“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments.” (1 John 5:1-2)
How do we love people best? The Bible tells us that we really love our brothers and sisters if we love God and love to live a holy life before, just as He is holy. That is the argument of 1 John 5:2. John has been writing to give these Christians assurance that they are in Christ. Far from preaching a gospel of works, John gives evidences that one has already by justified by faith in Jesus Christ, the righteous advocate (1 John 2:1). These include three major tests: a “moral test” (do I obey God’s commands), a “theological test” (do I believe in the Christ of the Scriptures) and a “social test” (do I love the brothers).
In this passage, John says that those who have been born again love those who have been born again. Nonbelievers do not enjoy hanging out with believers in the same way that Christians enjoy each other’s company. The Christian and the nonChristian are dominated by two different realities. The Christian is automatically drawn to those who have the same righteousness, the same boss and the same supreme satisfaction. We can have confidence that we have been saved if we love other Christians. This, to make a quick caveat, is primarily manifested in the local church. We aren’t simply called to love all Christians everywhere (though that is to be true as well) but a local people in particular. We participate in the life of the church, under the authority of the elders and congregation, sitting under the Word of God and reflecting the character of God. So when John writes about loving those who have been born again, it is almost certainly that he would have us think about those with whom we have covenanted with as a local embassy of God’s kingdom.
The Holy Spirit, writing through John, throws us a curveball. Verse 2 begins with the phrase, “by this we know we love the children of God.” So the argument so far has been that if we are really Christians then we will love other Christians. Now, the argument continues and says that there is a criteria that proves if we love our brothers and sisters, particularly those in our local church. This seems strange to us at first. We know we love people, we think, just because we do. We never think of how we know that we are really loving someone.
God is love (1 John 4:16). Therefore, God also defines love. All of us have decided to enjoy a certain type of God’s love. I used to appeal to God’s love to approve of sin and to continue in rebellion against Him. But “love” in the abstract may not be what God means by love. God’s love is shown in sending Christ to die for our sins (1 John 4:9-10). God gives the love that we desperately need, but not the one that fallen man desires. God loves in a way that rids us of our greatest problem and gives us our highest joy: God Himself. So love must be defined biblically and in light of who God is.
John says that our love for the brothers is proven by our love for God and a desire to live a life that commends the gospel of Christ. These two things are the “by this” that the beginning of verse 2 begins with. We love Christians when we love God and love holiness. The greatest good we can give to our friends is our satisfaction in God. The more we are caught up in God the better our relationships will be. Our fellowship will be more focused and direct. Their faith will be encouraged more. When God is the center of our world, we are removed from that spot and this makes our relationships fruitful. This severs the nerve of rivalry, envy and strife. The works of the flesh are not able to gain as much of a hold in our hearts when God is seen and savored.
When we see and the savor the glory of God, we must be transformed. We are changed by beholding the glory of Christ in the gospel. The gospel produces a holy people. Regeneration, being born again, is primarily a change in affections. What we love changes, as does what we hate. Instead of being alive to sin and dead to God, we are now alive to God and dead to sin. This changes everything about how we live. Our lives are now centered around knowing God and enjoying Him to the praise of His glorious grace. We have been plunged into a fight to see God as He is. This entails the killing of sin that threatens to blind us and the putting on virtue to help us see more clearly. We fight to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). So how does our personal holiness help us to love God? The more active we are in killing sin the more helpful we will be to our brothers and sisters. This is for several reasons. First, when we are not taking steps to kill sin we will be more unable (or unwilling) to love of brothers. Sin turns us inward, making satisfaction in ourselves a higher good that satisfaction in Christ. Second, our holiness will often “rub off” on others. It is easier to be holy around holy people. Finally, our holiness shows the surpassing worth of Christ. Our holiness, as imperfect as it will be on this side of glory, shows that Christ is better than the sin to which we once belonged. Our obedience helps others to be more happy in God.
Do you want to love others? Love God more. It is not until we are enthralled with the majestic splendor of God that we can really help others. May we be so heavenly-minded that we might finally be of some earthly good. All of this only comes by the gracious gift of the new birth, caused by the hearing of the good news of free grace concerning the cross of Jesus Christ.