1 John 3:13-24.
The Surety of Your Salvation

American Journal of Biblical Theology, www.biblicaltheology.com
Copyright © 2015, John W. (Jack) Carter     Scripture quotes from KJV

Somehow, in the process of attempting to find some continuity in the news headlines that have been published over the last few months, I am reminded of the title of an old sixties movie, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”[1]  I remember it, not for a plot that involved a mad dash by a mixed group of people for the prize of a buried treasure, but for the insanity and chaos that was the product of their greed.  Like the characters that were engaged on an insane sequence of works that served only to lead them to their own destruction, this world seems to be in an ever-accelerating dash towards its own.  Caught in the torrent of lies, lives are swept away from opportunities to hear and respond to the gospel.  Consider for a moment how John describes this in the Revelation.

Revelation 12:15.  And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.

A torrent flows from the mouth of Satan.  We might pause for a moment and consider what John described in Revelation 1:16 as coming from the mouth of the LORD: a sword that He later defines as a metaphor that represents the Word of God.  We may observe a similar metaphor here, but instead of a sword, what words spew from the mouth of Satan?  Out of Satan's mouth proceeds an endless flood of lies and deceit that serve to mislead and misdirect those who would listen to his words, exercising a form of power over those he has influence, including both those who are lost and those who are faithful believers.  It is Satan’s plan to mislead people, and by so doing mislead the church itself, pulling the church away from its intended purpose by the force of the current of his unending stream of deceit, half-truths, and lies.  Satan's purpose is served when the church turns from its intended purpose and becomes embroiled in internal sin-based strife as individuals work to spread discord and disunity in the body.[2]

This world is in a mad rush down-hill, much like the torrent of an uncontrolled flood, and navigating its power is a difficult task for even the most faithful Christian. One might envision the task as attempting to paddle a canoe upstream in a raging, flood.  Not only is the current working to defeat you and waves working to overwhelm you, the water is filled with debris that buffets the canoe as you work to break through it.  Such a task would be daunting, tiring, and even dangerous.  Yet, this is the task of every faithful Christian as they attempt to live a life that is obedient to God’s Word as led and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

To live an obedient, faithful, Christian life, one has no choice but to reject the torrent of lies that spew from the mouth of the evil one, and by so doing, take a stand against most of the belief and behavior systems of this world.  There are consequences to such a choice:

1 John 3:13.  Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.

The early church resisted the ungodly systems of belief and behavior that surrounded them.  As a result, they were hated by those who affirmed those beliefs.  The truth of God’s Word serves to illuminate the sinfulness of this world that hides in the darkness of satan’s powerless domain.  That illumination only serves to enrage those who prefer to live in darkness, those who cannot allow their sinful and godless behavior to be exposed.  It has been said that if you correct a fool, he will hate you; but if you correct a wise man, he will thank you.[3]  Consequently, when one takes a stand for the truth, the world will hate him. 

1 John 3:14-15.  We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. 15Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

Hate is a powerful tool, and serves to clearly identify those who are surrendered to the prince of darkness.  Many of this worlds systems of belief and behavior stand on a platform of hate.  Most of this world’s systems of belief, particularly those that are totalitarian in nature, consider their adherents to be the only people of intrinsic worth, and despise all others, considering them to be worthless, ignorant, and deserving only persecution and death.  Such is the motivation behind every one of thousands of examples of genocide that punctuate the history of man. 

The word for “murderer” in this passage can be understood to refer to one who lives for the genocide of all those whom he despises.  This is the very opposite of the nature of a person who has placed their faith and trust in God.  The foundation upon which a Christian stands is agape love, not hate.  An important property of agape love is that it is a deliberate love that is given unconditionally to all people.  Consequently, there is absolutely no place for the expression of hatred of others in the spirit of a faithful Christian.  

John uses this contrast between those who demonstrate the love of God for others and those who express the hatred of others as a defining line between eternal salvation and eternal death.  Agape love is a gift of God, given to all of those who have placed their faith and trust in Him.  There is no other source of agape, and no other form of its expression other than within the context of Christian faith.  Those who stand on agape have “passed from death unto life,” since, prior to their submission to the LORD, all people lack the capacity for agape love, and are numbered only among the murderers, those who have the capacity to hate.

