In a recent devotional on Matthew 25, I presented Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish virgins, where the Lord’s message is clear: there is an eternal difference between those who know about Me and those who know Me. It is vitally important that we know that difference for our own lives. Thankfully the Bible gives us a very clear-cut way to examine ourselves and know the truth. I encourage you to grab your Bible and follow along as we read in 1 John (almost at the end of the Bible).
The book of 1 John was written by one of Jesus’ disciples, the same John who wrote the gospel of John and the book of Revelation. 1 John is part of three letters written to the church in Ephesus, which was under attack by false teachers. A group of philosophers, known as Gnostics had infiltrated the church, claiming a “higher, secret truth” that set them apart from the common Christian. They deemed themselves above the teachings of the Scriptures and the Church with a superior holiness that excused their sinful behaviors, yet they still called themselves “Christians”. (Hmmm, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) So the old apostle takes pen in hand and says, there is only one God, only one truth, and this is how you can know where you stand. Ready? Let’s dig in!
John says that those who belong to God “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7) “as Jesus did” (2:6). The child of God choses to live in the light, where their deeds are visible. By contrast, those who do not belong to God “walk in the darkness” (1:6, 11) where their deeds are hidden, they think, from God and men. The child of God “does not love the world” (2:15), meaning the twisted and evil value system of the world. But those who do not belong to God “love the world” (2:15). Their hearts are drawn to what the world values: sex, power, money, deception . . .
The heart of the child of God “is at peace with God” (3:21) because he “listens to God” (4:6). He “obeys [Jesus’] commands” (2:3), “does what is right” (2:29; 3:10), and “does not continue to live in sin” (3:16). When he does falter, which is the exception rather than the rule (2:1), he is quick to “confess [his] sins” (1:9) and be forgiven and purified. The heart of the one who does not belong to God “condemns him before God” (3:21) because he listens to the world. He “does not do what is right” (3:10) and “does not obey [Jesus’] commands” (2:4). He “continues to [live in] sin” (3:6, 10) and then “denies his sin” (1:8). Those who do not belong to God have convinced themselves that their actions are not sinful because they “speak the world’s viewpoint” and “the world listens to them” (4:5-6). Just let that statement sink in for a minute.
Those who belong to God enjoy “fellowship with one another” (1:7), and “love their brother/sister [in Christ]” (2:10 and multiple verses). They love the company of believers, love to gather with the church, and love one another sacrificially (3:16-19) “in action and truth” (3:18). The one who does not belong to God hates those who are in Christ (2:9 and multiple verses); they “do not love” (3:14, 4:8), and certainly do not love sacrificially. “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has not pity on him, how can the love of God be in him” (3:17)?
Those who belong to God “believe that Jesus is the Christ . . . the Son of God” (2:20-23; 5:5), because they “know the truth” (2:20). They “love the Father” (5:1-2) and “do not fear punishment” (4:18) because they have “Christ’s Spirit within them” (3:24). Those who do not belong to God are “liars” who “deny that Jesus is the Christ . . . the Son of God” (2:22-23; 5:10) because they “do not know the truth” (2:20). They “do not love the Father” (5:1) and “fear God’s punishment” (4:18) because they do not have Christ’s Spirit (3:24).
One of the most telling and public ways of discerning the difference in God’s people and those with a pseudo-faith is how they respond to persecution. In John’s day the claim of Christianity was often a death sentence. Many who enjoyed the church’s benefits, when pressed with the decision to deny Christ or die, chose to “turn away” (2:19) rather than suffer for the name of Jesus. Those who stood fast in their love and devotion to Christ did so at the risk of severe punishment and death. In other parts of the world today, Christians are being murdered for their faith. In the West, the risks are more subtle—for now—but it is clear that the tide is quickly turning and those who love Jesus will be faced with greater oppression. John says that those who belong to God will remain faithful to their confession of Jesus as their Lord (2:21). The time is coming—soon—when our true relationship with God will be a public, and possibly deadly matter. The evidence of the true child of God shows up in our conduct, our love, and our willingness to stand firm and persevere when being a Christian isn’t popular anymore.
As you come to the end of this devotional, there are two ways to consider this message. You are either assured of your standing as a child of God, or you are convicted by what is true of your life and beliefs. I pray you do not walk away without settling the matter. Beloved, how is it with you and God today?
Holy Father, we stand before You in the light of Your Word. The truth is clear and we cannot deny it. Help us to be honest in our answers. Help us to open our hearts to You. Amen.