We live in a day when it is sometimes difficult if not impossible to distinguish what is “real” from imitations. Indeed, we have become so accustomed to the fake that we prefer the imitation to the real. From imitation food products (oleo, mayonnaise, cheese, crab meat, and on and on) to plastic wood-look furniture to synthetic fibers for clothing, synthetic rubber and a million other things. Some of these the imitation are an improvement over the real (who today rides on real rubber tires?) and with others it may make little difference, but in some things the difference is deadly!
This is especially true in the area of religion. And just as in other things, sometimes it is difficult to distinguish the real from the imitation. Not all that passes itself off as Christianity is the genuine article. There is more that is fake in religion than there is of the genuine. Jesus said as much in Matthew 7:21-23;
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Someone might ask, “What was wrong with these people? They were religious. They were doing good works. They were doing what they were doing in the name of Jesus. I can’t see anything wrong with what they were doing. What was wrong with them?” From a human point of view – especially the “one religion is as good as another” way of thinking – there certainly seems to be no basis for Jesus’ criticism of these people. But the fact is that theirs was an imitation religion. Just doing religious works is not true religion. Just doing good works is not proof of an authentic Christian life.
The apostle John wrote in a time when a system of false teaching was threatening to replace genuine Christianity with a poor substitute. This fake was robbing people of the assurance of their salvation by denying that Jesus had come in the flesh. If He did not have a fleshly body, then His death wasn’t real and if His death was not real, then there was no atonement in the His blood. John wrote to reassure them of the certainty of both their salvation and their hope. In 1 John 5:1-5 he gives the test of authentic Christianity.
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
There are three things John gives as the test of authenticity. One can tell whether he is or one who comes to him with a claim of being a Christian is truly a Christian. Look briefly at these three things John gives that we must look at to determine whether we are truly “in the faith.”
- The test of “belief.” John had written in his account of the life of Jesus that his reason for recording the things he wrote was to produce belief or faith in his readers.“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
False teachers will give you a “system” of belief – certain dogmas they wish to impose upon one as “the true doctrine.” But saving faith is faith in the person of the Son of God who came to earth as a human being, lived among men, died on a cross, was buried, arose from the grave, ascended into heaven and who now reigns at the right hand of God as Lord and Christ. Anyone who comes offering faith in anything else – a “prophet” a church, a creed or a supposed “revelation” or in anyone other than Jesus – is a false teacher and not a Christian. Following him will make one a disciple of a man but not of Jesus. Only faith in the person of Jesus will save us and make us genuine, authentic Christians.
- The test of “love.””Jesus had told His disciples that love for one another was a mark of discipleship.“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35John repeats that “new commandment” in 1 John 3:11 and expands on it in v. 16…“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”
One shows his love by laying down his life for the brothers. How does one do that? That sounds like an impossible demand. He tells us how this works in a practical way in vs. 17-18
“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
How does love identify one as an authentic Christian? Again John tells us why it is so.
“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8).
One cannot be “of God” and not love. God is love – that is, of all the things that are true of God, love is that which above all other things distinguishes Him as God. And if we are “of God” then we will without fail love those who also are “of Him” – our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is, in the context of John’s teaching here, by loving our brothers that we obey God.
- The test of “obedience.” By obeying Him we show our love for God. John wrote in 1 John 5:3…“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”He did not give a long, tiresome list of “dos and don’ts” for us to meticulously tick off as we perform them. His commandments are not burdensome. Jesus said, “…my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30).The nature of the commandment of God is emphasized by Jesus and by Paul. Jesus said that the first and greatest commandment is…
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37,39).
Then Paul stated…
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:14).
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10).
While there are not multitudes of commands, these summarize the whole point of the law of God. The importance of all three of these things is seen in 1 John 3:23-24 where again the commandments of God are summarized by John.
“And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”
We have considered obedience only from the standpoint of what John mentions in the context of his three tests of authentic Christianity. There are other acts of obedience considered necessary such as baptism. However these may better be considered as appropriate responses to God’s love for us. If He loved us, we will love and obey Him. Period. End of issue!