One day I came home to discover my wife sorting pinto beans. She had purchased them in bulk at a Brazilian market. She was sorting her purchase into two piles, a small group of pebbles on the left and a much larger grouping of good pinto beans on the right.
Just as my wife categorized what appeared to be just a pile of beans, towards the end of the first century the aged John realized those early Christians needed a handbook to distinguish between those who had really been born of God and those who were impostors.
John knew that some of those who were claiming to “have fellowship with God” (1 John 1:6), “to know God” (1 John 2:4) and who were asserting “I love God” (1 John 4:20) were not only deceived, but they were confusing the faithful (1 John 2:26). Those early Christians needed to examine what was being proclaimed in the name of God, because some of it was false (1 John 4:1-3).
Significantly, John does not inform his readers how to become Christians, nor does he have in scope the objective of distinguishing between God’s people and the world at large. Rather, his focus was upon a foggy category of those making competing claims about belonging to God.
Given the nature of the doctrinal and behavioral problems they faced, John provided a list of reliable indicators guiding those early Christians to be assured of who had truly been born of God.
- “Everyone who is doing righteousness has been born of him” (1 John 2:29).
- “Everyone who has been born of God does not sin” (1 John 3:9).
- “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).
- “Everyone who is believing that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God” (1 John 5:1).
- “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4).
- “Everyone who has been born of God does not sin, but the One begotten of God keeps him” (1 John 5:18).
John’s little handbook remains significant for us today. Not only does it teach us many truths such as how God should be transforming our lives, but it also reminds us that, depending upon transpires in our world, sometimes it can be necessary to do some sorting.