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“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?” (1 John 5:1–5)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
It is still the season of Easter. Fittingly, this is a resurrection text. It may not seem so since resurrection is never mentioned, but the whole idea of love, faith, and obedience to the commandments of God discussed in this text are dependent upon the reality of the resurrection. It begins with the love of God the Father sending forth the Son to redeem His beloved people and then, as a radical implication of Christ’s death and resurrection, putting His love in us through our own personal death and resurrection in the waters of Baptism (Romans 6:3-7).
In the light of Easter morning, we see the cross even more clearly. We see the glory in the greatest love. Jesus was willing to lay down His life for His friends. Jesus considers us His friends because He loves us. The light of His cross shines brightly today because Jesus’ redemption and life for us come from His self-sacrificing resurrection love.
In English, there are not a great variety of words for love, as there is in the Greek. First there is storge—nurturing love. C. S. Lewis, in The Four Loves (1960), pictured this kind of love as a mother nursing a baby or a dog or cat with a basketful of puppies or kittens, “all in a squeaking, nuzzling heap together; purrings, lickings, baby-talk, milk, warmth, the smell of young life.”[i]
Then there is eros—erotic, passionate, head-over-heels falling in love. It is sexual and romantic. It is the love described in the Song of Solomon.
The third kind of love is philos—the love of friendship. Think of Jonathan and David.
And finally, there is agape. This is the word for love in both 1 John 5 and John 15. Jesus says, “As the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you.” Now, we are talking about sacrificial love, laying down one’s life for and because of love for another. This love, as it pertains to divine qualities, is an unconditional, divine love. God is agape. God is love.
Storge, eros, philos—those all happen naturally. But agape does not “just happen” for us, only for God. It must be created, given, and bestowed to us. In other words, such love is sheer gift. Such love is begotten of grace.
“In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (the atoning sacrifice) for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Or, to paraphrase C. S. Lewis, the Triune God created the world out of love so that God, who is love, might have more creatures to share His love with. Lewis also once said, “God’s love is Gift-love. The Father gives all He is and has to the Son. The Son gives Himself back to the Father and gives Himself to the world and for the world to the Father, and thus gives the world (in Himself) back to the Father.”[ii]
Paul uses the same word for “love” in 1 Corinthians 13. Agape is patient and kind. It is not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right. Agape bears all things, trusts all things, hopes all things, patiently endures all things.
You may object: “But I can’t love that way.” True, you cannot, not of your own reason or strength. There is only One who has. Jesus loves you in this manner. His love never fails. And where this standard of perfect love condemns you, Christ fulfills it on your behalf and then puts His love in you in the resurrection of your spirit in Baptism. That is why Jesus says, “Abide in My love.” To abide in Jesus’ love is, above all, to be on the receiving end of His resurrection love.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). That is Jesus’ love for sinners. The Vine dies to give life to the branches. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. Jesus lays down His life for His enemies that He may call them friends. Jesus takes all which is unlovable and makes it lovable in His cross. The love sinners need is the love Christ provides in His life, death, and resurrection.
How do you know Jesus loves you? Look to the baptismal font where Jesus washed your sin and guilt away through the water and Word. Look to the Lord’s Table where you receive Christ’s body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Listen to the Word of the Gospel where the love of God in Christ is established as an abiding reality.
“As the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you. Abide in My love,” Jesus says (John 15:9). How? By keeping His commandments. If you keep, hold fast to Jesus’ teaching and Word, you will abide in His love. In other words, abide in your Baptism, receive forgiveness, hear Jesus’ Word, eat and drink His saving Body and Blood. How does one abide in Jesus? One abides by faith in the One who loves.
These are not commandments to make God love you but means by which you abide in His resurrection love. For the love Jesus commands is the love He gives to you. It is like parents and their children. We do not give our children rules for them to earn our love. Rather, we give them instruction and rules because we love them, so that they abide in love with one another.
Jesus says, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Turn it around and it is clear. “As I love you, so love one another.” As I have laid down My life for you, lay down your life for your neighbor. Everything begins and ends with Jesus’ love and can be accomplished in our horizontal relationships by His resurrection life, love, and Spirit.
Christian identity is established in new birth. Those who are born of God are distinct from those of the world and those of Satan. John connects this new birth to faith, saying “everyone who believes… has been born of Him,” another way of saying what he affirms in his Gospel: “But to all who did receive Him [the Word made flesh], who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
The content of this faith is that Jesus is the Christ, a confession of Jesus as God in the flesh. Such faith translates into Christian action; the believer loves whoever has been born of Him, since we share a common birth, and believers obey His commandments. This is a real brotherhood, revealed in action: Christ, the only begotten Son, is the chief of the brothers, and we love each other because we share a common Father.
Real faith and real love are inseparable. They are like heads and tails on a coin—two faces of the same power. If you have been born again, you love God. If you love God, you will automatically love people. If you love the Father, you will love His children, too.
Loving God also automatically involves being willing to submit to God, to put his thoughts and ideals into your head, to let him steer your behavior, to view obedience as exhilarating, not demeaning. Obedience is now possible for believers, who have been regenerated and renewed by the Holy Spirit. The Word and the sacraments really do have that much power.
This may come as a surprise to young Christians, who are still fresh from the thinking process they went through in order to understand the concept of justification by faith alone. In that context we are taught by Scripture to say “No, we can’t” regarding human works. A human being by birth cannot do what God requires. But what is impossible for an unbeliever is not only possible but essential in the life of a believer. In each reborn Christian, God has forever forgiven the guilt of past sin, changed the clothes from sinful rags to righteous robes, snapped the power of sin to control, implanted the Holy Spirit, and changed the mindset. The goal of saving us was not merely negative—to get us out of hell—but to transform us into something positive, to be men and women who think and act like God,
Here’s another surprise: God’s commands now become joyful to obey. The law of God is indeed bad news to people without faith in Christ. But believers love to hear God’s will and do it. Psalm 119:35 says, “Direct me in the path of Your commands, for there I find delight.” We come to see that all the commandments of God really are good for us and lead to happiness. Imagine how much better our lives would be if everyone around us kept God’s commandments.
The faith, love, and -obedience that connects you to Jesus enables you to share in His triumphs. In John 16:33, Jesus told His nervous disciples: “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” Several hours later, as He died on the cross, He crushed the head of the serpent for us and gave us His victory.
Here in verses 4 and 5, John says that everyone born of God, everyone who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, has overcome the world. Because Christ has overcome the world and shares that victory with you, you have overcome the world, too. Sin and death and devil and world cannot make you bow the knee and surrender to them, because Jesus declares He’s overcome these foes for you.
Live in His resurrection love! Where you still sin, again you confess those sins and rejoice in the forgiveness that Jesus has won—for by that grace He restores His victory to you once more. Where you face death, you do so with the hope that victory over death is yours: Christ has shattered the tomb, and He will shatter your grave and raise you up, too.
Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[i] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (London: Geoffrey Bles Publishing, 1960), 30.
[ii] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (London: Geoffrey Bles Publishing, 1960), 11.