Have you ever walked across the Wheeling Suspension Bridge? It’s a steel deck bridge – so you can see right through it, all the way down to the water. I used to cross it regularly – and would sometimes position myself to look down on the barges as they passed below. That took some faith – faith in a bridge that’s more than a 150 years old.
Did you know that three of the four main cables are originals? And that the bridge sways a bit in the wind and bounces up and down when cars cross it? Walking across it requires some faith.
We speak of faith in God – but it is far more than just belief in the existence of God. Everyone around here believes in the existence of the Suspension Bridge – but not everyone has faith in it. I know several people who refuse to cross it in a car, let alone by foot.
I have faith in the bridge, because I have a relationship with the bridge – it helped me get to work many times. And faith in God comes out of a relationship with God. You may have heard that it’s the other way around, but John’s first letter tells us that it all comes from our relationship with God as His children.
John begins today’s passage by writing that “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Born of God – begotten, being a product of God the Father, just as Jesus Christ the Son was begotten of the Father.
So our belief comes out of that relationship – and it is possible only because we have been born of God. Redeemed by God. Transformed by God. Made new by God. Regenerated by God – that’s the fancy theological term for it.
And John adds that some visible evidence accompanies that new birth: “Everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well.” Love God the Father, love his other offspring – your sisters and brothers in Christ, your fellow Christians. We covered that in detail last Lord’s Day.
But v.2 sounds odd: “This is how we know that we love the children of God, by loving God and carrying out His commands.” We would expect John to write: “This is how we know that we love God:
by loving His children and carrying out His commands.”
Both statements are equally true, but John is not confused here – he means what he writes:
If we love God and obey His commands – then loving His children is not optional – it will follow as surely as night follows day – because loving each other is one of His commands.
So the progression so far looks like this: God makes us His children, gives us faith, and that causes us to love our sisters and brothers.
If you were here last week, you heard about the three words for love in the Greek New Testament – and how agape is the love that comes from a conscious decision, rather than physical attraction or emotional attachment.
And John continues to use the word agape – to keep us from thinking of love for God in terms of warm, fuzzy feelings. Agape requires action and commitment – and that is what our love for God is. Yes, we feel emotionally attached when we sing songs like “Jesus Loves Me” or “In the Gardeb”, but we all know how those emotions come and go like the tide at the seashore.
God wants active love from us – willing obedience. A willingness to lay down our lives for God and each other. When talking with engaged couples about agape, I often refer to firefighters as prime examples of it.
14 years ago this past Friday, 343 firefighters, 50 police officers, and 11 paramedics and EMTs died trying to save the lives of people in the World Trade Center. They and their colleagues who survived were fully aware of the inferno above them and knew that they very well could die. But they ran into the towers anyway.
Most didn’t know who was still in those buildings – so they didn’t do it because of emotional attachments to anyone. They did it because they made the decision long before that Tuesday morning that they would try to save anyone – anytime they had the opportunity.
If that is not agape – then what is? In the same way – we are to love God with agape love – so that, whether we feel like it or not – we will obey His commands.
Even if it means laying down our lives for God. That was certainly a more likely consequence of faith, love, and obedience in the churches to which John was writing than it is here in America. But as our sisters and brothers in the Middle East are suffering persecution at the hands of militant Islam – we should realize that we, too, may be called upon someday to obey God to the point of death.
Usually, though, obedience to God’s commands is not a burden (v.3) – and Jesus said as much when He told His disciples in Matthew 11 that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
Sometimes the hardest command is to love our fellow Christians. Because Christians can be some of the hardest people to love. There’s something about knowing that we are children of God that can make us insufferable – even to each other. I guess it’s because when conflict comes, we insist that Dad is on our side.
But if the agape love of God has filled us – it spills over to those around us – and the bonds of love hold God’s people in fellowship with each other. John is clear that we can do it. We can love each other. And we can obey God’s other commands. Even though it seems impossible. V.4 encourages us: “everyone born of God overcomes the world.”
That’s a powerful statement – and it’s even more powerful in the original Greek. John is not telling the children of God that they are overcoming the world, but that their being born of God is what overcomes the world. God is overcoming the fallen way order of the world by giving us new birth –
by moving us out of the kingdom of death into the kingdom of life through His Son.
Then he adds, “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” It’s in the past tense for a reason – the way of the world has been overcome by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.
That was the great work of God’s agape or covenant love for us.
John wraps up this passage by asking, “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” God in His covenant love gives us faith in Jesus as the Son of God, and in His sacrifice for us, and that is how we overcome.
John pulls all these thoughts together in this passage – and it forms a nice progression:
God makes us new through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ,
so that we can believe in Jesus as His Son and our Savior,
can love God and each other,
and can obey His commands.
So faith, love, and obedience are the marks of being made new in Jesus Christ – as God overcomes the way of the world through us. And that makes us overcomers along with God. Or as Paul put it in Romans 8: “we are more than conquerors.” That is the name of one of the books I use in preparing for our Bible Study on the Revelation – so that should give you an idea of the direction in which that study is going.
We are not victims of the world and its twisted value system – we are overcomers.
We are not victims of temptation – we are overcomers.
We are not victims of doubt and unbelief – we are overcomers.
We are not victims of the law of sin and death – we are overcomers.
Be an overcomer – live a life of faith, love, and obedience to God.