. Righteousness and love are the marks of a true Christian. Love as ver. 11 now states, is the message the Lord taught His disciples from the very beginning of His sojourn with them on the earth. They were to love one another. Note that John always speaks of love of the brethren; never of love to God. Every believer has proven how much more difficult it is to love one’s brethren than to love God. When one loves the brethren one has just about reached the top of the ladder of Christian development, as seen in 2 Pet. 1:5-7.
Verse 12. Here we have a divinely given sample of what a child of the devil is like. Cain was of the wicked one, and proved it by venting his spite on his brother; he slew him. Here is no passive sinner, but an active rejecter of God’s mercy and God’s ways. Cain was a sinner even before he brought of the fruit of the ground an offering to the Lord, for all men are sinners; but Cain became more than a sinner after God had to refuse his offering, and after He pleaded with Cain to do the right thing as his brother Abel had done. Cain then became a criminal, a murderer. First, to use the language of New Testament teaching, he was without Christ; after that he became a Christ-rejecter. It has been suggested that Cain did not know the right way to come to God when he brought of the fruit of the ground, though personally I doubt that very much, but he certainly knew it afterwards, for God pleaded with him, and told him what to do if he wanted to be accepted as his brother had been. But Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and committed murder. This child of the devil was marked by active rebellion against God and His Word. I believe Cain did know what offering he should have brought, for we read in Heb. 11:4 that Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts. Abel brought this offering of his by faith. Now faith in Scripture is not something that anyone might invent or conceive, but faith is there presented as belief in a divine revelation. One cannot believe a thing one has never heard. So faith is said to come by hearing, or by a report, and a report by the Word of God—Rom. 10:17. And if Abel had heard what sacrifice he was to bring, then Cain had heard it also. But he refused to submit to God’s way, and preferred his own. Abel was not accepted because he was a better man than Cain, but simply, as we read in Heb. 11:4, because of the sacrifice he brought. A sinner is accepted before God on the ground of the precious death of Christ on his behalf. It is on that ground that Abel was accepted; it is because of that that Cain hated his brother and slew him.
Verse 13. “Marvel not, my brethren if the world hate you.” This is the only time the word “brethren” appears in the original in this Epistle. We are told in this verse that the spirit of the world is the spirit of hate; and in ver. 15, that the spirit of hate is the spirit of murder. The Lord Jesus Himself was hated of the world, as He tells us in John 15:18-24. Both His words and His works caused the leaders of Israel to hate both Him and His Father. And, said the Lord, it was without a cause—John 15:25. Abel, as the New Testament suggests, is a type of our Lord Himself. As Abel was slain by Cain, so the Jewish leaders crucified Christ. Cain is thus in Scripture a type of the Jewish nation (especially of their wicked leaders) who slew the Lord of Glory. It is probably for this reason that we read in Gen. 4 of a mark being set on Cain, lest any finding him should kill him. So the Jewish race has been miraculously preserved throughout the centuries though ever the butt of bitter persecution. Israel has certainly been a fugitive, and a vagabond in the earth ever since the cross of Christ. Yet God preserves the nation and has great plans for that ill-starred people; therefore he said, in Gen. 4:15, that whosoever slew Cain, vengeance should be taken on such sevenfold. And all through the past centuries, persecutors of the Jews have severely suffered in their turn, and in the final day of judgment shall be destroyed of God when He executes judgment upon all the enemies of His chosen people.
And, as the Lord said in John 15, and as our verse here reiterates, don’t be surprised, dear Christians, if the world hate you. “If it hated Me, it will also hate you,” said our Lord. Suffering with Him here will bring its corresponding glory by-and-by.
Verse 14. Again we are told that the true mark of a believer is his love of the brethren. All Christians are children of one family, bound by ties of blood, and so it must be that we love each other. Alas, that so often we show it so little. Sometimes it takes sorrow, or death, to bring this love to the fore; we are so good at hiding it. In Col. 3 we are urged to put on bowels of mercies, kindness, etc. In the human body, the bowels are on the inside; but the Christian is bidden to put them on the outside. We are to let our love for each other be manifest, we are not to hide it under a rough exterior. Our verse does not say that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren, but that we know we have done so. The Lord, in Luke 7: 41, calls Simon’s attention to the woman’s love and said that her love proved her sins were forgiven; so should it be with us.
Verse 15. The latter part of verse 14 is in sharp contrast with the first part of verse 15. The one is again (as noticed several times before), in the negative; the other, in the positive. The one is “loveth not”; the other is “hateth”. So the conclusion drawn in ver. 14 is much milder than the one in ver. 15. Ver. 14 states that he that does not love abides in death (that is, such an one is an unbeliever, dead in sins); but the one that hates is not only an unbeliever, but a murderer. Here then we have again the common unbeliever, who is not saved, yet does not manifest antagonism to Christ and to the Word; in opposition there is the deliberate wicked Christ-rejecter, the murderer. It is most important here to notice that the Apostle is not speaking of the committal of murder. He is not discussing the act of murder, but the spirit of it. We are told that the spirit of hatred is the spirit of murder. Many have been confused by reading into this passage what is not there. The Spirit here is not discussing whether a believer can commit the sin of murder or not, He is not speaking at all of the isolated act of committing murder, but of the spirit of hatred of the things of God and the people of God that marks the enemy of the truth. And so it says: “Ye know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” The murderer here is not, as the first part of the verse shows, one who has taken the physical life of another, but one who hates all that is God. In the light of this, there are many murderers walking about in the world today. The solemn teaching is that in the sight of God the spirit of hatred of His Son and His salvation is as serious as the committing of the very act of murder. Man of course can only punish the act; God will judge men according to their secret thoughts. The solemn truth our verse contains is presented in the words of our Lord in Matt. 5:21, 22: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment; and whose shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council, but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” Every one characterized by hatred of Christ and Christians is a murderer in the sight of God, and thus has no eternal life abiding in him. Such an one is not guilty merely of the act of killing someone, which might be committed in a moment of madness or unguardedness, but is guilty of a persistent attitude of hatred. This is far more serious, in the sight of God at least, than an isolated act of murder would be. Notice again that it speaks of a murderer hating his brother. Now, as a matter of fact, we know that a Christian is not the brother of an hater of Christ, yet it says here, ‘‘his brother.” The solemn thing therefore is that people may even claim to be Christians, and yet hate all that is of God. How terrible the judgment of such will be! These are the apostates of this Christian age.
Verse 16. Our blessed Lord laid down His life for us. What a glorious contrast to the spirit of hate that marks the wicked. In the life of our Lord we have learned what love really is. The word “life,” found twice in this verse, is the Greek word for soul; He laid down His soul for us. Not merely, I take it, when He died on the cross, but all along during His path on earth, His life was a continual sacrifice. Isa. 53:12 tells us that He poured out His soul unto death. All the way, His was an outpouring of love, climaxed in that awful sacrifice when He was made sin for us. And so, having been redeemed by His precious blood, and having received His life, with His love now dwelling in our hearts, we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. He has left us an example that we should follow His steps. We are not only to be willing to die in the service of God’s people, but to live for them day by day. It may sometimes be easier to die than to live. Dying is only an act that lasts for a few moments, but living requires the daily sacrifice of self; it is a constant self-denial, a daily dying as it were. As His was, so our whole life should be a continual outpouring of love, even unto death, if needs be. Only the realization and the power of His love toward us in our souls can possibly enable us so to live. May God stir our hearts to seek to do so.
