Read 1 John 3.
When you look at your children, you see things that are familiar. Maybe he has your hair color or your eye color. Maybe she looks like your spouse did as a child. Have you ever heard your child say something and thought, “That’s exactly what I would say!” Do your kids have your sense of humor, your temper, your aptitude (or not) for sports? Of course your children reflect you and your spouse because the two of you made them together. They have aspects of your DNA and have listened to you talk, watched what you do, learned how you see the world and react to things around you.
Here in 1 John 3, John tells us that believers act like God because we are his children. First and foremost, he begins by reminding us how deeply the Father loves us because he has called us to be his children (v. 1a) and will eventually cause us to be just like he is when Christ appears (v. 2).
In the meantime, we are misunderstood and rejected by the world because we belong to God’s family now. The world does not recognize the characteristics of God in us because they have not been born of God, so they don’t share in his nature like we do (v. 1b). But since we have the hope of being glorified when Christ returns, our instincts are to become purer in our thoughts and actions, holier in our walk through this world (v. 3).
Verses 4-18 give us a sustained look at the differences between those who have been born of God and those who have not been born of God. Anyone can say that they are a Christian, but those who have God’s nature implanted in them through regeneration will have growth toward righteousness (v. 7) and away from sin (vv. 9-10a). If a person practices sin and becomes more sinful over time, that person is reflecting his father’s nature—his father the devil (v. 8). But if we are children of God by faith in Christ, then we will do what is right and learn how to love others (v. 10). Verses 11-18 go deeper on the aspect of love that stems from God’s nature in us. Loving like God does means loving not hating others, even though the world hates us (vv. 12-13). But our love for each other is a mark of our new nature in Christ (vv. 14-15) and this love is evidenced not by what we say (v. 18a) but by our self-sacrificial actions toward others who have needs (v. 17). Just as Christ sacrificed himself to meet our needs, so we who are his children by regeneration will learn to sacrifice the material things we have to care for and provide for others.
There is a kind of Christianity that is orthodox in doctrine but cold in daily life. When someone calls himself a Christian and answers every doctrinal question about Christianity correctly, we assume that he has faith in Jesus. But it is easy to become smug and cold when we feel like we have all the answers. It is easy to match the hatred the world has toward us with contempt for their sinful lifestyles instead of compassion for how sin has enslaved them. It is easy to hoard our money and possessions for ourselves or give in a stingy way that resents having to share, but none of these things is truly loving.
Having pure, sound doctrine is important but it is not the real test of our faith in Christ. What really demonstrates our faith in Christ is love that sacrifices to help others, even when—especially when—it makes our wallet thinner.
Is this convicting at all?
John says the way our conscience responds to the commands to love either reveals our genuine nature as children of Christ (v. 19, 21) or shows our need for repentance (v. 20). We may struggle with unloving attitudes or stinginess toward those who have real needs, but if we completely ignore God’s commands to love and have no prick of conscience or conviction of the Holy Spirit about it (v. 24b), then we are not God’s children. We are orthodox unbelievers; people who understand the facts of Christianity but have never been born into the family of Christ. So where can you show the love of Christ today? This is the best way to know whether or not you really belong to him (vv. 23-24).