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1 John   •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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A sermon examining the outward differences of believers as presented by John



Knowing the differences between things can be incredibly helpful. For example, knowing the differences between a common water snake and a water moccasin can save you from a nasty bite. Water moccasins have thick bodies, while water snakes have longer, slender bodies. Water moccasins have thicker, blockier heads while water snakes have slender, flatter heads. Water moccasins, like many of the viper families, have pits at the front of the heads, while water snakes do not.
Knowing the differences between the two can save you from a nasty bite. Because of their hemotoxic venom, water moccasin bites can wreak havoc on blood and tissue, and can even lead to hemorrhaging. While water snake bites can be slightly painful, they are not nearly as devastating.
While knowing the differences between water snakes and moccasins are important, knowing the differences between believers and unbelievers, those who follow Christ and those who do not, is even more important. While water moccasin bites can cause great destruction to our bodies, they are limited to the physical, while the eternity of an individual is affected by their relationship to Christ.
In our previous sermon, we addressed the God-hating world. In the midst of John’s description of transforming love, John comments on the world that hates God. And he commands us not to be surprised at their hatred.
Like children who are surprised at the magician’s tricks, believers are too often surprised at the opposition from the world. John’s primary focus is not on the world, but on the believer. He writes this letter to bring believers back to the basics, the basics of what they should believe and the basics of what they should be doing.
Our passage before us deals with the differences between those who have experienced God’s transforming love whereby God bestows His love on us and calls us His children!
You see, there is a difference between the believer and the unbeliever. John has been describing the effects of God’s transforming love: loving our brothers and sisters. Transforming love changes us outwardly, most significantly through our relationship to other believers. The key difference in outward actions between the believer and unbeliever is a selfless love for one another.
In the midst of John’s discussion, it would be tempting for his readers, and for us as well, to question whether or not we are believers, whether we are, as John describes in 3:9, born of God. We, like all human beings, have been tempted and actually give in to sin. But John reminds us how we can tell whether or not we are born of God: if we love our brothers and sisters.
Now, as we look at these two verses, we will see the stark differences between believers and unbelievers. And with this information, I believe we can learn how to structure our lives to love our brothers and sisters, while at the same time working to spread the only hope for those who abide in death.


“We know that we have passed out of death into life...”
Identifying the differences between believers and unbelievers, John tells us, begins with the undeniable state of believers: passing from death to life. Just as it is necessary to look at the water snake/moccasin in order to differentiate them, so too, it is necessary for us to examine the differences between the believer and the unbeliever.
The first difference involves the irrefutable state of believers.

A. It is undeniable—we know

The first identifier is that John says “we know.” John uses the word know 40 times in the NASB. He uses several words, but though he uses the different words, most of them convey a similar meaning (similar to huge, large, enormous). He uses the word to describe the relationship between believers and God (2:3-5, 13-14; 3:1, 2, 14), the non-existence relationship between the unbeliever and God (2:11; 3:1, 6, 15), the coming of the end (2:18), the special knowledge believers have through the Holy Spirit (2:20-21, 29), and of the saving work of Christ (3:5).
Now, John will go on to use it more, but since we are focusing on these verses we will end there. And while John uses different words, the word know carries with it a certainty. We know that we have passed out of death into life. It is certain. Just as an examination of the water snake provides security, so too, the believer, by examining the evidence, can have certainty. We know, it is undeniable.
I know this pulpit will hold my Bible on it. I know because the pulpit is designed to do just that, and I also have experience using it. I know that it will hold my Bible and from which I can preach. This is what John is saying about our relationship with God, of which we shall speak on more momentarily.

