Living Like Who You Are and What You Believe

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1 John 3:1—18 

In 1976, Francis Schaeffer produced his seminal work, How Should We Then Live.  In it, Schaeffer writes about the decline of Western culture and he analyzes the reasons for the sad state of modern society and he presents the only alternative:  living by the Christian ethic, acceptance of God’s revelation, and total affirmation of the Bible’s morals, values, and meaning.

But long before 1976, John pondered the same kinds of things.  In his first letter, he writes about what Schaeffer would call “the Christian ethic” centuries later.  How should Christians live?  Here’s what John had to say.

Who are God’s Children, 1 John 3:1—6 

  • Children of God 

The last verse of chapter 2 is really the first verse of chapter 3:

Since we know that God is always good and does only right, we may rightly assume that all those who do right are his children.  (1 John 2:29  TLB)

This is a general statement about God’s children:  all who do right are His children.  Now, of course, we know there is much more to it than that, but John is putting forth this general principle to drive home the point that it is one thing to run around telling everybody that you are a Christian, but it is something else entirely to live a life that reveals the righteousness of Christ.  John is giving his readers a kind of simple, easy way to recognize another believer.  A true believer not only talks the right way, he walks the right way, too.  As they say in the south, God’s children take after their Father.

See how very much our heavenly Father loves us, for he allows us to be called his children—think of it—and we really are! But since most people don’t know God, naturally they don’t understand that we are his children.  (1 John 3:1  TLB)

Our position as God’s children is not something we should aspire to; it is something we already are.  For the true believer, there is no “hoping” that we “just might be saved.”  There should be no doubt as to the present and future reality of our salvation.  It is an objective truth, not a subjective one.  There may be days when you don’t “feel” saved, or you might be criticized by other Christians who say you can’t really be saved.  John makes it clear that your salvation is real; it is a matter of Heaven’s record.

True believers are often criticized by the world because the world doesn’t understand us or what motivates us.  We live according a Biblical worldview, not secular worldview.  Our motivation is living according to what God has revealed to us in His Word.  Children of God recognize other children of God, but the world doesn’t.  Augustine once compared the attitude of the world toward God to that of sick man who, in his delirium, lashed out and harmed his doctor.  What God can do for the unbeliever is what’s best for him, but they can’t see it.  Similarly, who wouldn’t want to associate with a Christian who is living a righteous life?  Well, the world doesn’t, because they don’t understand us and they don’t understand our motives at all.

  • Children of hope, verses 2, 3 

Yes, dear friends, we are already God’s children, right now, and we can’t even imagine what it is going to be like later on. But we do know this, that when he comes we will be like him, as a result of seeing him as he really is.  And everyone who really believes this will try to stay pure because Christ is pure.  (TLB)

In our present state, it’s difficult for us to see and understand all that God has done for us.  Even though some of us “weren’t that bad” when He saved us, the change that has occurred in our hearts was so great, our feeble minds cannot fully grasp it.  But, as great as that change was, more must take place.  Future growth or maturing in the faith is now up to us as we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us.

These verses speak of a perspective that, no matter how hard we try, we are unable to attain in this life.  Only after we see Jesus as He is, will we finally see that we have become like Him.

This is the hope all believers ought to possess.  We should all understand the truthfulness of verse 2, and because verse 2 is true, that should be the motivating factor in our efforts to live Christ-like lives.

  • The nature of sin, verses 4—6 

Your relationship with God is defined by whether you practice righteousness or sin.  In chapter 2, John already discussed the possibility that Christians will sin; it’s just a matter of time.  But the important thing to keep in mind is this:

But those who keep on sinning are against God, for every sin is done against the will of God.  (1 John 3:4  TLB)

This is a big difference between yielding to a temptation and sinning and living in constant sin.  A Christian may stumble and fall, but he must get back up again, acknowledge his failing and accept God’s forgiveness then press on.  That’s good.  God has made provision for that.  But there is no hope for one who lives in a continual state or attitude of sin.  John says when we go against God’s will, that’s what we are doing.

