Title: Faith, Love, and Obedience
Text: I John 4:20-5:4
FCF: We often struggle seeing the connections of faith, love, and obedience.
Prop: Because loving others is one of three tests that are all connected proving our new birth, we must examine ourselves for evidence of new birth.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to I John 4. Last week John indicated that people are in God and He in them when they love their fellow Christian. God’s love is perfected in and with His people. That means that there is a necessary correlation between loving other Christians and actually being a child of God. Now John moves to apply this from a couple different perspectives.
Today John will also wrap up yet another wave of teaching. He will finish another test for us to prove whether or not we are genuinely in fellowship with God. But today he will do something quite special. Simultaneously John will finish one wave, begin another, and review everything he has said up to this point. All in the span of 6 verses.
I am in I John 4 starting in verse 20. I’ll be reading from the NET again this morning but follow along in the version you prefer.
This is mostly a review sermon. Much of what we will discuss is what we have been discussing for the last several months. But don’t tune this out. We tend to forget what we learn when we learn it over long periods of time. I hope that with John reviewing all he has said in such a short section here that he will be able to crystalize everything he has said in one manageable message. That way it can sink deep into us this morning. Providing all of us either great comfort… or great trepidation. Once again I will include a verse from our previous sermon to help give us a jump start into where we are going today.
I.) Because loving other believers is a product of loving God, we must examine ourselves for evidence of new birth. (19-21)
a. [Slide 2] 19 – We love because he loved us first.
i. Last week we noted that there is no object of our love listed in this verse. Some versions say we love God, others say we love one another, but in reality, John could be saying a far broader and more powerful thing.
ii. The only reason we love anyone or anything with a love that is godly, is because God loved us first.
iii. Fallen mankind is spiritually unable to show godly love in any capacity. They can show love of a less than godly sort – complete with the various distortions that brings.
iv. But godly love only has one source. And that is God himself. And only those who have received the Love of God which is His Son making atonement for their sins – it is only those who are able to love anyone or anything with the love of God.
v. This becomes the great theological underpinning to what John is going to conclude about our practice.
vi. John’s argument has been built. God’s love is perfected in all those who are His children and have His Spirit. He is the source of their love if they love - so now the conclusion is inescapable.
b. [Slide 3] 20 – If anyone says “I love God” and yet hates his fellow Christian, he is a liar,
i. What John says in the next 6 verses are two sides of the same coin. They are two examples of love that cannot be from God, but when these two halves are married, the only explanation is a love that IS from God.
ii. The first side of this two-sided coin is a love for God that is not also a love for fellow Christians.
iii. We spoke about this previously, but the near eastern concept of love and hate are worded in absolutes. We ought not read this as if there are only two options loving other Christians with God’s love or trying to kill them, and there is no in-between.
iv. But we also must not read this with perfection language either. Anyone who does not love his fellow Christian like God all the time without exception… actually hates them.
v. Instead we should see this as general life practice. Anyone who does not show godly love toward his fellow Christians as a lifestyle – is actually hating his fellow Christians. Anything less than godly love is hate. And when that is not our lifestyle, then we not only show them hate but it could be said that we hate them.
vi. John then says that if a person but has this lifestyle of hate, this lifestyle of the absence of godly love for his brother, that he is lying when he claims that he loves God.
c. [Slide 4] because the one who does not love his fellow Christian whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
i. Remember, John said before that no one had seen God. No man had laid eyes on Him because if they had – according to God Himself – they would not live through it.
ii. So how do men see God? One way they see Him is through the lives of His elect.
iii. So John’s point is nothing but logical.
iv. How can someone say he loves God, whom He has never been able to approach, when he hates God’s very representatives on earth?
v. It cannot be. It is impossible – no – it is scandalous.
vi. Indeed – it is not only a logical impossibility but it is also a violation of God’s law…
d. [Slide 5] 21 – And the commandment we have from him is this: that the one who loves God should love his fellow Christian too.
i. There is no ifs, ands or buts about it
ii. If a man loves God, he should also love other Christians.