B. It is a state—we have passed out of death into life

John describes the essence of our knowledge through our state: we have passed out of death into life. Now, this seems an odd statement, even considering the possible connection to 2:17. But, when we consider the writer of this letter is the apostle John, we remember that John also wrote a gospel narrative.
This phrase, “passed out of death into life” appears in John 5:24. And it is this verse that provides insight into John’s meaning in our present epistle.
What John is describing here can be summed up in one word: salvation. Jesus is describing the salvation that believers enjoy through Christ’s sacrifice. He says, “He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” That phrase “has passed” implies a perpetual state of being. This state, this irrefutable state, falls on the shoulders of Jesus Christ.
This Jesus is the one of Whom it was said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” It is the same Jesus that said, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) This same Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6) And it is of this Jesus that John the apostle writes, “…these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” It is a state of being, a life, eternal life, and this is an irrefutable fact. But it is an irrefutable state for believers.

C. It is a belief—believes Him…that believing you may have life in His name

As we look at the differences between believers and unbelievers, we will not the connection between the two words: believe. This is what separates believers from unbelievers. Consider the several verses we have already referenced. Or, consider John 3:16, one of the most well-known and oft-quoted verses in all the Bible. Jesus tells Nicodemus, and countless others throughout history ever since, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
The Gospel is an invitation to believe the wonderful news that Jesus took your place on the cross, paying for the sins that you committed, and procuring your eternal life. By believing this incredible news you can pass out of death into life, eternal and everlasting and abundant life!
When you believe, when you repent from your sins (1 John 1:9) and believe this incredible good news, you too can pass out of death into life.
Distinguishing between believers and unbelievers, like differentiating between water snakes and moccasins, is based on the undeniable state of believers: passing out of death into life.
But this leads us to another way to distinguish between believers and unbelievers, and that is the inevitable result of believing.


When we pass out of death into life, we change. John described this change at the beginning of this chapter describing us “children of God.”
God is a gracious God, and with this undeniable state of believers He provides evidence, this inevitable result of believing. It is love. One of the differences between believers and unbelievers is love.
Now, before we dissect this in more detail, let me say that unbelievers can demonstrate love. Unbelieving parents love their children, their nation, their values, and even strangers. We constantly read of heroic efforts and the self-sacrifice of other people who are unbelievers. So, how can John say this?
There is a deep need to understand what the Scriptures teach about humanity prior to their salvation by grace. The common term is total depravity. Though there is much confusion about this phrase, I think it encapsulates the teachings of the Word of God in a helpful way.
Though man is capable of doing what we consider good, in the eyes of the infinitely holy God every act, speech, and thought of man is tinged with his sinfulness (see John 5:42; Rom. 7:18, 23; 8:7; Eph. 4:18; 2 Tim. 3:2-4; Tit. 1:15; and Heb. 3:12).
This is what separates the believer from the unbeliever: a love for one’s brothers. Jesus put it like this in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” This is the new but not new commandment of which we spoke of in 1 John 2:7-8. How do we know that we have the undeniable state of a believer? By loving our brothers!
John discusses what this self-giving love looks like in 3:16: “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (cf. John 15:13)
My question for us is, Do we love our brothers and sisters like this? I want to encourage you that you so often love in this way. I find myself thinking like Paul of the Thessalonian church, “For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account.” (1 Thess. 3:9) You love our family, and you love one another. I have heard of a number of stories of you going out of your way to provide for the needs of one another, selflessly loving each other. I know that you have passed out of death into life because you love the brothers!
But, I would be remiss if I did not ask individually, do you love your brothers and sisters? Do you give yourself, sacrificing your desires for your brothers and sisters? Let us be mindful of this key distinguishing mark of the believer. Like the long slender body that distinguishes between the water snake and the water moccasins, loving one’s brother is the difference between the believer and unbeliever.
So, we have looked at the undeniable state of believers: passing out of death into life, we have observed the inevitable result of believing: loving one’s brother; now we are going to look at the innate wickedness of the unbeliever.


