Have you ever taken a personality test? A few years ago I went through the Birkman system. After completing a series of seemingly unending questions about all aspects of my life, the results were fed into a machine. A few weeks later the Birkman representative debriefed myself and the rest of the staff on the details of our personalities.
In was an interesting but unsurprising day. I suspected a lot of the results ahead of time. I knew from my love to study that I was a teacher at heart. I knew from my love of music that I was creative in nature. Some people, however, were surprised. They thought they knew themselves, but the test showed them something different.
How well do you know yourself? Does the evidence of your life confirm the way you understand your own personality?
In today’s passage, John challenges us to examine the evidence of our lives.
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It’s difficult to read a familiar text like this without importing years-worth of teaching and presuppositions. Here’s one we’ll need to tackle: the idea that “eternal” life means post-death life. I was raised with the idea that eternal life is a future benefit of being a Christian. Read 1 John 3:14-16 carefully, though, and you’ll that eternal life is very current.
We have eternal life in us now when we love each other. Kruse puts it this way:
Eternal life is not an unending extension of life as we know it; rather, it is ‘having’ the Son, Jesus Christ, for eternal life is all tied up in him. (136)
This is nothing new for John. If you flip back to his gospel, you find these words on Jesus’ lips:
Anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24 NRSV)
The passage from death to life isn’t something we need to wait for—it’s already happened. The criteria Jesus gave was simple: hear and believe. John distilled the message even more: love. Love like Jesus.
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When we love people like Jesus loved people, it’s evidence for us that we have passed into God’s Kingdom. “For us” is an important detail. We already know that our love for each other is witness to the world (“Everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, NRSV).) Now we find that love for each other is a confirmation to ourselves that we’re in the right kingdom. Like the Birkman test asked me about the evidence of my life to determine the broad strokes of my personality and aptitudes, the simple love test reveals which kingdom I’m truly a part of.
Have you ever questioned your salvation? Have you ever wrestled with God’s forgiveness? Take a look at your life: do you love? Loving each other is sure evidence that we’ve passed out of death into life.
So what does this love look like? John’s going to share the practical aspects of it soon, but surely it must include a desire to spend time with each other. Stott says it well:
The authentic followers of Jesus Christ, who have ‘passed from death to live’, hunger for Christian fellowship. (145)
I used to defend people’s Christian freedom to sleep in on Sundays and not worry about the legalism of church attendance (which must sound odd coming from a pastor). Now, I can’t understand why we wouldn’t want to get together to worship. In a sense, both positions were biblically correct—but which one’s more godly?
. . .
A few verses ago, we looked at Cain’s fratricide. Here, John sets up Christ as the opposite (the ‘anti-Cain’):
- Cain’s hatred led to murder.
- Jesus’ love led to self-sacrifice.
Jesus spoke in stark terms: “if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:22 NRSV). Those words resonate behind the text we’re reading today. We have a choice to make. We can either follow Jesus’ example and lay our lives down for each other, or follow Cain and allow anger to rule. Whether or not that anger develops into something further is not the point. What matters is who we are following.
So here’s where the text gets convicting. There are people in this world that I’d lay my life down for: my sons, my wife. Once I leave that small circle, things get more difficult. Would I be willing to die for that church member whose unending stories drive me to boredom each week? What about the so-called “Christian” who ripped me off in a business transaction?
I suppose none of us know how we’ll react until we’re put in such a situation. What we can do now is pray that God will change our hearts toward the people around us.
Actually, we can do more than just pray … but that’s the next verse.
1 John 3:17-18 | All Talk No Action? >