Three great purposes for which Christ came are mentioned in this chapter:
1. He came, and died to take away our sins—ver. 5.
2. He was manifested to destroy the works of the devil—ver. 8.
3. He laid down His life for us, leaving us an example to follow—ver. 16.
Hence, with our sins gone, according to ver. 5; Satan vanquished, according to ver. 8, we are able in our measure to live the life of Christ, the life of self-sacrificing love.
Verses 17, 18. Christians may shy away from yielding themselves; they may conceive it too high a price to pay, but, says the Apostle, if love to Christ does not constrain them to share at least their goods with others (if not themselves), then how can it be that the love of God dwells in them at all? The very least a believer can do is to give of his substance to the Lord, by sharing with those who are in need. Yet often even in this lower department of Christian life, they fall sadly short. It has been remarked that many fail in this type of purse-’n-all consecration. Not only ourselves, but our pocketbooks as well, should be converted to God. I have begun to doubt seriously, after many years of Christian experience, whether a believer can be spiritual and at the same time stingy with his material possessions. Our Lord Himself states as much when He says in Luke 16:11, 12: “If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous riches, who will commit to your trust the true riches; and if ye have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who shall give you that which is your own?” These verses state that if a believer does not use his material riches for the Lord’s glory, he cannot possibly have spiritual riches to enjoy. Our spiritual prosperity depends in a large measure on how we use the things of this life. Much has been said and written of the woman in John 12 who worshipped the Lord as she poured out upon Him the ointment from the alabaster box, but it is sometimes forgotten that this ointment must have been purchased with cold, hard cash. Back of her warm, loving gift was just plain, filthy lucre, as Scripture calls it. Brother, sister, don’t think that you are truly pleasing God no matter how devoted your words of praise may sound, unless you have mercy on those that are in need. In God’s economy, mercy precedes love. He showed us mercy, ere we learned to know His matchless love—see the order in Eph. 2:4. How can there be love to God, says John in our verse, if there be not mercy to men?
Let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth. What is the difference between loving in word and in tongue? Possibly, I suggest, that in the first expression the Spirit is referring to the fact that the Word of God tells us that a true Christian loves. Let it not be merely something that we read in the Bible, but let it be demonstrated in actual life. And loving in tongue would mean that a Christian should not talk about love only; he should not simply say that he loves men, but act upon it. In the first case, the reference is to what the Word of God says; in the second case, to what the believer himself says. Neither is sufficient. We must prove, by our lives of compassion towards the needs of others, that the Word of God is true in its claim that Christians have the love of God indwelling them; we must prove it by our deeds. In other words, we must love in deed and in truth; these two are the opposites of in word and in tongue. What good is it, as James proposes, to say: “Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled, notwithstanding ye give them not those things that are needful to the body, what doth is profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone”—James 2:16, 17. I have known Christians, apparently praying very earnestly for the relief of those in need, and yet they never thought of putting their hands in their pockets to relieve that need. It is largely possible for us to answer our own prayers in this respect. What a bright testimony it is to the grace and mercy of our God to find believers ready to comfort and help those in trouble. How many souls have been won to Christ by Christian kindness; how many weary hearts have been made glad.
Verses 19-22. Heart-assurance—I take it these verses present the truth that believers instinctively know by the operation of the new nature in them, in the power of the Holy Spirit, when they do the things that are pleasing to God. Even as in an earthly family, the children know fairly well what the parents like and don’t like, so the believer’s heart is in tune with the heart of God, and when he walks consciously in communion with the Father and with the Son, then he is truly happy in their presence; he feels and knows that he is pleasing God. And if, as ver. 20 says, the believer is not walking to His glory, not manifesting His heavenly Father’s ways, then he feels condemned. Yet, praise God, even then God is greater than our heart and knows all things. It is easy to understand the meaning of this latter phrase by referring to John’s Gospel, chapter 21. Simon Peter’s words to the Lord Jesus instantly flash into the mind when one reads 1 John 3:20. “Lord,” said Peter, “Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee”—John 21:17. My conduct, said Peter as it were, certainly did not show that I loved Thee, for I denied Thee with curses and oaths. My heart condemns me for that fearful failure, but Lord, Thou art greater than my heart, Thou knowest all things. Thou knowest that, in spite of all outward appearance to the contrary, I do love Thee. So, how precious to know that, while our heart may be our judge and jury, in the final analysis it is He Himself who will pass judgment. He knows a true Christian loves Him, and therefore His judgment is tempered with tender mercy. How sweet and comforting that gracious restoration of Simon Peter, how beautiful and touching the gesture of our Lord in appointing that failing disciple to the office of shepherd of the sheep and lambs of His flock. Yes, God knows our heart; He knows all things, and He is a merciful and faithful High-priest, touched with the feelings of our infirmities. It is that compassionate ministry of His which so often restores us after we have grieved Him. The believer is conscious that all unreality is exposed before Him, yet dealt with in such grace and restoring mercy. All glory to His Name!
How sweet then to live a life in touch with Him; to have our hearts free and happy in His presence. This according to ver. 21, gives us confidence toward God. This word “confidence” is literally “freedom of speech”. The same thing obtains in our earthly relationships, for when children are doing the things that please their parents, they are happy and free, and they feel quite confident to ask their parents for things they want, or would like to have. And moreover, they are very apt, under such circumstances, to ask the very things father and mother would be glad to give them. So also, when we are in happy fellowship with Him, then, whatsoever we ask we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things which are pleasing in His sight. John is stating the same truth, so often found in his Gospel, that happy fellowship with God gives assurance in prayer. For, when abiding in Him, the believer is not going to ask things that are displeasing to God. He will not selfishly ask for things which he wants for his own glory, or gratification. He will then only desire that which will glorify Christ and be for the blessing of others, or the salvation of souls. And such prayers are bound to be answered in the affirmative. In John’s Gospel we read of praying in His Name. That expression intimates the absence of the person whose name is used. Suppose the president of a company would appoint an employee of the firm to be his representative during his absence, to have charge of the whole business, with power of attorney to act in the name of the absent official. This would not mean he would have the right to fill out checks and put them to his own account in the bank. If he signed checks they would have to be for the transacting of the firm’s business, and not for his own interests. Transfer that illustration to Christian life. We are here as the representatives of our Lord, and so we can only ask for things, we can only make out checks on the bank of heaven, for the interests of the firm. Anything we ask for His glory, for the blessing of souls, for the comfort of the saints, we could expect to be honored by God, but not when we are considering our own interests. Believers are often disappointed because they pray, as for instance, for physical healing, and their prayers remain unanswered. Why? Simply because they ask for their own personal welfare; not for the interests of the firm. If it is for God’s glory alone that one would want to have a well body, if that were the honest conviction of the heart, then there could be confidence that the prayer would be answered. Only when the soul is wholly real in seeking His glory, may he claim the promise of 1 John 3:22.
Verse 23. Faith Godward and love manward are God’s commandment in its double force. I don’t think the faith here is faith that saves the sinner when he first comes to Christ. That, of course, is the initial faith that saves, but here the thought implies continuance in faith—the living of the daily life of the believer by faith. It does not say believing on the name of His Son Jesus Christ; it leaves the word “on” out. It is simply believing the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and the inference is that the Christian day by day is to trust implicitly in all that the Name of the Lord Jesus assures him is his portion. The order of the title given to the Lord here is significant. “His Son” implies His being sent of the Father into the world, hence referring to His incarnation. The name “Jesus” speaks of Him as the Saviour, who came to die for us in order to redeem, hence His crucifixion; while the term “Christ” speaks of His resurrection and exaltation—Acts 2:36—and His ascension to the throne of God. Thus, believing the name of His Son Jesus Christ, means the laying hold by faith on all the spiritual resources that are ours through the life, the death, and glorious exaltation of our Lord Jesus Christ. The believer who lays hold on this will surely love his fellow-saints, and manifest that love in deed and in truth.
