Part I: John 1:1-18 | Part II: John 1:19-12:50 | Part III: John 13:1-20:31
Part IV: John 21:1-25 | Interlude: Gnosticism

This post has been a real struggle to write. With anything that is written for this site, my first priority is God’s glory—that I am properly portraying his message. Second, my desire is to edify God’s people. Third, each of these studies in God’s Word must impact my life. And that is where the struggle in writing this next essay on obedience has brought me. In reading through a commentary on John’s Epistles, I ran smack into this statement, “Belief and behavior are inseparable. Mind and heart belong together. True light leads to real love.” With that statement, David Jackman completely captures the essence of why John wrote his first epistle: “All these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:4). Additionally, this statement captures the epitome of a Christian’s life:

  1. If what we believe does not affect our behavior, then that makes us a liar as John states in 1 John 2:4. “But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in Him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:5-6).
  2. If our hearts and minds are not knit completely together, then our confidence will waver and we will no longer do what is pleasing is His sight. “And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:19-22).
  3. If we do not allow light to guide our actions we will not be a conduit for love. “We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:19-21).

These three aspects are all intertwined in the life of a believer; the neglect of one leads to unfulfilled joy. By now those of you who have been following this series on obedience are probably wondering how obedience fits into all of this. The answer is everything! If belief does not affect behavior, if the mind and heart are not in unity, or if love is not led by light… a person is anything but obedient. Furthermore, these aspects are cascading effects of faith. A believer cannot show true love without first allowing his heart and mind to act as one, and portraying his beliefs through his behavior.

First, Belief and Behavior are inseparable. John declares, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments” (1 John 2:3). As studied in John’s prologue (John 1:1-18), we are either God’s (His chosen possession) or we are not. Our obedience is not an optional derivative of belief; it is an unavoidable obligation proving salvation. It is this aspect John centralizes here in chapter 2. “But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in Him. By this we know that we are in Him.” (1 John 2:5). That which is perfected in Him occurred at the cross: “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30). The love that God showed the world in taking on all sin (past, present, and future), is to be displayed in the behavior of every believer.

But John does not stop here, “I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21). John acknowledges that the believers he is writing to already know the truth. As explored previously in John 13:1-20:31, the Holy Spirit author’s truth and directs the steps of a believer. John continues here in 1 John, specifically stating what truth is not: denying aspects of Christ’s deity or humanity in order to uncover hidden knowledge is not from the Holy Spirit. As mentioned in the previous post, John’s epistles address aspects of a new false teaching (see Historical Interlude: Gnosticism) that was emerging in the early church. Speculation was beginning to filter its way into the church causing doubt, and faith stoked by revelation was starting to thin. This is why belief and behavior are inseparable, what one knows depicts how one behaves. For John—and consequently for all believers—adhering to the truth (proper belief) is paramount to life (proper behavior). “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28).

Second, Mind and Heart belong together. “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). John begins this passage reminding the reader of the link between belief and behavior and then continues focusing on the heart: “And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (1 John 3:19-21). John again couples belief (the mind) with behavior (the heart). Except here, he focuses on what our heart tells us. When belief is aligned with behavior, our heart can then function as a spiritual barometer.

As a Christian have I progressed in the life I am supposed to live? Assurance drips from this letter, yet specific passages show me just how far from perfection I really am. It is my heart which shows me where I have fallen short of His glory and purpose for my life. When overlaid against the warnings John gives about the false teachers, we see here that people can lie; but the Spirit attests only to the truth. The same can be said of our hearts, unless we confess our sins Satan will falsely accuse us in our minds and that burden will pull us down; yet our heart does not lie when pricked by the Spirit, it presents knowledge about who we truly are and cries out to be more and more Christ-like every day. Our heart tells us, “this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment” (1 John 3:23).

Third, True Light leads to real Love. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, 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 propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:7-11). As Christians we have an obligation to love, and John exactingly states that the reason we love is because we are born of God. Furthermore, John defines love for us. Love is God. Love is the fact that Christ was sent to die for us in order that we might live through Him. And this is why John continues stating, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in Him” (1 John 4:15-16).

A few weeks ago, my pastor was preaching through this passage in 1 John and rightly acknowledged that “we are not a cistern which collects God’s love; we are a conduit which God’s love flows through.” It is from this statement that I titled this essay and caused me to think about the relationship between love and obedience. This truth is found in 1 John 4:11, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another.” It is this revelation which brings us full circle, love and obedience are inseparable. God’s love which flows through us must be directed by truth, or it is not real love. It is this completely perfected love which allows believers to keep His commandments (1 John 3:24), teaches us truth (1 John 2:27), and assures us that we are inescapably His (1 John 2:3).

In conclusion, writing this essay has caused me to think about my life and how large my conduit of love is. I urge you to do the same. I’ll leave you with one additional thought, it is true that sanctification is progressive and that none of us have reached or will reach our total potential to love here on Earth. But just because sanctification is an ongoing process does not allow one to use it as an excuse to delay change. Jesus tells us love is the greatest commandment, and Paul reveals that love will never pass away. Love therefore caries a larger significance than we are often willing to acknowledge. Every Christian should be reevaluating regularly their walk and focus on how they can better align their belief with their behavior, apply what is known in their mind to their heart, and allow light to guide them into being a conduit of love.

-Next, 2 & 3 John

David Jackman, The Message of John’s Letters, BST (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1998).