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Those Who Know God Must Obey Him (1 John 2:3–6)
1 John 2:3–6 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
Observing God’s Commandments
3 And by this we know that we have come to know him if we keep his commandments. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know him,” and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps his word, truly in this one the love of God has been perfected. By this we know that we are in him: 6 the one who says he remains in him ought himself to walk in the same manner as he walked.
SUPPORTING IDEA: We demonstrate that we know God when we keep his commandments.
2:3–4. To understand this letter, we must be continually reminded that it seeks to correct problems of belief and behavior of Christians in Ephesus. Every word of the letter comes in response to something that the church needed to hear. Verse 3 tells believers how we can know if we are, indeed, Christians. We know we are Christians if we obey his commands.
Apparently, some people in Ephesus claimed to know God, but they made no effort to keep God’s commands. The religion that came to be known as Gnosticism prided itself in knowing God through mystical enlightenment, though that knowledge had no bearing on their moral behavior. They had no understanding that sin was a barrier to their relationship with God. John set them straight about this claim: “If you know God, you keep his commandments, and if you make no effort to keep his commandments, but still claim to be a Christian, you are a liar.”
This distinction is comforting when we look at extreme sin, assuming we are not involved in extreme sin. It makes it plain that those who clearly live like the devil can make no claim to be Christian. However, it is very discomforting when we consider more subtle sin. How obedient do we have to be? I violated one of God’s commands just last night. Am I a Christian, or am I a liar? Must we obey all commands perfectly? If that is the case, are any of us saved?
Clearly, the Bible is not saying that we have to exhibit perfect obedience. First John 1:8 just told us that if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and make God out to be a liar. The issue appears to be whether or not we take God’s commandments seriously and are trying to keep them. We may not keep them perfectly. We may not even have a perfectly consistent desire to keep them. But if we are truly born again, we will not live our lives in disregard for God’s commands. The Gnostics, it can be assumed, weren’t even trying to keep God’s commands. It is their behavior that the Bible condemns. (See Deeper Discoveries for a fuller discussion of this issue.)
2:5–6. The apostle now reassures us. If we take seriously the commands of God and desire to keep them, we can be sure we know God. Then God’s love is truly made complete in us.
Bible teachers disagree about the meaning of God’s love. Does it mean the love of God for the Christian, or the Christian’s love for God? Either interpretation is possible, and neither dramatically changes the understanding of the passage. Made complete probably means “mature,” not “perfect” as some people have concluded. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist denomination, believed it meant that a Christian could grow spiritually to the point where he or she loved perfectly. Others believe that the strongest evidence against this interpretation, besides our own observation of the lives of Christians, seems to be 1 John 1:8 where the apostle has already said we will continue to sin.
The verse concludes: This is how we know we are in him. Unfortunately, we don’t know if “this” refers backwards to “God’s love being made complete in us,” or forwards to “walking as Jesus walked.” Again, it doesn’t make much difference. The NIV has translated it so that it refers forward, and that is certainly an acceptable interpretation.
By David Walls and Max Anders