1 John 3:16.  Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

Those who are familiar with the biblical narrative might look at the verse address of this passage and compare it with the most well-known of biblical texts, John 3:16, finding their message to be quite similar.  However, the assignment of biblical chapter and verse designations was not made until the 13th century, making any intentional connection by the author irrelevant.[4]

How do we know that the love that we express is the agape love of God rather than the carnal phileo love of this world?  John gives several examples of how agape love inspires one to respond to others in ways that phileo does not.

The first characteristic is a self-sacrifice for others that is modeled on the self-sacrifice that the LORD made for us.  Self-sacrifice, to the point of death, is certainly a characteristic of phileo love, as comrades in arms, friends, family members, and others have frequently given their lives for each other.  However, the self-sacrifice that is characteristic of phileo is conditional: it is always applied to a specific person or people for a specific cause, and is conditional both upon those persons and the cause. 

The love of God that was demonstrated by Jesus’ death on the cross was based on God’s unconditional love for all people.  The self-sacrifice that is motivated by agape love is unconditional.  One who is motivated by agape love will, without a second thought, demonstrate self-sacrifice for a stranger without regard for any form of reward or recognition.  The sacrifice that God made when, through the person of Jesus, the Messiah, YAHWEH, He submitted Himself to evil men and gave His live on the Cross of Calvary was a clear demonstration of the nature of agape love.  Jesus willingly and deliberately allowed Himself to be tortured and killed so that those who place their trust in Him could be saved. 

This sacrifice gives us a glimpse of the love that God has for the people of His creation.  There is literally no limit to His love, and what He will do to bring people to Himself.  Jesus did not wait for people to earn His love.  This form of love is unconditional, accepting people as they are without reservation.

It is reasonable that, as John is attempting to teach Christians to recognize a fraud, he invites the church to observe the attitudes and actions of the heretics, and they will find no such unconditional love in their lives.

1 John 3:17.  But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?

Another characteristic of agape love is that those who practice it demonstrate unconditional compassion.  The nature of a person of faith is shaped by the presence of the Holy Spirit in their heart, a heart that now cares for others in the same way that the LORD cares for others.  It is literally impossible for a person of faith to encounter the need of another without being moved to action.  Where the world expresses sympathy, the Christian expresses compassion.  Sympathy is, literally, taking upon one’s self a similar understanding of what another person is going through.  One might refer to one who is expressing sympathy as one who would “hurt alongside” the other.  However, sympathy is simply an emotion, a realization of what another is feeling.  However, sympathy requires no action.  “I feel sorry for you” is an expression of sympathy.

Compassion can be understood as sympathy in action, what the point of that action is to minister to the one in need.  The combination of sympathy and agape love demands action.  The person of faith simply cannot easily separate himself/herself from the person in need, spontaneously desiring, and when possible, working to minister.  When we observe the compassion of Jesus, that expression of compassion was always followed by ministry to the one in need.

This drive to compassion is another indicator of the presence of true agape love in the life of a Christian.  When a person is able to express sympathy without compassion, it is evident that the love of God is not in Him.  Again, “love of God” is a reference to agape love

1 John 3:18.  My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

If compassion is sympathy in action, what type of action is motivated by agape love?  Those who do not love the LORD and do not express agape-led compassion will often respond to the needs of others with words.  Some common expressions might be “I’ll pray for you.”  “If there is anything that I can do, let me know.”   One infamous response is, “I feel your pain,”[5]  The word can also be expressed in writing, as we refer to the biblical text as the Word of God.  Sympathy can be shown by writing cards and letters, and there are some occasions when that is all one can do.  However, writing cards and letters or speaking words may serve to encourage, but does little to actually help a person in need, and requires little or no sacrifice.

Unconditional agape love is a sacrificial love.  John illustrates two subtle ways that love is demonstrated: in deed and in truth.  One who has agape-led compassion will respond in some form of action that serves to minister to the one in need with little or no thought of the sacrifice required.  To respond in deed is to respond in substantive action. 

