“Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” ~ 1 John 2:4-6
Explanation of the Text: I must confess my struggle for obedience. In a struggle against my sinful nature, there are times I fight against obeying. There are times I know what I need to do and will endeavor to do it, until someone else commands me to do it as well……..even though I had already been set on it, the fact that someone else has commanded me to also complete whatever it is immediately sets into me a desire to do the opposite. And so the battle rages on between the new man in Christ and the crucified man that once was.
In this struggle, I do not think I am alone. In some form or another, we all seem to have issue with authority within our own life. Our culture tells us to be anti-authoritarian, seeking instead independence. As a result, these words of John are contrary to our pattern of thinking, sound harsh, and are often difficult to put into application within our lives (even when we know we need to). Yet, despite that, the words confined to these verses (and beginning in verse 3) should not be neglected. Similar to a message within his gospel account, John once again substantiates that obedience is a point that separates true believers from false professors.
John’s writing is quite clear in that those who say they ‘know’ the Lord Jesus Christ yet have no interest in obedience to Him are liars because they do not know Him at all (or literally he says “the truth is not in him”). As I write this, I am listening to an interview of some college age kids in Daytona Beach, FL. In the interview several of them claim to be believers, know God and be going to heaven. However, their goals for the weekend offer up a picture quite contrary to their claims. It was their intention to party, drink, and to fornicate with one another with no commitment for any future (it goes without saying, they were not married). The problem: what they claimed with their lips was not confirmed by their actions. In essence, John would say they were lying (even if they did not see it as such). Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon perception. However, John tells us that the truth is not in one who lies. Logically that would make sense. To life is complete opposite of telling truth. They cannot coexist with one another. We know that the Word, God, and the Lord Jesus Christ embody the complete essence of truth, and if one is lying, the truth cannot inhabit the same place, thus the truth is not in that person.
John’s emphasis in the Greek language is important to note here. It can be very easy to read the verse and think, “I did something I wasn’t supposed to do or I didn’t do something I was supposed to according to God’s commands. I must not be a believer…..am I really saved?” However, the sentence construction reveals that John is revealing those who habitually do not keep the commands. He is referring to a person whose lifestyle is one of disobedience with no desire to walk in truth and obedience. A person of this character knows their true heart and where their loyalties lay. They will not that while confessing with their mouth, they deny Christ with their actions and thus are separated from God. Therefore, as we have seen John emphasize before, he is once again bringing forth the issue of assurance of salvation, indicating how one knows they are truly saved.
In contrast to the one who disobeys is the one who obeys. For this person, the truth clearly resides in him or her. We learn in this point that there is pleasure in keeping God’s commands, a point that is known through our own experience. As we obey God, we seem Him at work more and more, blessed by the work that He does through us. In this particular verse, there is the greatest blessing of all; the pleasure from obedience is the perfection the love of God. For a clearer interpretation, it is best to render the verse to say, “the love for God is perfected.” In other words, as one obeys God, the love had for God is perfected. We see this to be the case. The more we obey, the easier it is to obey, and our love for God increases so that we become more focused on Him and desirous of Him.
Finally, John indicates that those who abide in Him should walk just as Christ walked. Jesus Christ is both the sustainer of life and example for life. Peter reminds believers that even in Christ’s sufferings, he was an example to be followed by all generations (1 Peter 2:21). He is the ultimate example of obedience which allowed us the opportunity for salvation, therefore obedience to Him should be a natural response.
Verse 6 is also reminiscent of John’s gospel account in which believers are told to remain in Christ’s love (John 15:9). This comes within a section in which there is a great discussion about what it means to abide in Christ. Chapter 15 of John discusses that those who abide in Christ will bear fruit. Abiding in Him is to remain in His love. How do we remain in His love? By keeping God’s commands, because our love for Him is perfected, in which it will continue on, it will endure, and it will sustain.
Examination & Application of the Text: The Christian life is not one of contradiction or hypocrisy. It is not a life in which one confesses truth with their mouth but denies it with actions. For this reason, John’s call here is for believers to not contradict with their actions what they confess to be true with their mouth. Instead, our lives are meant to be sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1-2) in which we allow God to perfect our love for Him through our obedience to Him. It is easy to say the verse tells us we must obey. But that is a given. However, why is it that we obey?
First, we obey because it gives us assurance of who we are in Jesus Christ. Through obedience we recognize that we are indeed believers. We can trust that we have a place in heaven, while God is still working through us here on earth.
Second, obedience leads to love for God being perfected in us. It causes us to love God more and to be enthralled with Him. As a result our relationship with Him becomes deeper and more intimate. This perfecting of our love for God causes growth in our lives into Christlikeness, it results in the fulfillment of God’s plan as we seek to work for Him, and ultimately it causes God to be glorified.
We must then obey for the sake of God’s glory, not simply to be doing the ‘right’ thing. It causes us to love deeper and wider so that our will is completely consumed with His. We are motivated further by our love for Him to love others. It is a cycle the impacts all aspects of living, not just for us, but for others and for God. But everything must find itself rooted in love for God. We obey because we love God. Our love for God continues deeper because we obey.
Questions to Consider:
- What evidence in your life do you have to consider in order to show your standing before God?
- What is the current state of your love for God? Can it be perfected more?
- Name some specific areas that obedience in your life needs to increase. Pray about those areas to God, confessing to Him, asking for Him to work in them, and remember them. When confronted with those situations trust God to give you the overcoming spirit needed to continue on in obedience.