A reader who likes our magazine wrote, asking us to take him off our subscription list:
It is with sadness I ask you to remove me from your mailing list. I truly love your materials. But 1 John is fairly clear that there has to be transformation in your life or eternal life simply doesn’t abide in you.
So, in good conscience, I can’t continue reading the magazine. Please unsubscribe me.
It hurts to get notes like that. But we did take him off our subscription list as requested.
His note has an implied question in it. What does it mean for eternal life to abide in someone? In his view it means that the person is living a transformed life.
Well, let’s look at the Scriptures he is alluding to in 1 John.
1 John 3:15. “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Here is how Zane Hodges explains that in his commentary:
Hatred of one’s brother is not only an experience of death; it is also an experience of murder. The person who hates his Christian brother is really no different from Cain (cf. verse 12), even though he may not commit the overt act of physically killing his brother. The spirit of hatred is that we want “to be rid” of our brother and would not really care if he died. But this is the spirit of a murderer.
Someone will perhaps meet the apostle John in the kingdom and ask him, ‘‘What did you mean when you said that ‘no murderer has eternal life’? What about King David?” If so, John will certainly reply, “I never said, ‘No murderer has eternal life.’ What I said was, ‘No murderer has eternal life abiding in him.’” Once again, the key to this text is the concept of “abiding” (see discussion above under verse 14). Moreover, John’s concept of abiding is always that it is a reciprocal relationship, even as Jesus said: ‘‘Abide in Me, and I in you” (John 15:4; see discussion under 1 John 2:27). Since Christ Himself is eternal life (cf. 1 John 5:20), to say that someone does not have eternal life abiding in him is equivalent to saying that he does not have Christ abiding in him.
Clearly, in the subsection concluded by this verse, John has been stigmatizing hatred for one’s brother as an action that separates the Christian from all real experience of the eternal life which he possesses as one who has “passed from death to life.” Although eternal life is the possession of each and every believer in Christ (cf. 1 John 5:1), hatred of one’s brother reflects the spirit of a murderer who is “abiding” in a realm of death where all vital experience with God’s life is lost (Hodges, 1-3 John, pp. 159-60).
1 John 3:17. “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” This verse is essentially parallel with v 15. If we as believers do not give to our brothers and sisters in need, then the love of God does not abide in us. Of course, the love of God is another way of speaking of everlasting life. Jesus is called everlasting life in 1 John 1:2 and 5:20. And we read in 1 John 4:16 that “God is love.” Note in 1 John 4:12, “If we love one another, God abides in us…”
But the Christian who acts so uncompassionately is not having a vital experience of God’s love. John’s rhetorical question, how does the love of God abide in him? means simply that God’s love does not abide in him. The calloused action of refusing help to his needy brother, even though he possesses the means, this world’s goods, is clear evidence that here is one in whom neither Christ, eternal life, nor the love of God are “abiding.” As Brown puts it, “The person described…is blocking the movement of divine love, which would lead him to treat his brother as Christ treated us, so divine love does not junction in such a person” [Raymond Brown, The Epistles of John, p. 450, italics added]. The uncompassionate Christian is not walking as his Master walked (cf. 2:6) and thus is not living the abiding life (Hodges, 1-3 John, pp. 161-62).
The word abide (menō in Greek) is very common in 1 John. He uses it twenty-one times. Abiding is a key fellowship term for John (and for the Lord Jesus in John 14-15). While it is true that only believers in Christ can have everlasting life, God, and God’s love abiding in them, it is not true that God is always abiding in all believers. First John is an appeal to mature believers to continue to abide in Christ so that when He returns we will have confidence and not shame (1 John 2:28).
We at GES promote the importance of a transformed life (Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 3:18). But to experience such a life one must abide in God’s Word (John 15:7; 1 John 2:14, 24). That is why we teach what God’s Word says, even when that teaching is not consistent with the popular theology of our day.