We have been considering and distinguishing the various tests for genuine Christianity. We now come to the portion of the epistle of John where it becomes evident that while these things may be distinguished, they cannot be separated. We have come to the intersection of the tests.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God . . .” (1 John 4:7-5:5).
Let’s start with love and its effects. Here we have the intersection of love and doctrine. First, God is love—we have been in the Himalayas all along; we come now to Everest. We are told first that love is from God (v. 7), and then told that love is His essential nature (v. 8). Those born of Him love one another. Those who don’t, aren’t. This is love — manifested in history (v. 9), and manifested in doctrine (v. 10). The love of God was manifested toward us in the sending of Christ (v. 9). The love of God was manifested in the fact that His death was a propitiation (v. 10). You should begin to see that the doctrine of who Christ is relates to the nature and definition of love. And so here is the obvious application. This being the case, we ought to love each other (v. 11).
John then repeats what every orthodox Christian knows, that God in His transcendence has never been seen (v. 12). Nevertheless, there is a way of seeing God in the world. We first acknowledge that God sent His Son into the world to be manifested (v. 12), and He gives us His Spirit (v. 13). He continues His presence here (abiding with us) as we love one another (v. 13). This is how we testify to the identity of Jesus Christ (v. 14). Simply put, as Christians love each other, the world sees the invisible God, and they see Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world (v. 14).
How may we stand in the day of judgment? We make our confession of faith (v. 15), and God abides in us, and we in God. Where does this place us when we consider the omniscience of the Judge of all men? First, we must start by believing the love — John uses a very important expression in v. 16. He says that we have believed the love God has for us. The necessary fruit of this belief is the love we have for one another. When we have love in the world — when this is the pattern, a pattern of loving — we have confidence in the most terrifying place imaginable, which is before the throne of God (v. 17). This is because we have been in the world (loving) what God is in His nature. This results in a mind-boggling boldness before the judgment of God.
How does this quiet the fearful conscience? A particular kind of fear (fear of condemnation) is driven out by this love. A man cannot simultaneously want to approach God in love and want to hide from God in fear (v. 18). But a man can be an afraid and trembling creature and desire nothing other than to approach God (2 Cor. 7:15; Eph. 6:5; Phil. 2:12; Heb. 12:28-29). So the fearful conscience has not yet been perfected in love. Remember, John says, that our love is the result of God’s love (v. 19). So then, love each other. A man can only approach the judgment with confidence if he approaches in love. He can only approach it in love if he knows that he is loved. He can only know he is loved if he loves his brother. The brother bears the image of God. How can a man love God and not love that image (vv. 20-21)?
And so here, in this place, we have the intersection of love and obedience. All three tests are interdependent. First, we must love the likeness. The family interrelations are important. The one who believes is born of God, and the one who loves the one who begot him must also love the others begotten in the same way (5:1). But how do we know that we are loving our brothers? We must love them in a way that is informed by the law of God (v. 2). When we love God and keep His commandments, we know we love the brothers.
Our love for God is identified with these two characteristics: first, we obey God’s commandments, and second, it is not a burden to do so (v. 3). Whatever is born of God overcomes the world. One thing that is born of God is our faith, and consequently, this faith overcomes the world (v. 4). Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God? If you do then that faith is the gift of the God who wants you to overcome the world, love your brothers, and stand with boldness in the last day (v. 5).