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1 John 3:14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
14 We know that we have passed over from death to life because we love the brothers. The one who does not love remains in death.
We know that we have passed over from death to life. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”—John 5:24-25.
Those whom John spoke to were alive and had “passed over from death to life.” So, he was not talking about those who had literally died and were in graves at the time. A little over sixty years before, when Jesus spoke, all mankind faced the condemnation of death before God, who judges all. Therefore, the ones Jesus referred to were clearly people on earth who were dead in a spiritual sense. Jesus referred to such spiritually dead ones when the disciple said to him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.”* But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”—Matthew 8:21-22.
* His father was not already dead; this was an excuse to beg off from following Jesus.
Those who become true Christians with genuine faith were among the spiritually dead of the world. The apostle Paul informed the Ephesian Christians of this, saying: “And you being dead in the trespasses and your sins, in which you formerly walked according to the age of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit now working in the sons of disobedience. But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”—Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-6.
These had formerly walked in trespasses and sins against God. Trespass: (παράπτωμα paraptōma) This is a sin that can come in the way of some desire (lusting), some thinking (entertaining a wrongdoing) or some action (carrying out one’s desires or thoughts that he or she has been entertaining) that is beyond or overstepping God’s righteous standards, as set out in the Scriptures. It is falling or making a false step as opposed to standing or walking upright in harmony with the righteous requirements of God. (Matt. 6:14; Mark 11:25; Rom. 4:25; 5:15-20; 11:11; 2 Cor. 5:19; Gal. 6:1; Eph. 1:7; 2:1, 5; Col 2:13) Now, because of their faith in Christ, God has removed this condemnation from them. They have been lifted up as it were out of spiritual death, giving them the hope of eternal life. (1Pe 4:3-6) The apostle John describes this transfer from this spiritually dead state in trespasses and sins to spiritual life in the words above: “Do not be surprised, brothers, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed over from death to life because we love the brothers. The one who does not love remains in death.”—1 John 3:13-14.
Because we love the brothers. The sentiment here is that it is infallible evidence of true devotion if we love the followers of Christ as such. See this sentiment illustrated in John 13:35. But how easy it would seem to be to apply such a test of holiness as this! Who cannot judge accurately his feelings and determine whether he loves a Christian because he bears the name and image of the Savior—loves him the more just in proportion as he bears that image? Who cannot, if he chooses, look beyond the minor human imperfections and determine whether he is pleased with the true Christian character wherever it may be found? Yes, he would prefer to find his friends among those who bear the name, character, and image of the Son of God than among the people of the world. The Savior meant that his followers should be known by this badge of discipleship worldwide, John 13:34-35. In carrying out the sentiment, John says that Christians, by this examination, may know among themselves whether they are true Christians.
The one who does not love remains in death. He remains spiritually dead and under the condemnation of God, having no genuine hope in eternal life. As the love for the genuine Christian brothers is essential to true holiness, it follows that he is still in a state of spiritual death. He is innately dead in sin, and unless he has evidence that he is brought out of that state, he remains or abides in it.
By Edward D. Andrews and Albert Barnes