16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
1 John 3:16-18
In 1 John chapter 3, John continues with his examples of righteous vs. worldly living. In the previous chapters he describes this dichotomy as walking in the light instead of the darkness or loving and abiding in God instead of loving and abiding in the world. In chapter 3, John reveals to his audience that there is evidential fruit in being children of God, just as there are in the previous examples of walking in the light and abiding in God.
7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
1 John 3:7-10
John stresses that he does not want his readers to be deceived, for they were constantly bombarded with false doctrines such as Gnosticism (which teaches abstinence from the material world). John’s teaching on the avoidance of the world had nothing to do with using the world’s goods or being amongst worldly people. It was about sin. He did not want anyone to be confused that true Christianity meant simply adhering to a way of living. Being a child of God does not mean recognizing authority and therefore doing what you are told. It means that you bear the image of the Father. At creation, humanity was made in the image of God and at the fall, that image was tainted by sin. Christ came, bearing all that the Father was, being the true image of God and reconciled us as image bearers. In Christ, we no longer are the tainted image but the restored one.
Therefore, if we have been born of God and are his true children, we will look like God. Anyone who makes a practice of sinning cannot be born of God, who is without sin and unrighteousness. By process of elimination, you can see that it is evident that those who do not reflect the characteristics of God are children of the devil, who sinned from the beginning, becoming an enemy of God.
John points out at the end of verse 10 that the summarizing difference between children of God and those of the devil is whether or not they love their brother.
11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
1 John 3:11-15
The new commandment that Jesus gave did not replace the old but completed it, that we are to love one another as Christ had loved us. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that by living out the commandment to love one another, all will know that they are his disciples. John brings up the story of Cain and Abel and says that Cain murdered his brother because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Therefore, he tells his audience that you should not be surprised when the world hates you. The command is to love our brothers, not the world. Not the kind of love that is by word or talk but by truth and deed. Does this mean that we are called to love only those within the church and not outside? No, because the world is not a word used to describe the people or things outside of the church. He refers to our flesh, worldliness and characteristics outside of God and to the giving of ourselves to these things.
The pure evidence of being a child of God is how we love each other. John seems to assume that it is easier for the Christian to aim to please the world with their actions rather than God. Why? Because it appeals to our flesh. It is easier to be selfish, self-righteous, greedy, unloving, prideful, and unkind. And they work in us in ways that we often do not realize. The righteousness of God is harder to achieve. It calls for suffering and a standard of living that is impossible to attain or sustain on our own.
The reason why loving one another is a sign that we are children of God is because it directly reflects the kind of love God has for us. If we bear the fruit of that love, it is a sure sign that we abide in Christ. We confidently come before him knowing that we are saved and changed by his gracious, sacrificial love.
Even when our hearts condemn us to sin, we know that God is greater than our hearts. It is only through Jesus that we can love and live to please God. As our hearts are changed by his love, we are finally able to obey his commandments. Not only that, we desire the things that he desires for us. He is a good Father, who desires to give us good things. And this is evident in the fact that he not only gave us his Son, who laid his life down for our sake, but he also gave us his Spirit who reveals to us the love of Christ and by who’s power we may abide in him.
19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him;20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
1 John 3:19-24