n John’s first letter to the church the beloved apostle of Jesus Christ tells his community of faith that they are children of God and recognizes that the reason many in the world do not understand them is because the world does not know God. In addition, he warns that if those who profess Christ do not truly know God, their efforts of religious expression will fall short of the desired goal. This powerful statement in the third chapter of First John is a reminder to the Church that a Christian’s relationship with Christ is far more important than one’s religious expressions.
Unfortunately, much of Christian witness, evangelism, and outreach over the tragic two-thousand-year history of the church has ignored this vital scriptural check on Christian expression. Sadly, far too many who have professed a belief in Christ have demonstrated their fidelity in Christ through expressions of dominance, control, judgment, and outright hatred. Rather than embracing Christ’s love and grace toward the world in dire need of the redemption of the Cross, Christians have turned the Cross into a hammer that beats souls down into shameful, guilt-ridden obedience to doctrine and ritual out of a fear that hellfire and damnation will result if strict adherence to religious dogma is not supported.
When preaching, and healing during his earthly ministry, Jesus Christ absolutely refuted and critically denounced this kind of unholy dedication to tradition over a faithful relationship with our loving God. John knew this. He was likely the youngest of the disciples and outlived all of the other disciples by many years. Known as the beloved disciple, he had a unique and particularly intimate relationship with Jesus which he, in turn, translated to a beloved community of faithful believers until the end of his life on the island of Patmos as a religious and political exile. John’s message of Christ’s love is one that he knew personally and one that he passionately communicated to the church during a time of great upheaval and conflict.
John’s letter to the church is amplified by the intense love he had for both God and God’s children—the church. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” This is what John calls each and every Christian who truly knows God and is spiritually aware of one’s sacred calling in God’s realm. Yet, amid this comforting proclamation of hope, there is an underlying message of profound warning. In verse 6 John says, “No one who abides in Christ sins; no one who sins has either seen Christ or known Christ.” For the Christian, the test of one’s faith is not the measure of how much scripture one may recite, which confessions of faith one has made, the catechisms one has memorized, the prayers one has prayed, the church one regularly attends, or the doctrines one upholds. The measure is how much one sins in life.