3 And by this do we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, â€œI know Him,â€ and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and in him the truth in not. 5 However, he who keeps His word, assuredly in him the love of God is perfected; by this we know that we are in Him. 6 He who says he abides/dwells in Him is bound to walk even as He walked.1 John 2:3-6
Christ our Advocate promises propitiatory grace to us, but many wonder how to know that they know that they know that it is really for them. One of the most common questions a pastor is asked is how someone can really know that they are saved. This has given rise in some circles to a bad habit of naval gazing.
John raises this theme of knowing and will return to it numerous times throughout Johnâ€™s epistle. This is why this epistle is often called the epistle of assurance. Here is how we know that we know Christ; and thus, we can know that all His forgiveness and fellowship is ours as well.
The answer to how do you know if you know Christ isnâ€™t to stare inward; John tells us that our assurance arises as we keep His commandments. In other words, it isnâ€™t by gazing inward, but by hearing Christâ€™s commands and obeying. If you canâ€™t hear His commands, or you refuse to obey them, well, then thereâ€™s your answer chump.
John goes on to expand on what it means to keep Christâ€™s commands (vv7-11, 5:3), but for now the equation is simply that we can know that we know Christ by obedience to Him. Those who know Christ obey Him. Those who donâ€™t know Christ spend too much time staring at themselves in the mirror. This is John weaving in Christâ€™s teaching in John 14:15, â€œIf ye love me, keep my commandments.â€
In 2:4 we have an echo of the liar of 1:8. In the prior passage, denying sinâ€™s presence is self-delusion, and thus proof that truth doesnâ€™t dwell within. In this chapter, the liar claims to have the knowledge which comes through close fellowship, while demonstrating through his actions that he doesnâ€™t in fact know how Christ would have him behave. This evinces that truth doesnâ€™t dwell in such an one (and thus is the mark of a false teacher); this sets the stage for the later discussion of anti-Christs (2:18, 22).
Of note, John makes keeping Christâ€™s commandments synonymous with keeping Christâ€™s word. A beloved confidant of the King will do as the King commands, and by this obedience it is seen that the Kingâ€™s love truly rests upon and in him. Godâ€™s love is perfected, or fulfilled, in us by keeping Christâ€™s word. A second assurance is added here, that keeping Christâ€™s word shows that we are indeed in the fellowship with the Father & Son described in 1:3.
Again, declaring that you dwell in God obligates you to conform your life to His. Calvin points out that John â€œdoes not simply exhort us to imitate Christ; but from the union we have with him, he proves that we ought to be like him.â 1â€ In other words, it isnâ€™t just â€œgrit your teeth and be like Jesus.â€ Rather, on the basis of our covenantal union with Him we must indeed be like Him.
This is, after all, what Christ himself taught John, â€œIf ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love (Jn. 15:10).â€ Our old covenant head (Adam) has been replaced by a new head (Christ). Just as Christ submitted to the Fatherâ€™s will, and now the Father has given the government of the world into Christâ€™s hands, so to Christâ€™s own must walk in submission to His commands because of their covenantal union with Him. As A.A. Hodge once put it, â€œTrue [assurance] leads to constant aspirations after more intimate fellowship with God.â€â 2
1 Calvin, Jean. Calvins Commentaries. Vol. XXII. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999. Pg.176.
2 Hodge, Archibald Alexander. The Westminster Confession: A Commentary. Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002.
- 1 John 5:20-21 | We Know
- 1 John 5:16-19 | The Sin Unto Death
- 1 John 5:13-15 | Big Prayers
- 1 John 5:9-12 | God on the Stand
- 1 John 5:6-8 | The Threefold Witness
- 1 John 5:1-5 | Swept Up Into Victory
- 1 John 4:17-21 | Bold Sons & Fearful Slaves
- 1 John 4:11-16 | The Offensive Love of God
- 1 John 4:7-10 | God is Love
- 1 John 4:4-6 | Overcoming Swarms of Devils