Verse 24. Keeping the double commandment, just commented on, will lead to full communion with God. The believer then will abide in Christ, and Christ in him. The Spirit who indwells us gives the assurance that Christ abides in us. That is a matter of record, as found in the pages of God’s Word; we are sure, therefore, that Christ abides in us. But the statement that we are in Him is not mentioned in the latter part of ver. 24. For, while we know from the Word of God that Christ dwells in us by His Spirit (that blessed fact is not dependent on our spiritual condition, but is true of every believer, regardless of how wretched his practical life may be—see Eph. 4:30; Rom. 8:9), our abiding in Him is dependent on our spiritual state. It is not true of every believer that he abides in Christ; it is true of all that Christ abides in us. May we so respond to God’s desire for us that we shall be as sure that we abide in Him, as that He abides in us. The first one mentioned describes our state; the other, our standing. Abiding in Him is dependent upon our conduct; His abiding in us is due to matchless grace alone. It is supreme joy to know the truth of both experimentally.
How To Detect False Teaching
1. Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits whether they are of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
2. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God; every spirit that confesseth (that) Jesus Christ (is) come in the flesh is of God.
3. And every spirit that confesseth not Jesus is not of God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it cometh; and now it is the world already.
4. Ye are of God, my little children, and have overcome them, because greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.
5. They are of the world; therefore speak they as of the world, and the world heareth them.
6. We are of God; he that knoweth God heareth us; he who is not of God heareth us not. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
The third chapter closed with the reminder that we know that Christ abides in us, by the fact and by the ministry of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Here Satan immediately has his chance to palm off false spirits on the people of God. For, after all, a spirit is invisible, thus making deceit and error possible, and alas, tremendously prevalent. Hence, the need of testing the spirits whether they are of God, for many false prophets are gone out into the world. There is, praise God, a means of testing all that professes to be of God, and of proving whether it is false or true. As we read in Matt. 7:15-20, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” What then is the fruit of a false prophet? Is it an evil life? Oh, no; for the Lord has just said that they look like sheep, they are dressed in sheep’s clothing. Looking at them from the outside one would judge that they were sheep—true Christians. Yet inwardly, so we are told, they are ravening wolves. One knows a false prophet not by his life, but by his message. He may look like a sheep, and yet be a wolf. The moment he opens his mouth he betrays his real character, for a wolf cannot say “Baa” like a sheep, even though he be dressed like one; he can only growl. Hence, it is what men say that proves them true or false to Christ. This is the test that the verses in our chapter put forward.
Verse 2. “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth Jesus Christ come in the flesh is of God.” It must be noted that the two words “that” and “is” of our Authorized Version are left out here. The question is not one of confessing an historical fact (the fact that Christ was born of a virgin, and thus is the incarnate Son of God), but of confessing Him. It is not confessing facts concerning Him, but confessing Him. There are millions of folks who will tell you that they believe Jesus is God, and that He died on the cross to put away sin, who are yet unsaved. Confessing the historical fact saves no one; it has no more effect than confessing that George Washington existed and was President of the United States. It is the one who believes on Christ, and confesses Him as Saviour and Lord who is born of God. That is what Rom. 10:9, 10 teaches, that, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus Lord, and shalt believe in thine heart that God has raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Whenever we hear anyone confess Christ thus, we know that he or she is speaking by the Spirit of God. For no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost—1 Cor. 12:3.
We must also notice that it is necessary to confess Jesus Christ come in flesh. In the latter days— 1 Tim. 4:1—some would depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons. Spiritistic cults thrive at a fearful rate these days, and carry away thousands of deluded souls. Once a man casts loose from the revealed facts which the Word of God sets forth, then he is susceptible to any false theory which is propagated. But the truth of God is all based on facts, seen by eye-witnesses. God was manifest in flesh. The invisible God is made known through the visible Christ, and today we have the record of that in the physical, visible Word of God—the Holy Scriptures. The life, death, and resurrection of Christ were all visible, physical realities, abundantly seen and testified to by reliable men. As Paul said to King Agrippa, “These things were not done in a corner.” This is most important to remember, for the false cults that thrive today nearly all deny some part of these physical verities. Some say that the Lord arose in spirit only and that his body was dissolved in gases, and similar blasphemies. For a proof text they will quote the statement that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. But they ignore the truth that our Lord bade the disciples handle Him and see; that it was He Himself. “For,” said He, “a spirit has not flesh and bones as ye see Me have.” It is true that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, but our Lord did not say He had flesh and blood, but flesh and bones. His glorified body is no longer sustained, as ours is, by blood, but in a different heavenly manner. It is no longer, as 1 Cor. 15 shows, a natural but a spiritual body. Nevertheless, it is a body, not a spirit. It is Christ come in flesh whom the Christian confesses; and a Christ who still is Man on the throne of God today. In Colossians Paul rebukes false philosophy and tells his readers that in Christ dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily—Col. 2:9. Christ is come in flesh, and this marks Him out as God, for only of God could it be said that He came in flesh. We men do not come in flesh; we are flesh. All false doctrine denies this vital truth—the Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Verse 3. Every spirit that confesseth not the Jesus come in flesh is not of God. This is the correct reading of the first part of verse 3. The word “Christ” is left out, and the definite article “the” is put in before “Jesus”. Everyone that confesseth not the Jesus whom John is writing about is not of God. There have been many persons named Jesus, from Joshua down. Twenty or more of the early manuscripts called Barabbas Jesus, the false son of the father, for that is the meaning of the name Barabbas, even as the Lord Jesus is the true Son of God the Father. Paul tells us that some preach another Jesus, whom he had not preached—2 Cor. 11:4. Such a false Jesus, as Barabbas was, is a foreshadow of the false Christ, the Antichrist of the last day. John insists that the Jesus of whom he spoke and wrote is the Christ, the Son of the living God—John 20:31. Everyone that does not confess this Jesus as Lord, as Son of God, is not of God, but manifests that spirit of antichrist, whereof we have heard that it should come and even now already is it in the world.
We must not fail to observe that it does not say every spirit that denies Jesus Christ come in flesh, but every spirit that confesseth not. It is not what the false professor says, but what he does not say which we are called upon to mark. The smooth Modernists may not openly say things derogatory to the Person of Christ, but the point is that he leaves out the truth concerning Him. He does not confess. A Modernist preacher may speak great swelling words, as Jude puts it; he may, and very often does deliver a flowery sermon, but it is like a loaf of bread made of sawdust. There is no food for the soul in it, no revelation of the precious truth of God in Christ. The open denial of Christ will come in the near future when the Liar, the Antichrist, shall be revealed. Then all mere pretence shall be cast off and the Antichrist shall sit in the temple of God, claiming that he is God. But for the present, oftentimes the vilest blasphemies are clothed in apparently very innocent language. It is the absence of the true doctrine, rather than the presence of false doctrine, we are bidden to guard against. If anyone professes to minister spiritual things and yet leaves out all the fundamentals of the Christian faith, such as the Virgin birth, the sinless humanity, the sacrificial death of Christ, and the value of His precious blood, His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the throne of God, etc., then such a speaker is not speaking by the Spirit of God, but by the spirit of Satan. Every true believer confesses Jesus Christ as Saviour and God. The evil spirit is a dumb spirit when it comes to the confession of Christ, but the believer is not dumb. Silence concerning Christ as the Son of God and the Saviour of sinners would prove one to be false as much as the denial of Him. Hence, the importance of a true Christian confessing the Lord. The spirit of antichrist is already here. As Paul says in 2 Thess. 2:7, “The mystery of lawlessness does already work”; it awaits its full manifestation when Antichrist himself shall come upon the scene. In the meantime the testimony of the true saints of God hinders its full-blown manifestation. What a joy and solemn responsibility is ours to make Him known, as we confess Him by our life and by our lip.