iii. Again, it goes back to the reason we love at all – is because God loved us first. And so, is it possible to love God yet hate those who have His love in them? Is it possible to love God and hate those who are His representatives on earth? Absolutely not!
e. [Slide 6] Passage Truth: So John to his readers makes absolutely no mistake about his point. Certainly, he is addressing the secessionists who left their group and treated them with contempt. But he speaks these words as not only a rebuke to the secessionists but as a comfort to his readers. Those that left them cannot possibly be telling the truth that they love God. Why? Because you cannot love God and hate His people.
f. Passage Application: His application then is for his readers to take comfort. They have been assured that they are God’s children and therefore, those who are claiming to love God and hate them are lying about loving God. They are the ones missing something – not John’s readers.
g. [Slide 7] Broader Biblical Truth: As we zoom out from the context of I John, we see the command to love one another consistent throughout the scriptures. It is broadly applied to our neighbor – meaning any we come into contact with who could use our help. But doubly applied by our Savior for others who are disciples of Christ. You cannot claim to love God without loving your fellow Christians. So specifically, in reference toward other Christians, loving them is a product of loving God. Therefore, without a love for other Christians – It cannot be true that we love God.
h. Broader Biblical Application: So what does this mean for us by way of application. Again, we are not John’s readers. John is not necessarily giving comfort to all who read his letter. Only the original readers. So as we have seen since the beginning of I John, we have two basic responses to what he says. We can either cry out in a hearty AMEN, praising the Lord that He has raised up in us His love for His people which validates our claim to love Him. Or you can wonder and worry, fret and fear, knowing that although you have claimed to love God – you certainly have no self-sacrificing, unconditional, enduringly loyal love for His people – and therefore you are lying to yourself about your love for God. If this is you, you must search your heart to see if you are truly His and He is yours. Because if that is the case – His love should be in you and perfected with you. Are you truly His?
[Slide 8 (blank)] But is the flip side of this argument also true? If you claim to love God but hate His people you are a liar. But what if you claim to love His people but don’t love Him? What does it mean to love God anyway?
II.) Because faith, obedience, and love are all tests of being new birthed, we must examine ourselves for evidence of new birth. (5:1-4)
a. [Slide 9] 5:1 – Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been fathered by God
i. There are two concurrent points happening in chapter 5 which I believe is the cause for many commentators to divide it from what John just said.
ii. It is clear as you will see that John is taking what he said in the last few verses of chapter 4 and giving us the other side of that discussion. However, it is also clear that John uses the beginning of chapter 5 to review what he has been saying since the beginning of this book.
iii. I will do my best to pick up both threads for you.
iv. So, everyone who is believing that Jesus is the Messiah of God
v. This person has been born into the family of God. He has been spiritually remade. The seed of God resides in Him.
vi. In other words – John is reviewing one of the first tests that he had given. If a person has faith that Jesus is the Christ – that is a sign that he has been fathered by God. Because none can believe and continue to believe this unless they have been brought to life by God. So they have passed one test.
vii. But… read on
b. [Slide 10] And everyone who loves the Father loves the child fathered by Him.
i. Since we have been born into this new spiritual family, given the Spirit of God, and adopted as sons and daughters – it is not only logical, but assured that we will not only love God the Father, but that we will also love all those who are like us. The called-out ones.
ii. So here is the second test - love. Faith the first, love the second.
iii. Not only will a person fathered by God express ongoing faith in His Son Jesus Christ, but he will also express ongoing love toward others who have been born of God. Dependence on Christ and love for other believers are two tests for whether or not you are a child of God. And John has been communicating these two tests since I John 1:1.
iv. But coming back to the more immediate context…
v. Before, he said that if you say you love God and hate your fellow Christian than you are a liar.
vi. Now he approaches the test of love from the other angle. Not testing your love for God, but rather testing your love for His children.
c. [Slide 11] 2 – By this we know that we love the children of God:
i. There is a way that we can know or be confident that we love God’s children. How is that? How can we be confident that our love for God’s children is genuine love? How do we know that we aren’t lying to ourselves? How do we know that the love we are giving God’s children, is the love that God has given us? How do we know that we have passed the test of love?
