Proofs of salvation: I John

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Today’s reading: I John 1-5.

“Is there such a thing as a test of my salvation?”

The tests of true faith are the meat of First John. John said, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” He didn’t write them to identify the faithless but to encourage the faithful. He prescribed a self-test that Christians can take to prove to themselves that they are one with God, or as the song says, so they can “know that they know that they know that they know.”

And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. I John 2:3

One test of salvation is the test of obedience. True believers keep the commandments of God. Perhaps you thought all the commandments went away with the Law of Moses. If so, you were mistaken. The New Testament is full of commands for Christians. “Be holy, as I am holy.” “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thank in all circumstances.” “Show no favoritism.” The list goes on. John said, “the man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar,” and “whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did,” and “you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.” He also states this test in the negative: “Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. I John 3:14

The next test is the test of brotherly love. According to John, anyone who hates his brother is stumbling around in darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light of God’s guidance and will not stumble. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, killing in thought if not in deed, and those who continue to murder will not inherit eternal life. The one who loves will express his love in actions as well as words. He will lay down his life for his brother. He will share his possessions with his brother who is in need.

And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. 3:24

We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 4:13

John also wrote about the test of the Holy Spirit. Those who are saved receive the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit within them testifies to the truth of their salvation. As Paul said, the Spirit, which is the down payment or earnest money of our heavenly inheritance, “testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). This is an assurance that comes directly from the Trinity.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well…And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  5:1, 11-12

Some tests are tests of action, but the test of belief in Jesus Christ is a test of faith. The man who denies that Jesus is the Christ is opposed to Christ; he is an antichrist. “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.” “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,” and if we can make that profession then we know that we have God’s Spirit in us. If we believe in Jesus, we have accepted God’s testimony about him, that he is truly his own son.

There are a few other tests in John’s letter. There is the test of confession; the one who is saved does not deny his sin but admits it to God. There is the test of worldliness; the true believer hates the ways of the world and is devoted to Jesus. There is the test of habitual sin; no one who belongs to God continually repeats the same sins without remorse or repentance.

Do you see other tests of salvation in John’s letter? Remember, he gave us these tests to strengthen our assurance and to increase the knowledge of our salvation. For those who have doubts, it is an opportunity to examine whether you have repented from sin and put your faith in Jesus Christ as God’s son. John reminds us that we can confidently approach God with all our concerns, including concerns about our faith. He hears us, and having heard us, we will receive what we asked of him, even faith.

Image by ClemsonUnivLibrary on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

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9 thoughts on “Proofs of salvation: I John

  1. “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”

    Just as in his gospel, John here takes pains to declare the authenticity of his words. Why? Because already the church is beginning to be threatened by false teaching and false teachers, even in this short time since the resurrection. This is why Sola Scriptura is such a dangerous heresy, because it negates the authority of scripture as it is crushed under the weight of its own incoherency. John is learning first hand that the key to preserving the truth of the Word is preserving authenticity, and the way to do that is via the church’s and the Apostles’ own open testimony. That is why he opens with a blaring statement of attestation.

    “ If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

    Remember, the Lord himself has given John the power to forgive sins. This is grace being issued through a sacrament, and John is saying, for your own good partake of this grace. I also like how he calls a lie a lie. So few are willing to do that today.

    “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father.”

    They are hearing the truth because it is being spoken to them. John is echoing Paul, hold fast to the traditions we passed on to you.

    “Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.”

    This is indeed a high standard, not unlike Matthew 5, “Be perfect, even as you’re Father in heaven is perfect.” To me this speaks to the justification, sanctification, and glorification that all who seek salvation long for.

    “If you see your brother or sister committing what is not a mortal sin, you will ask, and God will give life to such a one—to those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin that is mortal; I do not say that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not mortal.”

    Mortal and venial sins? This passage speaks to that. Some sins are sins unto death placing the salvation of that sinner at risk, while venial sins appear to carry a much lower risk.

    “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”

    I love the mysticism in this man. He seems to take even the abstract, almost unknowable nature of God, and translates into knowable language for us. Not a bad choice for the one to receive the visions of the Apocalypse. This letter is also a glimpse into the heart of the early Christian community, though perhaps later than the one Paul gives us. It is moving towards the second generation, and John is addressing some of the struggles his community, and all Christian communities to follow, must face: holding fast to the center, which is Christ, while turning to face the onslaught of the world.

    • Eric, I’m willing to admit that Sola Scriptura is not the goal of Christianity, yet in this passage John’s own scriptural attestation which you stress is the very thing that makes this scripture more reliable. Sometimes it seems you, like a man with a hammer, see everything as a nail. I think there is much more to be seen in God’s word if you loosen that grip on the hammer.

      • Your point is well taken. Your blog is nearing its end. I feel compelled to speak the truth about a few issues that God has demonstrated to me that I see are causing great harm in His worldwide church. Who knows who will read this. I do not know how long you will keep it up. This blog is about the Word of God, and I want people to be able to feel secure that His word is authentic and trustworthy. And more than that, that they resist the force of evil that will seek to undermine that truth. I see no clearer example of that than TEC. There we can see the harm isn’t merely academic, it leads to bad fruit, and worse. But you are right, I have burried the head of that nail perhaps too forcefully.

      • More than not a goal, its counter productive; even worse it, can be harmful.

        I had never even heard of it as a Protestant. I bet I am not alone in that. Like all deceptions, it can be subtle and insidious. What I would suggest, is that there is far more than can be seen in God’s word, if you read it where it was intended to be read from the beginning, inside the Church, not in a vacuum.

        St. Thomas Aquinas offers special guidance here. He showed us one effective path to the truth is to fully state both opposing sides of an argument, reasoned from both perspectives, not from one. Then, and only then, can the truth become clear.

      • Ok. So the problems with Sola scriptura are that scripture may not be self-authenticating and it is hard to interpret in a vacuum. The problem I see with the traditions and Magisterium of the RCC is that I cannot accept the infallibility of every one of them, and some go far beyond any plain sense of scripture.

    • “ If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

      Remember, the Lord himself has given John the power to forgive sins. This is grace being issued through a sacrament, and John is saying, for your own good partake of this grace. I also like how he calls a lie a lie. So few are willing to do that today.

      I’m afraid I don’t understand. John says that, if we confess, “he who is faithful and just” – that is, Christ – will forgive us. I don’t see where John himself matters to this statement at all.

  2. Good post! It’s nice to have overlapping tests, there – if the only measure was, “Do you perfectly do everything Christ commands?” we’d be in pretty big trouble. (It’s reassuring that John flat-out says that this is impossible – and still states that he’s writing so that we can know of our salvation.)

  3. Pingback: Bible Daily Devotional – Proofs of salvation: I John | ChristianBlessings

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