We have been exploring the biblical answer to the crucial question, “How may I be certain that I am saved?” To live and to die believing a wrong answer has horrific and irreversible consequences.
The Spirit of God guided John to write his first epistle in order to help professing Christians give the right answer to this all-important question (1 John 5:13). John describes the convictions and patterns of life that are true of everyone who has been born of the Holy Spirit and united to Jesus Christ. I have designated these as “the birthmarks of a true child of God.” John identifies at least five such birthmarks. It is important to note that John uses present-tense verbs, indicating a pattern of ongoing action and conviction.
(1) Faith in the Christ of Scripture. We read in 5:1 that “everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” This birthmark is also emphasized in 5:6; 2:18–19; 2:23–25; 4:2–3; and 5:10.
(2) Pursuit of a life of Christlike holiness and personal righteousness. In 2:29, John writes, “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.” This birthmark is further insisted upon in 1:5–7; 2:6; 3:2–3; 3:4–10; and 5:18–19.
(3) Pursuit of a life of obedience to God’s commandments. John’s words in 2:3–5 affirm this birthmark with unmistakable clarity: “By this we know that we have come to know him if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him.” See also 2:17; 3:24; and 5:3.
(4) A life of brotherly love. John writes in 3:14: “We know we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and . . . no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” This statement is buttressed by similar assertions in 2:8–10; 3:11; 4:7–8; 4:12; 4:20–21; and 5:1.
(5) An experience of the manifold ministries of the Holy Spirit. In 2:20, John asserts that true children of God will remain in fellowship with the church and the Apostolic truth present in the church because they have been anointed by the Holy One. Other aspects of the Spirit’s ministry to everyone who has been born again are found in 2:27; 3:24; 4:8; and 4:13.
The things John has written in order that we may “know that we have eternal life” must never be looked upon as the basis upon which we possess eternal life. John has clearly asserted that “whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (5:12). These various “birthmarks” are the inevitable and necessary evidences that we “have the Son,” but they are not the Son who is our righteousness Himself. Nevertheless, without these birthmarks, our claim to know that we are saved is utterly without a biblical foundation.