What Does John Mean by Knowing God in 1 John, Part 1
I’ve been wanting to write on this subject for a while because when you read through 1 John, it can almost appear as though John contradicts himself. First, he’ll state that Christians can and will sin, then he’ll say that Christians don’t sin. I’ll highlight chapter and verse shortly.
First, is it possible that there are contradictions in Scripture, even in the same epistle? I know that some people believe that contradictions exist. They believe the writers of Scripture were human and therefore, prone to error. What they exclude though is the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Either the Bible is God’s book to humanity or it isn’t. If it is, then I fully believe that just as God superseded so that Jesus would not be born with a sin nature like the rest of us have, He would ensure that while using sinful human beings to write His book, it would be without contradiction. That is not difficult at all for me to see and believe. In fact, it is very easy to believe.
So, if I believe that there are no contradictions in God’s Word, where does that lead me when contradictions seem to appear in the text? Normally, contradictions evaporate when Scripture is allowed to interpret itself. This is often the result of allowing the entirety of God’s Word – especially including the context of various passages – to speak to itself.
I believe this is the case in 1 John as well as numerous other portions of Scripture. What I’d like to do in this article and over the next few articles in this series is try to go deep into the text of parts of 1 John to learn what I believe John actually meant to get across to us, as he was guided by the Holy Spirit. I think in the end, we’ll learn that while John did actually refer to the Christians’ legal standing before God as being righteous, he went beyond that to discuss and compare what it means when the Christian is in fellowship with God and when the Christian it out of fellowship. In other words, Christians have the ability to either walk with God or not.
I’m not going to be going through 1 John from start to finish with this series, but I will be picking out specific sections to highlight. I want to start with 1 John 2:3-6.
3 Now by this we know that we have come to know God: if we keep his commandments. 4 The one who says “I have come to know God” and yet does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in such a person. 5 But whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has been perfected. By this we know that we are in him. 6 The one who says he resides in God ought himself to walk just as Jesus walked.
In the above text, John informs us how we know that we have “come to know God.” We know this because we keep His commandments. When we are not keeping His commandments, we are not “knowing God.” It’s that simple really.
It’s easy to read the above section of text and think, “Well, I don’t keep His commandments all the time so I guess I don’t really ‘know’ God then. Do I actually have salvation?” But what John is referring to here is the fact that we enter into a relationship with God that allows us to start to know Him. This cannot occur outside of salvation because all unsaved people stand before God as unrighteous. God cannot/does not have fellowship with those in darkness. Salvation begins the process or at least provides the ability to begin to know God.
Something must occur in the life of a person that literally brings them into God’s Presence and into relationship with Him. That something is called salvation. This is what kicks things off. As I’ve stated in previous articles, without a person gaining personal salvation for themselves, they are simply not in the position of being able to fellowship with God. Conversely, even though a person might actually have salvation, there is no guarantee that they will avail themselves of the fellowship (“knowing God”) that is theirs because of their union with Christ. That part – the fellowship – is dependent upon the individual Christian and some excel at this while many fail miserably. They fail because it is not clear how to fellowship with God even though they might want to do so or because they simply don’t want to fellowship with God, preferring to enjoy the values of the world. Christians cannot do both. In fact, no person can do both. Jesus summed this up beautifully in Matthew 6:24.
24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
People who become born again or born from above (cf. John 3) are still required to make the decision to enter into fellowship with God on a daily basis. When we choose not to fellowship with God, the world seems far more appealing.
Imagine a husband with a new wife. He loves her and they appear devoted to one another. Yet, every day, the husband looks at other women. He begins to envision himself being with those other women. He starts lusting after some of these women and then begins flirting with a few at the office or other places. Eventually, he finds himself in a compromising position if he allows himself to follow his lust. Ultimately, that husband cannot love his wife and remain faithful to her if he allows himself to be drawn away to other women every day.
That husband has actually tempted himself to choose someone other than his wife, though he certainly started out faithful to her physically and intentionally. Instead of refusing to think of other women – which seemed fairly innocuous to him at first – he allowed himself to move into that direction through mental fantasies. These fantasies took on a life of their own and eventually drew him away.
By the way, I’d like to point out that from a legal standpoint, that husband was still married, wasn’t he? That legal standing did not change because he was literally flirting with disaster. He remained married, but his focus went from his wife to other women.
What would have kept this from happening? He could have used his own “energy” or “willpower” to resist the temptations or he could have simply concentrated on how much he actually loved his wife. This would have done several things. First, it would have reminded him why he married his wife (and the promises he made during the ceremony) initially, and second, it would have strengthened his love and resolve to remain faithful to his wife.
This is what Christians too often do, myself included. We use our own willpower (such as it is), to resist temptation but this simply causes us to focus on the temptation even more. We should be focusing on how much we love Jesus and are thankful for what He has done and continues to do for us. Like Joseph, we will then find the temptations of this world repulsive in and of themselves compared to the love we have for Jesus.
I think this is what John means when he says that we know God by keeping His commandments. Actually, what John is referring to is an ongoing experience/relationship that helps us understand exactly how much God loves us. This understanding grows within us as we commit ourselves to fellowship with God. Because we are focusing on God and not our wants, needs, or other things in this life, we are recognizing that He is our Master. Because of this, all things in our life take on priorities that God has ordained.
If we begin to lose interest in our relationship with God, we will find other things in life that attract our attention and draw us away from God. In essence, as stated, when a husband begins to lose interest in his wife (as just one example), he does so because he has allowed the temptations of the world to capture his imagination and attention. All the husband needs to do is to begin refocusing his attention on his wife and he’ll return to her emotionally.
This is really true of anything in life. Something that captures and gains our attention is always in danger of our losing interest because of the way we are now, with a sin nature and a propensity to sin. For instance, as a drummer, I have the option of practicing or not. If I practice, I’ll improve. If I don’t, I won’t improve. There have been times when I didn’t pick up my drum sticks for months. It showed in the way I played. Now, I try to practice every day or at least five times a week. The improvement and consistent quality is clear. Why am I doing this, because I plan on auditioning for Journey once Steve Smith leaves the band again in two years after his contract is over? No, I simply do it because it’s great exercise and very rewarding for me.
When John says we “have come to know God,” he is not talking about a once for all situation where we know all there is to know about God relationship-wise and we have nothing further to learn. Knowing God is not a once for all, done deal situation. In fact, no relationship is like that! We understand that about our human relationships but when it comes to God, we actually think we can “know” God in a moment? It’s a process that depends on us, our demeanor, effort, and commitment…just like every other relationship with which we are involved.
John is talking about the fact that we have begun to know God and the reason we are in the position of even being able to start knowing God is because we have salvation! For the rest of our lives, we will be in the position of continuing to know God, if we make a deliberate decision to do that. It’s up to us.
We will get more deeply into this same passage with the next article!
Entry filed under: christianity, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation. Tags: 1 John 2:3-6, fellowship with god, knowing god.