1 John Lesson Nine: 1 John 4:13-21 – Combining a Right Belief and a Right Attitude

This is how we know that we remain in Him and He in us: He has given assurance to us from His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and we testify that the Father has sent His Son as the world’s Savior. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God—God remains in him and he in God. 16 And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. 

17 In this, love is perfected with us so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, for we are as He is in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because He first loved us. 

20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother he has seen cannot love the God he has not seen. 21 And we have this command from Him: The one who loves God must also love his brother. (HCSB)

In this section, John continues with his theme of love. In this passage, John outlines the duality of our love for God, as well as our love for fellow believers. To make it easier, I’ll break this passage into three sections.

  • Our assurance of Jesus as God’s Son – verses 13-16.
  • Our confidence for eternity – verses 17-19.
  • Love reveals the heart – verses 20-21.

Our Assurance of Jesus as God’s Son

In John’s time, there were many who physically saw Jesus. That is not the case for present-day believers. So what do we base our belief in that Jesus is who we claim Him to be? Let’s dig deeper into that argument.

  • The Apostles and the larger group who followed Jesus all saw Him in the flesh.
  • But it wasn’t just His followers who saw Him.
    • The Jewish religious leaders saw Him but, out of jealousy, plotted and succeeded in killing Jesus.
    • There were those not associated with the religious establishment who saw Jesus but chose to reject His message. One example is the rich young ruler.
    • There were those who cried out for His crucifixion and who saw Jesus.
    • The Roman leaders and soldiers in Judea saw Jesus and were complicit in His crucifixion.
  • It’s much easier to place our faith in something we can see or touch. Those alive in the first century benefitted from being eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and ministry. How do we support our belief in Jesus?
    • Predominately through faith. But what supports our faith?
      • Belief in the testimony of eyewitnesses who lived with Jesus, saw His death, and witnessed His resurrected body.
      • Scripture testifies to the truth of Jesus and His works.
      • We’ve experienced the impact of Jesus on our lives when we submit to His Lordship.
      • We’ve seen the change in those around us as they submit to Jesus. In some cases, we may have witnessed an extraordinary change in the behavior of others.
      • Maybe we’ve witnessed miraculous healing that doctors can’t explain. 
    • One of the definitions of “faith” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” As Christians, we need to be careful and not ascribe to that definition for our belief in Jesus. There is ample “proof” of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and His earthly ministry. 
  • The main basis of our faith is the Holy Spirit.
    • The Holy Spirit is the one who reveals the truth of the Gospel to the lost.
    • As believers, one of our roles is to evangelize the lost. However, we can’t “convert” a person. We can only speak of the truth of the Gospel. It’s the role of the Holy Spirit to “open the eyes and ears” of the lost.
    • The indwelling of the Holy Spirit gives us assurance we are part of God’s family.
    • Paul speaks of the assurance given by the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:16 – The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children.
  • Building from previous lessons in 1 John, we remember that love and truth are mutually inclusive.
    • There is a relationship between God and the person testifying that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
    • Those who hold fast to this belief will do all they can to build this relationship to the fullest extent possible.
    • Those who have a heretical position on the identity of Jesus don’t have a relationship with God. Therefore, they have no relationship to build.
  • To remain or abide in God is a present tense verb.
    • It infers a vital, intimate, continuous, and growing relationship.
    • The believer understands they have an invisible power, through the Holy Spirit, to fulfill their kingdom work on earth.
    • The believer understands that physical life is a temporary one. Their real home is in heaven.
  • This section of the passage ends with a theme presented earlier; God is love, and those who live a life of love, live in God and God in them.
    • In John’s writings, this is the true test of Christianity.
    • The basic character of God is love.
    • We should experience love in our relationship with God.
    • Others should experience this type of love in their relationship with us.
    • It’s the reason God sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins, to have our love relationship restored with Him.
    • When we don’t live a life of love towards God and others, we need to reexamine our relationship with God.

Our Confidence for Eternity

John returns to the subject of the judgment seat of Christ, which he previously mentioned in 1 John 2:28. 

