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At the end of 1 John 4, the apostle makes it clear that being a son of God is evidenced not by race or even by religion but by one’s heart of love. The purpose of sonship, after all, is for God to duplicate His nature in us, thus bringing heaven to earth.
This follows the basic Hebrew concept of sonship that is expressed so often in Scripture, both the Old and New Testament. To be a son of Abraham, for instance, is not simply about one’s descent from Abraham. It is about imitating Abraham—following his example of faith (Gal. 3:7). Ultimately, to be a son of God means to share His nature. God is love. Therefore, a son of God is also love.
John then restates his premise that faith is the key to being begotten by God and the beginning of sonship. 1 John 5:1 says,
1 Whoever believes [pisteou, “has faith”] that Jesus is the Christ is born [gennao, “begotten”] of God; and whoever loves the Father loves the child born [begotten] of Him.
The Greek word pisteou is the verb form of pistis, “faith.” Hence, John is in full agreement with the apostle Paul, whose letters emphasize faith as the basis of justification. John’s emphasis is on faith as the necessary component of begetting as a son of God. Paul was speaking from the standpoint of the law; John was speaking from the standpoint of family relationships. Paul’s concern was to be restored to a position of honor before the law and the divine court; John’s concern was to be restored to a loving family.
Both views are true, because God is both Judge and Father. By combining the two truths, we can see that when one is begotten by faith, he is also justified by that same faith. This is not to say that John ignores the legal aspects of sonship, for sonship also has a legal basis. There are legitimate sons and illegitimate sons, each determined by law, based on evidence. An earthly court looks at DNA to prove or disprove sonship. The heavenly court looks at spiritual DNA (love-nature) as evidence of sonship, for “everyone who loves is begotten of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).
We read in 1 John 5:2 and 3,
2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.
The law defines love, because the law is an expression of God’s nature. I have seen many recoil in fear or disgust when I mention “the law,” because they have been taught that the law is evil and its commandments burdensome. They have been misinformed, so they fear the law. They do not understand that whatever is not of love is a violation of the law.
The problem is not the law but the Old Covenant. If men do not understand the difference between the law and the Old Covenant, they will reject the law along with the Old Covenant.
Many in the Church reject the law and keep the Old Covenant. We ought to keep the law and reject the Old Covenant in favor of the New. The Old Covenant commands, “Thou shalt not covet,” and we are afraid because we cannot keep the commandment. The New Covenant promises, “Thou shalt not covet,” and we rejoice because we have faith that God will indeed work in our hearts until we no longer covet.
In both cases, the law is the revelation of the nature of God, the universal standard of righteousness by which He measures all things.
The law is not the problem. Paul says in Rom. 7:12,
12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Paul goes on to say that “the law is spiritual” (Rom. 7:14). Hence, the law is neither unholy nor evil nor unspiritual, for it is the nature of God, not the nature of the devil. The law commands love, not sin.
The problem is first that all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). In other words, we violate the law. Our second problem is that we think we can be saved by making an Old Covenant vow to be obedient to the commands of the law.
Both problems keep us in a position of dishonor before the law. When we do not know the solution to our problem, we fear the law and the Judge. But once we know and implement the solution, we realize that we no longer have anything to fear and that the law is no longer burdensome.
The burden is upon God to change our hearts, not upon us to change our own hearts. Those with such faith become “blessed” and are like a fruitful tree planted by streams of water. David says of such people in Psalm 1:2,
2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.
Meditating on the law brings great revelation about the nature of God. Without studying the law, Christians are severely hampered in knowing Him, for they do not avail themselves of the revelation given to Moses and to David and to all the prophets and apostles.
The prime evidence of misunderstanding the law is when people think that it is burdensome. In the case of the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day, the traditions (misunderstandings) of men had made the law a burden for all. Jesus came not to remove the law but to correct men’s misunderstandings, thereby removing the burden.
John understood this, and so he gave us his own definition of love: “this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” He was merely repeating what Jesus said in His final instructions before His crucifixion. Jesus told them in John 14:15,
15 If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
Jesus was simply quoting Scripture from such passages as Deut. 5:10. God says,
10 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
When Jesus calls them “MY commandments,” He was not saying that His commandments differed from those given in the law. He was instead implying that He was the One who gave these commandments to Moses. Prior to His conception on earth, Jesus was known as Yahweh, the Lawgiver, for Isaiah 12:2, 3 tells us,
2 Behold, God is my salvation [yeshua], I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord God [Yah Yahweh] is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation [yeshua]. 3 Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs [wells, rivers] of salvation [yeshua].
Jesus is prophesied every time that the word “salvation” occurs, because the word is Yeshua, which is Jesus’ Hebrew name. Jesus recognized this when He quoted Isaiah 12:3 in John 7:38-40, telling people that He Himself was the well of salvation and the Source of living water. Hence, Isaiah was prophesying covertly that “Yahweh has become my Yeshua.” It was a veiled way of foretelling the incarnation of Yahweh, who was to appear in the form of Jesus.
Love is thus equated to keeping the commandments of Yahweh-Jesus. Those who keep His commandments are those who love Him. Those who refuse to listen to Him or to do as He commands do not really love Him, except, perhaps, on an emotional level. Obedience is an expression of love (phileo). Agreement with His commandments is the expression of perfect love (agape).
John also implies that if we think His commandments are “burdensome,” then the love of God is not yet perfected in us. Some obey as a matter of disciplining the flesh to do what it does not want to do. That is certainly good, for if we allow the flesh to do what it wants, the world would soon destroy itself. But as long as we remain merely “obedient,” we function in phileo love. It is good, but it is not yet perfect.
As we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit (embedded in our own spirit), we are gradually changed into His image, and the desires of the flesh begin to fade and to fall away. Our mind is renewed, and thus we come into agreement with Him and His nature. This is agape. True love is evident when the law is no longer burdensome, but has become a delightful source of revelation.
1 John 5:4, 5 says,
4 For whatever is born [begotten] of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
That holy seed which has been begotten by God overcomes the world. In fact, it transcends the world, because it has a heavenly Father. The key to being an overcomer is faith “that Jesus is the Son of God,” because such faith accepts Jesus as the Pattern for one’s own sonship. Even as Jesus was begotten by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18), so also is the overcomer begotten by the Holy Spirit.
Flesh-and-blood cannot overcome, nor can it inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50). “That which is begotten of flesh is flesh” (John 3:6); it will always be fleshly. Only that child which is begotten by the heavenly Father is a true son of God that overcomes and inherits. In fact, the very act of begetting overcomes the world, for God begets a heavenly being on earth. Each son of God contributes to the overall victory, where heaven is brought into the earth. As each overcomes his portion of the world, creation fulfills its calling and purpose.
Such is the power of true faith, as opposed to mere positive thinking or wishful thinking. True faith is New Covenant faith—that is, faith in the promises of God, knowing that God is able to keep His promises. In contrast, when men have faith that their own well-intentioned promises will save them and make them sons of God, they place their faith in flesh—that is, their own promises or vows—not realizing that this is Old Covenant faith. Misplaced faith lacks the power to overcome and can only lead to defeat.
Old Covenant faith is good, but insufficient. Disciplining the flesh in order to fulfill one’s promise to God can only enjoy partial success. Only God can deliver fully on His promises. Our faith, then, must be in His ability to fulfill His promise to us, not upon our ability to keep our promise to Him.
That is the faith that overcomes the world.