By Sam E. Stone
It is easy to understand why John has often been referred to as “the apostle of love.” That theme runs throughout the letters that he wrote to the first-century church. Today’s text is the third time in this epistle when John described love as the supreme test of the Christian life (1 John 2:7-11; 3:11-18). In 1 John 4 he emphasized the sacrificial love shown by God’s revelation in Christ. John also outlined ways we can be assured God lives in us and that we abide in God (vv. 13-21).
Trust in the World’s Savior
1 John 4:13-16
All Christians are given the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). The Spirit works with and through the Word of God in our lives (1 Corinthians 2:14-16; Romans 8:13; Ephesians 3:16).
We have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. That is the essence of the gospel (compare John 3:16). When believers sincerely make the good confession (Matthew 16:16; 1 Timothy 6:12), they can be confident of God’s promise (1 Corinthians 12:3; Romans 10:6-12). John reminded his readers, Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. In both who he is and what he does, God is always completely loving. By our loving actions we demonstrate that we love him as well.
Trust in Perfect Love
1 John 4:17-21
We can have complete confidence on the day of judgment when we live like him now. Christians are to be like Christ. If we trust in God’s love toward us, that love can be perfected (made complete) as it accomplishes its purpose in our lives (1 John 2:5; 4:12). We mature as we demonstrate our complete faith in God’s love.
A slave might be afraid of his master (Romans 8:15), but the master’s son has no fear because he is confident of his father’s love (compare 1 Corinthians 13). All who are right with God can confidently trust in his love. The initiative of love always begins with God. If we love God, we must love his children (Matthew 22:37-40). John emphasized again the words of Jesus recorded in his Gospel (John 13:34; Mark 12:29-31).
Trust in God’s Victory
1 John 5:1-5
In 1 John 5 the topic begun in the previous section continues, showing that Christians are to love their brothers and sisters. Such love gives evidence that one has been born again (John 3:3). Three tests to determine who is born again were listed in 1 John 2: obedience (vv. 3-6), love (7-11), and belief (18-27). In chapter 5, the three tests are again emphasized: belief (vv. 1, 4, 5), love (vv. 1-3), obedience (vv. 2, 3). Those who believe that Jesus is the Christ are born of God. Their faith includes consistent action. In contrast to the Gnostics, one must believe in the Christ who died and rose again.
One way we show our faith is to love God’s children. Simply claiming to love someone is not enough; action must back up the claim. Evidence of our relationship with the Father is seen in how we treat our brothers and sisters, since they are his children too.
Jesus said plainly, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). His commands are not burdensome. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day placed heavy demands and restrictions on their followers (Matthew 23:4). Jesus didn’t. On the contrary, he said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (11:30).
J. W. Roberts added, “Loving sons find the wishes of a good father a delight; a wise father asks only what is good, acceptable, and perfect according to his will (Romans 12:2). This does not mean that it will always be easy to do what God asks. But it means that God’s demands are not beyond our human limits (1 Corinthians 10:13) and also that he will always give power to do what he asks (Philippians 4:3; Ephesians 3:16-21).”
The night before his death, Jesus encouraged his disciples with the thrilling words, “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Because of his victory, all who are born of God can overcome the world as well. There is no merit simply in believing. The power resides in the one in whom we believe—Jesus. Three times in three successive sentences, John repeated the phrase overcomes the world. Such faith conquers. Born again with a new and living faith, the Christian believes in Jesus, obeys his will, and loves both God and those he created.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.