  • The judgment seat can bring either hope and peace or fear and anxiety.
    • When God’s love is perfected in us, we can live in confidence; we don’t need to worry about our future judgment.
      • Our lives should be filled with peace and hope.
      • We extend God’s love to others as we shine the light of Christ.
      • When a believer lives as an example of Jesus, there is no fear as they approach the judgment seat of Christ.
    • However, when we don’t live in a spirit of love, thinking about future judgment may unsettle us.
      • Our lives will be filled with fear and anxiety about the future.
      • Instead of shining the light of Christ, we will carry an air of gloom.
      • Believers who live without extending the love of Christ to others will approach the judgment seat of Christ with fear as they expect the loss of eternal rewards.
      • A believer who fears the judgment seat of Christ demonstrates that God’s love has not reached maturity in their lives.
  • The reason we love others is because God loves us first.
    • God commands us to love others.
      • 1 John 3:11.
      • John 13:34-35.
      • John 15:17.
      • Colossians 1:4.
    • Christian doesn’t mean we’ll always agree with what others do or their viewpoints.
      • It does mean we still extend that love because He first loved us.
      • Read James 4 to understand what happens when selfishness overshadows love.
  • The perfecting of God’s love in our lives happens in stages. It’s not a sudden change.
    • Before a person comes to saving knowledge of Jesus, they lived in fear and knew nothing of God’s love.
    • After submitting to Jesus, a person discovers a combination of fear and love in their heart.
    • As a believer grows in fellowship with the Father, the fear gradually decreases, and their heart becomes more controlled by His love.
    • An immature Christian bounces between fear and love.
    • A mature Christian rests in God’s love.
    • As a believer’s confidence in the presence of God grows, it’s an indicator that their love for God is maturing.
  • In verse nineteen, John makes a comparison between our love for God and God’s love for us. Let’s consider three reasons why this is significant.
    • Our love for God and others originates in God’s love for us.
    • Love is tainted by fear when there is a doubt it will be returned. A believer has no fear in this area since God’s love occurs before ours.
    • Affection flows from a heart filled with gratitude for God loving us first. The Father sent the Son to die for each of us.
  • God’s love is perfected in us when we extend unbridled love in three directions.
    • A believer’s love toward God.
    • A believer’s love toward others.
    • A believer’s love toward themselves.

Love Reveals the Heart

In the last two verses in this passage, John points out that our words and actions need to match. It also drives home the point that the theology of the false prophets and antichrists is refuted. 

  • If we remember back toward the beginning of this letter, one of the doctrines of the false teachers is that it was ok to sin as our spiritual being was not affected by what our physical body was doing.
    • Their theology was in disagreement with the idea that love for God requires obedience to God.
    • In disagreeing with Scripture, it proved their theology was a lie.
  • John also points out that it’s difficult to prove our love toward God as He is a spirit being, and we can’t “see” how others act towards God.
  • However, we can see how people act toward each other.
    • When we love others, it’s a reflection of our love for God.
    • Scripture gives us the command, “The one who loves God must also love his brother.”
    • Jesus also made this point in Matthew 25:40, “I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.”
  • An example of spiritual hypocrisy is found in Acts 5, the narrative of Ananias and Sapphira.
    • They sold some of their property and brought a portion of it as an offering.
    • However, to the church, they made it seem as if they were bringing the entire proceeds of the sale.
    • The sin wasn’t keeping back a portion for themselves. Peter was clear in the passage that they could have kept part of the proceeds for themselves.
    • The sin was in lying about it. They were trying to make themselves appear more generous and spiritual than they were.
  • Pretending is an act for children, but it isn’t a characteristic of a mature adult.
  • Adults must know and be themselves, fulfilling the purpose for which Christ saved them. Their lives must be characterized by honesty.
    • Spiritual honesty brings peace and power to a person.
    • They don’t need to keep track of their lies or spend energy covering up those lies.
  • Paul drives home the point about love in Galatians 5:14 – For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Applications

  • Do you practice love or legalism? While rules and standards are important, they can also create problems. The biggest issue Jesus had with the religious leaders in Israel was legalism. The question we need to consider is whether rules can inspire a life of devotion, service, and worship. Additionally, does a framework of legalism cultivate a lifestyle of reflex activity instead of a lifestyle of love and devotion? There’s a quote from C. S. Lewis where he says, “Love is that which forgives the most and condones the least.” The challenge for us is to love others while keeping to the standards outlined in Scripture.
  • Can we extend a love that is too generous? This idea is a branch of the first point. A love without expectations and consequences is a love that can be exploited. Sometimes it is a fine line we walk between extending love and holding people accountable. It’s always possible that we can go too far in extending love. When we consider this idea in dealing with fellow believers, we need to be careful and look to the example of Paul in Galatians. Paul is quick to point out the hypocrisy of disciples who fail to mature, yet he never threatens them with the idea that God will abandon them.
  • Do we have a proper awe of God? When we think about God’s love for us, it’s not difficult to go too far and think of God as too personal or approachable. God is not our “friend.” God is our all-knowing and all-loving Father, but He’s also infinitely holy and righteous. As our infinitely holy and righteous Father, He also is against sin. Sin can’t exist in the presence of an infinitely holy God. We need to understand who God is and live in reverent fear of Him.
  • Do we claim our Christian victory and life in a spirit of confidence? For many churches, especially in Western society, the Holy Spirit is the “forgotten God.” We often hear or read about the Father and the Son, but the Holy Spirit only makes an occasional appearance from the pulpit. Jesus told His original followers they would receive power in Luke 24:29, “And look, I am sending you what My Father promised. As for you, stay in the city until you are empowered from on high.” We can’t live in victory and accomplish the work set before us if we aren’t empowered and led by the Holy Spirit.

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