The experience of being a young Christian is a difficult one. At first, there is the joy of being in the Light. Of being found by GOD and being aware that I am forgiven and am a recipient of new life!
But then the humdrum of everyday living sets in. I come to realize that I am no longer as light-loving as I thought. My sinfulness is still there…often to the point of tormenting me! In fact, I wonder if anything has really changed!
Parallels to marriage
In fact, there are many parallels here between being a new Christian and marriage. So much of what I thought the Christian life would be like…well, it isn’t like that at all. I thought I had found the answer to life and struggle and now I struggle more!
And the parallel to marriage? It has turned out rather different than I thought for sure! My expectation had a lot to do with riding off into the sunset with Prince Charming…to live happily ever after! The reality was both better and worse. There was a lot of cleaning and mundaneness about it.
But there was also some great romance! Raising a family together was a great experience for both of us and sharing life together has been great…mostly. But along the way there has been a lot of poop…both literal and figurative. We’ve gotten through it together, and being together has been very helpful and good!
Maybe this is why we have such a problem, we don’t share this part of our life with Christ as easily…it is difficult to share our failures and sins with a holy GOD!
The doubt comes with my Christian life. Am I really a Christian? Have I been changed? I am still sinning. In some ways, John sets us partially at ease by saying, “If you say you have no sin, you make God out to be a liar…”
So there is a balance between my not being sinless and obeying GOD’s commands. How do we get to that place? What is that place?
How can a person know she is truly a Christian?
or How can I know that I know GOD?
John is going to set before us 3 tests in this chapter as stated by John Stott. They are a guide for us to help us know if we are truly believers.
- The Moral Test: Righteousness (2:3-6)
- The Social Test: Love (for other Christians (2:7-11)
- The Doctrinal Test: Truth (2:18-27)
We’ll cover these in the next few weeks.
The point for this week is that a Believer will be known by a righteous life. John has already made clear that no one will be sinless. As Believers, it is now possible not to sin, but John states clearly that we will not, NOT sin. For many of us, we won’t see our lives as being more righteous. From our perspective, we may just become aware of our true sinfulness.
From our perspectives, as we fight and battle sin and turn frequently to Christ to repent of it, we will often become more aware of our sin. The great thing is that along with it, we will become more aware of the sufficiency of Christ to forgive our sin and pay for it completely. We will learn of His ability to forgive and enable us to obey in times of difficulty and struggle.
It is also a good test for those to whom we go for truth. Do we see a righteous life combined with wise words? Then GOD is changing them and they are becoming righteous as His children. They are living out lives that show they belong to the family. It isn’t fake. It is real. They aren’t pretending. They are learning humility through suffering. They are submitting at times when it isn’t easy to submit. They are loving when people are not loveable. Their lives aren’t fake or pretend. They don’t preach one thing and live another.
Interestingly, John’s way of stating “We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands.“ is a way of speaking to Gnostic teaching. They made a big deal of having special knowledge so John spoke to that. But there was more to the knowledge than simply intellectual assent or human reason. It had to do with simple obedience to GOD’s commands. This has to do with knowledge of a person, a relationship, and out of it flows a change in conduct! Often, it is quite profound! This was a different paradigm than the Gnostics understood.
23 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV
And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:34 ESV
for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:13 ESV
Two types of people
Person who claims to know GOD, doesn’t keep His commandments
This person is a liar. This person isn’t confused by facts or deceived by others. This person is openly confessing something she knows to be false and could be labeled a deceiver! John says about this person, “the truth is not in him.” This could mean that if you are seeking truth, stay away from this person. Go to another source if you want truth! This applies to false teachers both of John’s and our day. It is so easy to get impressed by great words…but stop, look at their life. That tells you if the person is a fake or is the real thing.
It sort of makes us question the importance of TV pastors whose value is overemphasized. Yes, they can be a huge resource…or false teachers! One thing is for sure, their lives can’t be observed as closely. We don’t know about their lives like we do our local pastor.
Person who lives an obedient life flowing from love for GOD
This person doesn’t make big claims about how much she knows or loves GOD. She just obeys Him. The love of GOD is perfected in her.
There are 3 ways to interpret this phrase “love of GOD” GOD’s love for us, our love for GOD or if I understand it right, to love in a way that is like GOD loves. Dr. Boice suggests that the best interpretation (#2) here is motivation where our love for GOD helps us seek to please Him and obey His commands. Anything else is hypocrisy.
This person has confidence spiritually. “This is how we know we are in Him.” There is some difference of opinion among good interpreters as to what this is referring to. Some translators (NIV) have good reasons (discussed in the book) regarding why they use it to refer on to verse 6 but Dr. Boice felt the KJV was more accurate here when it referred back to the person who obeys GOD and obeys Him by living righteously. (He was on translation committees for both NIV and ESV.)
The flow of thought is therefore that
- The man who obeys God can know a. that his love for GOD is being perfected and b. that he is “in” GOD. Therefore,
- everyone who says he abides in GOD ought to reassure his own heart and others by obeying him.
We are called to emulate Jesus in our conduct
How do we do this?
It is personal. Think of Peter. As Jesus asked repeatedly if Peter loved him (after Peter’s denial), Peter became uncomfortable. Soon he asked, “What about John?” Jesus’ reply was, “If it is my will for him to be here until I come, what is it to you? Follow me!” Sort of puts things in perspective doesn’t it?
We are also called to be active vs. inactive. Jesus Himself is active and we are following Him. If we are inactive, we get left behind!
Following Jesus is costly. His path led to the cross! We can’t expect anything less. Yes, eventually there is glory, but not in this life. We are told to take up the cross and die to ourselves.
By the test of righteousness, we may know GOD and may assure our hearts before Him. How encouraging!
As you examine yourself in the light of this passage, how do you do in the moral test?
The balance is obedience to GOD’s commands realizing that I will never be sinless in this life. Would my neighbor notice a change toward righteousness in the past 5 years? What about those who know me better?
Keep in mind that this righteousness is not getting you in the family or keeping you in the family. This righteousness shows you are part of the family. It is evidence that you are a Christian! In order to get in the family, Jesus had to die for you and you had to exchange your sinful record for His perfect one! That’s how hopeless your condition was!