Standing in Truth: “The Mark” – 1 John 3

I have some marks on my body that remind me of moments in my life. On the back of my left thumb there is a scar I got from slicing off the skin from the back of the knuckle with a glass bottle that broke in Jerusalem. On my left hand, my ring finger cannot straighten all the way out, because Aaron Michaud threw a football to me and it broke the finger. I smile, because I caught the pass – and that was the important thing! I have a dent on my face where Mikey from down the street stabbed me in the eye with a pencil. My left wrist has a long scar from the operation to make that hand work again after it was paralyzed by a skiing accident. Of course, there is also the long scar, the metal bar and the thirteen screws in my leg that abruptly ended my kickball career at the church.

If you are like me, your body is a map of ghosts of activities past.

Things that we dedicate time and energy to, have a way of leaving a mark on us. That makes me wonder: “What marks have my commitment to Jesus made on me? What truly marks a believer?” 1 John 3 offers an answer. John essentially taught…

Key Principle: Where one makes his own rules, sin reigns. Where one follows God’s Word, Jesus reigns.

In other words, the mark of Jesus can be seen in my desire to follow His commands, and stop deciding my future and my choices on my own. That choice will make any follower stand out. It will also bring a reaction from the world around the believer…

Imagine you were born into a wonderful family with two incredible parents. Tragically, they were killed in an auto accident when you were a child, and you were taken to an orphanage. For a few years, you became a part of the lives and rhythm of the place. One morning, you met the people who were adopting you. You went home with them and became a part of your new family. A few months later you came back to the orphanage and the children you used to play with didn’t accept you anymore. That isn’t a myth…it is your story if you are a Jesus follower.

God created us for Himself. He walked in the Garden with man until rebellion separated us and death came. We became children of the fallen world under a rebel prince. One day our Creator sent a Rescuer Who paid the price for our sin. Sometime later, that One came to bring us into the family of God.

John’s argument, as he opened the third chapter of 1 John is this: God adopted us. His choice of us changed who we are… but it made us different from the rest of the children – and they reject us because of it. He wrote it this way:

1 John 3:1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Observe closely how John put the argument together.

First, God made us into His children, and that was a powerful statement of love by God.

Second, as God’s children, the world no longer identifies us as “one of them.”

Third, as His children, our will is being shaped to be progressively more like the Son.

Fourth, His shaping includes working at purity in our lives. When I follow Him, rebellion gives way to obedience. The old way slips into the past as we focus on living out what God has said.

In that scenario, John began setting up a family contrast that led to a values conflict. The contrast was made plain in how we make decisions about what is right and what is wrong. Life decisions look different for one inside the family. John began by defining the basis of decisions by those who do not have a walk with God – those still in rebellion in the world without. He wrote:

1 John 3:4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.

Don’t misunderstand what he wrote. He defined the term “sin” as he was using it in his argument. The term is powerfully loaded and has many dimensions in the Bible, but John is focused on one: how those who don’t know God make decisions. His claim is this: One who does not know Jesus can be identified best by one character trait – He makes up his own rules. They cobble together morality and ethics, not based on the dictates of the Creator, but made up “on the fly.” What is wrong today may be right tomorrow and required the next day. They don’t have a fixed moral compass. They live a life of the disconnected orphan – and they are all around us.

They don’t wake up in the morning set to do evil. They aren’t all really bad and sinister workers of mayhem. The issue is simple: they don’t know God, and they don’t invest in doing what God says. They don’t understand life in the family, and the willingness of those of us who are part of God’s family to do what the Father tells us to do. What excites us and settles us looks like slavery to them. The problem is, they want the benefits of what we have. They want peace. They crave stability. They need consistent love as God defined it. To get it, they put together their own rules, their own standards and even their own “truth.” John continued…

1 John 3:5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.

John backed up to make the observation that Jesus came to pull His followers out of a life of making up their own rules. He was the standard. As the Word incarnate, He fleshed out all that God wanted in a man. He offered us an example and an escape hatch from living apart from God. It is only the one who leaves the path plowed by the world, and begins to follow the sinless Savior who will find the patterns that please God. There is no way to live as God would have a man live without a Savior. It is, therefore, fitting and proper for a Jesus follower to live differently. John added:

1 John 3:6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.

He isn’t claiming that people who follow Jesus live with righteous perfection. His point is that one who walks daily and intimately with Jesus doesn’t make up his own rules of what is right or moral, but rather follows a path that pleases God by abiding (or intentionally inviting moment by moment close life participation) in Jesus. The one who claims to follow Jesus but has no care for the way Jesus taught us to live is not an authentic follower, regardless of their claim.

