In 2:3-11, John lists and discusses three tests of the faith that he says must be true of the believer. The follower of Jesus will keep His commandments (3-5a); walk in the same manner as He walked (5b-6); and love other believers (7-11). If these three things are not true of him, a person cannot claim to be a follower of Christ. The discussion today focuses on the first two of these tests.
Keep His commandments (3-5a)
If we know God we obey God. It is impossible to truly know Him (intimately, personally) without wanting to obey Him. No one knows God and decides God is not worthy of his submission. The one who knows Him is so overwhelmed by God’s love and power that he obeys. He knows God and loves God and fears God; out of that fear and love and knowledge comes obedience.
We know that we know Him (by this we know that we have come to know Him) if we keep His commandments. Assurance is non-existent to the one who does not obey. Without evidence of belief – obedience – there is no way to know that we know Him. One who says he knows Him and does not obey is a liar and the truth is not in him (the same as for the one who denies that he has sin – 1:8). If the truth is not in him – and God is truth – then he is truly lost.
John is very clear. He does not say we have to have certain experiences or feelings. He does not say we must have certain gifts. He simply says a test of our salvation is obedience. No one who walks in the darkness – sin – has any part of the light (1:6). No one who routinely dismisses the commands of God can claim fellowship with Him. God’s children obey Him. Those who are not His children do not. The one who claims to be God’s child and yet does not obey Him is a fraud. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven (Matt 7:21).
Thought: Note how many times already John has used negative examples to distinguish between those who are truly God’s children and those who aren’t (1:6, 8, 10, 2:4). He presupposes that there are in the church those who claim to be believers but who are in fact lost. The frequency of these examples in the book seems to imply that this situation is not rare (although John addresses specific heresy in the church which leads to his warnings, it doesn’t make this point any less applicable to us). We must examine ourselves. We must examine ourselves. We must never believe the lie of the Enemy that to examine ourselves and make our calling sure is to lack faith. We must never believe the lie of the Enemy that we always have time to worry about it later. We must never forget the words of our Lord, “MANY will say to me on that day…” (Matt 7:22).
When we keep (tereo = to attend to carefully, to guard) His word the love of God is perfected in us. Jesus said that if we love Him we will keep His commandments (John 14:15-24). Our love for God is completed through our obedience to His word (if we could love perfectly we would obey perfectly). Said another way, we show our love for God (born out of our understanding of His love for us) through obedience; without obedience there is no evidence of love. When we love Him we want what He wants. What bubbles over out of a heart full of love for God is the desire to keep His word.
That this love is perfected is a picture of the mature believer. As we know God more and love Him more we become conformed to His word more and more (this is why when we say we know Him and do not obey Him it is a lie). We never reach perfection in this life, but our obedience grows as our love for Him grows.
To know is to obey.
Walk in the same manner as He walked (5b-6)
A second test of faith is our walk. John already referred to this in 1:6-7. Our walk is the totality of our life. It is our way of living – the habits and actions that make up our character. John says that if we are God’s children we will walk as Jesus – God’s Son – walked. Our life will model and reflect His. The aspects that stood out about His character will stand out about ours.
At first blush this is so overwhelming as to make us hopeless. How can we say that we will walk in the same manner as He walked? He was perfect! Yet Paul said that God will work through circumstances to make us more conformed to the image of His Son (Rom 8:28-29). And John clearly assumes here that God’s children will (this is not optional) take on the family characteristics of the Son. [John’s words seem to indicate that his readers have an account of Jesus’ life. This likely comes from his Gospel.]
The key to understanding this section is what he says we are proving through our walk – our abiding in Him. We abide in Him through the Holy Spirit. John says in 3:24, “And we know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” In 4:13 he says, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” The Spirit is both the evidence of our abiding in Christ and the means of that abiding. When we abide in Him through the indwelling of His Spirit we become more like Him (and we cannot be like Him apart from abiding in Him – Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me – Jn 15:4). It makes sense that if His Spirit indwells us He will bring about in us similarities to Himself. We become like the One in whom we abide. That is why when we do not walk in the same manner as He walked we cannot claim to abide in Him.
What does it mean to abide? Effectively it means living every day communing with, fellowshipping with, pursuing and knowing our Savior. Abide carries with it a sense of the present. We do not abide once in the past – we abide continually. We spend our lives growing in the knowledge of God and His word. We live with Him and know Him and His Spirit directs us and teaches us and we begin to see our life and this world as He sees them. We are not tossed about by circumstances because we are secure in the One who controls them. Abiding in Christ and Christ abiding in me leads to security, contentment and joy, even in the midst of a fallen world and its attendant trials.
What does walking in the same manner as He walked look like? He was meek and lowly. His only concern was to do the will of the Father and to glorify Him. He was a man of sorrows – He mourned because of the sin of the world. He had great compassion for the lost and the needy (read through Matthew’s gospel and the word most used to describe Jesus’ reaction to others is compassion). He engaged sinners and reached out to them continually. He did not care at all about material possessions and completely trusted His Father to provide for his physical needs. He prayed constantly and longed for time with His Father. Primarily, however, He was characterized by two things – love for the Father that resulted in His desire to glorify Him, and love for others (the very things that make up the greatest commandments – Matt 22:37-40). Those drove Him to the cross.
To abide is to walk.
Thoughts and applications
- How do we get to know God? Through study of His word, through prayer, through teaching and preaching, and through fellowshipping with the saints. There is no shortcut. We know Him through studying what He says in His revealed will – the Bible. We know Him through talking and communing with Him through prayer. We know Him through sitting under the teaching and preaching of His word. And we know Him through sharpening and being sharpened by others who are growing in their knowledge of Him also. If we have no desire to study or to pray or to listen or to fellowship then we apparently have no desire to know Him and we cannot claim to be His.
- What does it mean to keep His commandments? The simplest answer (not the only answer) may be to live according to the Sermon on the Mount. The SOM is Jesus laying out for His followers how to live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Beginning with the beatitudes and ending with the admonitions to obedience, it is the best concentrated source of Jesus’ standards for living. It shows us that to keep His commandments does not mean perfection (because the standard of the SOM is so high as to be unattainable in this life), but means an overall direction and character. It also shows us the futility of trying to obey apart from the power of the Holy Spirit.
- What about times when we jump the tracks and our lives are anything BUT typified by walking in the manner in which He walked? This is why John made it clear that the believer’s life is marked by ongoing confession and repentance (1:9-10). If we know that we are not where God wants us to be, we are not deceived – we are not blind as those who walk in the darkness. However, if we have no desire to get back through confession and repentance then we are certainly in danger. Or, if our times off the tracks are growing longer and our walk is steadily moving away from His – we are certainly in danger. John has made it clear that all of us sin. The key is our reaction to that sin and the overall direction of our lives. Good trees do not bear bad fruit. If our life and character are not marked by an ongoing progression toward the character of the Son and if we are not overly concerned that they are not, we are likely living in the darkness even if we look and sound like those in the light.
You cannot be receiving the life of Christ without becoming like Him. You cannot walk with God without keeping His commandments. You cannot know God without immediately, automatically loving Him. Love always manifests itself by doing what the object of its love desires.
(D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in Christ; 55.)