Certainly, those who do not love the LORD can respond to another’s need with action, and a tremendous amount of good work has been done in the name of phileo love.  However, John also states that the work of compassion is done “in truth.”  The biblical narrative uses this word for truth to describe the Word of God.  A work of compassion that is done in truth is done for the glory of God out of love for Him and for the person (or persons) in need.  A faithful Christian cannot be separated from the Holy Spirit, and cannot be separated from the love of God.  Consequently, the work of compassion done by a faithful Christian is motivated by the same. 

When one observes the work of another, it is evident whether their work of sympathy is motivated by truly agape-led compassion, or by the worldly phileo that is carnal, conditional, and often self-serving.  John encourages the faithful to be confident in their faith and demonstrate the courage needed to overcome the influences of this world and express compassion without reservation. 

1 John 3:19.  And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.

John has just described some of the natural responses to an encounter to another who is in need, separating those of faithful Christians from those who are not.  Having done this, he encourages each reader to look deep into their heart and assess the true nature of their works of compassion.  If we can confidently agree that our lives are characterized by selfless, sacrificing, and unconditional works of compassion that are done out of our love for the LORD and for the one in need, we can also be confident in our state as a born-again believer.  John states this to encourage those who might be discouraged in their faith and wonder about the voracity of their testimony of salvation. 

The heretics will work to convince the faithful that there is something lacking in them that is keeping them falling short of salvation.  John counters those arguments by personalizing the relationship between the individual and the LORD, and enabling them to both recognize that relationship and have confidence in it,

1 John 3:20-21.  For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. 21Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.

The faithful Christian does not need to seek the advice of another in order to determine the voracity of their faith.  The heretics are trying to convince the faithful that their faith is incomplete.  Likewise, the influences of this world work to do the same, either directly in heretical teaching, or indirectly through inference.  John calls upon the faithful to turn their focus away from others, and look into their own hearts where they will find the truth: a truth that will serve to either expose their lost state, or to illuminate the truth of their salvation. 

John also notes that, if we look into our hearts and find that our faith is false, all is not lost.  If our heart reveals our pending condemnation for sin, the story is not over, but just beginning.  God “is greater” than our heart.  We can instantly turn from this world and submit ourselves to the lordship, honor, and praise of our God. 

John reminds us to be confident in our faith when we look into our hearts and find the truth of God’s Word and the work of the Holy Spirit dwelling there, evidenced by our unconditional love for Him and our responsive and unconditional love for others.  We should not listen to those who would work to cause us to doubt our salvation, but stand confidently on the promises of God, rebuking the teaching of the heretics and enjoying the freedom of grace,

John 3:22.  And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.

Having described the attitudes and actions of one who has put their trust in the LORD, John takes the argument one step further by comparing the desire of our hearts and the purposes of God.  His statement “Whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him.” Has been taken out of context and abused for millennia.  This “name it and claim it” doctrine teaches that, because of this promise, anything that a truly faithful person asks of the LORD will be done.  There are at least two dramatic errors in this interpretation.

First, such an argument fails to take into account the will of God.  Many of the things that we ask for are not entirely in God’s will, and our asking is self-serving in nature.  We ask for what we want, not what the LORD wants.  Another grievous corollary of this argument is that if you we and the LORD does not respond in the manner that we prescribe, then the problem is not with the question: the problem is that our faith is not strong enough or good enough.  The heretic will then denigrate our faith and prescribe their own remedy to “the problem”

Second, such an argument places the authority of the “faithful” individual over the authority of God, reducing God to a form of credit card that we can pull out of our prayer wallet and cash in on those things that we want.

Both of these arguments become moot when we understand and apply the context of John’s message.  This phrase “because we keep His commandments,” is not a trivial portion of this passage.  The faithful Christian seeks to be obedient to the LORD in all they do.  As they press toward the mark, they actively and continually seek out the “bulls-eye” in the mark of the high calling of Jesus Christ.  Such a person is seeking the LORD’s will in all that they do instead of their own, and whenever sincerely and diligently seeks that will they will find it.[6]

1 John 3:23.  And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.

To this point, John has been describing the nature of true love verses false love.  He has given no orders or commands to his readers, reserving the imperative for the one command of the LORD: that salvation is found, not by becoming righteous, not by good works, but by believing on the “name” of Jesus, and then having done so, love one another as He has both commanded and empowered through the work of the Holy Spirit.

