In Part 1 of this article, we looked at two evidences of mature Christian love: confidence and honesty. As we continue our study in John’s letter, he gives two more evidences.
JOYFUL OBEDIENCE (1 John 5:1–3)
Not simply obedience—but joyful obedience! “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn. 5:3).
Everything in creation—except man—obeys the will of God. “Lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do His bidding” (Ps. 148:8). In the Book of Jonah, you see the winds, waves, and even the fish obeying God’s commands, but the prophet persisted in disobeying. Even a plant and a little worm did what God commanded, but the prophet stubbornly wanted his own way.
Disobedience to God’s will is a tragedy—but so is reluctant, grudging obedience. God does not want us to disobey Him, but neither does He want us to obey out of fear or necessity. What Paul wrote about giving also applies to living: “not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).
What is the secret of joyful obedience? It is to recognize obedience is a family matter. We are serving a loving Father and helping our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have been born of God, we love God, and we love God’s children. Therefore, we demonstrate this love by keeping His commandments.
A woman visited a newspaper editor’s office, hoping to sell him some poems she had written.
“What are your poems about?” the editor asked.
“They’re about love!” gushed the poetess.
The editor settled back in his chair and said, “Well, read me a poem. The world could certainly use a lot more love!”
The poem she read was filled with moons and Junes and other sticky sentiments, and it was more than the editor could take.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “but you just don’t know what love is all about! It’s not moonlight and roses. It’s sitting up all night at a sickbed, or working extra hours so the kids can have new shoes. The world doesn’t need your brand of poetical love. It needs some good old-fashioned practical love.”
D.L. Moody often said, “Every Bible should be bound in shoe leather.” We show our love to God, not by empty words but by willing works. We are not slaves obeying a master; we are children obeying a Father. Our sin is a family affair.
One of the tests of maturing love is our personal attitude toward the Bible because in the Bible we find God’s will for our lives revealed. An unsaved man considers the Bible an impossible book, mainly because he does not understand its spiritual message (1 Cor. 2:14). An immature Christian considers the demands of the Bible to be burdensome. He is somewhat like a little child who is learning to obey, and who asks, “Why do I have to do that?” or “Wouldn’t it be better to do this?”
But a Christian who experiences God’s perfecting love finds himself enjoying the Word of God and truly loving it. He does not read the Bible as a textbook, but as a love letter.
The longest chapter in the Bible is Psalm 119 and its theme is the Word of God. Every verse but two (vv. 122, 132) mentions the Word of God in one form or another, as “law,” “precepts,” “commandments,” etc. But the interesting thing is that the psalmist loves the Word of God and enjoys telling us about it! “Oh, how I love your law!” (v. 97). He rejoices in the Law (vv. 14, 162) and delights in it (vv. 16, 24). It is honey to his taste (v. 103). In fact, he turns God’s Law into a song: “Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage” (v. 54).
Imagine turning statutes into songs. Suppose the local symphony presented a concert of the traffic code set to music! Most of us do not consider laws a source of joyful song, but this is the way the psalmist looked at God’s Law. Because he loved the Lord, he loved His Law. God’s commandments were not grievous and burdensome to him. Just as a loving son or daughter happily obeys his father’s command, so a Christian with perfecting love joyfully obeys God’s command.
At this point, we can review and understand the practical meaning of “maturing love” in our daily lives. As our love for the Father matures, we have confidence and are no longer afraid of His will. We also are honest toward others and lose our fear of being rejected. And we have a new attitude toward the Word of God: it is the expression of God’s love and we enjoy obeying it. Confidence toward God, honesty toward others, and joyful obedience are the marks of perfecting love and the ingredients that make up a happy Christian life.
We can see too how sin ruins all this. When we disobey God, we lose our confidence toward Him. If we do not immediately confess our sin and claim His forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:9), we must start pretending in order to cover up. Disobedience leads to dishonesty and both turn our hearts away from the Word of God. Instead of reading the Bible with joy to discover the Father’s will, we ignore the Word or perhaps read it in a routine way.