We are learning how to identify the differences between believers and unbelievers, which is more important than identifying the differences between the water moccasin and water snake.
This is important because, as John reminds us, we, as believers created in the image of God, need fellowship. This, you may remember, is one of the focuses of the initial chapter of 1 John.
It is important, John says, that we know how to relate to people. We would handle water snakes differently than we would water moccasins. Likewise, believers interact differently with unbelievers than with believers. This is not to say that we avoid unbelievers like we would avoid water moccasins. In fact, we are to engage with unbelievers through evangelism, that is, sharing the Gospel with the hopes they will repent of their sins and be born again.
While with believers we edify, we lift each other up, build each other up through prayer, encouragement, rebuke, and the like. But as knowing that the head of a water moccasin is thick and bulky, it is important that we notice a key difference between believers and unbelievers: hate.
That is where we see the innate wickedness of unbelievers. It is natural to them, a point that I have referenced regularly in my sermons. Passages such as Romans 3:10-17 and Ephesians 2:1-3 point to the innate wickedness of the unbeliever. And John says this innate wickedness, manifested in hatred, is a key distinguishing mark of the unbeliever.

A. The innate wickedness of the unbeliever is evidenced by outward actions—He who does not love abides in death

While the believer, saved by the marvellous grace of God, has passed out of death into life, the unbeliever abides in death. This word abides has appeared in our present epistle, and we learned that it carries this sense of dwelling.
The believer, as we learned in 1 John 2:5, abides in God. The difference between the unbeliever, however, is that he or she abides in death. This lack of love evidences his or her lack of a saving relationship with God. It shows, like the thick body of a water moccasin, that he or she is an unbeliever.

B. The innate wickedness of the unbeliever is embedded in the heart (cf. Matt. 5:22, 28, 44; 6:15-20)—Everyone who hates his brother is a murdered

But, though outward actions are key identifiers of unbelievers, another mark goes beyond what the human eye can see. This difference is found in the heart.
John says “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” In this, no doubt, he is calling us back to Matthew 5:22 and the teachings of Jesus Christ.
You see, the wickedness of the unbeliever is often unseen because it resides in the heart. The heart, as used often in Scripture, denotes the true self, the inner person. It is reflected in passages such as Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 12:34; 15:18, 19; Mark 7:21; and Luke 6:45.
You see, though outward actions are helpful in determining the relationship an individual has with God (outward fruit reveals their inward root), it is ultimately insufficient. The heart reveals the individual’s standing with God, whether they have passed out of death into life or whether they abide in death.
Hatred is the inward sin that is manifested outwardly through murder. And Jesus says that if you hate your brother you are guilty. This is a key distinguishing mark of the unbeliever: hatred in the heart. But this results in something terrifying.

C. The innate wickedness of the unbeliever ends in death—And you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him

This, as I mentioned, is a terrifying statement. An unbeliever does not have eternal life abiding in them. Rather, they have eternal damnation abiding in them.
There are two eternal states: life or death. The believer, through the sovereign grace of God enjoys eternal life. The unbeliever, however, through the righteousness and justice of God, endures eternal damnation.
This, ultimately, is a key distinguishing mark of the unbeliever. Their hearts are darkened with sinfulness, and thus they hate their brothers. They are not sinners because they sin, they sin because they are sinners. And John’s assessment of unbelievers is that they do not have eternal life abiding in them.


As we noticed, knowing the differences between a water snake and water moccasin can save you from a nasty bite and incredibly difficult circumstances.
Knowing the differences between believers and unbelievers enables us to relate to people rightly. Like carefully handling a water snake, believers relate to other believers with care and concern. They love their brothers and sisters. We are to encourage each other, pray for each other, and sacrificially give to each other.
Unbelievers, however, need the Gospel. They need to believe and pass out of death into life. We need to share the wonderful news and pray that God will grant them repentance!
What uses do we have?
Acknowledging the differences should create humility in the heart of the believer.
Observing the innate wickedness of unbelievers should spurn on the desire to share the Gospel and pray for the conversion of lost people
Witnessing the differences should allow us to properly relate to both believers and unbelievers
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