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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Evening, July 22, 2012

“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (I John 3:14).

As I begin working on a sermon I almost invariably start by first finding the right text, and second by finding a hymn for Mr. Griffith, our soloist, to sing before the sermon. In the case of this text I was forced to have him sing “Blest Be the Tie that Binds.” I wanted to use another hymn, but I couldn’t find one. In all of the hundreds of songs in modern hymnals, I could not find another one that expressed adequately the thought of Christians loving each other! I came away from my search with deep sorrow and pain in my heart. I thought, “How can it be that so little has been sung about Christian love and fellowship in our churches today?” Just as I was thinking that, it seemed that the Spirit of God brought to my mind the prophetic words of Jesus,

“Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold”
       (Matthew 24:12).

Christ gave this as one of the signs of “the end of the world” (Matthew 24:3). Are we in that period of history now? Are we living near the end of this age, just before judgment falls? Every sign seems to indicate that we are in that period – that the wrath of God is about to fall on this evil generation. The Disciples asked, “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matthew 24:3). Among the signs that Christ gave them in answer to that question was this,

“Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”

Make no mistake here, the word translated “love” in Matthew 24:12 and the word translated “love” in our text both come from the Greek word “agape.” George Ricker Berry said it refers to “love of the feelings, warm instinctive affection” (Greek-English New Testament Lexicon). The word agape is used in the New Testament to express God’s love to man, and to express the love of Christians for each other. Agape speaks of Christian love and Christian fellowship.

My former pastor, Dr. Timothy Lin, was an expert in Biblical languages, a seminary professor, and later the president of a seminary in Taiwan. Speaking of agape, Dr. Lin said, “Loving one another and believing in our Lord Jesus are of equal importance. Believing in our Lord is an absolute must, and loving one another is also an absolute must...May the church of the last days think thrice about this” (Timothy Lin, Ph.D., The Secret of Church Growth, First Chinese Baptist Church of Los Angeles, 1992, pp. 28, 29).

What Dr. Lin said is absolutely true! Saving faith in Christ, and love toward other true Christians, are of equal importance, because they are bound together in our text,

“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (I John 3:14).

In this text there are two main thoughts. Passing from death unto life is proved by love for the brethren, and those who do not love the brethren show that they are still abiding in death. Then I will add a third point on what must happen for you to have life. Let us look at this more closely.

I. First, what does not prove you have life.

Attending church does not prove that you have life. Thousands of people attend church every Sunday who do not have life. Passing from death to life refers to regeneration, the new birth. Dr. Gill correctly said that passing from death to life refers to the new birth, “which is a quickening of sinners dead in sin, a resurrection of them from this death of sin [having] grace and life implanted in them...and this passing from one to the other is not of themselves, it is not their own act; no man can quicken himself, or raise himself from the dead...we are translated by God the Father, who delivers from the power of darkness, and death, and translates into the kingdom of his dear Son, which is a state of light and life...whereas he was dead in sin, he is now alive; and among other things it may be known by this, because we love the brethren: this is not the cause of passing from death to life, but the effect of it, and so an evidence of it...and is what shows itself as soon as any thing in a regenerate man; nor can any one love the saints, as brethren in Christ, unless he is born love him as a child of man can do, unless he has received the grace of God [in the new birth]” (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume III, p. 640; note on I John 3:14).

So, I repeat, joining a church and attending a church does not prove that you have life, does not prove that you are born again. For this reason thousands of church members in the last days dislike each other, and even fight with each other. And many of them even hate their pastors. The root of these problems lies in the fact that they have never been born again!

“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (I John 3:14).

In fact, those who hate each other in their churches are counted as equal with murderers in the sight of God, because the Apostle said,

“Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him” (I John 3:15).

Then, too, knowing and believing the Bible does not prove that you are born again, having passed from death to life. The Devil knows the “plan of salvation” and knows it well. Nothing is more clear than that in the accounts of demons given in the four Gospels. They knew who Jesus was. They knew about the Last Judgment. Satan could even quote the Scriptures from memory, as he did when he tempted Christ in the wilderness. In fact the demons are wiser than many church members. “The devils also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19). How many church members “tremble”? Thus, the demons have more spiritual insight than many so-called Christians! Thus, knowing and believing the Bible and the plan of salvation is no guarantee that you are saved.

