Part 3 of the Moral Test
by Mike Ratliff
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:7-21 ESV)
The New Nature of the regenerate Christian (2 Corinthians 5:17) does not only include the believer’s ability to not sin when tempted, it also is characterized by God’s very nature becoming more and more manifest both within and without those who are Born Again. This comes as a result of the washing of regeneration.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, (Titus 3:4-6 ESV)
This renewal of the Holy Spirit, being poured out richly on those who have Christ as Lord and Saviour, is the essence of our new birth. It is God’s Holy work of quickening what was dead unto life. Of course the manifestation of this new nature is keyed to our spiritual maturity. The more mature we become, the more we die to self and this world while living for God and His glory, the more Christ’s character will become apparent. In 1 John 4:7-8 we see that the Apostle has returned to the moral test of Love.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8 ESV)
John tells us here that God is love and anyone who is truly His will have this love being manifest in and through them. The Greek words John uses here for Love are αγαπωμεν and αγαπη or “agapeō” and “agapē.” One is the noun the other the verb describing love that enjoins a consuming passion for the well-being of others, and in scripture it has as its wellspring God Himself.
“Since ‘love is God’, says John, ‘let us love one another’; the children of God must reproduce their Father’s nature. Those who show such love to one another give proof in doing so that they are God’s children and that it is they (not those who say so much about the true gnōsis or knowledge of God without regard for the love of God) who really know Him. Those, on the other hand, from whose lives such love is absent give proof b that fact that they have never begun to know God, however confident their claims may be. To know the God of love means to manifest His love. ‘God is love’ is a compressed a statement of the gospel as is well imaginable; yet it is not more a reversible statement than is its counterpart in 1 John 1.5, ‘God is light’. ‘Love is of God’; love is divine; but one can no more say that ‘love is God’ than one could say that ‘light is God’. ‘God is love’ is an affirmation about God; while it is a compressed statement of the gospel, it is so in the sense which is spelt out in the following sentence, ‘that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him’. It is this act of God that gives meaning to His love; indeed, it is this act that gives meaning to love absolutely, in the sense which it bears in the Johnannine writings and the New Testament generally.” 1
John tells us here that if one is truly ‘of God’ then they will pass this test of Love. Those born from above, being new creatures in Christ will love as God loves. Of course, this is tempered by how severely we are in bondage to our flesh. The more free we become from that bondage the more God’s love will become manifest in us. The more we commune with Him by both receiving His love and returning it in worship and obedience from a grateful heart, the more we will exhibit this love in our lives.
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:9-11 ESV)
My brethren, every part of genuine Christianity is rooted in these verses. This is the Gospel from the point of view of the Father. The supreme act of God’s love was His sending His ‘only Son’ (μονογενη or monogenēs) . This Greek word means ‘only son’ or ‘well-loved’ or ‘beloved.’ God sending His Son is our blessing. Why? It is the blessing of those who receive life through Him because of His act of being their propitiation for their sins. He became sin on their behalf. Those who receive Him as Lord and Saviour, believing God, receive life. They are both declared righteous through God’s forensic declaration (justification by faith) and are made righteous albeit in an embryonic sense (sanctification). As we become more and more sanctified (removed from the bondage of our flesh) we will take on more and more of our Lord’s character. And because of this John tells us that we should love one another because our Lord is loving them through us.
I have received some comments complaining about the ‘attitude’ of some ‘Christians’ who hold the same ‘doctrine’ that we do here, but are ‘mean as snakes’ and appear to be self-righteous in their ‘judging’ of ‘post-moderns.’ The complaint insinuated that since they hold the same ‘doctrine’ that I do that I had no business ‘attacking’ the theology and religious practices of those I don’t like (post-moderns.) I had to think long and hard about how to respond to this. It is important that we have correct (biblical) doctrine and we ‘do church’ biblically. It is a huge mistake to ‘edit’ the Gospel to make it man-pleasing. In light of John’s teaching here, however, how should we approach this? Should we just try to get along? If we look at Jesus and the Apostles at how they handled these things we have our model. Jesus was very harsh, as were the Apostles, with religious leaders who were false. However, Jesus was very gentle with sinners, preaching the good news of the Kingdom and repentance to them, healing them, et cetera. However, the Pharisees and scribes and Sadducees, among others, were rebuked harshly. We should tell the truth to false teachers with the motive of their repentance. This is not unloving. In fact, it is the essence of αγαπη because it seeks the well-being of those in darkness.
