What Does John Mean by Knowing God in 1 John, Part 2
I almost think that maybe I should start at the beginning of 1 John and go from there because there is quite a bit involved in this short epistle. We’ll see how things go.
The thing I am constantly aware of is the connection between what John teaches in 1 John and the truth of the Prodigal Son parable that Jesus taught in Luke 15. I used to think that this particular parable is one level where the truth becomes obvious and dealt primarily with how much God the Father loves us in an unquenchable way. While it is that, the reality is that this particular parable goes much deeper and on a variety of levels. In this short series, you will probably see me connecting back to the parable of the Prodigal Son often even though I am mainly dealing with 1 John.
In our last article, we began dealing with 1 John 2:3-6. Let’s pick it up there.
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.
John tells us several important things in the above text. First, he provides the test to know whether or not we have “come to know God.” He is actually saying we can discern whether or not we are in fellowship with God. This is an ongoing situation, not a once for all – I now know God and I know all I need to know about Him – situation. That never happens in this lifetime. Never.
John says to know whether we are (continuing) in fellowship with God simply requires us to look at our own lives and give ourselves a bit of a test. He says the test is in whether or not we keep His commandments (3b). Of course, the question that immediately rises is this: what are God’s commandments? Fortunately, we don’t have to guess at all because John ultimately answers this question to our satisfaction at various points in 1 John.
If we simply read the verses above, it might be easy to think that John is referring to some “to do” list for Christians. While he is talking about the things that Christians are supposed to do, it’s not necessarily a list per se. It’s more of an attitude or demeanor, from which flows obedience. People can appear to be obedient because of their actions though they don’t want to be obedient. They can be obedient because they want to obey. They can also not obey or not be true to promises they have made.
John notes that if a person says he/she has come to know God, but doesn’t keep God’s commands, then that person is clearly lying. To emphasize the point, John says that the person in question is devoid of truth. Truth does not reside in that person because they are living a lie.
Conversely, for the person who obeys God’s Word, God’s love is perfected. The next statement provides a clue as to what John means by this: By this we know that we are in him. By what? By the ability of that person to obey God’s Word from the heart.
Let me explain it this way. When two people marry, they enter into a legal contract. They both make certain, specific, legal promises to one another and everyone who is in attendance is a witness to those promises. The man and woman to be married are promising that certain “rules and regulations” will oversee their marriage union. Their continued obedience to rules that keep their marriage relationship intact and alive are proof that they love one another.
The traditional marriage union is based on the foundation of love. People ostensibly enter into that type of relationship because of their love and appreciation for one another, as well as their desire to make a solid commitment to the other and live by the tenants of that commitment. Because of their public commitment and promises in front of witnesses, the two people are expected to live in keeping with their public promises.
As two married people go through life, their feelings and intensity of those feelings do not necessarily remain the same. Things change over time. The peaks and valleys of life often play into the quality (or lack of it) of the marriage. The enduring nature and quality of a marriage will last or not based on how seriously the two take their promises they publicly made to one another. Will they keep doing the things they promised to continually prove their love to one another (and grow closer together because of it), or will they stop doing those things when they don’t feel like it?
A husband or wife who strays by lusting after someone else or having an extramarital affair has done several things. First, they have broken their promises they made when they publicly declared they would keep those promises to the other until death do they part. Second, they have cast doubt on their previous attestation that they love one another.
In essence, people who make promises but don’t keep them put their integrity in doubt. Would you agree that a spouse who cheats on his/her spouse not only commits adultery, but is also lying? They made promises but aren’t keeping them. The truth is not in them because they are living in a way that is diametrically opposed to the truth – the promises they made.
Two married people don’t constantly refer to a “to do” list to help them remember the promises and commitments they made to one another. They do things – or should – because of that commitment and those things they do should come naturally because of their love (and resultant commitment). Everything stems from those promises. It is supposed to be a natural guide to a growing relationship.
Spouses who cheat on their spouse are not remaining true to their original promises. They are not living in truth and it clearly shows to others outside the relationship who see what’s happening. This is what John is saying here. Christians must live based on the spiritual transaction that took place when they became Christians. This requires the Christian to know exactly what occurred.
When I married, I became “one” with my wife and she with me. We made promises to one another and have kept them. We have kept them because of our commitment to one another nearly 30 years ago. Over the course of 30 years of marriage, I have continued to know my wife as in I have spent 30 years getting to know her and she me. The process continues. We’ve worked at it and continued to get to know one another because that has been our commitment.
John tells us in verse 6 that Christians are expected to walk as Jesus walked. He’s going to tell us just what that means and we’ll talk about that next time as well.