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-A LOOK AT JOHN’S FIRST EPISTLE The Family Photo Album

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure ... No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” 1 John 3:1-3, 9-11 NIV


Picture FrameIs Your Picture In The Album? There’s nothing like going through the family photo album to bring back memories of good times together. Besides enjoying the memories, seeing our picture in the album confirms that we are part of the family. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t see ourselves pictured time and again in the album. John’s first epistle is like a family photo album. If we are true believers, we’ll be assured of our salvation when we read it, because our picture as members of God’s family will be there. If we’re not true Christians, we should be concerned when we don’t see ourselves pictured in God’s family photo album of 1 John.

Life in God’s family is the theme that emerges from 1 John. Just as there is a special relationship and fellowship between members of an earthly family, so there is a unique relationship and fellowship between members of God’s family. Christian fellowship is more than just a social club with church suppers, coffee hours and weekend retreats. Since the Holy Spirit has joined all true believers together into the body of Christ and made each one a member of the family of God, Christian relationships and fellowship are important realities.

As we look through the family photo album of 1 John, in chapter 3 we find two tests of membership in God’s family. Just as we detect the family likenesses between parents and siblings in a family album, so we should be able to detect whether or not we’re in God’s family by looking for signs of family likeness in 1 John 3. The first test is the family likeness of righteousness (3:4-10); the second is the family likeness of brotherly love (3:11-18). Is your picture in God’s family photo album? Do you recognize yourself as you look at chapter 3? Let’s look more at these two tests of family likeness from 1 John 3.

The Righteousness Test
First John 3:4-10 is more than just a casual glance through the family album. It’s a test of Christian family membership. If our life is characterized by righteousness, we pass the test. A righteous lifestyle is evidence that we are true believers and really members of God’s family. If, on the other hand, our life is characterized by selfish and sinful desires and actions, that’s evidence that we may only think we’re Christian. We may go to church, and profess to be Christian, but if our life fails the family likeness test, how can we say that we’re a true member of the family of God?

Those who practice sin fail the test: “No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to live in sin has either seen Him or known Him … This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God” (3:6,10). What are these verses saying? They’re not saying that we must be sinless to be in God’s family – that would leave all of us out! Furthermore, John can’t be contradicting himself. In 1 John 1:10 he wrote, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar, and His word has no place in our lives.” The answer is that the Greek present tense used here implies continuous action. Whoever is born into God’s family does not continue a life characterized by a habit of sinning.

When we become true Christians we are born into the family of God. We now have new, divine life, and God’s “seed” remains in us (3:9). The word “seed” (sperma in Greek) means that the paternal characteristics of our Father have been passed on to us. This seed in us not only assures us of family membership and eternal security, but it is also the reason why a true believer will not live a life characterized by sin.

If we claim to be Christian but are selfish and determined to have our own way, can we claim to have a family likeness to our Lord Jesus, who gave up all His rights for our sake? Is the likeness of God our Father seen in us if we’re having an extramarital affair, or can’t control the desire to click on pornographic web sites, or use illegal practices in business, or don’t even try to control sinful thoughts, or hate any kind of authority in our life? If our life does not reflect the righteousness that characterizes the family of God we should examine our hearts to see if we’re really Christians. Have we made a conscious decision to commit our life to Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and Lord? Has this decision made a difference in the way we live? “No one who is born of God will continue to sin” (3:9). Those who continue to practice sin fail the test. They are not in the family of God.

Those who practice righteousness pass the test: “He who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous” (3:7). Let’s start with the last phrase, “He is righteous,” and then refer back to the end of verse 5: “And in Him is no sin.” This is one of the “big three” Scriptures which describe the absolute perfection of our Lord. Second Corinthians 5:21 says He “had no sin.” First Peter 2:22 says that He “committed no sin.” And 1 John 3:5 says that “in Him is no sin.” In these three Scriptures the apostles Paul, Peter and John all testify to the perfect sinlessness of Christ.

Now back to verse 7: “He who does what is right is righteous.” What does that mean? It doesn’t mean we’re sinless. It means that when we become Christians and are born into the family of God, the new life we receive is righteous. In fact, 2 Peter 1:4 says that we’re partakers of the divine nature, so the new life in us is righteous just as Jesus is righteous! We still sin because we still have our fallen sinful nature, and we’ll continue to struggle against sin until we receive our new resurrection bodies and are fully “like Him” (1 Jn. 3:2). However, because of the new righteous life that we have in Christ, we shouldn’t want to live a life characterized by sin. Our lives should increasingly be characterized by wanting to do what’s right. We won’t want to practice sin. We’ll want to practice righteousness!

