The Family Photo Album

1 John 3:1-3 - How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

1 John 3:9-11 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.

Read all of 1 John 3.

Background Notes:

There’s nothing like going through the family photo album to bring back memories of good times together. Besides enjoying the memories, seeing your picture in the album confirms that you are a part of the family. If you weren’t part of the family you wouldn’t see yourself pictured time and again in the album. The apostle John’s first epistle is like a family photo album. If you are a true believer, you will be assured of your salvation when you read through 1 John because your “picture” as a member of God’s family will be there on the pages. If you’re not a true Christian, you should be convicted and concerned when you don’t see yourself pictured in “God’s family photo album” of 1 John.

“Life in God’s family” is the theme that emerges from the first epistle of John. Just as there is a special and important relationship and fellowship between members of an earthly family, so there is a unique relationship and fellowship between members of the family of God. Christian fellowship is more than just a Christian social club that has church suppers, coffee hours and weekend retreats together. Since the Holy Spirit has joined all true believers together into the body of Christ and made each one a member of the family of God, Christian relationship and fellowship are important realities.

As we look through the “family photo album” of 1 John, when we come to chapter 3, we find two tests of membership in God’s family. They are tests of “family likeness.” Just as we detect the family likenesses of parents and siblings in a family photo album, so we should be able to detect whether or not we’re in God’s family by looking for signs of family likeness as we look at the 3rd chapter of 1st John. The first test for detecting membership is seeing the family likeness of righteousness (v4-10), and the second test is seeing the family likeness of brotherly love (v11-18).

Is your picture in God’s family photo album? Do you recognize yourself as you look at this chapter? Let’s look a little further at these two tests of family likeness from 1 John 3.

Doctrinal / Teaching Points:

1. Righteousness is a test of family membership.

 1 John 3:4-10 is more than just a casual glance through the family album. It’s a test of Christian family membership. If your life is characterized by righteousness, you pass the test! A righteous lifestyle is evidence that you are a true believer and you really are a member of the family of God. If, on the other hand, your life is often characterized by selfish and sinful desires and actions, that’s evidence that you may only think you’re a Christian. You may go to church, profess to be a Christian and talk like a Christian, but if your life fails the family likeness test, how can you say that you are a true member of the family of God?

a. Those who practice sin fail the test. “No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to live in sin has either seen Him or known Him” (v6). “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God...” (v9). What are these verses saying? They can’t be saying that we must be sinless to be in God’s family—that would leave all of us out! Furthermore, John can’t be contradicting himself. In 1 John 1:10 he says, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar, and His word has no place in our lives.” The answer is that the Greek present tense is used here, and the use of this tense implies continuous action. The idea is that whoever is born into God’s family does not continue to live a life which is characterized by sin, or make a habit of sinning in certain areas of life, or continually practice sinful actions and activities.

When you become a Christian you are born into the family of God. You now have new, divine life, and “this seed remains in us” (v9). The use of the word “seed” (“sperma” in Greek) means that the paternal characteristics of our Father have been passed on to us and remain in us. This seed in us not only assures us of our family membership and eternal security—it’s the reason why a true believer will not live a life that is characterized by sin.

If you claim to be a Christian but you’re selfish and determined to have everything your own way and do your own thing, can you claim you have a family likeness to our our Lord Jesus, who gave up all His rights for our sake? Is the likeness of God our Father seen in you if you’re having an extramarital affair, or you can’t control the desire to click on pornographic web sites, or you’re using questionable or illegal practices in your business, or you don’t even try to control sinful thoughts, or you hate any kind of authority in your life? If your life is not reflecting the kind of righteousness that characterizes the family of God you should examine your heart to see if you reallyare a Christian. Have you at some point in your life made a conscious decision to commit your life to the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord? If so, has this decision made a difference in the way you live your life? “No one who is born of God will continue to sin” (v9) Those who continue to practice sin fail the test—they are not in the family of God.

b. Those who practice righteousness pass the test. “He who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous” (v7). Let’s start with the last phrase, “He is righteous,” and then refer back to the end of verse 5: “And in Him is no sin.” This is one of the “Big Three” Scriptures which describe the absolute perfection of our Lord Jesus. 1 Corinthians 5:21 says He knew no sin. 1 Peter 2:22 says that He did no sin. And 1 John 3:5 says that “in Him is no sin.” In these three Scriptures the apostles Paul, Peter and John all testify to the perfect sinlessness of Christ.