The Christian life is a life that can be seen, not just preached. It is a life of practice rooted in an intimate relationship with its Founder, the Risen Savior. It is knowing, loving and obeying the Savior out of love and thankfulness, not of compulsion. John argued that people who make up their own moral and ethical standards that are not in harmony with God’s Word display openly they don’t yet truly know how to walk with Him. In the short run, that could be simply a result of learning His way. In the long run, it will show outwardly the fact they lack a relationship inwardly. John’s reason for making the claim that one who is truly a Christian lives by the standard of Jesus became much clearer as he continued…

1 John 3:7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

It seems John’s greatest concern was that Jesus followers grow in discernment, so that we don’t become confused by those who make claims as Jesus followers, but then draw people away in serving according to a morality Jesus has no part in. If you break down what John claimed in verses seven to ten, that point is clear.

• In verse seven, John raised the alarm to be watchful because some desire to confuse in order to deceive. The litmus test that proves the integrity of their faith within is the fact that they cling to practices that are like what Jesus did and taught us to do.

• In verse eight, John unpacked this truth: If the standard of the person is based on the system of the world and not of Christ, they belong to the world and serve the world’s prince – not the Savior. Because they serve the prince of rebels, they appear in opposition to the way of Jesus. Our Savior stands in direct opposition to a world that desires to make a different right, and different moral construct, a different way to find peace and contentment.

• In verse nine, John reiterated: People who know God intimately follow His standard. They wouldn’t dream of making up their own way and thinking God is happy with that. They have within the Spirit of God, and conviction would critique their poor choice. They have the example of Jesus, and they would sense quickly their way was the wrong way. They have become a part of the family of God, and they would not, they could not be comfortable acting like a child without a home and family.

• John laid out the fact of the clear marker that delineates the difference between a true follower of Jesus and one who claims to be but is not. He noted the one who follows Jesus follows the standards and model of Jesus. He loves the others who follow Jesus and sees them as family. The one who has no regard for the follower of Jesus has no true surrender to Jesus inside.

What may read like a high resounding theology is actually a very simple statement. People can fake a commitment to Jesus, but if you watch them closely, the cloth of their life is thin. Claims are a veneer surface, but life has the tendency to quickly wear through our verbal assertions. When we call for people to follow us, we open our lives to inspection for the kinds of works that Jesus would do. We invite people to evaluate the source of our moral premises and principles. In that investigation, when we show ourselves to follow the pattern of the world and not the Word – we quickly expose the reality that we are not truly following Jesus.

John didn’t want believers to follow people that made claims that were separated by the actions of the one making them.

Today people are queasy about being “judging people” because they have been poorly taught the way of Jesus. They will say things like: “We shouldn’t judge others – that is for God to do.” On the surface that sounds like a call to give others the benefit of a doubt. Yet, what it most often means in contemporary society is that we have no place in discerning whether someone’s claim is real. That simply isn’t true. John couldn’t call on people to match life with word in order to resist being deceived if that was wholly inappropriate.

Add to that, we couldn’t make simple judgments about who our children should spend time with if we weren’t allowed to make such judgments. We are being trained to believe that all forms of discriminatory activity are intrinsically wrong. That is false. We have to discern between one who is what they appear to be and one who is playing a role in order to deceive us. We cannot and will not be obedient to God if we renege on that responsibility. John pulled his readers back to the sign of “brotherly love” when he wrote:

1 John 3:11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.

John exposed what may have been one of the first overt signs of having an inner surrender to God – caring for the people God placed around us. That love wasn’t just a surface politeness with a raging jealousy beneath. Cain’s heart toward God was wrong, and it showed openly when he willingly spilled the blood of his brother. Love is seeking the best for our brother, not seeking their harm out of our brokenness. In his epistle, James claimed that we lash out at others because something is wrong within. Here, John made plain that our treatment of our brother in authentic love for them is a telltale sign that we truly know God and are walking with God. We can share love because the inner conflict has been stilled.

Earlier in this lesson I made the claim the world wants the benefits of a walk with God even if they do not have one. When we carefully consider the issue of “having love of others” that is clearly the case. People who do not know God want people to love them. We are hardwired that way. People are deeply relational unless supremely damaged and emotionally disrupted. They want to have rich and enduring relationships. Yet, without the way the Lord designed relationships, that is very problematic.

Let’s be clear: Follow the world’s design for relationships and you will not find satisfaction and lasting love in them.

Hook up and you will find quick pleasure, but you won’t make a life partner. Sleep around and you won’t find someone who is deeply invested in caring for your needs for life. Hang out in the world’s version of a mating dance and you won’t discover someone who knows a great deal about building a solid moral home. Remember what John wrote? He claimed: “People who know God walk like Jesus did. When they follow the pattern of Jesus, they build relationships with people based on sharing God’s love with them. That is what Jesus did. They give of themselves to help another even when the other has little or nothing to give back. That was the Savior’s example. In short, they understand love. The world has neatly defined self-interest, self-pleasure and self-seeking as love. It isn’t, and it won’t produce lasting satisfaction like real love will. People who club their way to “finding real love” will find others who don’t understand what God meant when He invented the word. That is a room of needy takers, but love is about giving.