Verse 4. The believer is of God and therefore is not overcome by, but overcomes, the evil spirits as they speak through the lips of false prophets. For greater is He—the Holy Spirit—who is in you than he—Satan—who is in the world. Let the believer but listen to and be subject to the ministry of God’s Word, either as he reads it for himself, or as it is ministered to him through the oral or written ministry of other believers, and he is thereby safeguarded against all that is false and Satanic. The Bereans were commended because that when they heard words spoken by the Apostle Paul, they searched the Scriptures daily to see whether those things were so.
Verse 5. False teachers are not true believers; they are of the world, and therefore speak of the world. That is, the things which they teach are those which agree with the outlook and ideas of the natural man. They will advocate morality, social advancement, etc., because man can have a hand in such movements. It does not appeal to the dwellers on this earth to be told that they are lost sinners, helpless and undone, and that only the Lord Jesus Christ can meet their need. All the fundamental truths of the Christian faith will be left out by the false teacher, and thus the true Christian can detect that he is of the world, and not of God. The world listens to them, for the unsaved love to be told that they can do something to improve themselves, and improve the condition of things in the world. The believer, on the contrary, has committed to him the mission of telling men that they are lost, and that this world is waiting for the judgment of God; that in the present age of grace God is gathering out of the world those who will repent and turn to Christ, before the judgment of God falls upon it. That is not popular, but it is the truth.
Verse 6. In verse 4 John said to the believers “ye” are of God; here in verse 6 “we” are of God. Here he is speaking of himself and of the other apostles, frequently mentioned in this Epistle, as of those who brought the truths of the gospel to us as they heard them from the Lord Himself during their stay with Him on earth. He that truly knows God, that is truly saved, listens to the apostles’ ministry; he that is not of God will not listen to them. What a tremendous claim this is for the divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. For the things that John and the other apostles heard, they have recorded for us, and the Lord Himself said that He prayed for those who should believe on Him through their—the apostles’—word—John 17:20. In John 8:47 the Lord Jesus makes the claim that what He said were the words of God; John makes the same claim in our verse for the ministry which the apostles brought. Therefore there could be no stronger affirmation of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures. We cannot apply this statement to ourselves and say that a man is not of God because he does not listen to anything and everything that I have to say; but only if he refuses to hearken to God’s Word. The “us” here only refers to the apostles, whose ministry as written in God’s Word is divinely inspired. 1 Thess. 5:21 bids us prove all things. Does this mean that a Christian is to delve into all the false theories that are constantly being propagated? Indeed, no. One doesn’t find out whether a dozen bottles contain poison by taking a drink out of each one. Simply look at the label, and go by that. The Christian preacher and the Christian hearer alike have the Holy Spirit, and are thus instinctively preserved against error. The Spirit is greater than Satan, and guards the humble believer by revealing Christ to his soul. Thus he needs no human teacher to direct him, though he may profit by one. Let there be but subjection to the Word of God, and there will be no danger of going astray. “If any man will do My will, he shall know of the doctrine.” All that is not according to the Word of God exhibits the spirit of error; all that is divine bears upon its face the stamp of the spirit of truth. There are then three precious truths outstanding in verses 1 to 6 of this chapter:
1. The Holy Spirit, who indwells the believer, is greater than Satan. He is always the Victor, and will enable the believer to overcome, if he walks in obedience.
2. The confession of Jesus Christ come in flesh is a mark of all true ministry. Therefore the Christian needs only to listen for the true dial tone.
3. Obedience to the written Word of God is a
sure proof of truth. He that is of God hears the
divinely inspired ministry of the apostles as found in the Scriptures.
The Classical Passage On Christian Love
7. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God.
8. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.
9. Herein was the love of God manifested in us (or, in our case), that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him.
10. Herein 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.
12. No man has beheld God at any time; if we love one another, God abideth in us, and His love is perfected in us.
13. Hereby we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.
14. And we have beheld and bare witness that the Father hath sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.
15. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him and he in God.
16. And we know and have believed the love which God has in us (in our case). God is love, and he that abideth in love, abideth in God, and God abideth in him.
17. Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, even so are we in this world.
18. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that fear-eth is not made perfect in love.
19. We love, because He first loved us.
20. If a man say I love God and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen.
21. And this commandment have we from Him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.
Verse 7. “Beloved, let us love.” Five times this word “beloved” appears in John’s first Epistle (it is wrongly translated “brethren” in chap. 2:7); and four times more in his other two Epistles.
We are God’s beloved. Yes, God loves us, as John 3:16 declares; the Father loves us, as in 1 John 3:1; Christ loves us—Gal. 2:20; therefore we ought to love in return. As ver. 11 says: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” It does not say we ought to love Him, for, of course, every true believer does love God and does love the Lord Jesus Christ, but oftentimes we find it so difficult to love our fellow-believer; therefore we are told to love one another. Let but the amazing truth grip my soul that God loves me, that I am His beloved, and what a tremendous influence this will have upon my life. Everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. Love, as someone has said, is the perfect tense of the verb “live”. To truly live, one must know the marvelous love of God experimentally in one’s soul. Love is the topmost step to the throne of God, as in 2 Pet. 1:7. We are urged to cultivate this new nature in us; a nature, the outstanding characteristic of which is love. The degree of love in us is different from what it is in God, but it is the very same kind. Some twenty-five times in the New Testament we are exhorted to love one another. The only “bit” that can restrain evil passions and calm the soul is a “little bit of love.”
Verse 8. He that loves not knows not God, for God is love. The love spoken of here is not natural love, of course, but all through these verses the sub- ject is love in the spiritual realm; love as first of all manifested in Christ. He that does not love the saints of God does not know God.
Verse 9. God is love, as ver. 8 states, and, being what He is, He must manifest this. So his love toward us has been manifested in that He sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him. His only Son is the measure of His love. The gospel brought this wonderful message to us that we, once dead in trespasses and sins, might have everlasting life. Once, in Old Testament-times, the message of the law was, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” but when Christ came this was reversed and in the gospel we hear the wondrous words, “The Lord thy God loves thee.” Christ Jesus came into the world that we might have life through His Name.
Verse 10. Then we are told that God’s love to us did not cause Him to close His eyes to our sins; no, Christ came to be the propitiation for our sins. True love is not blind. A mother often thinks she loves her child when she passes lightly over his disobedience or his wilfulness, but this is not so with God. Herein is love that our blessed Lord took our place, bearing our judgment and making Himself responsible for all our guilt. Praise His Holy Name! It is that wondrous love which has created love in our hearts for Him, and for all who are His own.
