1 JOHN – SERIES : NR 4
Scripture: 1 John 2 : 3 – 6
Theme: Vital signs
There are very few Christians who have not had the nagging doubts about salvation and repentance. It is usually those who should be sure, who have doubts. And those who should have doubts, are not concerned. With them, everything is always plain sailing.
Within church ranks there are often two kinds of people:
A – Someone like Jack. Jack likes going to church, reads his Bible quite regularly, and lives a nice moral life. But he has never really decided on Christ’s claim in his life. The supernatural new life of rebirth has not broken through for his life. Although he is religious. And a good man. But lost. And yet something like doubt about salvation does not trouble him. He will surely go to heaven, he thinks. Everything is just perfect.
B – Someone like Judy. She was also always religious and very involved at her church. And then – at some stage – she became conscious of the fact that she – despite her exemplary life – is a slave to sin and that she must stand before the judgment of God one day. The Holy Spirit starts to convict her of sin. Her heart starts to yearn for salvation and deliverance from her sins. God created a new life in her. By grace from the Lord, someone could help her to find rest in the precious blood and wounds of Christ Jesus. She now knows that she is a child of God – saved by grace.
But later periods of nagging doubt tortured her. “What if…” And she loses sight of God’s black-on-white promises in His Word. And how He included her at her baptism. And she looks at herself. And tries to FEEL saved. She wonders why she is still so imperfect. The same temptations still come. Even worse than before. Why she still stumbles so often. Is she truly a child of the Lord, she wonders.” How can I know for sure that I know the Lord?”
The Apostle John wrote his letter to people like Judy. His letter wants to give ASSURANCE to Christians who already have assurance, but under the influence of false preachers – antichrists as he calls them – were confused. With his letter, he wants to give REASSURANCE. Something like: “ Do not pay attention to the hundreds of false voices. You ARE truly saved, know that with certainty. The signs of rebirth are clearly evident in your lives. By THAT you know you are truly spiritually alive.”
It is almost like someone who was in an accident and is lying on the ground. Initially, it looks as if the person is dead, but the paramedic looks for pulse, breathing, eye-reflex, temperature, blood pressure. Those five vital signs indicate with certainty whether the person is alive.
In the same way – says the Apostle John – you can also know with certainty whether you are spiritually alive and whether the Holy Spirit has done a true work in your life.
He gives his readers namely in his first letter a good number of such vital signs to help his readers to know with assurance that they may calmly forget the antichrists’ stories.
The word “know” appears more than 20 times in 1 John. Great joy comes to your heart when you discover that the Lord has done a true work in your life, is that not so?
Naturally, one’s assurance rests always primarily upon God’s Word/promises, not on something you see/feel in yourself. When one’s confidence rests in Christ’s cross-salvation and God’s promise, it automatically produces certain vital signs in your heart and life, and when you recognize/notice it, it strengthens/underlines your assurance.
And here is now – in 2: 3-6 – a couple of those vital signs.
NUMBER ONE > verse 3 > If we OBEY the commands of God, we KNOW (assurance) that we know Him. However, someone who says/confesses I KNOW HIM, but leads a disobedient lifestyle, is a liar. The truth is not in him/her (like Jack).
The Gnostics made so much of KNOWLEDGE – that they know God on a higher level. Now John says:
Yes, we KNOW that we KNOW God because we can see in our own lives that there is a desire to obey Him to the last letter. It is not perfect obedience, but the start of it has broken through. The direction of life has swung away from obedience to self and people and worldly this-and-that TOWARDS obedience to the Lord God. The true God and His Word. Even though we stumble 1000 times, the Compass-needle swings northward again and again!
The IF in verse 3 must therefore be read as WHEN, and not IF in the sense of a proviso. John is not busy questioning the churches. He is busy reassuring them. He is not saying: “Obey God’s commands and then you will know that you know Him”. He does not make the know-God (the certainty of it) dependent on the compliance of a condition (obeying of commands). Because then no Christian could have any assurance of salvation, because you will always fail and fall short. No, God’s grace does NOT hinge upon man’s obedience.
What John is saying: When you realise that obedience to Him is in you, then you can KNOW that you know God. It does not matter what the antichrists tell you about the KNOWLEDGE they have and that you still need! No, WHEN (AS) you notice a desire in yourself to obey Him, you can know that you know Him. Why so? Because the unsaved fallen nature of man does not want to be obedient to God! Therefore, if you want to obey Him, it can mean only one thing: God has done something in your life! You have received a new nature from Him. Your fallen sinful nature does not have the say any longer.“
But what does he mean by “obey His commands”? Does he mean the Ten Commandments (Decalogue)?
Well, keep in mind what the Gnostics/antichrists told the churches. They wanted a Christendom free from the authority of the Apostles! They did not want the churches to sit under the Word of God, as taught by the Apostles.
“Obedience to God’s commands” has nothing to do with legalism/keeping the letter of the law. Doing good to get into God’s good books. No, it is the hunger of the life that is reborn in Christ and where the Holy Spirit came to dwell – the hunger to start following HIM now and laying down my ego and to seek and do His will.
The Holy Spirit always guides the Christ-believer in Christ’s truth. John 16:13 > When He, the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.
It is impossible to separate the Holy Spirit from Christ and the Truth. Where the Holy Spirit has taken over one’s life, He shall bind you to the Truth. And that Truth is taught by the Apostles.
