As we have made our way through John’s first epistle, it has become clearer that assurance is the result of a constant interplay between external evidences and internal testimony. If we keep the commandments of Christ, we know that we abide in Him, yet we know that we abide in Christ because of the work of the Spirit (1 John 3:24). The Holy Spirit does indeed assure us that we belong to Jesus, but He never operates apart from the outward evidences of faith. The authentic presence of the Spirit is discerned both by His internal testimony and by our obedience to the commands of Jesus given through His apostles (4:6).
For the past few days we have studied one of these commands, namely, belief in the name of the Son (3:23; 4:1–5). Today we look at the second command found in 3:23 — love for one another.
Again John states that love is a fundamental mark of the one who has authentic faith. If the one who loves has been born of God and knows God (4:7), then the one who does not love has neither been born of God, nor does he know God. “God is love” (v. 8), that is, love is essential to God’s nature. If we truly have become partakers of this nature (2 Peter 1:4) and increasingly reflect God’s holy and loving character, then we have no choice but to love other people, especially fellow believers. Our transformed hearts will inevitably respond to God’s call that we love others as He loves us. We will endeavor to love if we have been born of God, and we will repent when we find ourselves not loving as He has commanded.
The biblical definition of God’s love is more radical than we often imagine. The proto-Gnostics troubling John’s original audience would have thought it made God too personal. Today many affirm the truth “God is love” but live as if the Bible did not demand us to love even the most unlovable (Luke 6:32–36). Others recoil at the fact God reserves a special, salvific love for His people alone (Rom. 9:13). Yet if we are truly to reflect God’s character, with self-sacrifice we must love Christ’s people and strive to show love even to those “unworthy” of it both inside and outside the church.
When we say “God is love” we must never think His love is more important than His other attributes. The doctrine of God’s simplicity tells us God’s love never operates apart from His holiness, mercy, justice, omnipotence, omniscience, or any other attribute. This tells us it is loving to seek justice and demand holiness, though we never do so at the expense of mercy. Ask the Lord to help you learn how to apply His love to every situation you face.