Verse 11. Therefore, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
Verse 12. We must compare this verse with the eighteenth verse of the first chapter of the Gospel of John. Both begin with exactly the same phrase, “No one has seen God at any time”. John 1:18 continues the verse by telling us that the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father He hath declared Him. Here the Lord Jesus is the One who revealed God in His life and by His works, but in 1 John 4:12 it is we believers who are to do so. As John’s Gospel presents the Lord Jesus as the One who manifested God in His grace and truth, so John’s Epistle laid this burden on the believers. As we love one another, we shall know the abiding presence of God, and His love will be made perfect in us, and will be shown forth in our lives. Oh, what a holy task is committed to us, to reveal the unseen God to men around us, even as the Lord Jesus did in His day. As His love is perfected in us, it must of necessity be manifested through us to the world around; and thus shall precious souls be attracted to Christ.
Chapter 2:5 speaks of love being perfected in the believer as he walks in obedience to God’s Word; here in chap. 4:12 love is perfected as we love one another. In the first case, it is the life of the believer that is in view; in the second case, the love of the believer. In the first case, the Christian’s individual walk is before us; in the second case, His fellowship with saints.
Verse 13. We are told in ver.12 that if we love one another, God abides in us. Now ver. 13 adds that we know we dwell in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. Thus these two verses together, suggest that this communion with God is not merely an abstract fact, but an experimental knowledge. As we walk in Christian love we have communion with Him; we know it and enjoy it too, because the Spirit makes it real.
Verse 14. We know also (a knowledge which the Word of God imparts to us) that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. As we realize our blessed place in Him through sovereign grace, we bear witness to the Lord Jesus as a Saviour sufficient to save the whole world. Being so richly blessed ourselves, this verse intimates that we realize the whole world ought to enjoy this blessing too, so we testify to it that Christ wants to be the Saviour of all. Thus, divine love leads us to witness of Christ to the unsaved, as well as to care for each other as Christians.
Verse 15. He that confesseth Jesus as the Son of God abides in Him, and he in God. God abiding in the Christian and he in God is here said to be the result of confessing Jesus as the Son of God. This in essence is true of every believer, and therefore not a matter of attainment. Yet no doubt the real enjoyment deepens as a greater degree of attainment is reached. The more wholly and consistently the believer confesses the Lord, the more will he know of the sweetness of His love, the sweeter will be the sense of His abiding preciousness in the soul.
Verse 16 seems to give the practical realization of this abiding. It is noticeable that in vers. 15 and 16, the order is reversed. In ver. 15, it is first His dwelling in us that is mentioned, then our abiding in Him; in ver. 16, this order is reversed. It seems to me the reason for this is that in ver. 16 we have the Christian as believing; in ver. 15 as confessing Christ. In believing on Christ we get the assurance we are in Him for acceptance, assurance, joy, etc., and then because of that we learn that He abides in us, which is the power for service and worship. But in confessing Him we are first reminded that He abides in us, for it is His indwelling, which furnishes power, that is specially needed to enable us to confess Christ. We need the sense of His abiding presence within to encourage us in bearing witness for Him to the world. Let us notice a few thoughts in regard to this subject of “abiding”:
1. He abides in us, and the Holy Spirit makes this real to us—3:24.
2. Loving one another, as believers, we realize this abiding, and God’s love is thus perfected in us—4:12.
3. Not only do we know that He abides in us, but we in Him, which leads to sweet communion with God—4:13.
4. Confessing Jesus we have the sense of His abiding in us, for power; and our abiding in Him, for communion—4:15.
5. Knowing and believing God’s love, we abide in God (communion is stressed first, as power is in the previous verse), and He in us—4:16.
There is a distinct progress of thought in these verses worthy of our meditation, and productive of real joy and praise.
Verse 17. Herein has love been perfected with us. Notice the past tense. There are two other occasions where we read of perfect love in this Epistle—chaps. 2:5 and 4:12. But in those verses the verb “perfect” is in the present tense. Those two verses speak of love in the believer; this one of love to the believer. In us nothing is perfect as yet, but God’s love to us is. It is not here, as our Authorised Version puts it, our love, but His love. God’s love has been perfected on our behalf, for it is love that brought Christ down from the throne above to die for us on the bitter cross. That love is perfect, as ver. 18 states, for it casts out all fear. Now that love is made perfect, as far as we are concerned, when we rest upon it in simple faith. It then assures us that we need have no fear; that we can have boldness in the day of judgment. Praise God, the believer who turns to the Scriptures learns that since his blessed Lord bore his sins, paying the utmost penalty of them, he is saved forever. He learns that death and judgment are behind him. He rests in that perfect love of God, which gave Christ to take his place that he might be saved eternally. John 5:24 is one verse among many that presents this truth in those glowing words that have brought blessing to myriads: “He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death into life.” Judgment of sin is past for the believer in Jesus, and thus he can have boldness in the day of judgment. Many Christians do not know this, and so they live more or less in fear of the day of judgment. They do not know the comfort that His perfect love brings. Having the life, the very nature of Christ Himself, the eternal and imperishable life of God gives positive assurance. It stamps us as being already (even while still in the world) as Christ is, for: “As He is, so are we in this world.” These nine monosyllables are perhaps the greatest in the world. If the thought of judgment causes any fear, it proves that the message of God has not gripped the soul. He that feareth, as ver. 18 says, is not made perfect in love.
Notice again those nine little words: “As He is, so are we in this world”. Not, as He was. We are not as Christ was. We are not as Christ was in eternity past; He was God then, as now, and we are not. We are not as Christ was during His life on earth either, for practically we do not live perfectly as He did; we are not sinless in our daily life as He was while on earth. We are not as Christ shall be either, robed in majesty and glory, for we are still in this world of sin, with bodies subject to all that the flesh is heir to. No; we are as He is. This statement does not therefore have any reference to our personality, or to our conduct, but to our position as believers. We are as He is simply because of what He did for us on Calvary. There our sins were all borne by Jesus. They are gone; death and judgment are behind us. This is all true of our blessed Lord, and praise God, it is true of us too. As He is, so are we, while we are yet in this world. It is that love—the love of God made good to us in the precious death and resurrection of Christ and His ascension to glory—that is thus perfected on our behalf. And as we rejoice in this love, our lives will reflect it, and we shall not only positionally, but in a good measure practically, be as He was in this world.
Verse 18. Perfect love casts out fear. We can never know the sweetness of perfect love by looking within; only by looking without, by looking off unto Jesus. Keep yourselves in the love of God, keep bathing in its warm and genial sunshine, and you will know the power and joy that it brings. It will remove all torment. Fear has torment, or punishment. How many Christians are tormented all their life long by doubts and anxieties because they do not rest in the perfect love of God; they never learn the blessed truth that by one offering He has perfected forever them that are sanctified.
His love then is already perfect, always has been. As we rest in that love shown toward us, all fear will be cast out. You cannot think of a child fearing its mother, if that mother loves her child dearly. Neither should we question His love to us at any time. If we grieve and displease Him, He may have to deal with us, as a father chastises his children, but let us never doubt His love. God loves us as much when He strikes us as when He strokes us.
As we have seen, then, His love to us is perfect; His love in us is being perfected. There is nothing perfect in this world, as the young lady said to a young fellow when he asked her if she thought him a perfect fool. Love is being perfected in us. It is perfected in us as we live—2:5; as we love—4:12.
In chap. 4:9 God’s love brings life to us, through Christ’s death.
In chap. 4:16 God’s love brings communion to us.
In chap. 4:17 God’s love imparts boldness, or confidence, to us.
As a result, chap. 4:18, there is no fear nor torment.