Then, too, being able to give the words of a “testimony” is no proof of salvation. Simon Magus was clever enough to fool Philip the evangelist with his testimony (Acts 8:13). But the Apostle Peter was wiser than Philip. When he came to Samaria, Peter said to Simon, “Thy heart is not right in the sight of God” (Acts 8:21). Although Simon could give the words of a testimony so convincingly that Philip baptized him, yet he had an unconverted heart. His unsaved heart led him to want to have “power” to manipulate and control people (Acts 8:19). Many unsaved preachers are like that today. They have no agape love for their people. They only want to manipulate them and use them for their own benefit. They can give the words of a “testimony,” as did Simon the sorcerer, but it will do them no good at the Judgment. Though they say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?” – yet Christ will say to them, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:22-23). Thus, we see that a testimony of salvation is no sure proof that anyone is saved.

Also, thinking you are saved is no proof that you have passed from death to life in a real experience of the new birth. Go up and down the streets of this city and ask people if they are saved, or if they will go to Heaven when they die. Nearly all of those who are not atheists (which is almost everybody) will tell you they are saved. Almost every black person will say he is saved. Almost every evangelical Hispanic person will claim salvation. The same is true of many Asian evangelicals. And it will be a very rare white person who does not think that he is saved! According to a Gallup poll 74% of the American people claim to have made a commitment to Christ. What does this prove? Why, it proves that a great many of them are deceived – that’s what it proves! The Bible says,

“Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (II Timothy 3:13).

How about you? Are you also deceived? None of the things I have mentioned prove that you have life, that you have passed from death to life in the new birth.

II. Second, what does prove you have life.

When you ask yourself the question, “Do I have life?” how do you answer it? Some will point to an answered prayer, thinking that answered prayer is proof they have been born again. But it is not so. I myself had prayers answered before I was saved. The man who said, “We know that God heareth not sinners” (John 9:31) was lost himself. He was only repeating a belief of the Pharisees. He was not saved until he trusted Christ and “worshipped him” (John 9:38). If God never hears the prayers of a lost man, then no one could be saved by calling on the Lord for mercy.

“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).

But there are other proofs of life, and the one given in our text is very strong,

“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (I John 3:14).

You may love a Christian because he has done something good for you, even if you are not saved. But to love someone simply because he is a child of God and a member of Christ no one can do in a state of spiritual death.

Young people in the church know that this is true. When some of them are converted and become real Christians, they know by experience that the others, who are not saved, pull away from them, and look at them differently. The one who is converted is no longer trusted by those who are lost. They no longer confide in him. He is no longer a close friend to the lost youngsters in the church.

This is nothing new. Just the other day I was reading about a group of young people during the Second Great Awakening, early in the nineteenth century. The ones who were saved were shunned by their former friends who were not touched by the revival. Those who passed from death to life were thought to be a little strange by their former companions in the church. But if enough young people are converted in a congregation, you will finally see that the few who have no life in them huddle together in a little group, avoiding those who are saved as much as possible.

When one young man I know was first saved, he chose to separate himself from the lost young people in the church. Instead he spent his fellowship time with older men who were converted. This was not done by him because anyone told him to do so. He did it because he was illuminated by the Spirit of God. He knew instinctively that it should be so. Young people like that don’t need to be told to separate from those who are lost and worldly. They will separate from the lost, and the lost will separate from them, quite naturally. The separation will be as clear as it was between Cain and Abel.

“For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you” (I John 3:11-13).

It is a sign that you have passed from death to life if you love the best Christians in the church, not because they can do anything special for you, but you simply love them for their own sake. It is a sure sign that you are a real Christian when you love God’s people even when the world hates them – when you are willing to stand with them and be reproached with them when they are slandered or persecuted. If you say, “So, you attack this Christian, do you? I am one of the same family, so if you are going to slander him, slander me too. I will stand by his side and share the contempt you throw at this child of God.” If you love other Christians like that, you don’t need to be afraid. It is quite clear that you have passed from death to life! (Paraphrased from “Life Proved by Love” by C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim Publications, 1976, volume XLIV, pp. 81-83).

During a church split these things often become quite clear. Those who hate the good Christians will be on one side. And those who love the good Christians will be on the other side. That is why the old-timers called such a church split a “back-door revival.” Though it is very painful, those who go out the back door often rid the church of unconverted church members. The church split reveals the fact that many of them were never saved, no matter what profession of faith they made. It is mostly true that it is unsaved ones that go. As the Apostle John put it,

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us”
       (I John 2:19).

