Children of God are Identified by Their
Faith, Love, and Obedience
1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
–1 John 5:1-5
Jesus was asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (Mk 12:28), His answer was to love God. But do you really love God? Many fool themselves into thinking they really love God when they say or think such things as: “I do not go to church, but I love God”; “I hate religion, but I love God”; :I do not have a belief in God, but I love God”; “Sure I smoke and drink, but I still love God”; “I am not perfect, but I love God”; “I do not believe everything in His book, but I love God” or “Because I love God. I simply don’t need religion to tell me what’s right and wrong. But I love God and I know right and wrong without the book telling me.” The apostle John can help one overcome these delusions in 1 John 5:1-5.
■ Believers in Christ are Born of God
One of the themes of John is regeneration or being born again (5:1a; 2:29; 4:7). To be a member of God’s Kingdom, Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again (John 3:3,5). The new birth requires a continued faith in Jesus as the Christ, that is, the anointed Son of God. This is an out-and-out obligation.
■ Lovers of God Love Those Born of God
In addition to every child of God being a believer, they are equally obligated to love other children of God (5:1b). As John demonstrated previously, it is impossible to love God and not love His children. There are many reasons motivating a child of God to love one another: they have the same father, they were born again into a new life, they are brothers and sisters in Christ, they have the same citizenship and eternal home, they enjoy the same spiritual blessings, they have all been adopted out of the love of God for sinful man. The love for others is determined upon one factor: our fellowship as children of God. No other particular or circumstance matters, whether it be, race, education, appearance, personality, economic status, etc.
■ Lovers of God’s Children Love God
Christians often fail to love those in this world and furthermore fail to love those of God’s family, it is no wonder they often fail to love God. How does one have the assurance of loving others when he loves God? Because loving God is to “keep His commandments” (5:2c). God commands all his children to love all his children. So, “when we love God” (5:2a) we will keep this commandment. And so, “we love the children of God” (5:2b).
■ Keepers of God’s Commandments Love God
Everyone who claims to love God does not even understand what loving God is all about. John tells us “for this is the love of God that we keep His commandments” (5:3a). Loving God is not a mere emotion, but an active devotion to doing His will. This definition of love for God is repeated several times in John’s Gospel (John 14:15,21;23-24; 15:10; 15:14). As true love for one another must be expressed in more than just words or thoughts but requires actions (3:18), so loving God requires action to demonstrate love for Him.
All of creation obeys the word of God. Mankind does not respond to God the way even the winds and the waves have obeyed His will. Man has not only the right to choose whether or not to obey God, he is selfish and wants to have the freedom to do His will. He has deceived himself into believing that God’s ways are going to shackle him to a life of pain, suffering, and no fun.
In contrast to man’s misconception John adds, “and His commandments are not burdensome” (5:3b). The term “burdensome” refers to a heavy load to difficult to carry. Jesus often condemned the Pharisees for placing heavy loads or burdens upon the people (Matt. 23:4; Luke 11:46) by way of their human traditions. Later the apostles condemned the Judaizing teachers for placing a yoke of bondage upon the Gentile Christians by requiring them to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses (Acts 15:10,11; Gal. 5:1). In contrast Jesus says to His disciples, “come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
You can learn to love God and love doing His commandments. How one responds to the commandments of God is determined by the attitude he has when he reads the Bible. If he reads it like a list that must be done or else face prison time, the laws of God become a burden. If he reads the Bible as love letters from a Father who wants to help guide His children, they will be light. The Psalmist wrote, “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97). Children who love their parents have no issues with the commands. If they love themselves, they think their parents’ rules are stupid. Laban required Jacob to labor seven years for the hand of Rachel in marriage. “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her” (Gen. 29:20).
■ Believers Overcome the World
In verses four and five John uses the phrase “overcomes the world” three times. He had previously mentioned it in relation to the young men overcoming the Devil (2;13,14). “Overcome” is translated from the Greek verb nidao used by John more than any other writer of the New Testament. “The word means ‘to conquer,’ ‘to gain the victory,’ or ‘to defeat.’ It was a popular term among the Greeks, who believed that ultimate victory could not be achieved by mortals, but only by the gods. They even had a goddess named Nike, the goddess of victory who aided Zeus in his battle again the Titans” (MacArthur 174).
The term “world” stands for the system of evil ruled by the evil one and at war with God and His family. The reason Christians can be victorious over the world is their relationship the God as their Father. “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world” (5:4a). A child of God is no longer loving the world (2:15-17) or conforming to the world (Rom. 12:2). They have no friendship with the world (James 4:4) and the former spots of sin by the world have been washed away in the new birth (Js. 1:27). They put on the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:10f). They are able to resist the Devil (Js. 4:7a).
Faith is the victory (5:4b). Victory over the world is assured only to “he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (5:5b). The victory over the world began the day one is baptized into Christ, that is, being born again. John mentions the term “overcome” seven times to assure the seven churches of Asia of the blessings coming to those who have been victorious (Rev. 2,7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21). The eleventh chapter of Hebrews lists those saints of old who were victorious through faith. Jesus reassured the apostles on the night He was to be betrayed, “these things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
– Daniel R. Vess