1 John – Expressive Individualism vs. Gospel Love

From the Series: Certainty – Absolute Truths That Bring Joyful Assurance



Who am I, and how am I sure that’s who I am?

Carl Trueman has put together a wonderful book entitled The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to the Sexual Revolution. In reference to philosopher Charles Taylor, Trueman defines expressive individualism as the way in which “each of us finds our meaning by giving expression to our own feelings and desires” (46). It is a type of psychology that sees oppression as anything that keeps me from expressing my true inner self.

The prolific nature of this kind of complexity and confusion is why a passage like I John 3:11-18 is so helpful. This passage teaches us how to know for sure we are who we say we are. Because we are so easily deceived by our own hearts and by those around us, it is imperative that we know absolute truth that assures us. Jesus is the Absolute Truth: Logos and Light. Who Jesus is and what Jesus says is always true even when it contradicts what we feel and what we tell ourselves.

You know who you are because…

You Are Expressing a Distinct Love (1 John 3:11-13)

My love for God and Christian brethren will automatically lead to reception of hatred in our world. If the world is driven by sexual immorality, gluttony, covetousness, consumerism, materialism or personal status, it should not rock our identity if they hate those who are increasingly consumed with love for God and love for the church.

You Are Expressing a Sincere Love (I John 3:14-18)

My definition of love for God and for Christians must be tested for clarity by gospel-love. One of the apparent problems with their theology was that they were able to love in word but not in deed. A love that has no evidence is not true Christian love, but we are quite confused about what love is today. If I am not really sure what is meant by love, then I cannot have the assurance I need about my own profession, nor can I have a litmus test for the professions of others.

Here are four common ideas about love:

1. Conditional love – the person with this perception of love is continually fishing for acceptance or for compliments. The person who was taught to find love by performing looks for ways to gain the acceptance of others.

2. Lawless love – this is the perception of love that equates love with no rules. This perception of love that sees restraint as an enemy to love is also an idea about love that can lead us into insecurity, lack of assurance, and hopelessness.

3. Erotic love – this perception of love is the one commonly confused with lustful desires. This perception relegates love to the whimsical sexual or sensual desire that arises within the human heart.

4. Self-Love – this phrase is misleading, but this perception of love is the one where the person goes on a journey of self-discovery. Once they come to some conclusions, they desire that others affirm who they say they are.

In the midst of all these ideas about love, we must see what John says. John points us to gospel-love.

5. Gospel-Love (I John 3:16) – The chief way we know who we are is that the “love we know is the love we show.” We KNOW the love of God because he laid down his life for us. God’s love has material expression, can be known, and changes us.

The test for me and for others is the test of gospel-love. How I know who I am, and how I am assured of who I am does not begin with my natural, fallen desires which are against God’s Word. Who I am and assurance of who I am is proven by the kind of love that I manifest toward brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. You cannot separate gospel-love from knowing Christ, knowing brethren, and laying down your life for both.

Who I am and assurance of who I am is proven by the kind of love that I manifest toward brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

Expressive individualism says to look inside you to find out what you want and who you are. Gospel-love tells you who you really are, saves you in spite of who you are, changes you, and empowers you to practice that love.

Read the full transcript of the sermon here.


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