ii. Now if you or I were writing this we might include something like
1. Giving gifts to them
2. Praying for them
3. Spending time with them
4. Meeting their needs
5. Or teaching them the ways of God.
iii. All of these are true – but John has a much larger point in view here.
iv. So how do we know we have passed the test of love for our fellow Christians?
d. [Slide 12] Whenever we love God and obey His commandments
i. And right there John flips around what he had said at the end of chapter 4.
ii. Not only is it a lie to say you love God while hating your fellow Christian, but also, it is only possible to know that you genuinely love your fellow Christian while you are loving and are obeying God.
iii. [Slide 13] Smalley – “we love God’s children properly by loving God Himself obediently”
iv. Obeying God certainly will produce those acts we mentioned before. Giving gifts, meeting needs etc. But John turns those actions, not toward the Christian, but toward their rightful audience. God. Our love for other Christians is primarily motivated and aimed at God Himself. That is the ONLY way we can love His people properly.
v. But why is obedience linked to loving God? John explains…
e. [Slide 14] 3 – For this is the love of God: That we keep His commandments.
i. So far, in the entire book of I John, John has given 3 broad tests. Faith, love and obedience.
ii. He mixes and matches them, but never before has he shoved them all together. But here he has done so in three verses.
iii. Being born of God produces faith in Christ, love for our brothers and sisters, and finally – the love of God which is obedience.
iv. Why is obeying God linked with loving him? Well that is what John answers here. Because the love of God IS keeping His commands.
v. But we are left to wonder…
vi. Is this God’s love in us, our love for God, or His love for us?
vii. All of them make a lot of sense. And again, John leaves this noticeably opaque. What do each mean?
viii. [Slide 15A] God’s love in us = keeping His commands - This means that God’s love in us is the passion and power behind our keeping His commands. Which means that none of us obey because we love Him of our own love, but rather we obey Him on borrowed love. We love Him with His love. We obey Him with His love.
ix. [Slide 15B] Our love for God = keeping His commands - This means that no man can claim to love Him if He does not also obey what He has said. You can’t love God and live in purposeful, willing opposition to Him. So if your love for God is disproven by disobedience, and loving His children requires love for Him, then you don’t actually love his children either. It all crumbles.
x. [Slide 15C] God’s love for us = keeping His commands - This means that God loved us so much that He has made it not only possible, but guaranteed that we will keep His commandments.
xi. All of these are true according to other passages of scripture and therefore all of these are valid.
xii. And I would say that as John continues here – we find all three of them to be true even in this passage. Why do I say that?
f. [Slide 16] And His commandments do not weigh us down,
i. God’s commandments are not weights for those whom God has fathered.
ii. The one who is new birthed is not only able to keep His commands but they are assured that they will.
g. [Slide 17] 4 – because everyone who has been fathered by God conquers the world.
i. Here is the absolute guarantee.
&nnbsp; ii. Everyone who is new birthed will remain that way and will ultimately conquer the world.
iii. This is genuine unchanging truth.
iv. Now we can lie to ourselves or be deceived to think that we are new birthed when we aren’t. That is where these three tests come into play.
v. But all who have genuinely been fathered of God – overcome the world. He will lose none of those whom He brings to new life in His Son.
vi. By what means or power has God enabled us to so certainly conquer the world?
h. [Slide 18] This is the conquering power that has conquered the world: our faith.
i. Our faith.
ii. Question – after spending so much time with John, and His constant pointing to God to get all glory from everything He is making us to be – how likely is it that John means the faith that we show by saying our faith?
iii. Indeed, it would deflate everything that he has shown us about who this God is.
iv. It is not our having faith that conquers the world but rather the faith itself. The truth we have received and clung to.
v. Faith that the writer of Hebrews says is authored, created, flows out of Jesus Christ, and further, is finished, completed and perfected by Jesus Christ.
vi. Jesus said to come unto him because His yoke was easy and His burden light. As we studied this in Matthew, we discovered that he wasn’t talking about bringing our problems to Him – but rather – bearing the burden of the weight of God’s law. He tells us that he will bear that yoke with us and his yoke is easy.