Now back to the beginning of verse 7: “He who does what is right is righteous.”What does that mean? It doesn’t mean that we’re sinless, as we have already seen. Here’s the point: when we become Christians and are born into the family of God, the new life that we receive is righteous. In fact, 2 Peter 1:4 says that we are partakers of the divine nature, so the new life in us is righteous, just as Jesus Christ is righteous! We still sinbecause we still have our fallen sinfulnatures, and we’ll continue to struggle against sin until we receive our new resurrection bodies and are fully “like Him” (v2). However, because of the new righteous life that we have in Christ, we should not want to live a life that is characterized by sin. Our lives should increasingly be characterized by wanting to do what is right. We won’t want to practice sin. We’ll want to practice righteousness! If that’s true in your life, you’ve passed the test. It’s evidence that you are in the family of God because you have the family likeness of righteousness.

Notice that there is no middle ground. You’re either a child of God or a child of the devil. “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God...” (v10). Whom does your lifestyle resemble? Are you practicing righteousness or sin? Are you “being transformed into His likeness” (2 Corinthians 3:18)? Those who practice righteousness pass the test! Those who practice righteousness are in the family photo album.

2. Brotherly love is a test of family membership:

 In 1 John 2, the apostle mentioned love for fellow-believers as a test for membership in God’s family. In chapter 3 it’s mentioned once again as an important character trait that should be seen in God’s family members. Once again we have two sub-points.

a. A negative example of brotherly relationship: In verses 12-15, Cain is given as a negative example of brotherly behavior. Why did Cain murder his brother?“Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous” (v12). Outwardly Cain’s works did not look evil. After all, he brought his best offering to God. But that was exactly the problem. He came to God in his own way, with his own offering, and not by God’s way of sacrifice. Cain is like a lot of people today who try to come to God in their own way, with their own good works, rather than coming God’s way. God’s way is the way of sacrifice, through Jesus Christ who died for the sins of the world.

As a result of God’s rejection of Cain’s offering, Cain was jealous of Abel, and his hatred resulted in murder. “Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness... he does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded him” (1 John 2:11).“Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him” (v15). As verse 15 indicates, hatredis murder in embryo form. Of course this verse doesn’t mean that a murderer cannot become a Christian. A murderer who repents of his sin and comes to Christ as Savior will receive forgiveness and eternal life. But people who call themselves Christians, yet can never get along with their fellow-believers, and are constantly (there’s that Greek present tense again) causing friction and wanting their own way, or are selfish with money and time and refuse to help fellow-Christians in time of need are not true believers. That type of person is not in the family of God, and has not “passed from death to life” (v14). That person is spiritually dead and does not have life in the family (v14).

b. A positive example of brotherly love: In verse 16, the Lord Himself is the supreme example of brotherly love. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.” He gave His life for us so that we could be saved (Romans 5:8). But 1 John 3:16 goes further and says, “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” This is the ultimate sacrifice of brotherly love, and many Christians have given up their lives for fellow-believers. Think of Christian leaders under godless, hate-filled governments who have given their lives for their flocks.

Verse 16 gives us the greatest expression of brotherly love, and now verse 17 gives us the minimal expression of brotherly love: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” We may never be called on to give our lives for fellow-believers, but we are definitely called on to share with our brothers and sisters who are in need. This doesn’t mean we should give indiscriminately to everyone who’s looking for a “freebie,” but when we see true needs in the family of God we should be ready and willing to share generously.

Something is seriously wrong in the lives of people who call themselves Christians but selfishly hoard their material possessions, using them only for their own comfort and security. God’s Word is full of admonitions and shocking examples which clearly show that selfishness is not a characteristic of a believer’s lifestyle. Most of us could probably get along very nicely with less than we have, and we should heed this message: “Let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth” (v18). Showing brotherly love by helping Christians in need is an important family likeness and should be seen in our lives if we’re in the family. “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence” (v19).

At this point some of you may be worried, and wondering if you really are in God’s family because you don’t find a lot of brotherly love in your heart. It’s never wrong to examine your heart before the Lord. In fact, God helps us examine our hearts about this matter in three ways:

a. Our conscience (vs20-21) - Is your conscience uneasy? God uses the believer’s conscience to either convict us or confirm us about our love for fellow-believers.

b. Our prayers (v22) - Are your prayers being answered? If not, it may be because you’re not obeying His commands to demonstrate true love to fellow-believers.

c. The Holy Spirit (v24b) - The Holy Spirit motivates us as believers to show brotherly love, and He confirms our family membership when we do show brotherly love. Do you see your family likeness in the picture album of 1 John 3? Brotherly love is a test of family membership.

Practical Application:

Remember, the Lord is returning! 

“We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, even as He is pure” (v2-3). The Lord’s return is a fact. It is only a time of when! As we reflect on the Lord’s return and all the changes that will take place in us then, and realize that we will see Him face to face some day, simply thinking through these amazing truths should have a purifying effect on the way we live our lives now. Try this experiment three times every day for the coming week, maybe at every mealtime: Think about the return of the Lord, and say, “Maybe the Lord will return today!” Thinking about Christ’s return should have a purifyingeffect and make a practical difference in your life. It may even revolutionize your life! Always remember—the Lord is returning!
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