Resurrection life themes continue well into the season of Easter. Recalling how Lent is not so much about putting off the old and sinful as it is about putting on the new and sanctified, Christians are supposed to be resurrection people in the here and now. Resurrected in spirit through Holy Baptism now but also resurrected in body as well on the Last Day. John is concerned his auditors and readers understand the radical alteration to the life of the Christian Christ’s resurrection has on them. Resurrection life is not something cast into the future. The future is now. It began when Christ rose from the garden tomb like first fruits from the ground. It continues each time regeneration occurs through the efficacy of God’s Gospel in preaching and the font. Resurrection continues, in other words, within the lives of those untied to the One who is the Resurrection and the Eternal Life. Neither the resurrection nor eternal life are mere time referents, moments in time. Instead of merely denoting a quantity of time, they more specifically connote a quality of existence — the life of the Spirit of Christ within the believer.
With this being the case, the ethical implications are enormous. Christians are driven by different motives and an altogether different spirit than the unregenerate world.
This pericope could easily be expanded to include verses 13-15 which help contrast the point John makes. Lectionary readings are not hard and fast things, of course. While truncating a lesson is frowned upon, expanding a lesson for greater context has always received clerical approbation. This, then, is a good lesson to start at verse 13, especially since it signals the second half of the Epistle, as it moves from doctrinal assertions to a mood of encouragement.
“Do not be surprised, brothers,” writes John, “if the world hates you” (3:13). One should not be dismayed at such a posture (which we are increasingly feeling today in terms of culture and legislation). The Christian abides in a kingdom in which its values and offerings stand in juxtaposition to those of the world: Love opposed by hate, life countermanded by death, and light contrasted by darkness.
The Christian abides in a kingdom in which its values and offerings stand in juxtaposition to those of the world: Love opposed by hate, life countermanded by death, and light contrasted by darkness.
“We know,” he says, “that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers” (verse 14). In other words, there is an epistemology of love that, while inexplicable in a certain sense, gives one knowledge, assurance, and provides evidence the baptized are, in fact, characterized by the Spirit of God. This is the Spirit of love, for God is love.
Contrasts are now employed. “The one who does not have love abides in death” (verse 14). There is no life, that is, no resurrection life, no eternal quality of life in such a one. What characterizes resurrection life/eternal life abiding in a person is, simply but profoundly, love (verse 15).
The literary device of patterning an a b b a forms the juxtaposing content which follows in verses 16-18:
“By this we know love, that He [Christ] laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
John sets Christ as the paragon as well as the catalyst for divine love made manifest not just in word, but in deed. He, “Laid down His life for us,” and since Christ’s Spirit is within us it follows, “we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers that we love,” for it is of the Spirit of Christ to love all the brothers. Here the preacher has the antidote to contemporary Marxist or Neo-Marxist demographic dividers, as it pits segments of humanity against one another based on critical race theory or economic factors. Namely, how all the baptized are one family. Holy Baptism proves to be the great equalizer by exploding all demographic divisions and making one family of all peoples. The impetus for unity and tolerance is not the Law or fearful compulsion, but rather the Spirit of love given and gifted to the regenerate. Such a spirit manifests itself quite practically through loving, “by means of a work and the truth” (verse 18).
The impetus for unity and tolerance is not the Law or fearful compulsion, but rather the Spirit of love given and gifted to the regenerate.
A theology of correspondence or implication unfolds in verses 19-24. What we learn of God in Christ is what we may know about those who are united to Christ through Baptism. Christ was vindicated or justified regarding the efficacy of His blood atonement and expiation of sins. Therefore, we who are united to Christ can be sure we too are justified by God’s grace through faith, “wherever our hearts condemn us” (verse 20). Our affectional knowledge of God in the once-crucified-now-risen Christ gives us, “confidence before God” (verse 21). Remembering Holy Baptism, receiving Holy Absolution, and sharing in the Holy Communion are all concrete means of divine grace which fortify faith that, indeed, we are justified by grace because of Christ alone — the Vindicated One.
Verse 22 can be sticky for those who do not maintain a Law-Gospel distinction. It could seem like one of those if/then works righteousness scenarios that pervert the gospel. But we must see John commenting on John 6 here. That is, he reiterates the words of Jesus Himself to the challenge of, “What must we be doing to do the works of God?” (6:28). Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (6:29). Have faith in the Sent One. This is precisely what John says in 1 John 3:23-24: “And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us. Whoever keeps His commandments abides in God, and God in Him.”
The result is assurance: “And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (verse 24). Thus, resurrection life yields first, faith in Christ. But it is a faith that loves for it is of the Spirit of Christ, the One who is the Love of God toward us and toward the brothers.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in 1 John 3:16-24.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach 1 John 3:16-24.