Verse 19 is the fruit of the apprehension of the mighty love of God toward us. We love because He first loved us. The word “Him” is left out in the Revised Version. The thought is not that we love Him, but that we love fellow-believers. It is easy to understand that we should love God. Who would not love a God who gave His precious Son to die for our sins? Not to do so is a crime that can never be forgiven. Dear reader, are you by any means guilty of that fearful sin? Remember God says that: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed, the Lord is coming”—1 Cor. 16:22. Not to love the Lord Jesus is an unpardonable sin. Every sin can be forgiven, but to refuse to bow humbly before Him and acknowledge His marvellous love, is to be guilty of a sin that will insure eternal doom. So, it is nothing short of imperative that one should love God, as revealed in Christ. But to love others, to love men, with all their faults and failures, that is set forth here as a proof that the love of God has indeed been implanted in the heart. For “the love of God is shed aboard in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given unto us”—Rom. 5:5. Hence, we love; we love all men, but specially God’s dear people. Not because they are so nice and lovable, but simply because God’s love indwells us, and God loves those who are wicked and evil, for God is love. As has so often been said—and may be said again with equal force—God loves the sinner, though He hates his sin. God loves, because God is love. We love because that same love indwells us now.
Verse 20. I used to think at one time that this verse had things mixed a little. It is easy for me to love God, I used to say to myself, but I find it hard oftentimes to love my brother, and that specially because I do see him. Yet God says in our verse that if I do not love my brother whom I do see (and seeing him, I see all his unattractiveness as well), I do not love God whom I have not seen. Surely, I can love God because He is pure and kind and loving; I can love God because He has blessed me so richly, but my brother is often unbearable (he thinks the same about me, I know). Well, the simple answer is that if I do not love my brother it proves that the love of God is not in me, for God loved me when He saw me in all my sin and shame. I do not love my brother because of what he is, but because of what I am; not because he deserves to be loved, but because the love of God goes out to the undeserving. I love him because he is Christ’s; because he has been bought with that tremendous price, the precious blood of Jesus. I love him, because I love the Lord Jesus. I love him because it is the divine nature to love; that nature indwelling me asserts itself in loving all who are of God.
Verse 21 adds the additional thought that the believer not only loves because the love of God dwells within him, but also because he is under orders to do so. We have a commandment that he who loves God love his brother also. Obedience is the mark of a child of God. Therefore we love because we want to, and because we ought to. “If ye love Me, keep My commandments,” said the Lord. “And this is His commandment, That we should . . . love one another” —3:23. How greatly obedience, response to His will in this respect, is needed. Love, so much called for, is alas, very often so little manifested. We do not have one whole chapter devoted to this great subject unless it be to impress upon us its tremendous importance. I refer to 1 Cor. 13. God grant that our meditation on this classical passage dealing with divine love here in 1 John 4, may stir us afresh to realize its vital value in Christian life and testimony.
Love To God, Proven By Obedience; His Commandments Are Not Grievous
1. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God; and whosoever loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him.
2. Hereby we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and do His commandments.
3. For this is the love of God that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not grievous.
4. For whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith.
5. And who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
The first and the fifth verses both speak of believing. In the first verse, faith acknowledges the fact that Jesus is the Christ; in ver. 5, that He is the Son of God. In the first verse the result of that faith is new birth; in the fifth verse, victory over the world. The term “Christ” calls to mind what the Lord Jesus did for us, for it is His official title as the One who came to earth to redeem us, and Who now lives at the right hand of God as our High-priest and Advocate. The term “Son of God” has reference to who He is. The one speaks of His work; the other of His Person. The believer who owns that Jesus is the Christ is therefore said to be born of God, for it is faith in Christ as the One who died for us that results in the new birth. But in ver. 5, the faith is not in His work, which results in converting the soul, but it is the faith of a believer in Jesus as the Son of God, which enables him to get victory over the world. It reveals the truth that heart occupation with the Person of the Lord Jesus, in all that which His glorious relationship as Son of God entails, lifts the believer in power above the world, enabling him to be an overcomer. Ver. 1 presents the initial faith of the soul, the faith that saves the sinner; ver. 5 speaks of the constant faith that should mark the saint, as he walks and talks with Jesus. The believer was told in chap. 2:15 not to love the world; here in our chapter we have the power for carrying out that injunction—the power is to live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. “Son of God” is the Lord’s title as the heavenly One, and it is by setting one’s mind on things above, where He is, that the Christian is victorious over the world. The same title, “Son of God”, is used in the introduction to the Church in Thyatira, where the world in its religious pride and self-righteousness is so strong. There again, as it were, it is what that glorious title “Son of God” stands for that empowers for victory. Three times in vers. 4, 5 this “overcoming” of the world is mentioned. It surely stresses the importance of gaining the victory over this world. Not so many believers are enticed by the outright lusts and sins of the flesh, but the world is a very subtle, attractive system, and that which Satan uses to the utmost to ensnare the believer. Only the greater attraction and loveliness of our blessed Lord can keep us from being deceived by the seductive beauty of this world. Hence, the necessity for exercising living faith in the Son of God, dwelling on the wondrous love that made us His, and that now whispers its holy, eternal blessedness to our hearts, through the pages of God’s Word.
Verse 1. Having been born of God through faith in Christ as our Saviour, we have received His nature, and thus we love God, as well as all those who have been born of God. We are one big happy family. The Father loves us, we love our Father, and we love each other. We may not always show this love, though we should. In earthly families there is often a great deal of quarreling (in fact, children in a family often seem to get on with each other less happily than they do with the children of the neighbors), yet underneath all the children in the family love each other. So Christians often seem to be able to bear less from each other than they do from the unsaved round about. Shame that it should be so! This first verse presents the normal state of God’s children; we are all members of a family where love occupies the throne.
Verse 2. The world around us knows we love the children of God, by our actions. But this verse says we know we love fellow-Christians by the fact that we love God. And our love to God is proven by the keeping of His commandments. Ver. 1 states that we love all God’s children by the very fact that we are saved; that is, shall we say, theoretical? Practically, we know that we love them when we walk in obedience to God’s Word. When we walk in touch with Him, then our love will be real, and we will manifest it in our conduct towards the members of the household of God. In other words, we know we love fellow-believers when we live it, not merely when we say it. New birth provides the nature of love; keeping God’s Word provides the practice of love.
Verse 3. And God’s commandments are not grievous. They only become so when the soul is out of communion with Him. When the believer is ready to take up the cross, he finds that it is no longer a cross. We are no longer under the Jewish law, under the ten commandments, yet the believer is still under law, or commandments. He is, as Paul says, in 1 Cor. 9:21, not without law to God, but under the law to Christ. The believer is to keep God’s commandments, but he keeps them by love. These commandments are the instructions left for us to carry out in our New Testament, all summed up by James under the title, the “law of liberty.” We are to do His will, and to a saint who walks with God these commandments are truly a law of liberty. We are set free to live for Him, for His glory.
Faith gains the victory, as we have it in vers. 4 and 5. It gains the victory over the world. The world seems to be presented as the most dangerous force to be reckoned with. It is Christ or the world. He that is a friend of the world is an enemy of God. The believer must overcome the world, because
Gaining the world, would mean losing one’s soul—Matt. 16:26.
The world hates our Lord—John 7:7.
It is a world laying under judgment—John 12:31.
The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God—I Cor. 3:19.
The fashion of this world passeth away—1 Cor. 7:31.
We bring nothing into this world, and we carry nothing out—1 Tim. 6:7.