There is a stark contrast between the selfish sentimentalism that passes as love in our world and how God told us to act toward one another. As a result, when we teach and model truth, it exposes the false premise of the world around us. It is bound to get a reaction. John continued:

1 John 3:13 Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.

Though it may not be immediately clear, there are really two thoughts here.

First, we must understand the world often reacts to the truth badly, because they have been taught to cling to a lie. At the foundation of the world, the prince of deception has confused and deceived with not one, but a series of contradictory stories that fluster and frustrate those who search for the truth. He has literally overwhelmed the truth with alternative explanations of origin, purpose and destiny, keeping truth buried under a pile of garbage.

Is there a god? Maybe, but now there are literally dozens of them to sort through to try to find the One Who is true. Were all things intentionally created? Perhaps, but it may be that there was a big bang or a lightning bolt to primordial ooze, or aliens that planted the human colony. Maybe we don’t even live in a real world. We could all be hooked to some big umbilical cord and be dreaming. The notions of origin and reality go on and on and on. Is there more than the material world? “We don’t know,” they say. “We cannot know,” they teach. Yet we are trained to live as though this is what counts.

When you have been thoroughly educated in the ways of the world, you will see life as material and earthly – and think of God as you would fairies and unicorns – something fun to think about but highly unlikely to the educated mind. As the world is coaxed away from any allegiance to the message of the Creator found in the Bible, they will see “equality” as all eliminating distinctions and “freedom” as cutting all boundaries. Yet, the militancy that is found in their version of equality will quickly show itself, and the abuses against the weak will become swiftly apparent in their fallen view of freedom. I don’t want to be abstract. Here is the truth: when the world teaches that love can be found drifting from one sexual encounter to another, killing of the inconvenient unborn becomes a necessity. When they rethink equality, they are willing for all deviant behavior to be allowed – but they are not willing to accept any plea against that behavior as anything but HATE SPEECH.

In our brave new world, people keep committing sin that has plagued man since the Garden of Eden – but now they can legally redefine it as right and good. The new definition for morality is whatever makes people happy. The problem is the foundations of society aren’t built to withstand that kind of thinking. Our system was built with a Biblical world view. Mortgages are based on the idea that people should feel wrong about not paying what they owe. Elections are based on the idea that one who offers a compelling vision of the future that convinces the electorate should have the opportunity to try to make their vision reality. Child rearing was based on the notion that a biological pair would come together in a life-long commitment to each other and build a safe space for children to be carefully patterned.

When you tear into the foundations, the building begins to crack.

Welcome to a society where killing a whale is inherently evil, but killing the unborn is your right. Sitting in a restaurant smoking a cigarette is immoral because it affects those around you, but redefining marriage and teaching our children in our schools that their Bible is woefully outdated and their parents are just misinformed is the unmitigated right of the state. My point is this: People immersed in the fallen world don’t react well to truth. It isn’t clear to them, and we don’t appear to be what we truly are at all.

Beside the fact that people who are immersed in the fallen viewpoint of the world don’t generally respond to moral truth in a positive way, there is a second meaning to verse thirteen. Believers will be prone to forget how much God’s way contrasts with the world, and how utterly uncomfortable we make people who have no commitment to God. That is why John made the abrupt statement that we would eventually find ourselves on the back end of hatred.

There was a time most believers would have said John’s term “hate” was too strong. I don’t think that time is now.

We have been living with a growing hatred and it is just below the surface – ready to pounce when it can find the power to do so. It is the reason we have recently worked to circle the wagons with believers and anyone with which we can find help in to stem the political and intellectual tide.

• As Jesus followers, we have to remember we hear the media with different ears than others. When our Biblical beliefs, foundational to our world view, are mocked because we don’t believe that a man with male parts can simultaneously be a woman because he feels like it today – we don’t feel like we are stretching the truth.

• When we demand that a baby be protected from those who would thrust an instrument of death into their skull weeks before they are born, we don’t think we are being hateful. We think we are defending human life. We aren’t cutting off freedom, we are making sure that life is not demeaned.

• When officials enlist our schools to force curricula concerning Freud’s made up gender ideology, we don’t believe Christian parents are being hateful to teach their own children the Scriptures. We believe we are preserving the parent’s right to pass their beliefs to their children. We don’t believe that diversity and tolerance mean we can allow them to rewrite morality daily with no care for the people and  institutions it may destroy.