Many of them left because they had never passed from death unto life – and so they could not love the brethren! They had no life within them! I have witnessed this in several church splits, beginning back in 1959.

III. Third, what must happen for you to pass from death to life.

“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (I John 3:14).

To pass from death to life is the opposite of what we expect. It is not dying. It is the reverse of that – it is being quickened, being made alive from the dead. The Apostle Paul spoke of it when he said,

“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).

How does this “quickening” from the dead happen? The following points often occur when someone is being quickened by the Spirit of God. These points are adapted from Robert Murray McCheyne, a famous Scottish revival preacher of the nineteenth century (in Andrew A. Bonar, Memoirs of McCheyne, Moody Press, 1978 edition, pp. 251-253).

First, the Spirit of God makes the spiritually dead sinner see and feel the sins he has committed. Before you easily forgot your sins. Every day you added more sins that were recorded in God’s books against you (Revelation 20:12). But you did not remember them. Yet when God’s Spirit comes you begin to remember them. Those long-forgotten sins will rise up in your mind, and you will say with David,

“For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me” (Psalm 40:12).

Second, the Holy Spirit makes you feel the greatness of your sin. Before your sins seemed small, but now they rise like a flood in your mind. You feel the wrath of God as a terrible weight on your soul. You are tormented by fear. You see your sin as done against a holy God, done against God’s love, done against Jesus and His love.

Third, you begin to feel corruption in your very heart. Those under conviction are often made to feel the awful workings of sin in their hearts. Often temptations and conviction of sin meet together, and torment the soul. Conviction of sin pierces the heart, driving you to flee from the wrath to come. Yet, at the same time, some raging lust, or envy, or hatred boils up in your heart, driving you toward Hell. Then you will feel Hell within you. In Hell there will be this awful mixture of an overwhelming fear of the wrath of God, and yet corruption, boiling up within, will drive the soul more and more into the flames. This is often felt on earth by those brought under conviction of sin.

Fourth, the Spirit of God convinces you of your inability to save yourself. Before you thought that you could easily get rid of the awful torments you feel. You try to change your life, to repent, to pray. But you are soon taught that your attempts to find peace are all efforts to cover your sins with filthy rags, that your “righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). You begin to feel that you can never be clean. Your heart sinks in desperate gloom. You are tormented every day with these gloomy thoughts.

Fifth, you begin to fear that you will never be able to come to Christ. You hear that Christ is altogether lovely, that He calls you to come to Him, that He never casts out those that come to Him. But none of that gives you any comfort or peace. You fear that you have sinned too long or too much. You fear that you have sinned away the day of grace, that you have committed the unpardonable sin, that you are doomed.

Sixth, at last you are so undone and afraid that you are willing to do almost anything to find peace. And then, as if by a miracle (for it is a miracle) you are made to see that Christ is the Saviour of those who are helpless and unable to give themselves to Him. Then you will find that your case is not too desperate for Jesus. Then you look to Him and come under His perfect love, love without any fear, love without any torment, the love of Jesus that casts out all fears. Oh, that you may look to Jesus tonight! Your fears will be gone, and your sins will be cleansed forever by His precious Blood! Then you will say, “This is indeed the Gospel! This is indeed good news to my sin-sick soul!” May you be enabled to look to Jesus now, for He will save you instantly when you look to Him who loves you so! Then you will know what it means to pass from death to life! Then you will love the Christian brethren in a way you never did before; and you will be enabled to sing from your heart,

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds.
Is like to that above.
(“Blest Be the Tie that Binds” by John Fawcett, 1740-1817).

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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: I John 3:11-14.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Blest Be the Tie that Binds” (by John Fawcett, 1740-1817).



by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (I John 3:14).

(Matthew 24:12, 3)

I.   First, what does not prove you have life, I John 3:15;
James 2:19; Acts 8:13, 21, 19; Matthew 7:22-23;
II Timothy 3:13.

II.  Second, what does prove you have life, John 9:31, 38;
Romans 10:13; I John 3:11-13; 2:19.

III. Third, what must happen for you to pass from death to life,
Ephesians 2:1; Revelation 20:12; Psalm 40:12; Isaiah 64:6.