THOUGHTS FROM JOHN’S LETTERS

THE EVIDENCE OF TRUE FAITH

In 1John 4:7 – 21 John mentions several things that are true of everyone who really is a Christian:

They are ‘born of God’ – verse 7.
They know God – verse 7.
God lives in them – verses 12, 13, 15, 16.
They live in God – verses 13, 15, 16.
They know, and rely on, God’s love for them – verse 16.

These truths, and others that he has mentioned in this letter, make it very clear that Christians are, in God’s sight, quite distinct from the world in which they live. Indeed, they are so distinct from the world that the world hates them. As John stated in 3:13 ‘Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.’

Jesus affirmed this distinction, and the world’s hatred, in his prayer in John 17:6, 14, 16: ‘I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world ... I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world ... They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.’

Christians are ‘born of God’: ‘the world’ is not.
Christians know God: ‘the world’ does not.
God lives in Christians: he does not live in those who are still ‘the world’.
Christians live in God: ‘the world’ does not.
Christians know God’s love: ‘the world’ does not.
Christians rely on God’s love: ‘the world’ does not.

Christians used to belong to ‘the world’, but now they don’t. They used to have all the characteristics of ‘the world’, but now they don’t. They have a new identity. And it is important to ask questions about this, especially the questions ‘What made the difference?’ and ‘What evidence is there that this significant change has taken place?’

John teaches us in his letter that all of these truths are dependent on two conditions. These conditions, if we may call them ‘conditions’, identify people who are truly Christians, true believers in Jesus Christ.

The first ‘condition’ is that we acknowledge that the man Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

‘If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God’ – 4:15.

‘Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God’ – 5:1.

This recognition/confession of Jesus Christ as Lord is the one thing needed on our part for this divisive change to occur; we could call it the instrumental cause of our salvation. In terms of theological necessity, it precedes the above truths. But in terms of ordinary time, the above truths become effective at the very moment we express our acknowledgement of Christ.

As Paul stated ‘by grace you have been saved, through faith’ (Ephesians 2:8), and ‘if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved’ (Romans 10:9).

And as Jesus said ‘Unless you believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins’ (John 8:24).

This acknowledgement is a once-for-all time acknowledgement of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Aorist Tense in 4:15), which goes hand in hand with a present, on-going belief in Jesus Christ (Present Tense in 5:1). True acknowledgement of Jesus Christ persists; a ‘faith’ that lasts only for a short while is not biblical faith. True faith knows who Jesus is; it will never give him up for another.

The second ‘condition’ is that we love one another. John states this in multiple verses. This condition is evidential. It does not make a person a Christian; rather, it is an evidence that a person who claims to believe in Jesus Christ is a Christian. It can only occur after the above truths have been applied. It is the continuing evidence, produced by the Spirit of God, in those whose confession of faith is genuine – those who have really received him by receiving his Son. The commands and expectations that we love one another are in the present tense. John has made it clear earlier in his letter that love for fellow believers will characterize those who believe in Jesus Christ.

‘Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness’ – 2:9.

‘We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death’ – 3:14.

In summary: the ‘evidence’ of true Christian faith is (1) that we acknowledge Jesus is the Son of God, and (2) that our lives are characterised by love for one another.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2022