If this is true in your life, you’ve passed the test. It’s evidence that you are in the family of God because you have the family likeness of righteousness. Notice that there’s no middle ground: “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God” (3:10). What is your lifestyle like? Are you practicing righteousness or sin? Are you “being transformed into His likeness”(2 Cor. 3:18)? Those who practice righteousness pass the test and are in the family photo album.

The Brotherly Love Test
In 1 John 2, the apostle mentioned love for fellow-believers as a test for membership in God’s family. In chapter 3 it’s mentioned again as an important trait that should be seen in God’s family members.

In 3:12-15, Cain is given as a negative example of brotherly behavior. Why did he murder his brother? “Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous” (3:12). Outwardly Cain’s works did not look evil – he brought his best offering to God. But that was exactly the problem. He came to God with his own sacrifice, not God’s. Cain is like a lot of people who try to come to God their own way, with their own good works, rather than coming God’s way. God’s way is by a blood sacrifice, through Jesus Christ who died for our sins.

God’s rejection of Cain’s offering made him jealous of Abel, resulting in murder: “Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness … he does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded him … Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him” (1 Jn. 2:11; 3:15). Hatred is murder in embryo form. Of course, 1 John 3:15 doesn’t mean that a murderer cannot become a Christian. A murderer who repents and comes to the Savior will receive forgiveness and eternal life.

Those who call themselves Christians, yet never get along with true believers – constantly causing friction, wanting their own way, selfish with money and time, refusing to help fellow Christians in need – are not true believers. They are not in the family of God, and have not “passed from death to life” (3:14). They are spiritually dead with no life in the family.

The Lord Himself is the supreme example of brotherly love: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us” (1 Jn. 3:16). He gave His life for us so that we could be saved (Rom. 5:8). But 1 John 3:16 goes further and says, “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” This is the ultimate test of brotherly love. And many Christians have given their lives for fellow believers, such as those pastors in godless, hate-filled countries who have given their lives for their flocks.

While 1 John 3:16 gives the greatest expression of brotherly love, verse 17 gives us the minimal expression: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” We may never be called to give our lives, but we are definitely called to share with Christians in need. This doesn’t mean we should give to anyone looking for a “freebie,” but when we see needs in God’s family we should be willing to help.

Something is very wrong in the lives of those who say they’re Christians but selfishly hoard their material possessions, using them only for their own comfort. God’s Word is full of admonitions and shocking examples which clearly show that selfishness is not a characteristic of a believer’s lifestyle. Most of us could get along very nicely with less than we have, and should heed these words: “Let us not love with words … but with actions and in truth” (1 Jn. 3:18). Showing brotherly love by helping those in need is an important family trait seen in our lives if we’re in the family. “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence” (3:19).

At this point some readers may be worried, and wondering if they really are in God’s family, because they don’t have much brotherly love in their hearts. It’s never wrong to examine our heart before the Lord. In fact, God helps us do this with these questions: Is our conscience uneasy? (1 Jn. 3:20-21). God uses our conscience to convict us about our love for fellow-believers. Are our prayers being answered? (1 Jn. 3:22). If not, it may be because we’re not obeying His commands to demonstrate true love to fellow-believers. Are we obeying the Holy Spirit? (1 Jn. 3:24). The Holy Spirit motivates believers to show brotherly love, and confirms our family membership when we do. Do you see your family likeness in the picture album of 1 John 3? Brotherly love is a test of family membership.

Time To Reflect
Remember, the Lord is returning! “We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, even as He is pure” (1 Jn. 3:2-3). The Lord’s return is a fact. As we reflect on His return and all the changes that will take place in us then, and realize that we will see Him face to face some day, these amazing truths should have a purifying effect on the way we live now.

Try this experiment three times every day for a week. At each meal, think about the return of the Lord, and say, “Maybe He’ll return today!” Doing this should have a purifying effect and make a practical difference in your life. It may even revolutionize your life! Always remember, the Lord is returning for His family!

By David R. Reid

With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org

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