The burden of religion (man trying to please God in his own strength) is a grievous one (Matt. 23:4), but the yoke Christ puts on us is not burdensome at all (Matt. 11:28–30). Love lightens burdens. Jacob had to work for seven years to win the woman he loved, but the Bible tells us “they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her” (Gen. 29:20). Perfecting love produces joyful obedience.
VICTORY (1 John 5:4–5)
What does victory have to do with maturing love? Christians live in a real world and are surrounded with formidable obstacles. It is not easy to obey God. It is much easier to drift with the world, disobey Him, and “do your own thing.”
But the Christian is “born of God.” This means he has the divine nature within him and it is impossible for this divine nature to disobey God. “For everyone born of God overcomes the world” (1 Jn. 5:4). If the old nature is in control of us, we disobey God; but if the new nature is in control, we obey God. The world appeals to the old nature (1 Jn. 2:15–17) and tries to make God’s commandments seem burdensome.
Our victory is a result of faith and we grow in faith as we grow in love. The more you love someone the easier it is to trust him. The more our love for Christ is perfected the more our faith in Christ is perfected because faith and love mature together.
The word overcome is a favorite with John. He uses it in 1 John 2:13–14 with reference to overcoming the devil. He uses it seven times in the Book of Revelation to describe believers and the blessings they receive (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). He is not describing a special class of believers. Rather, he is using the word overcomer (“victorious”) as a name for the true Christian. Because we have been born of God, we are overcomers.
We are told that a soldier in the army of Alexander the Great was not acting bravely in battle. When he should have been pressing ahead, he was lingering behind. The great general approached him and asked, “What is your name, soldier?”
The man replied, “My name, sir, is Alexander.”
The general looked him straight in the eye and said firmly: “Soldier, get in there and fight—or change your name!”
What is our name? “Children of God—the born-again ones of God.” Alexander the Great wanted his name to be a symbol of courage; our name carries with it assurance of victory. To be born of God means to share God’s victory.
This is a victory of faith, but faith in what? Faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God! Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes Jesus is the Son of God (1 Jn. 5:5). It is not faith in ourselves, but faith in Christ that gives us the victory. “In the world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).
Identification with Christ in His victory reminds us of the several times we have read “as He is” in John’s letter. “As He is, so are we in this world” (1 Jn. 4:17). We should walk in the light “as He is in the light” (1 Jn. 1:7). If we claim to abide in Him, then we should conduct ourselves as He conducted Himself (1 Jn. 2:6). His children are to be, on earth, what He is in heaven. It is only necessary for us to claim this wonderful position by faith—and to act on it.
When Jesus Christ died, we died with Him. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20). When Christ was buried, we were buried with Him. When He arose, we arose with Him. “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom. 6:4).
When Christ ascended to heaven, we ascended with Him and are now seated with Him in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). When Christ returns, we will share His exaltation. “When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4).
All these verses describe our spiritual position in Christ. When we claim this position by faith, we share His victory. When God raised Jesus from the dead, He “seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named … and He put all things in subjection under His feet” (Eph. 1:20–22). This means that, positionally, each child of God is privileged to sit far above all his enemies!
Where a man sits determines how much authority he may exercise. The man who sits in the general manager’s chair has a restricted sphere of authority; the man who sits in the vice president’s chair exercises more control. But the man behind the desk marked president exercises the most authority. No matter where he may be in the factory or office, he is respected and obeyed because of where he sits. His power is determined by his position, not by his personal appearance or the way he feels.
So with a child of God: his authority is determined by his position in Christ. When he trusted Christ, he was identified with Him by the Holy Spirit and made a member of His body (1 Cor. 12:12–13). His old life has been buried and he has been raised to a new life of glory. In Christ, he is sitting on the very throne of the universe!