The world is a world of corruption—2 Pet. 1:4.
The world is a world of pollution—2 Pet. 2:20.
The world passeth away and the lust thereof— 1 John 2:17.
The world lies in the wicked one—1 John 5:19.
Those are the facts in regard to the world, but their wretchedness is hidden under a most attractive and fair exterior; and the world has a great appeal to the flesh, the eyes, the mind. Only close touch with the Lord Jesus can give us the victory over it. In fact, most Christians are more overcome by it than they are aware of; they are under its soporific influence. Let us engrave 1 John 5:5 upon our souls.
Three Witnesses Whose Testimony Agrees
6. This is He that came by water and by blood, even Jesus Christ, not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood.
7. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth.
8. For there are three who bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and the three agree in one.
9. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater, for the witness of God is this, that He hath borne witness concerning His Son.
10. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in him; he that believeth not God hath made Him a liar, because he hath not believed in the witness that God hath borne concerning His Son.
11. And the witness is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
12. He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life.
This Jesus came by water and blood, we are now told in ver. 6. If we are asked to believe on Him as in vers. 1 and 5, God has furnished abundant evidence that He is worthy of our faith. There are three witnesses to Christ set forth in ver. 8, the Spirit, the water, and the blood. Their witness absolutely agrees together. He came by water and blood. The order of the words, water being mentioned first, does not seem to direct our thoughts to the cross, for there the blood is mentioned first; we read that from His side there flowed out, blood and water. Here it is water and blood. This order may, and probably does, have a double meaning. It may refer to the Word of God, of which water is a type, as we know. If so, it states here that our Lord came in full conformity with the Word of God. The Word prophesied of His coming to be the Saviour and Sovereign, and every prophecy relating to His coming to earth was literally and actually fulfilled. Thus He came “by water”. Then again, as many take it, the water may refer to the water of His baptism when He entered upon His public ministry. In that symbolic act our blessed Lord took His place with the nation of Israel, confessing their sins, as it were, as His, as later He actually bore them on Calvary’s cross. John the Baptist did not understand the Lord’s action, and rebelled at the thought of baptizing the Lord Jesus, “I have need to be baptized of Thee,” he said, “and comest Thou to me?”—Matt. 3:14. But Jesus answered him: “Suffer it to be so now (you don’t understand it now, John, but you will some day), for thus it becomes us to fulfil all righteousness.” In that act the Lord took His place with the guilty people, as He did on the cross not only for them, but for all the world.
And He came by blood, the blood shed on the cross for our sins. How strange to read that He came by blood. Man would say that He went by blood, for when man dies he goes; he does not come. But Jesus came by blood, praise His holy Name! His precious death was not the end of everything, but in reality the beginning of eternal blessing. When other priests died, they quit their work; our blessed Lord began His at His death; for when He died, He laid the basis for eternal blessing. So He came by water and blood. Not by water only, says ver. 6, but by water and blood. His wondrous birth and life were not sufficient; it required His death to make atonement and to save man. And the Spirit bears witness of all this to our hearts through the Word.
The last part of verse 7, and the first part of verse 8, are left out in most manuscripts. The reading should be: “There are three that bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood, and these three agree in one.” Three witnesses—what do they bear witness to? To the Person and work of Christ; and since all the value of the work of our Lord rests upon who He is, therefore these three witnesses all point directly to the Person of our Lord. The water, as already mentioned, shows us that He came in conformity with the prophecies of God’s Word—born of a virgin, of the house of David, born in Bethlehem, etc. The Lord Jesus alone filled all these divine requirements. So the blood also points to who He is. I believe that that wondrous truth is set forth in the Gospel of John. John alone records this fact, because the theme of his Gospel is to direct our eyes to Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God—John 20:31. John alone tells us that when our Lord hung dead upon the cross, one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith there flowed out blood and water—John 19:33, 34. Now it is quite evident that the pouring forth of this blood did not prove the Lord had died, for we are definitely told that Jesus was dead already. The soldier did not pierce the Lord to insure His death, for we read that he did so when he saw that Jesus was dead already. No, His side was pierced because the Spirit of God would use this fact to bear witness as to who this Sufferer was. John says he saw the blood pouring forth and he bears witness to it—John 19:35. He says that his witness is true, and that he knows that what he says is true. Why this insistence on the pouring forth of the blood? I believe it is because John is recording something that ordinarily never happens. Blood does not pour forth from a dead body; John is recording something that normally is impossible. The pouring forth of the blood from the riven side of Christ does not reveal the fact that He died, but it tells us Who it is that died. It tells us that He who died there is not a sinful man, for man does not shed blood after death. It proved that that body had not gone to corruption as man’s does; and therefore it proves that Jesus was not a mere man, that He was indeed God manifest in flesh. That is why John alone gives us this incident, for his mission was, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, to prove that Jesus is the Son of God; he writes his Gospel for that very purpose. And thus, according to our chapter, the blood bears witness. As the water calls attention to who Jesus is in His birth and life, so does the blood in regard to His death, and the Holy Spirit as the witness ministers both these truths to us, through the Word.
We might note that in ver. 6 the order is: the water, the blood, the Spirit; in ver. 8; the Spirit, the water, and the blood. There is still a third order, and that is the historical one: the blood, the water, and the Spirit. Historically, the blood and water were seen by John and are mentioned in that order as pouring forth from the side of Christ, and fifty days later on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came. Here then the blood comes first, for first the sin question must be met by the shedding of the blood of Christ; then the water, for the ministry of the Word follows the work of Christ, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit who descended on the day of Pentecost. The order in ver. 8 is the exact reverse of the historical order. I believe it is the order observed in the salvation of the sinner. First, the Spirit deals with a soul, applying the ministry of the Word—the water; and then the soul is saved through the value of the blood of Christ. The order of ver. 6 is that used in connection with the consecration of the priests. As we learn from Exod. 29, the priests were first washed in water, then the blood was applied to their ears, thumbs, and toes, then the oil, the Holy Spirit in type, was put upon the blood.
Thus these three, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, all point to Christ as to Him who is worthy of our faith and trust; and in trusting whom, we overcome the empty blandishments of this world.
Verse 9. People will believe, often without question, what men say, and consequently are often deceived. The witness of God is greater. First of all because God is greater, and he that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. We expect our children to believe us when we speak; how much more should God expect, and have a right to expect, that His creatures should take Him at His word. But, in addition to that, He has given abundant proof that He does speak the truth, for He has borne witness concerning His Son. In his Gospel, John points out that the Lord Jesus did not expect men to take His own word for things. The Father bore witness to Him, John the Baptist did, the Lord’s own works did, and the Scriptures bore witness also. All He said and did proved His deity and His power. Hence, the enormity of the sin of not believing in Christ; it amounts to making God a liar. On the contrary, he that believes God’s testimony has set to his seal that God is true—John 3:33.
Verse 10. Furthermore, he that believes on the Son of God has the witness in himself. The Lord never furnished any proofs to those who rejected Him. To them He simply stressed the imperative necessity of taking Him at His word, but to the believer in Him, He gives internal evidence, giving the assurance that he is Christ’s. As we read in Rom. 8:16, as well as in our verse: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God.” The Holy Spirit indwelling gives assurance to the believer. Our Lord said so in John 14:23: “If a man love Me, he will keep My words, and My Father will love him, and We will come and make Our abode with him.” The one who does not believe makes God out a liar; to the one who does believe God proves Himself true.
