Abiding in Death
A new commandment I give to you is that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35 ESV).
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death” (1 John 3:14 NKJV).
It’s hard to think of a passage of scripture that gets our attention quite like 1 John 3:14. Abiding in death means a person is without Christ and in danger of the Second Death, which is eternal damnation. But, unlike passages that call for knowing a tree by its fruit, 1 John 3:14 forces us to look at our own lives and ask, have I passed from death unto life, or am I still abiding in death? Do I love everyone or just a select list? Do I behave lovingly towards others as God commanded, or do I hate or mistreat people? This is the test of tests.
God wants the Saints to realize that there is no possible way a person can be unloving and be saved. To abide in death is to be separated from the life of Christ.
John (the author of both of our texts) and his brother James were first known as the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17). Presumably, this name was reflective of their temperament (Luke 9:54). However, after spending three-plus years with the Lord Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, their disposition changed dramatically. The love of God was poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5), substantially altering their temperament. John’s writings substantiate this change because he strongly emphasized love until he died in the late 90s AD.
Do I Love Everyone?
If anyone knew the difference between abiding in the Vine (Christ) and His love and abiding in death, it was John. He could easily spot the difference, and he developed criteria so we could test what kind of spirit “we are of.” Moreover, we can know with some certainty whether we are truly saved or not. One of these criteria is found in 1 John 3:14b. He who does not love his brother abides in death.
We must ask ourselves, “Do I truly and verifiably love my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ?” How do my actions line up with 1 Corinthians 13 and the list of what love does and doesn’t do? Do I love people how I want to be loved and how I love myself? In other words, do I treat everyone the way I want to be treated?
Do I love people like Jesus loved me, or is it “feigned love” or “cupboard love?” Feigned love is pretense. It smiles to your face and harms you when you’re back is turned. Cupboard love describes the selfish, greedy, or insincere affection displayed towards another person to get what they want. Pets usually demonstrate cupboard love.
The word death in 1 John 3:14b is spiritual death. In scripture, death is not annihilation; it is separation. Therefore, spiritual death is separation from the life of God. A person either abides in the life-giving True Vine or they abide in death. The Greek word for abide is meno, and of the 100+ times it’s used in the New Testament, 45 are in John’s writings.
There are three steps in John’s argument: love for the brethren is a visible sign of spiritual life (1 John 3:14a); the opposite is also true (“anyone who does not love remains in death,” (1 John 3:14b); furthermore, anyone who “hates his brother” is in effect “a murderer” (1 John 3:15). (WBC)
Testing the Fruit
The simple test for everyone is either the presence or non-presence of the fruit of love. The “love test” ends all confusion and arguments if we are faithful to God’s word. No need to keep examining the person. Loving behavior is standardized. We can identify it by what’s taught in the New Testament. There are no exceptional circumstances that alter what it means to love. Sometimes people make excuses for bad behavior, but this will never do. If we overlook an unloving person’s behavior and normalize it, we bear responsibility for their final demise. If we tolerate one who loves selectively, we assume responsibility for the destruction they cause the churches if we allow them to minister.
Who Has Eternal Life Abiding?
Many people ignore John’s teachings to their own destruction. They eventually end up in Hell despite hearing countless sermons and teachings on brotherly love. The Holy Spirit wrestles with them, but they continue resisting until the end. They don’t see themselves as unloving when they hear a sermon or read a book or article on Biblical love; they see other people. In the language of Paul to Timothy, “They are deceiving and being deceived.” They are testing themselves with criteria other than love or the fruit of the Spirit.
Many professing Christians never bother to study God’s word meaningfully and, as a result, never see their true reflection. James speaks of looking into the perfect law of liberty as if it’s a mirror and immediately forgetting the type of person we are. The word of God gives examples of what love is and what it’s not. The Old Testament could be reduced to loving God and our neighbor.
An Age of Deception
In an age of almost universal deception, how are we to know who is and who is not a legitimate saint? Is there a basis upon which we can determine with certainty who is deceiving and being deceived? What are the criteria? Is it miracles? Is it signs and wonders? How can we know who is true and who is false?
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” (Matthew 7:21–23 ESV)
Moreover, how can I know if I am a legitimate saint? Jesus said that many will say to him, “Lord, Lord…” The Greek word for many in our passage is translated as great multitudes in Matthew 4:25 and 12:15. Obviously, many people lived their lives completely deceived. In the frightening words of the great Greek scholar A.T. Robertson, “Jesus will tear off the sheepskin and lay bare the ravening wolf.”
The time has come to stop playing games and start expecting believers to behave Christlike anywhere and everywhere. Who will know where to assemble in the battle if we don’t raise the standard? Figuratively speaking, the fruit of the Spirit is the full-time uniform of the born-again believer. It must never come off. People are known by their fruits. So we mustn’t make excuses for people saying, “You just don’t understand them.” Nonsense. I don’t need an explanation; I need to see the fruit.
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