April 29, 2015
1 John 3:14-15
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
How does a person know they have crossed over from darkness and entered into life or that they have been delivered from death to life?
Is the old hymn lyric accurate; “You ask me how I know he lives. He lives within my heart?”
According to John, those lyrics should look more like, “You ask me how I know he lives. I know because I actually love people now.”
In all seriousness, people want assurance that their eternal salvation is secured. Many come at this by declaring it as a type of fiat, claiming texts like Romans 10:9:
“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Others come at the notion of the security of one’s salvation through a route of inward assurance from the Holy Spirit. They cite texts like Romans 8:16:
“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
So on the one hand there’s the evidence of the “confession” outlined by Romans 10:9 and on the other there’s the more subjective evidence of the inner witness referenced in Romans 8:16. John has a different kind of evidence altogether.
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other.
Note the implicit claim within the statement. Because of sin, the default position for all people is death. Salvation means passing from death to life. It’s essential to note that John is not claiming that one passes from death to life because they love each other. He says we can be assured we have passed from death to life because we love each other. In other words, loving each other is not the condition for salvation but the evidence of it. In Ephesians 2:8-9, scripture makes it plain.
“For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
In John’s Gospel we see something quite similar to this and with remarkable resemblance to today’s text:
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. John 5:24.
For John, the assurance of one’s salvation or the quality of one’s “eternal security” is not assessed by the appropriateness of their confession of faith nor can it be determined by their inner experience of the Holy Spirit. It can only be known by the inward bearing and outward behavior of one person toward another. Real love is not just right actions. Paul makes it clear that a person can demonstrate nothing short of what appears to be heroic benevolence towards other people and still be bereft of real love. He deems this kind of activity as worthless. See 1 Corinthians 13. On the other hand, an inner feeling toward others that finds no outward expression can’t be considered real love either.
So maybe the question is not so much, “How is it with your soul?” but rather, “How is it with your relationships?” What if the more accurate barometer of faith is not some existential sense of “inner peace” but rather the shared experience of the Peace of Christ in our relationships.
John’s going to get even more focused and specific in the coming days. Stay with me. 1 John may be all at once the most theological and most practical book in the entire Bible.
J.D. Walt writes daily for Seedbed’s Daily Text. He serves as Seedbed’s Sower in Chief. Follow him @jdwalt on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the Daily Text delivered to your inbox fresh every morning. Subscribe HERE.