vii. One faith, One Lord, - Jesus Christ the Righteous One. That is the conquering power that has conquered the world. What do we believe in? Do we believe in our own belief? NO! God forbid! We believe in Christ Alone!
viii. He is this faith that has overcome the world.
ix. Indeed if you peek ahead to verse 5 – that is exactly what he goes on to say. But we’ll get there next week.
x. And so, John’s three tests are on display for his readers. Faith, love, and obedience. And they are inextricably woven together.
xi. You can obey because of the conquering power of the object of our faith – Jesus Christ.
xii. In obedience you show God’s love in you, God’s love for you, and your love for Him.
xiii. And it is in that love for Him that we gain confidence that we genuinely love His children.
xiv. Take away any of those pegs and it all crumbles.
i. [Slide 19] Passage Truth: So as I said, John’s point is twofold here. First, in the immediate context he gives the second half of the love test to his readers. Not testing their love for God, but rather their love for their brothers in Christ. That love is proven genuine by their love for God and obedience to Him. But within that are these three tests reviewed for his readers masterfully in 4 short verses. Faith producing obedience producing love all proving a person to be genuinely fathered by God.
j. Passage Application: And his point for his readers? Continued comfort. Be comforted that you are full of faith, obedient to God, and full of love for one another – and therefore you have been fathered by God. Walk in this assurance.
k. [Slide 20] Broader Biblical Truth: As we zoom out of this context to the whole of scripture, we see these two concepts woven to all of scripture too. Jesus has said that if we love God we will keep his commands. And he has commanded that we love other believers with His love. So we know that these two are woven to one another. Furthermore, it is revealed in all scripture that people walk by faith, in obedience, and love when they are God’s people.
l. Broader Biblical Application: So again, we are forced to take these tests and hold them up against what we see in our lives. Do we have enduring faith in Christ? Do we, in Christ, have a lifestyle of obedience proving that we love God? Do we, in obedience, love our brothers and sisters in Christ? If we can say that these are generally true of us, that we are this kind of person – the only option is that we have been fathered of God. However, if this is not you. If the laws of God are a burden. If loving other Christians is a weight. If you depend on you and not on Christ. Then you have no grounds for assurance. Take no comfort from this message. Take only concern. Seek the Lord that He may truly grant you a rebirth into His family.
[Slide 21 (blank)] So how then shall we live?
God’s true children are people of faith, obedience, and love.
We endure in our confession, holding to the doctrine that we have been taught and have received – not in our own private interpretation, but conforming to what the church has believed since the time of the apostles.
We persevere in obedience. We keep God’s law. And it is not burdensome to us. Why? Because our faith, Jesus Christ, has overcome the world. He has overcome all that stands in the way of us obeying His word. And so, in faith, we step out in obedience and find obedience to be a weight that we can bear in Christ’s yoke.
And we abide in love toward our fellow Christians. We do so because in obedience we show that we love God and our love for God produces in us a love for those fathered by God. And since our obedience is a weight we can bear in faith, we can also abide in love toward our fellow Christians without a weight added to us. In faith we do also love those fathered by God.
[Slide 22 (end)] “He has not chosen three tests arbitrarily or at random and stuck them together artificially. On the contrary, he shows that they are so closely woven together into a single, coherent fabric that it is difficult to unpick and disentangle the threads… We cannot believe in Jesus Christ without loving the Father and his children; we cannot love the Father without obeying His commands and overcoming the world; and we cannot overcome the world without believing in Jesus Christ. So this compressed paragraph begins and ends with belief, but between these two termini is concerned with love and obedience. The real link between the three tests is seen to be the new birth. Faith, love, and obedience are all the natural growth which follows a birth from above…” Stott
Is this you friend? If so, take comfort and assurance that you are His child and that He has given you… SO. MUCH. Everything really.
If this isn’t you – there is nothing you can do to get it… but you can pursue the God who grants new birth. You can seek Him. He promises that those who diligently seek Him, will find Him.