This concept of believing on the “name” of Jesus cannot be overlooked.  If this little word were left out, and salvation were found by belief in Jesus alone, even satan would be saved.  Satan believes in Jesus, and knows Him better than we.  Satan knows the Word of God better than we, as he works to twist it to his own purposes in our lives.

When the biblical narrative speaks of the “name” of an individual, or the “name” of God, it is referring to the whole of their identity and nature.  One is defined by their “name.”  We make little notice of how we select names, perhaps considering a little of its meaning, or selecting one that will remind us of another respected individual.  Jacob’s name was changed to Israel when his nature changed from one who strives against God (Jacob, Jake, Jack), to “one who prevails with God (Israel.)

To believe on the name of Jesus is to accept Him for all of who He is, which includes both Savior and LORD.  If Jesus is truly your LORD, then the desire of your heart is to accept Him in this appropriate role.  This means that we must move off of the throne of the center of our own lives and give that position to Jesus Christ.  Accepting Jesus as LORD is not making Him your copilot:  He is to be your pilot, with you surrendering control entirely to Him as you seek Him in all you do.  This is the means by which we love the LORD with all of our heart, soul, and mind.[7]

1 John 3:24.  And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.

When someone professes to believe in Jesus, the question can be asked, “Satan believes in Jesus too.  What is the difference between you and satan?”  The answer to that question can be revealing, and will probably stump a person whose profession of faith is insincere.  A sincere profession will easily answer the question:  a faithful believer loves the LORD and diligently seeks to obey Him in all areas of life.  Though satan believes everything about Jesus from first-hand knowledge he does not, nor ever will, love Him or seek to obey Him.

It is in this profession that we can know for certain that the Holy Spirit abides in us and our salvation is secure.  Keeping His commandments is accomplished by simply loving Him and submitting our attitudes and actions to that love, seeking the leadership of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Keeping His commandments is not accomplished by outlining all of the Old Testament law and diligently obeying each one.  If we try this, we will always fail, never keeping every facet of the law.  It is only by the grace of God that we find true righteousness, given by Him to those who love Him.

Consequently, the purpose of the Mosaic Law is two-fold.  First, it exposes sin, showing how we have all come short of perfection.  When we lack faith in God, we are already condemned as lawbreakers and face a death sentence: eternal separation from God.  However, Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not replace it.  Through Him the commandments of God are literally taken from the written documents and written on the hearts of the faithful, as one can now look into the heart for the prompting of the Holy Spirit when one seeks to make godly choices.

Have you ever doubted the reality of your salvation?  Have you ever been forced to doubt your salvation by the teaching of one who presents a convincing argument?  False teachers can be powerful when they feed upon your emotions.  John writes so that, if you have made a sincere profession of faith, you can know for certain that your salvation is secure.  With that assurance comes the peace that God has promised, and through Him we can find joy in knowing Him.  God’s purpose is that we would know Him, and through that relationship, know peace.  Looking to the Holy Spirit in your heart, be confident in God’s plan for you, and bold in your relationship with Him as you seek to learn more of Him every day, and draw closer to Him with each opportunity

[1] November 7, 1963.  It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.  Directed by Stanley Kramer, Written by William and Tania Rose, Distributed by Universal Pictures.

[2] Carter, John W. The Revelation of John: A Message of Encouragement for a Persecuted Church.  The Disciple’s Bible Commentary, Volume 49.  p. 231.

[3] Proverbs 8:8-9.

[4] The assignment of current New Testament chapter divisions is attributed to Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury around 1227 A.D.  Following its use in the Wycliffe English Bible of 1382, most subsequent Bibles have followed Langston’s format.  The Old Testament chapter and verse divisions are attributed to a Jewish Rabbi by the name of Nathan, and adapted by Robert Estienne who also added New Testament verses in 1555.  The Geneva Bible was the first to use Estienne’s structure, and has remained the standard for chapter and verse designations.

[5] Bill Clinton, Response to AIDS activist Bob Rafsky at the Laura Belle nightclub in Manhattan,March 27, 1992.

[6] Hebrews 11:6.

[7] Deuteronomy 6:5, 11:1, 13, 22, 13:3, 30:6, 16, 20; Joshua 22:5, 23:11; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27.