A Civil War veteran used to wander from place to place, begging a bed and bite to eat and always talking about his friend, “Mr. Lincoln.” Because of his injuries, he was unable to hold a steady job, but as long as he could keep going, he would chat about his beloved President.
“You say you knew Mr. Lincoln,” a skeptical bystander retorted one day. “I’m not so sure you did. Prove it!”
The old man replied, “Why, sure, I can prove it. In fact, I have a piece of paper here that Mr. Lincoln himself signed and gave to me.” From his old wallet the man took out a much-folded piece of paper and showed it to the man.
“I’m not much for reading, but I know that’s Mr. Lincoln’s signature. Do you know what you have here?” he asked. “You have a generous federal pension authorized by President Lincoln. You don’t have to walk around like a poor beggar! Mr. Lincoln has made you rich!”
To paraphrase what John wrote: “You Christians do not have to walk around defeated because Jesus Christ has made you victors! He has defeated every enemy and you share His victory. Now, by faith, claim His victory!”
The key, of course, is faith, but this has always been God’s key to victory. The great men and women named in Hebrews 11 all won their victories “by faith.” They simply took God at His word and acted on it, and He honored their faith and gave them victory. Faith is not simply saying what God says is true. True faith is acting on what God says because it is true. Someone has said that faith is not so much believing in spite of evidence, but obeying in spite of consequence.
Victorious faith is the result of maturing love. The better we come to know and love Jesus Christ the easier it is to trust Him with the needs and battles of life. It is important that this maturing love become a regular and practical thing in our daily lives.
How does a believer go about experiencing this kind of love and the blessings that flow from it? To begin with, this kind of love must be cultivated. It is not the result of a hit-or-miss friendship! A previous study pointed out that a believer slips back into the world by stages:
- Friendship with the world (Jas. 4:4)
- Polluted by the world (Jas. 1:27)
- Loving the world (1 Jn. 2:15–17)
- Conformed to the world (Rom. 12:2)
In a similar way, our relationship to Jesus grows by stages:
First, we must cultivate friendship with Christ. Abraham was “God’s friend” (Jas. 2:23) because he separated himself from the world and did what God told him. His life was not perfect, but when he sinned, he confessed and went right back to walking with God.
Second, this friendship will begin to influence our lives. As we read the Word, pray, and fellowship with God’s people, Christian graces will start to show up in us. Our thoughts will be cleaner, our conversation more meaningful, and our desires more wholesome. But we will not be suddenly and totally changed; it will be a gradual process.
Third, our friendship with Christ and our becoming like Him will lead to a deeper love for Christ. On the human level, friendship often leads to love. On the divine level, friendship with Christ must to lead to love. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). The Word of God reveals His love to us, and the indwelling Spirit of God makes this love more and more real to us. This love is worked out in our lives in daily obedience. Christian love is not a passing emotion; it is a permanent devotion, a deep desire to please Christ and to do His will.
Finally, the more we know Him the better we love Him, and the better we love Him the more we become like Him—“conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). Of course, we will not be completely conformed to Christ until we see Him (1 Jn. 3:1–3), but we begin the process now.
What an exciting way to live! As God’s love is perfected in us, we have confidence toward Him and do not live in fear. Because fear is cast out, we can be honest and open; there is no need to pretend and our obedience to His commands is born out of love, not terror. We discover His commandments are not burdensome. Finally, living in this atmosphere of love, honesty, and joyful obedience, we are able to face the world with victorious faith and to overcome instead of being overcome.
The place to begin is not in some daring, dramatic experience. The place to begin is in the quiet, personal place of prayer. Peter wanted to give his life for Jesus, but when he was asked to pray, Peter went to sleep (Lk. 22:31–33, 39–46). A believer who spends time reading the Word, meditating on it, and worshiping Christ in prayer and praise will experience this perfecting love. When it begins, he will know it—and others will know it. His life will be marked by confidence, honesty, joyful obedience, and victory!