reading the bible

Eternal Life – What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Perhaps one of the greatest problems in any church is conflict between believers. We see these issues of disunity all throughout the New Testament. The church in Corinth suffered from this problem. The church in Ephesus was tempted to disunity that stems from a lack of love. The Galatians had forgotten the primacy of love for one another in their legalistic zeal to be justified by works. Paul practically begged the fractured Philippians to love one another after the model of the crucified and risen Christ.

Those who have been Christians for any length of time probably have experienced the type of disunity, quarrelsomeness, hurt, and disharmony so often described in the New Testament. Sadly, the church has a tragic tendency to eat its own. One reason why so many Christians say they no longer regularly attend the corporate worship gathering of the local church is because they have been hurt and devoured by people in the church.

John addresses this problem head on in 1 John 4:7-21, reminding us that those who truly know Christ love other believers. This test to confirm that we truly have eternal life starts with the call to love.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God”

This call is a command, not a suggestion. All Christians are called to love one another because love is from God. In other words, the only way to love the way John calls us to love is if we depend on God’s love as the source of our love. We must understand, though, this is not a love that can be worked up on our own. When we look at other believers, and we realize we are called to love them, we might feel overwhelmed or inadequate to the task. But John reminds us that we are not depending on ourselves to love one another.

We are called to love one another with the same quality of love God has shown to us. We must love one another even when we are not all that lovely or lovable. We must love with an initiating love, a forgiving love, a gracious love, a merciful love, a tender love, and the love that reflects the reality that God is love. People should know that God is love when they see us interact with one another as a church family because they see God’s love flow through us to each other. This is the evidence that we have the Spirit of God.

Next is the confession of love.

“Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God”

True love is accompanied by a certain set of beliefs. Love does not accept any particular set of doctrines as true regardless of their validity, but it demands a certain confession. Love only exists where people confess that Jesus is the Son of God. Apart from being born again and believing that Jesus is who He claimed to be, we cannot really love God or others. However, when we confess that Jesus is the Son of God, we come to know and believe the love that God has for us. We are then able to live in God’s love and have God dwelling within us through His Spirit.

The third truth is the confidence of love.

“By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment”

When we see God at work in us so that we begin to love like Jesus loved us and live out Christ’s love in the world, we have confidence in the day of judgment.

The reality of the day of judgment is an absolute terror to sinners. Those who stand alone before Almighty God, having their thoughts, words, motives, and actions measured against His perfect standard, will fall short and be condemned forever under His wrath. Sinners fear this day because they know a reckoning is coming. Their consciences testify against them that they are guilty before a holy God, and they know they will be justly punished for their sins.

Believers know, though, the good news of the gospel is that we don’t have to look ahead to that day in dread and terror, but we can have confidence on the day of judgment. Christians have no fear at the prospect of the day of judgment because we know that our entire punishment was taken by Christ on the cross. For us who trust in Jesus’ blood and righteousness and resurrection from the grave, that great day will bring no punishment to us if we are in Christ. This is the confidence given by the knowledge of the love of God in Christ.

Finally, John gives us the confirmation of love.

“We love, because He first loved us.”

Our love is always derivative; it is always responsive to God’s love. None of us initiated a relationship with God, but God loved us first. If we are wondering how we know if we love God because we can’t see God, confirmation comes when we love our brothers and sisters in Christ – the people whom God has saved and whom we can see. We cannot love the God who is invisible if we don’t love His people who are visible.

This test is critical to understand. Many find it easy to invent their own god, say that they love God, and deceive themselves into believing they love the true God – when in reality, they love a god they have devised. What puts our love for God to the test, however, is when we encounter God in His people. How do we respond to flesh and blood human beings made in the image of God and indwelt by His Spirit?

That’s one reason why the church is essential for Christians. Those who rarely attend church or are not part of a local church are missing out on this confirmation of love because they are not getting the opportunity to see God’s love on display through them for His people week by week. It is so important for us to love others in a church and be loved by other believers – even as imperfectly as we do.

The only reason we can love with God’s love is because of the transformation brought about in our lives by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Before we knew Christ, we could never love truly. But now we have gone from death to life, from blindness to sight, and from hatred to love. And the Spirit produces this love for God’s people in our hearts because God is love and love is from God.

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