Recently I read a story about Robert, a guy who went to college in upstate New York. During his Week One on campus, people kept greeting him by the name “Eddie”. No worries, Robert just figured there must be another guy on campus named Eddie who looked like him. One night Robert bumped into Eddie at a party. That’s when Robert tumbled through the looking glass.
It turned out Eddie didn’t just look like Robert, Eddie was Robert. They shared the same face, same eyes, same hair, same height. Heck, they even spoke exactly alike. That evening, Robert and Eddie sat down and swapped life stories only to discover that they were twins, separated at birth and adopted by different parents. Soon their astonishment gave way to delight: They were brothers; they were family. A local newspaper soon picked up and published their story.
One day a guy named David read the story. When he saw a picture of the twins, he was thunderstruck: they looked exactly like him! David paid Eddie and Robert a visit and, you guessed it, the twins were actually triplets separated at birth.
Here’s the question: How did these three individuals know they were family? Their striking similarities and remarkable resemblances led them to only one possible conclusion: They were brothers united by blood; family who found one another.
The world romances us with an ideal of family. Maybe it’s the perfect American nuclear family circa 1950’s complete with mom and dad, two kids, and a dog at the dinner table. Or maybe there are two dads, or two moms. Or maybe it’s a picture of a family gathering around the Christmas Eve table with the turkey cooked to perfection. But deep down we know it’s nothing like that. Family means conflict and politics. Turkey’s get burned, resnetments surface and Uncle Gus can’t keep his hands off the bourbon.
Nowhere is the broken world more evident than when we gather with our fallen families. And to be brutally honest, the reality of that family brokenness makes the idea of family really hard to deal with. Especially at Christmas.
But what if there was another family that anchored you into a more powerful source of identity? If that were true, knowing them would be a life game-changer. But to know them, we would first need to identify who they are. We would need to know, “who’s our daddy?”
In 1 John, the apostle wants to helps us know how to rest secure in the knowledge that God is ourr Father.
- “We know that we have fellowship with another and with God if we walk in the light” (1 John 1:5–7).
- “By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3; cf. 3:24).
- “We know that we are in him if we walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:5–6).
- “We know we are children of God if we practice righteousness and love our brothers” (1 John 3:10).
- “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” (1 John 4:13–15)
Through these passages, John reminds us that we are in God’s family by showing us what the family looks like. Like the three brothers who found one another, John is pointing out our similarities and resemblances. It’s like he’s giving us spiritual DNA test kits and saying, “You are part of God’s family. And if you have doubts, here’s how you know it.”
Test #1: The Spirit
The first proof John supplies in 1 John 4:13–15 is the evidence of the Spirit’s activity within us. Here I use the word “evidence” because it doesn’t say that he has merely given us his Spirit. The passage says, “he has given us of his Spirit.” John is not referring here to the gift of the Holy Spirit that we all receive at conversion. He is speaking of the tangible ways that the Spirit of God makes God’s presence real and palpable within us each and every week.
Sometimes the evidence is experienced in his leading or empowering us to press forward. At other times, the Spirit is shaping our desires so that we want more of God or opening our eyes to see and savor new things in Scripture. Do you see what John is saying? By the Spirit’s activity in our lives, he confirms to us that we are children of God. We are led by the Spirit and, by his power, we put to death the deeds of the flesh and walk in newness of life (see Romans 8:1–15). As this happens, the Spirit uses the activity to testify to the reality of our eternal family, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8: 16).
In other words, the ongoing power of the Spirit in our life for change becomes a primary evidence that God abides in us. Just think about it. We conform to Jesus. More and more, we resemble our Lord. It reveals to us that we are in his family.
The question John is asking through this text is, “Are you paying attention to the active presence of God in your life?” God wants his children to have experiences of his presence because those experiences remind us of our most important family. It might be a conviction of sin, or a sense of God’s nearness, or the power to witness to an unbeliever, or a breakthrough in some area of spiritual growth. But it’s powerful stuff and we need to pay attention. Because those are signs of the Spirit’s true activity within our soul. And God wants to use them as a megaphone in your heart, reminding you that you have a family. You’re not an orphan, you have a Father! And equally important, you bear his family resemblance.
- Have you struggled with doubts about whether you are part of God’s family? Maybe you’re wondering about it right now. Take time to think over the ways God has worked in your life in the past. What identity markers might these past works of God reveal that indicate you belong to him?
- Due to their striking similarities, Robert, Eddie, and Dave discovered that they were triplets who had been separated at birth. Family traits run deep. What family traits in the family of faith? In what ways are Christians even more deeply united than brothers and sisters who are born from the same parents?
- Read through 1 John, making note of all the places where he encourages Christians by helping them understand their identity as members of God’s family. How would you summarize the purpose of this letter? How might you use your findings to encourage the faith of someone in your church?