PART 1 – THAT YOU KNOW CHRIST – 1 John 2:3-5
J. Dale Weaver, M.Div., M.A.
The Apostle John was the longest living of the Lord’s original 12 Disciples, and the last to die. He was also the only one to die of natural causes, at an advanced age – probably his 90’s – sometime between 98 – 102AD in Ephesus, in present-day Turkey.
John writes more of the New Testament than any other author except Paul and covers almost as many subjects. One of his most prominent themes, however, is knowledge. Certainty. The philosophical term for what constitutes knowledge is epistemology. John wanted his readers to know.
But, to know what?I
n 1st John, the term “know” is used 27 times in 22 verses. While the overarching theme of the book is “Love One Another,” the major sub-theme is that we should know. Throughout the course of this letter, John continually returns to subjects and ideas that we, as followers of Christ, should know.
The first instance we see John concern himself with our certainty about the issues he addresses is in 1 John 2:3-5. Four times, John uses the word “know,” or in some versions, “known.” After spending the first Chapter explaining what it means to “walk in the light,” and yet also to be realistic about our walk. To realize our sins, our failures, and to understand that Jesus is faithful and just to forgive our sins if we ask him.
John moves on in Chapter 2, and addresses the next logical topic – well, how do I know that I know Christ?
“Now by this, we know that we know Him if we keep His commandments” (I John 2:3).
The word “know” here in the first instance is an active, present-tense voice. It indicates a certainty, something we can be confident in. The second phrase, “that we know him,” can also be translated as “that we have known him,” and is also a present tense verb, but it is in the perfect sense. In other words, it is actively true now, but was accomplished in the past – like “he has done.”
In short, we “know” that we came to a true knowledge of Christ, “if we keep his commandments.”
Wait a minute. That doesn’t sound good. How many of us “keep his commandments”? I mean, how many of us “walk perfectly,” and without failure or fault, obey God?
Remember, John had just written in the previous chapter, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:8-9).
John was not here saying that we could achieve “perfection,” nor that we had to be sinless to know Christ. The meaning of the Scripture demonstrates that, if we truly know Christ, we will follow Him, we will want to please Him, and we will be enabled to walk as He walked, in the power of the Holy Spirit. We will fail at points, but within our reborn spirit, we will want to walk like Jesus, even if our flesh is sometimes weak.
I heard a preacher put it this way once: “Being a Christian doesn’t mean you’ll be ‘sinless,’ but it does mean that you will sin less.”
Indeed, as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, He is in the process of sanctifying us – making us more holy, conforming us more to His image. If that process is happening, you can KNOW that you KNOW Jesus. If it isn’t, you might want to examine your spiritual walk a bit more extensively….
John then reinforces this idea in verse 4, where he says:
“He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).
Again, if someone says they “know” Jesus Christ, yet are living in open, unrepentant sin, the Apostle John does not mince words. He “is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” And John is not alone in this sort of declaration. Often, those who claim Christ, but seek to justify still living a life in sin, attempt to separate Biblical writers against each other, or Biblical writers against the [red] words of Jesus in the Gospels, or worse, the declarations of God in the Old Testament from those in the New Testament.
As if they’re smarter than God….
The New Testament writers do not contradict the essential moral commandments of God from the Creation, as given in the Old Testament. A failure to comprehend that is not a failure of God or Biblical authors, it is our failure.
Paul, for example, clearly states:
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Now, before anyone gets the desire to point any one or two of these sins out as particularly “evil” or worthy of judgment, I would recommend you read the entire list in this passage again. Paul pretty much catches all of us in the broad net he tosses.
We are not saved by our works. We cannot perfectly keep His commandments. We must call on Him to forgive us our sins. And it is only by His power that we grow in Him, and in the process die to sin, and “live as Christ.”
Another point one can discern from John’s words is that he is already facing, during the time he wrote this letter (85-90AD) the beginnings of early heresies in the Church, particularly the Nicolaitans and the Gnostics. John directly rebukes the Nicolaitans in the book of Revelation, which he would write a few years later. But the Gnostics are specifically in view here.
Gnostics did not “believe” in Christ, they claimed to “know” Christ with a secret knowledge – a knowledge that was passed on secretly through Gnostic leaders, apart from the Apostles. And, because they held this special “spiritual” knowledge, they largely devalued “the flesh,” which meant, many thought what we did in our fleshly bodies had no relation to our “religious” convictions or practices. So, they indulged the flesh, lived as they wished, and ignored “commandments.
”This always met with condemnation from the Apostles and the Early Church Fathers. This concept is called “antinomianism,” and it simply means that those who hold this view are no longer subject to the “laws” or “commandments” that are binding to everyone else. It is always heresy. John is drawing a distinction between true followers of Christ, who really “know” Him, and those who claim “knowledge” of Christ but do not obey Him.
“But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him” (1 John 2:5).
John sums up his reassurance to his readers by reminding them that whoever keeps God’s word is “perfected in Him.”
There are two possible ways to understand this. First, the Greek word rendered “perfected” can also be translated as “matured.” Thus, it does not denote absolute “perfection,” but spiritual maturity. Second, if one understands this to refer to the whole process of the Christian life, from the point of salvation until the point we stand in Jesus’ presence, then we shall indeed be perfected in His Presence. The essential fact to remember is that our walk with Christ is a process, a journey. It is not perfection, but it is growth in Christlikeness.
Charles Spurgeon once explained the words of the Apostle John here, saying “The Christian no longer loves sin; it is the object of his sternest horror: he no longer regards it as a mere trifle, plays with it, or talks of it with unconcern… Sin is dejected in the Christian’s heart, though it is not ejected. Sin may enter the heart, and fight for dominion, but it cannot sit upon the throne.”
But, Dr. Reuben “Bud” Robinson, the late Church of the Nazarene Evangelist, who was a bit more plainspoken, once put it this way: “I’m not what I ought to be, but I thank God I’m not what I used to be!”
Therein lies the difference between knowing that you know Jesus Christ – and not knowing at all.