1 John 3:1-3 is among the many favorite, familiar passages of this letter.
Look at what love the Father has given to us, so that we may be called—and are—children of God. Because of this the world does not know us, for it did not know Him.
Beloved ones, [right] now we are children of God and it has not yet been made visible who we will be. We know that whenever He will be made visible we will be similar to Him, for we will perceive Him just He is.
And each one having this expectation concerning Him consecrates themselves* just as that One is consecrated.1 John 3:1-3 (my translation)
That just knocks me out every time I read it! Those who have put their faith in Jesus, who are consecrated in God’s love, are poised to be transformed into heavenly stuff, a kind of transformation that will make us visible in the way Jesus is visible. Somehow glorious, for we will be similar to Him, for we will perceive Him just He is.
This magnificent truth is the third of John’s nine proofs of salvation and its permanency. Those who are born anew, from above,
- Live by faith in willing cooperation with the Spirit of Christ.
- Hold onto the teaching of the apostles.
- Consecrate themselves unto the Lord, no longer a part of the world, but transformed into the heavenly.
Now, John introduced the fourth proof.
Evidence of Salvation: Exhibit 4
Living by faith in genuinely loving the brothers and sisters in Christ
In this the child of God and the child of the devil [are] visible—each one not doing righteousness is not from God, [as well as the] one not loving their brother [or] sister.
[For] this is the message which you heard from [the] beginning, so that we may love one another—not as Cain [who] was from the evil one and murdered his brother; and on what account did he murder him? [Because] his works were evil, and those of his brother [were] righteous.1 John 3:10-12 (my translation)
The Case of Cain
It is a fascinating story, really, the first recorded murder in human history.
The first sign of trouble came when God rejected Cain’s sacrifice yet accepted Abel’s, Cain’s brother.
Cain nursed his simmering sense of injustice, personal injury, and entitlement, so it was God who came to Cain, not Cain to God. Cain did not ask God for answers, nor did he open his heart to God. It did not seem to occur to Cain that God’s acceptance of Abel’s offering indicated Abel’s good relationship with God. And that God’s rejection of Cain’s offering stemmed from Cain’s poor relationship with God.
From Cain’s point of view, apparently, Cain was perfect just the way he was. It was not he who needed to change. It was God.
So, God warned Cain the dark jealousy he was harboring was going to destroy him. Cain—evidently—paid no heed.
What happened next revealed a profound lack in Cain’s inward being.
There was no love in Cain.
Not for his brother. Nor for God. Nor, it seems, for his family. Cain must have thought if he killed Abel, then he would have God over a barrel. God would have to accept Cain’s offering, because the competition (namely Abel) had been rubbed out.
It did not work.
John chose an unambiguous story to illustrate his point. Cain and Abel were opposites: one was all for the Lord, one was entirely against the Lord. One was accepted, the other rejected.
One was murdered, the other the murderer.
This last point would have been particularly poignant to John’s readers, for persecution of Christians had become horrifyingly grim and bloody.
Cain’s hate of Abel mirrored the world’s hate of Christ—and of God’s own
Do not wonder, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.1 John 3:13 (my translation)
Cain really did think he had gotten rid of Abel for good. Yet, God said to Cain, “Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” Later, the author of Hebrews wrote, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks.”
John’s audience, well-versed in the scriptures and familiar with Abel’s story, would have resonated with the corollary. Though they were being martyred in the most gruesome of ways, their spilled blood also cried out to God, and through their faith, their martyrdom would still speak.
Martyrdom Is Not Death But Entry Into Life
We understand that we have changed places from death into life, for we love the brothers and sisters; for [the] one who does not love remains in death.
Each one who hates their brother or sister is a murderer, and you understand that [no] murderer has eternal life remaining in them.1 John 3:14-15 (my translation)
Unlike Cain, those who have put their faith in Christ love and support the brethren and sistren. And like Abel, may find their lives cut short by “Cain” (the world) because of their faith.
Love is Expressed in Concrete Ways
In the same way that Cain’s jealous rage and encompassing hate were expressed in the concrete slaying of his brother, so also the kind of love John was talking about would be expressed in concrete ways.
In this we have [come to know] love, that this One on our behalf lay down His life, and we [ourselves] are obligated to lay down [our] lives on behalf of [our] brothers and sisters.
And whoever may have the [resources and means of a living] and would look at their brother or sister who has need, and would close [off] their sympathy from them, how does the love of God remain in [that one]?
Children, may we not love with a word or with the tongue, but rather in deed and truth.1 John 3:16-18 (my translation)
Note: the embolded line ends in the words “deed and truth.” There is some thought that perhaps that line contains what is known as a hendiadys, and should be translated something like, “but rather truly, in deeds.” But other translations treat this as a doublet, “deeds and truth.”
Jesus said the world would recognize believers by the way we love each other.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.Jesus to the disciples, John 13:34-35 (NRSV)
He meant, at least in part, to take care of each other as well as we take care of ourselves. At the heart of love is self‑giving, doing for others, finding joy in expressing God’s giving as the Lord gives to you and me. James, Jesus’ brother, would later clarify,
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.James 2:14-17 (NRSV)
We begin by asking God to act through us. When you and I are serious about that, sincerely asking God to make us an instrument of God’s love and mercy to someone else, then the act of praying will become the act of loving your neighbor.
I remember reading, once, that when we help someone, we reduce the amount of suffering in the world, we become part of the process of God working things together for good.
No matter how many problems you and I have, there will always be opportunities for us to help someone else in some way, and we will discover there is real joy in that. When we get into this, we will discover that our problems will seem a little smaller, because we were God’s instrument of love and mercy, and lessened the suffering in someone’s life.
[God accepts Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s | Andrey Mironov, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]