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:12-16 ESV)
John tells us here that since no one can see God or our Lord loving (physically), but the world sees their witness of love through the Church. This being so then it is imperative that we manifest God’s love to one another as well as in reaching out to the lost, the sick, the hurting, the vulnerable, the hungry, et cetera. We do these things because we have the Spirit. Those who are Spirit-filled are guided by Him into obedience. This obedience is not just sin avoidance, but is active in sacrificial love.
“Not only is God’s love poured into His children’s hearts through the Holy Spirit; an appreciation of God’s truth has been imparted to them by the same Spirit. The Spirit of love is the Spirit of truth. The Spirit persuades and enables us to believe in Jesus as the Son of God; He communicates to us the new life which is ours as members of God’s regenerate family; it is through Him that we remain in union with the ever-living Christ and He with us; it is through His inward witness that we receive the power to bear our witness in turn. Thus our Lord’s promise in the upper room is fulfilled: ‘when the Counsellor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning’ (John 15. 26, 27) 2
In v15 we have, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” This is referring back to John’s doctrinal tests from vv1-6 and 1:1-4 and 2:23, referring to those who are genuine believers. Those who pass those doctrinal tests will also prove to be genuine by abiding in Christ and God. No believer in this life can profess to be sinless. All sin because we still have our flesh and are works in progress. However, as we mature in Christ, walk in repentance and have victory in the battle to mortify our sins we will find ourselves walking closer and closer with out Lord. This is abiding. This will increase our assurance. However, it should concern us if there is not change, if we cannot repent and have little or no desire to do so. This is John’s point. This is why it is essential that we disciple new believers instead of just rejoicing in numbers.
In v16 we have, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” This is speaking of the result of actually experiencing the love of God. Instead of just believing that God is love, we find in wonderful ways in our lives marked by our faith being exercised and thereby growing. This love comes into the hearts of the God’s children, filling them to overflowing, then it flows out to others. When we witness this in our lives, it will cause us to rejoice. We will then dwell in His love and dwell in Him. God gives us His joy and we are able, thereby, to abide in Christ. (John 15)
By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:17-19 ESV)
John is speaking here of maturing love which is marked by confidence in our assurance. This is God’s good work of assuring our hearts by the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit of our genuineness. The more we mature, the more we are aware of this. Christ was the first fruits of the Kingdom. He became a Man and has provided the one and only way to the Father. All who are His are still in this world are also God’s children and, therefore, have His love and affection. They receive goodness from Him. Those in Christ should not fear the Final Judgment. Why? If we experience God’s love then we should know that we belong to Him. The judgment is to be feared, but it has no power over God’s children. I love v19. Why do we love God and other believers? It is because God first loved us. I asked my son (when he was very young) why he loved me. He replied that it was because I loved him. I expressed that love to him and he returned it to me. Our love for God should be even deeper and more profound. If we mature in Christ as God grows our faith, we will also see the workings of God in our lives that are our receiving of His love.
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21 ESV)
John closes this test with a very clear statement. It is a fallacy to proclaim that one loves God, but hates other Christians. No, if we have the love of God working in us then we will love the brethren. We may be forced to rebuke some and admonish others, but we do so through God’s love for them.
My brethren, examine yourselves. If we find any ‘hate’ in your hearts for other believers then we must repent of that. We must, instead, rebuke those who are corrupting the Gospel and teaching false things about God and our faith from the motive of their repentance and restoration. If they refuse to do so then they prove that they are not our brethren (1 John 2:19). However, we cannot hate them. No, we pray for them. We never seek to modify the truth simply to get along.
Soli Deo Gloria
1F.F. Bruce, The Epistles of John (Old Tappen, 1970) p107.
2 Ibid., p110.