The thing is, though, it may become very easy for a believer to slip into a life of sin.  It can happen so slowly as to be almost imperceptible by the hapless believer.   Spurgeon’s comments this are helpful:

We must keep from sin.  If Christ has indeed saved us from sin, we cannot bear the thought of falling into it.  Those who take delight in sin are not the children of God.  If you are a child of God, you hate it with a perfect hatred, and your very soul loathes it.

John has a sobering warning for those who think they are Christians but live in sin:

So if we stay close to him, obedient to him, we won’t be sinning either; but as for those who keep on sinning, they should realize this: They sin because they have never really known him or become his.  (1 John 3:6 TLB)

God’s children are holy, 1 John 3:7—10 

As Christians, the motive for righteous living should be love.  However, righteous actions don’t always happen automatically.

Oh, dear children, don’t let anyone deceive you about this: if you are constantly doing what is good, it is because you are good, even as he is.  (1 John 3:7  TLB)

That’s the foundational proposition, remember.  Whether you feel it or not or whether the world recognizes it or not, you ARE a child of God; you ARE righteous.  But then, he ads this:

The person who has been born into God’s family does not make a practice of sinning because now God’s life is in him; so he can’t keep on sinning, for this new life has been born into him and controls him—he has been born again.  (1 John 3:9  TLB)

We have seen the love God demonstrated in what Christ did for us.  His love dwells in us.  And yet, that doesn’t automatically mean we will live love-filled lives.  There is an almost urgent call in this passage to live up to what has happened to us.  The life of love, to some degree, must be learned and practiced.  Once again, there is a distinction between what Christ has done for us—we are God’s children—and what we must do for ourselves—we can’t keep on sinning.  John is not teaching that Christians “can’t keep on sinning,” as in it is now impossible for us to sin.  He is telling us we “can’t keep on sinning,” we must not sin any more.

God’s children are holy because since we have been declared to be holy, we must put forth an effort to live holy lives.

  • Children of the devil, verses 8 

But if you keep on sinning, it shows that you belong to Satan, who since he first began to sin has kept steadily at it. But the Son of God came to destroy these works of the devil. (TLB)

Now here’s a disturbing verse.  If a person keeps on living in sin and never seems to demonstrate any kind of struggle to get out it, then that alone shows that he is not a child of God but, instead, a child of Satan.   John is not referring to “inadvertent sin.”  He’s referring to a life that is not motivated by love for God but rather one that is motivated by a desire and a readiness to not only listen to what the devil wants of you but actually doing what he wants.

The struggle to discern God’s voice from Satan’s is constant.  Christians need the help of the Holy Spirit in this effort.  Thomas Watson’s comments are encouraging to all who struggle with temptation:

Satan doth not tempt God’s children because they have sin in them, but because they have grace in them.  Had they no grace, the devil would not disturb them.  Though to be tempted is a trouble, to think why you are tempted is a comfort.

God’s children characterized by love, 1 John 3:11—18 

Here is another test of the validity of a person’s claim to be a child of God:

If we love other Christians, it proves that we have been delivered from hell and given eternal life. But a person who doesn’t have love for others is headed for eternal death.  (1 John 3:14  TLB)

Christians ought to have mutual love for each other.  The perfect antithesis of this “brotherly love” is what Cain did to his brother, Abel.  Cain killed Abel, and John includes the incident here because it is a powerful illustration of what happens when love is NOT one’s guiding principle.  One scholar put it this way:

The violent deed was only the last expression of the antipathy which righteousness always calls out in those who make evil the guiding principle of their life.

John concludes this portion of his letter with a plea:

My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.  (1 John 3:18 NKJV) 

John had written some pretty heavy things about love.  How far should we as Christians go in demonstrating it?  Should we give our lives for another, as Christ for us?  Should one Christian help another even he needs help himself?  Should a Christian buy shoes for somebody who needs them when he has no shoes himself?   Those are tough questions, and John knew his teachings were just as tough, which is why he goes back to calling his readers, “my little children.”  John Wesley, in response to these kinds of questions, said:

Give and lend to any so far (but not farther, for God never contradicts Himself) as is consistent with thy engagements to thy creditors, thy family, and the household of faith.

In other words, we can only do what we can do at any moment in time.  There may be a time when it is within our means to give a lot to those in need, whether material resources or emotional.  But then there may be times when we have very little to give.  Real love does as much as it can, when it can, for whomever it can.

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