Doubt can creep into our lives through many different avenues. Will this plan succeed? Will I be OK? Doubt spawns fear which erodes faith.
Spiritual doubt can arise when different voices spew forth conflicting messages about God and accessing eternal life. Even in the first century some Christians were wondering about questions similar to: What is my actual relationship with God? Have I chosen a sufficient spiritual path?
John provided a handbook so that God’s people could navigate such doubts. Anchoring his message upon a firm foundation, he offered evidence to squash doubt and fear. Here are some of his confidence builders. His letter provides a slam dunk.
Before we can profitably glean some gems from 1 John, we first need to distinguish between induction and characteristics. Why? Since John limited his letter to discussing characteristics, we will mishear him if we understand him to be describing how people are inducted into God’s family. To grasp the difference between the two, consider the NBA.
What determines whether someone belongs to an NBA basketball team? The answer is simple. When a team’s administration offers a potential player a contract and that athlete accepts it by signing, he becomes a member of that team.
How someone becomes part of an NBA team is different from the characteristics that player must demonstrate as a team member. Members of the team are expected to show up for practice and so forth.
This metaphor illustrates the difference between what is required in order to become born of God (induction) and what will be true of those who have been born of God (characteristics).
Since John wrote to those he knew belonged to God, he had no need to explain the gospel nor how to be born of God. If we want to know how to become a part of God’s people we need to read texts like John 1:12-13; 3:3-5; Titus 3:5 and Galatians 3:26-27. What John did delineate are some characteristics of those who have been born of God.
Anchoring his message upon the certainty of his eyewitness testimony as well as the fact that he was passing along that original message which provides fellowship and eternal life with the Son and the Father (1 John 1:1-4; 2:24-26), John assures those who have responded to the gospel that by looking at some of their life characteristics they can be confident they have been born of God. Here is his list:
- Those belonging to God exhibit righteous living (1 John 2:29).
- Those belonging to God do not persist in sinful ways of living (1 John 3:9; 5:18).
- Those belonging to God love others (1 John 4:7).
- Those belonging to God believe Jesus is the Messiah (1 John 5:1).
- Those belonging to God overcome the world (1 John 5:3-4).
Loving people and living righteously neither earns us eternal life nor transforms us into being God’s people. However, if we have responded to the good news, John invites us to recognize that these characteristics proclaim we have been born of God.