Verse 11. God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. This does not mean that we do not have eternal life dwelling in us too. It does mean that this life is inherent in Christ; we have it only through Him. The Son has life in Himself, as we read in John 5:26; “In Him was life”—John 1:4. It was always in Him, independently, intrinsically; in us it is only as imparted through faith in Christ. He is its source; we are its recipients. Because He lives, we live also.
Verse 12. Having the Son, we have life. How simple this makes it all! Without Christ there is no life; this at once sweeps away all false theories that leave out the deity of Christ, and the value of His sacrificial death. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father.
Life Eternal Is To Know Him, And To Be In Him
13. These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God.
14. And this is the boldness which we have toward Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us.
15. And if we know that He heareth us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of Him.
16. If any man see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask and God will give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death; not concerning this do I say that he should make request.
17. All unrighteousness is sin; and there is a sin not unto death.
18. We know that whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not, but He that was begotten of God keepeth himself, and the evil one toucheth him not.
19. We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one.
20. And we know that the Son of God is come and hath given us an understanding, that we know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son, Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.
21. My little children, guard yourselves from idols.
Verse 13. This is a blessed verse which has brought assurance of salvation to many dear souls. That which John has just written (in verses 6 to 12) is for the purpose of giving the believer in Jesus conscious knowledge of the possession of eternal life. That assurance can only flow from resting on the great facts of who Christ is, and of what He has done for us. The value of a check depends entirely upon who the signer is. I could write a check for $1,000,000 (I learned to write when I went to school), but it wouldn’t be worth the paper it was written on. But let a multimillionaire write it and sign it, and it would assume tremendous value. So, since God has furnished evidence that Jesus is His Eternal Son, and that therefore His work on Calvary has infinite value, the believing soul finds assurance in resting on God’s Word. He knows, and knows it experimentally, surely, consciously, that he possesses eternal life.
Verses 14, 15. From the assurance as to our position flows confidence. If we are God’s children and know it, how natural it becomes to ask as children. We need to cultivate communion with our Father, so that, when we do ask Him for things, we may ask according to His will. James shows that some ask and receive not, because they ask amiss, for they want to consume it upon their lusts. If we walk with God, we will only ask that which is for His glory. When we ask thus, He will hear us. And if we know that God has heard our requests, then we know that we have what we ask for. We may not see or receive the answer right away, for our Father loves to test our faith, but we have the assurance that all is well. Praying thus, as in Phil. 4: 6, 7, “In every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, letting our requests be made known unto God, the peace of God shall keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” If chap. 4 shows that there is nothing too great for man in the love of Christ, so these verses show that there is nothing too small for God’s notice. We should cultivate this holy boldness which communion with our God and Father entitles us to.
Verses 16, 17. We will not only ask for ourselves, as ver. 16 now indicates, but we will ask largely for others. John specially mentions here that we should be concerned about the life which our fellow-believer lives. When we see a brother sin, we must not go and gossip about it everywhere. We must not talk about it to men (either to sinners or believers), but we must take it to God. How wonderful it would be if we were all jealous of the spiritual welfare of fellow-saints. God will answer such prayers readily, and will restore the sinning Christian to communion with Himself; He will give that believer life, as our text puts it. I take it that the Scripture means that such an one shall again know what it is to live for and with God. But, says ver. 16, there is a sin unto death. The Apostle probably is referring to sin in a believer’s life so serious, that God cannot permit such an one to continue to live on earth. It has been said that a believer is fit to go to heaven, yet may not be fit to live on earth. This truth is brought out in 1 Cor. 11:30-32. There, some believers are said to be weak, others sickly, and some had even been taken away in death, because of ungodly conduct. Paul says that if believers would judge themselves, God would not have to judge them. But when they do not judge them- selves, God the Father will exercise discipline, and this may mean for such to be taken away by death, because they so dishonor the name of Christ that they can no longer be permitted to remain on earth. They are redeemed by the blood of Christ and thus fit to go to heaven, but their lives are so displeasing to God that they cannot be allowed to remain on earth.
Notice, however, John does not say that in such a case we must not pray for the erring believer. He says, “I do not say that he shall pray for it;” not, I say that he must not pray for it. In other words, whether to pray for a believer who sins so seriously seems to be left to the judgment of the praying saint. Perhaps, if the petitioner is earnest and real, and his or her life is truly devoted to God, He may yet spare the erring brother or sister for their sake. At least, the negative form in the latter part of ver. 16 leaves the door open for the exercise of faith.
Verse 18. This is a restatement of chap. 3:9. The born-again soul does not sin. It is not his practice, though he may fall into sin. A sheep may fall into a mud-puddle, but he does not wallow in it, as a pig does. If saints sin, and some may even sin to the extent that God has to remove them out of the world, yet that is not habitual with Christians, nor normal. Generally, Christians are marked by living godly lives.
There is some doubt as to the exact meaning of the latter part of verse 18. Some translate it; He that is begotten of God (meaning the Lord Jesus, as the only begotten Son, keepeth him (that is, the believer). The thought then would be that the Lord Jesus keeps the believer so that Satan, the wicked one, cannot touch him. Here the believer would be the subject, and the Lord Jesus and Satan the two great antagonists who contend for the mastery in the believer’s life. The Lord is shown to be the Victor, for He keeps His own secure. Those who favor this interpretation contend that it would not be correct to say that a believer keeps himself, as our Authorized Version puts the verse. I do not say that this is a correct conclusion, for Scripture certainly does speak considerably about a believer’s keeping himself. In the closing verse of this very chapter it bids us keep ourselves from idols; it tells us to keep ourselves in the love of God, in the Epistle of Jude. We are to keep ourselves unspotted from the world—James 1:27; to keep ourselves pure—1 Tim. 5:22. Therefore, I see no objection to conclude from the verse that a believer is to keep himself. The understanding of course is, that he is to do so by the power and help of the Holy Spirit, but nevertheless, the responsibility for doing so is laid upon the believer himself.
Verse 19. We know we are of God, and the whole world lies in the wicked one, in Satan. The Christian may fall into the hands of Satan, or be delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh; the world is held in his secure grasp. The evil serpent has his coils wound fast around this poor, Christless world, and is slowly but surely crushing it, till it shares with himself the awful doom that awaits him. How blessed it is to lie in the arms of Him whose love embraces us and satisfies our longings.
Verse 20. Here we have the complete summing up of John’s message, as given in his Gospel and in this Epistle. The Son of God is come—that is the message of his Gospel. We know this—that is the message of the Epistle. In the Gospel, life is imparted through faith in the Son of God; in the Epistle, life is known and enjoyed in Christ. He has given us an understanding. The thought of “knowing” is very prominent in this Epistle, as we have noticed before. Our joy and power depends upon our knowledge of Christ, as our salvation depends upon our faith in Christ.
So we know, we understand, Him that is true. And we are in Him, in His Son Jesus Christ. Thus, we enjoy both knowledge and position. He is the true God, and eternal life. What a sweeping claim this is for the Deity and glory of our blessed Lord! Oh, the bliss of knowing Him and being found in Him!
Verse 21. Everything that is outside of this position and blessing; everything else on which the heart becomes unduly set, is an idol. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” Some have wondered at this abrupt and odd ending to this profound letter. But is it a strange ending? No, indeed. Having set forth the Lord Jesus, and the blessing that is ours in Him, John bids the saint turn from everything else. Everything that would displace Him, whatever it may be, is an idol. And these idols are not idols of wood and stone. He alone is the true God. Let us worship Him, witness for Him, walk with Him, wait for Him. Amen.