But the antichrists wanted to lead the churches – to whom John is writing – away from the teaching and authority of the Apostles. And throughout the centuries they are still doing it. That is why learned theologians can say things like: “I differ a little from Paul”. Or a minister from the pulpit: “I think Paul had psychological problems.“ They say: “The apostles were children of their era and culture, but today we see things in a different light and we know even better than the apostles”.
The Holy Spirit will NEVER use such language. If we hear such things, then we know that it is the spirit of the antichrist speaking. The Holy Spirit binds us to Christ’s Word and Christ’s work. And the heart who belongs to Him wants to follow and obey Him. It starts to become a lifestyle. THAT is an indication that you have truly come to life, says John. A lifestyle of obedience is the first vital sign of how we know that someone truly knows the Lord.
The SECOND VITAL SIGN is in verses 4-5. Obedience that comes out if LOVE. The presence of the love of God is the driving power behind the obedience and drives it on, says verse 5.
It is always precious to see how there were no grey areas in the minds of the Apostles. It is EITHER like this OR like that! The modern-day doubt about everything and compromise routes was unknown in the time of the Apostles. If you do not believe me, look at verse 4.
“The man who says/confess, I KNOW HIM but does not do what He commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him”.
Can you see?
A confession without obedience is a false confession. A confession where the love of God prompts obedience is true. There is nothing in between. No middle ground. Every person on earth finds him/herself in one of those two groups. The truth is the person whose confession is that he/she knows the Lord, is confirmed in the fruit of the Spirit – a visibly devout lifestyle. Otherwise, the truth is absent, says the Apostle John in verse 4.
Verse 5 illustrates the true confession. There is visible obedience. Not so many big words and confessions that he/she know God, but much more a lifestyle of obedience and remorse and repentance where obedience fall short or is absent because with obedience is not meant to perfect faultless obedience – because that does not exist this side of the grave. But where the love of God is truly present, it will be seen. It will come visibly to the fore.
Read verse 5 again…
The phrase LOVE OF GOD must not be confused with LOVE FOR GOD. In Greek, it is LOVE OF GOD. God’s love and not man’s love for God. Grammatically it is in Greek a qualitative genitive. It means love which is embedded in the nature of God. That is who He is. It is not the love for God from the believer’s side. No, it is God’s love that He – through the work of the Holy Spirit – has poured out into the heart of the believer (Rom 5:5).
THAT love produces something in the receiver thereof. It produces obedience. If the obedience, therefore, is visible, it means that the poured-in love has reached its purpose. That love has a powerful effect as result. It is impossible to receive God’s love and it does not produce a life of obedience as a result – then it is hypocrisy – it is simply false. John 14:15 > “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
Look carefully at what Jesus is saying here. He is not saying that love is the only guideline and that everything that comes out of love, is acceptable and right. Everything is good and right, as long as it does not cause harm to anyone else. I can, therefore (for example) live with someone while unmarried, because it does not do anyone any harm and is out of love. No, that love is false, because it breaks the seventh commandment.
Jesus says: “If you love me, you will obey my commands”.
See the difference? It is God’s love poured out into me by the Holy Spirit. THAT produces love in me. And that love comes into practice by walking in the footsteps of God’s will. And His will appears all over in the Scriptures. THIS is how we know that we are in Him (verse 5b).
The presence of His love is therefore a second vital sign from which I will know that I am not a spiritual corpse, but that there is indeed life!
In closing verse 6 (read it again)…
It sounds completely as if the Apostle is here giving a strict order: WALK AS JESUS DID. And then everyone is suddenly discouraged, because who can do that! It is an impossible instruction!
But no, read the entire verse and not only the second half!
WHOEVER CLAIMS TO LIVE IN HIM, must walk as Jesus did.
Here is a third vital sign! Arising from the fact that you are INCLUDED IN CHRIST, comes a lifestyle which SHALL be more and more Christ-like. Again: Not perfect, faultless Christlikeness – because that is not possible this side of the grave. But a decidedly practical change of course in my life – for Christ who lives His own life through me. As He also lived His life on earth. The clear signs of that are visible. Because I am included in Him – how can it be different?
It is the inclusion in the vine, which causes the branch to take on the character of the vine (John 15). The branch by itself is nothing – just a dry stick. But INCLUDED in the vine, the life fluids of the vine flows through the branch and later produce grapes/fruit. The vine itself becomes evident in the branch.
That is exactly what verse 6 teaches.
The confession of I know Him, I am in Him, I am included in Him – produces something in your life: you begin to live more and more the way Jesus lived.
And that is the third vital sign from which you can know that you are not a spiritual corpse.
The three vital signs are, therefore: 1 > Lifestyle of obedience 2 > Presence of God’s love 3 > Christ Jesus’s own life which starts to become evident in my own life.
It is like the needles of the three monitors which start to move when there is life. And should the one needle move, the other two will also move. The three work together.
And if a person starts to realise that it is truly like that, you become filled with great joy and excitement. The living God has also done something in MY life!
And that is exactly what the Apostle John wanted to achieve with this letter. He wanted to pull his first readers out of the grip of the Gnostics‘ ideas and re-establish them upon the secure rock of God’s truth. He wanted to re-establish their trust and REassures by saying: “ Look at these vital signs and know that you know the Lord, and build upon that.”
And of course: There where the needles are not moving, there is the grace of repentance. It is the wake-up call to be earnest with the Gospel message. Realise and acknowledge that you are a lost sinner – without life – and cast yourself unconditionally upon that which Christ has done with His death and resurrection.
Translated by Marthie Wilson