Salvation is by God’s grace through faith, right?
Well, look at the next couple of verses:
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8–ESV)
What do you do that? “…whoever loves has been born of God…and knows God.“ Words like born of and knows connote salvation. Couple those words to the inclusive whoever or everyone and what stands before us? A way to become born of God, or to know God. Could we rephrase this to say, “Everyone who loves is a Christian”? As a Christian, I am not comfortable with that phrase as it flies in the face of the greater Christian context. That greater context says that salvation is by grace through faith alone. The Bible teaches that salvation is not by works or deeds, but what, then, do we do when John comes along and seems to contradict this maxim?
Christians are not love-robots.
Several mornings passed as I tugged at these words. Prayers, requests actually, were made that God might give help in the sorting out of this quandary. As often happens, right in the midst of my prayers and requests an answer came. It was not the full explanation but was a key opening a door toward it. What was the thing God gave me? He redirected my mind to the first part of verse 7.
“…let us love…”
That little word-triplet helped. John has been making the case throughout this letter to love others. Earlier, he even said that love is a new command. So, since John here tells those who are born again (that is that target audience of this epistle) to love each other, it implies that a reminder was needed. There must be Christians who are not always and forevermore loving.
Christians, therefore, are not love-robots. God’s ways, loving ways, are crucial, but they are still volitional. A Christian must act out God’s type of love. It is God’s first language but not ours. It is the language, the lifestyle, the exactness of God, but for the human one that must be learned and once learned lived. God is thorough and perfect in his love, but we are incomplete and as of yet imperfect in ours.
Bible student errors
The student of scripture errs when they run to extremes of interpretation. An extreme interpretation would be: “Once saved, always loving.” Or, “Not saved, never loving.” When one applies these extremes to the interpretation of verses 7 and 8 all turns into a muddle. Finding real-life examples of such characters is very hard.
What verse 7 does not say
Verse 7 is not saying, any person who has loving moments is saved.
What verse 8 does not say
Verse 8 is not saying, any person who has non-loving moments is unsaved.