Posted by: Billy Marsh | August 27, 2007

Are You A Child of God?: The Test of Truth and the Test of Love


Most Americans are well accustomed to taking tests. We have math tests, science tests, SATs, ACTs, Exit Exams, GREs, breathalyzer tests, and even lie-detector tests. Hopefully, those of you reading this blog haven’t had to take the last two. Often from the pulipits or the classroom podiums, or even in the midst of friendly Christian converstation, we will hear phrases such as “test of faith”, “test of knowledge”, and “times of testing”. The Christian walk is full of various kinds of “tests”; however, all of them are designed to show certain kinds of results once completed. A “test of faith” reveals the maturity and endurance of a person’s faith in God. A “test of knowledge” is intended to disclose the actual amount of information and data that we have stowed away in our minds concerning the scriptures and what the Spirit has taught us through them.

In similar fashion, the disciple John gives us two specific “tests” in 1 John 4:1-5:4: The test of truth and the test of love. The Beloved Disciple places these tests at the disposal of the Christian so that he or she can distinguish between “the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” and “so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment” (4:6, 17). Ultimately, John is giving the Christian community two easy to administer tests which will personally and corporately help discern who is a true child of God, namely one who is born of God.

The reason that John connects these two aspects of the Christian identity is that they are inseparable components. They are mutually inclusive. Often, those who seem to know the truth in terms of their breadth of knowledge are stereotyped as unloving, cold, and disspassionate. In other words, they are incapable of being pastoral because they know too much. On the other hand, those who come across as loving, tenderhearted, bear-hugging people are often deemed as inadequate sources of theology and reservoirs of truth. Why the disconnect? Apparently, John does not separate these two characteristics into opposing categories. According to his teaching, a true child of God must pass the test of truth as well as the test of love; you cannot have one without the other.

The Test of Truth: A child of God must confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh and is from God. John says in 1 Jn 4:2, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” This truth is not surprising since it was Jesus himself who said that the “Spirit of truth”, who also comes from the Father, will bear witness about him (Jn 15:26). True children of God who have the abiding Spirit of God indwelling in their being will undoubtedly confess the Incarnation of Christ. Where the Spirit of truth is, Christ will be glorified and proclaimed. “Confess” here in this case refers to a public proclamation or declaration in the fashion of Ray Boltz’s oldie, “I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb”. So, for one to merely affirm that the statement is truth that Christ is the God-man is not enough; his or her life must publicly testify to this truth, bearing witness to its reality through open confession.

The Test of Love: John states in 1 Jn 4:15-16, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” Here, coming to terms with the love of God goes hand in hand with the active confession of the truth that Jesus is the Son of God. In other words, John is pointing out the coinherence between truth and love. Earlier, John exhorts his readers “to love one another” essentially with the love that God has imparted to us from the Spirit of truth (v 7). He also states that the one who does not love obviously does not know God . Why? Because God is love! If you truly know God, how can you possibly be unloving? Anyone who is validly born from God must know God; and therefore will receive his Spirit, who testifies to Christ which entails love. Furthermore, the theological basis for the motivation behind our loving deeds is the greatest of all love acts, namely the atonement. Hence, a matter of truth empowers loving action. In v 10, John writes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” This statement sounds much like Paul’s portrayal of the similar context in Romans 5:8 which says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Next, he goes on to give a conditional statement arguing that our love ought to be mirrored off of the love God poured out upon us through the atonement in the Son of God, whom we confess, which in turn becomes the test of truth as to whether or not God abides in us (v 11).


The Holy Spirit bears witness to Christ. The one who is born of God has the Spirit. The one who has the Spirit confesses the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The one who confesses that Jesus Christ is the Son of God knows God. The one who knows God loves. The one who loves, loves with the love of God which is the same love displayed in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The one who confesses Jesus and his saving work, abides in God and God in he. Therefore, truth and love are inseparable and entail communion with God. The one who has truth yet does know love is a liar and does not believe. The one who loves yet does not confess Christ who is the Truth (Jn 14:6) does not have true love because love is from God, and one cannot have the Father without confessing the Son (2:22-23, 4:7).

Are you a child of God? If so, then you must confess with the disciple John that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, come in the flesh, the true God, and eternal life (1 Jn 5:20). Are you a child of God? If so, then you must love the beloved, you must love the children of God, you must keep his commandments, and you must love your brother whom you have seen, for if not, how can you love God whom you have not seen (1 Jn 4:19-20)?

I will do a “Part II” soon to show how this concept fits into the three major purposes of John’s reason for writing this letter.

“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

~ Mark 12:29-31 ~

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