We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers.
1 John 3.14
While our hearts are beating we know that we are alive. The beating heart is the sure sign of physical life. I freely acknowledge that such a statement is open to challenge as a person in a coma has a beating heart but many would query whether that is being alive and it is around such questions that arguments for and against assisted dying revolve.
But what John writes here is crystal clear in the spiritual realm. When we put our trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour we pass from death to life but what is the evidence? How can we know that what a new believer says about their conversion is true? Not only as regards those viewing from the outside, but the new believer him or herself, how can they be sure?
John puts it very simply. It is known by relationship and behaviour. It is loving our fellow believers. Why does he put it like this when there are so many other signs for which we look. For example, regular Bible reading and prayer; joining with others in church on a Sunday; attendance at the Lord’s Table; membership of a Growth Group; changes in lifestyle; etc.
Let me suggest that he selects ‘loving the brothers’ because while those in the list above, and many others one could mention, are relatively easy while loving the brothers is hard and therefore a better indication.
It is easy to convince others of our standing with Christ if it is simply a matter of doing those things but to love my fellow believers is hard! They are such a mixed bunch! Some put my back up. Some I would choose to be with, others I would not. Some I disagree with on some doctrinal matters and that divides me from them. Some are just so out of step with me. And so we could go on.
You see loving the brothers (and sisters) is just so against the flow of the world where it is every man for himself and every woman for herself. Yes I know it is not as bleak as that because of the working of common grace but on John’s definition the world without Christ belongs to the evil one and as love, true love, is rooted in Christ it is only those who are his who can truly love. Further, who in their right mind pursues a path that causes other people to hate them? It is only the believer, for the blessings of being a believer far outweigh the hurts of being hated by the world.
This leads us to a possibly uncomfortable position. Do I pass this test? Am I sure from my relationship with my brothers and sisters that I have passed from death to life?
This is not written to raise doubts (for in loving like this we know that we belong to the truth (v.16-17) but rather to challenge us in this area of love. We all fall short but failure is not final. We are not free from sin this side of heaven and when we sin John tells us earlier in his letter ‘we have an advocate (one who speaks in our defence) with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One (Chapter 2. Verse 1).
What John writes in this verse is surely to transform relationships among believers, for love like that is a transforming love and is found only in Christ.