We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. – 1 John 3:14-15 ESV
1 John 3:11-24
Life and death. These two ideas are just one more pair of contrasting topics that John has raised in his very short letter. But they are probably the most basic and fundamental ideas he has addressed so far. For John, death represents the fate of all those who have not believed in Jesus Christ or who believe in a different Christ than the one taught by the apostles. But not only is death their fate, it is their very existence at the time of his writing of this letter. They abide in death. The apostle Paul, comparing the first Adam with the second Adam, Jesus, wrote, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12 ESV). In other words, the sin of Adam and Eve resulted in the sin of their offspring, as illustrated in Cain’s murder of his brother, Abel. And with the sin came the penalty of death. Sin and death became the norm for mankind. But with the arrival of Jesus, that all changed. We read in the gospel of Matthew, “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined” (Matthew 4:16 NLT). The Light shone in the darkness. The Life appeared in the midst of death. The writer of Hebrews gives us a clear explanation of what Jesus’ arrival on the scene accomplished. “Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying” (Hebrews 2:14-15 NLT).
Because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we can have new life. By believing in who He claimed to be, the Son of God and the Savior of the world, we can move from darkness into the light and from the shadow of death to life. Our new life is God’s doing, and Paul reminds us that not all will understand or even like the change the see in us. “Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16 NLT). Even John says, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13 ESV). They can’t comprehend what has happened in our lives. Our transformation is a reminder to them of their own sad state. They hate the light and love the dark. Our very existence exposed the darkness of which they are so fond. They abide in death. We abide in life. The fruit of their lives is evident. The Message paraphrases Galatians 5:19-23 in this very stark way: “It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.” Their lifestyle is open for all to see. But so is that of the one who lives in the light. Our fruit is different because we have the Spirit of God residing within us. “He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely” (Galatians 5:21-23 MSG).
Because we have passed out of death into life, we can and should live differently. Our behavior changes because our natures have changed. We are no longer of this world. We no longer abide in death. We have eternal life and that new life allows us to live and walk in the light as He is in the light. We become beacons of light in the midst of the darkness, shining forth the glory of God in a world that is trapped in death and living without hope. But as we live and shine, we will be hated. We will find ourselves despised, because our righteousness exposes their unrighteousness. Our joy reveals their despair. Our faith shines the light on their hopelessness. “For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true” (Ephesians 5:8-9 NLT).