We don’t believe we have moved the goal posts or redefined things. We aren’t creating new letters and phobias with each new semester. It isn’t us. Most of us really are not activists. We believe in our future – but feel responsible for what was passed to us.

• When bakers and photographers can’t choose to opt out of involvement in something that violates their faith – we don’t want to see their businesses destroyed in the name of tolerance.

• When nuns are forced to provide funding for birth control, we don’t think our country becomes more free. We feel like our government is attacking us, and ignoring Biblical values.

We get tired of being called names because we still believe what the Bible teaches – but John cautioned we should understand why it happens. Ironically, we can point out how many of those beliefs set forth in the Scriptures are what gave us the freedoms and foundations of the very society that are under attack. Honestly, hate is looking less and less like a word too strong for how the world feels if one looks at media, the world of education or in the realm of entertainment.

John continued…

1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.

If a telltale sign of real life in Messiah is obedience to the Word, it is also in the commitment to loving brothers and sisters and clinging to one another. John elaborated:

1 John 3:15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 We know love by this; that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?

John asked a very fair question. How can we claim we love our brothers if we don’t practically care for them. How can we say we love the weak if we offer no defense for them? How can we claim we love the needy if we do nothing to help them attain what they need?

In fact, John waved off the notion that one could claim love at all – unless it was surrounded by evidence in deeds. He wrote:

1 John 3:18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

Further, he offered encouragement that if we show love and care for others – it will help us INSIDE. We will have an assurance within that we are truly following and actively walking with God. We are following our Master, and we can KNOW it. He wrote:

1 John 3:19 We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him 20 in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.

It seems counter-intuitive, but John argued that when we give away our heart, it grows stronger. When we care about others, we gain confidence in our faith. When we give away what He has given us, we open ourselves to receive yet MORE from Him. In the end, John offered a simple summary of the believer. On the one hand it is about the One in Whom we have placed our trust. On the other hand, it is about the brother for whom we are willing to readily give our life away:

1 John 3:23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. 24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

John couldn’t be clearer. There are those who reckon the commands of Christ something that blesses us when we follow them. There are others who believe they need to figure out life on their own, and make their own standards of right and wrong behavior. One is invested in the word, the other keeps their ear to the ground for the ever-changing moral code of the world. Here is his point:

Where one makes his own rules, sin reigns. Where one follows God’s Word, Jesus reigns.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a novel written by Mitch Albom published in 2003. The story chronicled the life, the death and the afterlife of an amusement park maintenance man named Eddie. He died in a heroic attempt to save a little girl from an accident in an amusement park on a ride that was about to fall. Eddie died and went to heaven, where he encountered five people who had a significant impact upon him during his life.

I read the book a decade ago, and it has stuck in my mind because of some of the writer’s keen insights about life. It wasn’t written by a Jesus follower, and it isn’t a Christian book – but it had some excellent insights into life.

On Eddie’s birthday, one of the amusement park rides malfunctions and Eddie realizes a little girl will be crushed by the ride. He threw himself toward the girl, intending to pull her to safety, but was killed…He awoke to find himself uninjured, young and much more energetic. He met a man he had known from his childhood and, Eddie finds out that he is dead, has gone to Heaven and has embarked on a journey through five levels of discovery. He met a man who died when Eddie and his brother threw a baseball that landed in the middle of the road, and caused the man to have a heart attack and pull over the car and collapse. From this, Eddie learned his first lesson which is that there are no random events in life and all individuals and experiences are connected in some way.

The second person that Eddie met was a former captain from the army. He reminded Eddie of their time together as prisoners of war in a forced labor camp. Their group escaped after a long captivity and set the camp on fire during their escape. As the fire blazed, Eddie saw a shadow running from one of the huts he lit, although he never identified the figure. The Captain confessed he shot Eddie in the leg to prevent Eddie from chasing the shadow into the fire, which would have certainly caused Eddie’s death. This saved Eddie’s life but left him with the severe limp that Eddie repeatedly blamed as his main obstacle for missing out on a life outside of the maintenance of the park. He also learned about the sacrifice of the Captain as they spoke. The man died when he deliberately stepped on a land mine that would have destroyed the truck taking Eddie and his company to safety. Eddie learned his second lesson about the importance of people’s willingness to make sacrifices for others, big and small.

There are three more scenes in the book (I won’t ruin it for you). What stuck in my mind was the Captain. He knew his duty was to his men – because that was drilled into him in his training. He also knew that duty had become something that was more than a job. It was something that changed his heart. He loved the men. He wanted to show his obedience to the commands he was given – but that was only a part of his life. He loved doing it. It filled his life. The great quote that captured the idea was this: “Sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you’re not really losing it. You’re just passing it on to someone else.” ― Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven.