Title: By This We Know
Text: I John 2:3-6
FCF: We often struggle feeling sure that we are God’s child.
Prop: Because God recreates all His children to follow and obey Him, we must analyze our lifestyles to see if we are His.
Scripture Intro: ESV
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to I John 2. Well we have had several interruptions over the last several weeks, but I have been anxious to get back to our study of I John. I know the last sermon on I John was a difficult pill to swallow. I want to remind you that my office is open to you if you would like to discuss that or anything really.
As we come back to I John, it will be helpful for us remember what we have seen so far. John is writing his letter to defend against some pre-gnostic teachings that put priority on a special knowledge of God only achievable by those in a particular bloodline. They also taught a antinomian or anti-law lifestyle, even suggesting that they were not able to or ever had sinned in their lifetimes.
And so, John, wanting to comfort his little flock in Asia Minor, writes to assure them of the gospel truth in their hearts.
He begins by establishing the firm foundation of truth. That he and the other apostles had heard directly from the God-Man’s lips the message of the gospel. That if any claimed to know this truth, it must come from and be in agreement with what the apostles taught. Otherwise it was not from Christ.
[Slide 2] He then proceeds to describe the essence of the gospel. It is simply that God is light and the children He makes are children of light! Mankind is naturally of the dark, and they love the darkness. God doesn’t half-change anyone. Those whom God is saving, He will continue to save! He will perfect His Children!
And so John’s first real message to the false teachers is that God being light has children who are of the light. But they are still of darkness as is shown by their view of sin.
So now John will transition to another topic, although it is related to what he has been saying. I’m in verse 3 of chapter 2. I’ll be reading from the ESV, but follow along in the pew bible on 1372 or whatever version you have. If you don’t have a bible of your own, the pew bible is yours to take.
We’ve seen how being God’s child changes our perspective of sin. That we flee it, agree with God about it, and His atonement sustains us in it. But what about God’s ways? What about walking in light? John next wants to show that not only does our disposition toward sin assures us of our standing with God, but also our disposition toward righteousness.
I.) Keeping God’s Word proves we know God, so we must analyze our lifestyles to see if we are His. (3-5a)
a. [Slide 3] 3 – And by this we know that we have come to know him,
i. As we said before, John has been defending truth by attacking the false teachings that have crept into the church in Asia Minor.
ii. Now John moves to 3 more claims of the false teachers. Two we will look at today, and one next week. But John changes his tactic. Rather than refuting the claims of the false teachers, he repurposes them, and presents them correctly. The reason for this is because It can never be true of anyone that they have fellowship with God yet live a lifestyle of sin. It can never be true that we do not have the ability to sin. It can never be true that we have never sinned. But with the next three claims of the false teachers… there is actually a way for it to be true.
iii. The claim of the false teachers here in verse 3, is that they know God. That they possess secret and mystical knowledge of God that the others are unable to have.
iv. John does not outright reject such a claim – but he wants his readers to understand that there is a way that they can know that they have come to know God. But it isn’t the way the false teachers have said. So let’s unpack this.
v. [Slide 4A] The two “knows” in this verse, although the same word, are clearly used in different senses. The first “know” is a know of understanding or assurance. John wants his readers to be assured that they have come to know Him.
vi. [Slide 4B] The second “know” is directed toward a person. When this word “know” is directed toward a thing in scripture, oftentimes that means knowledge or conviction as it was previously. But when directed toward a person, it has a more intimate meaning. Knowledge in this sense means connection, relation, or intimacy.
vii. Also, concerning this “know” the ESV does a masterful job translating the verb tense here. This is a verb that has been completed in the past. It is done. However, it is a completed action that has continuing effects into the present.
viii. This connection or relationship was established in the past – but is ongoing to the very moment John is writing it to his readers.
ix. So John is about to explain to his readers how they can be assured that they have been and still are connected to God.
x. How can they be assured of that fact?
b. [Slide 5] if we keep His commandments.
i. How can we be assured that we have begun a relationship with God that has endured?
ii. We have been remade. We are new creatures. Before we loved darkness rather than light because our deeds were evil. Before we followed the passions of our flesh. Before we were slaves to sin. Before we were children of wrath. Before we were sinners.
iii. But now…
iv. We keep His law.
v. [Slide 6] When we read this word “keep” we ought not simply put obey in its place. To do so would be to short change the word. Broad strokes, it means to obey – sure.
vi. But when we see keep, we ought to think of a keep like in a castle. A fortress. This word means to guard, to pen up, to imprison, or to withhold.
vii. When John says we can know that we have come to know Him if we keep his commands, he means if we loyally protect, cherish, preserve, and yes… obey his commands.
viii. If his commands are our life! If his commands are our oxygen! If we keep them as if we could not live without them. Yes obey – but more….
ix. [Slide 7] Psalm 1 – how blessed is the one who delights in the law of God. He is like a tree planted by flowing streams, who yields fruit in his proper time, and his leaves never fall off.
x. This is how we know we have come to know Him. If we delight in His law.
xi. [Slide 8] We must be careful not to invert this though. We can’t see this as a formula. If we desire to Know God, or we desire the assurance that we do know God, we cannot begin to keep His commands in order to gain assurance or intimacy with God. Both of these are false. This only flows one way. The knowledge of God is the cause producing the effect of keeping His commands. So when we see the effect we can become assured of the cause.
1. It is like this. If you want proof that yeast is alive and working, you put it in a lump of dough and see if the dough rises. That proves that the yeast is alive and working.
2. But if you want the yeast to be alive and you want to be sure the yeast works, you can’t put it in the dough along with an air hose and inflate the dough yourself.
3. Producing the effect of rising, or attempting to, does not force the yeast to be alive, nor does it really prove anything about the yeast at all.
xii. And so, if you want to be sure that you are connected to God, the only thing you can do is examine who you are currently. You can’t become that person to gain assurance or intimacy.
xiii. John continues his thoughts…
i. As great as the ESV did in translating the tense of the Greek last time, they fail this time.
ii. This is the exact same word. We may think that this person is claiming something different than what John just said.
iii. But that is not the case.
iv. Any person, in John’s estimation, who says I have come to know Him in the sense that I am His child and He is my God.
d. [Slide 10] but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
i. Whoever claims to be intimately connected to God but does not cherish, cling to, or obey his commands… now think about that.
ii. What could we say about such a person? The same thing that John says!
iii. They are a liar. They do not possess truth, and specifically, they do not possess God’s truth.
iv. Notice that John does not say that whoever does not keep his commands is a liar and needs to start keeping God’s commands. No. This person does not possess the truth. The truth is not in them. They don’t need to start doing something – they lack something. That is their problem.
e. [Slide 11] 5a – but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.
i. But anyone who keeps God’s Word… yes anyone who loves, clings to, and obeys God’s commands and teachings … that person has been changed.
ii. John provides his readers with a solid guarantee. That person – has had something happen to them.
iii. [Slide 12A] The love of God is perfected in them. But what does that mean?
1. [Slide 12B] First of all, perfected means completed. It means fulfilled. And it is that verb tense (again) that means completed action with continuing results. Also this is in a passive voice. Meaning that the subject of the sentence is not the one doing the action. So the one who keeps God’s Word is not the one perfecting the love of God. So we should translate this “has been completed” . This gives us both the completed and passive concepts. We just need to remember that that has continuing results on us.
2. [Slide 12C] Secondly, In Greek, as in English, the word “of” can mean a number of things. How we determine what it means is primarily through context. Here in I John 2, there are three possibly four options to what John is saying.
a. [Slide 12D] Whoever keeps God’s Word, in him truly God’s love for him has been completed. – So God is the subject of the Love. Basically we are saying that a person who keeps God’s Word is a person whom God has loved by applying Christ to them. (God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us Rom 5:8)
b. [Slide 12E] Another option is - whoever keeps God’s Word, in him truly the love for God has been completed. So in this God is the object of the love. And therefore a person who keeps God’s Word, is a person who gives complete evidence of their love for God. (if you love me, keep my commands John 14:15)
c. [Slide 12F] A third option is – whoever keeps God’s Word, in him truly the love from God has been completed. So God is the source of love. And therefore a person who keeps God’s Word, is a person who’s love he received from God has been completed (we love because he first loved us I John 4:19)
d. [Slide 12G] And a fourth possibility is the politician’s position – that John left this ambiguous because all are true and he did not want to tighten the meaning up too much here.
3. So which is it?
4. Contextually, we could see that it is our love for God, because John parallels this to our knowing God. However, I am uncomfortable concluding that my keeping God’s Word indicates that my love for God is complete. I’m not sure my love for God will ever be complete. In this life or the next. Can a finite being ever love an infinite being perfectly?
5. I could take the fourth option and see John being intentionally ambiguous to denote all three concepts.
6. [Slide 12H] However, I prefer to understand this in the subjective sense. That when I display a loyalty, delight, love for, and obedience to the Word of God, it is an evidence that God has completed His perfect love in me, and that that love has continued to produce its effect.
7. That is how I understand what John is saying- but there is plenty of room for interpretational differences here.
f. [Slide 13] Passage Truth: John wants his readers to take comfort in knowing that the claims of the false teachers are things that are within their grasp. They say these things without evidence, but John says they can judge these things by evidence in their own lives. And so, the first thing John says to his readers is that they can be assured that they are intimately connected to God if they cherish, cling to, and obey His Word. That is a bona fide, bulletproof, undeniable evidence that they are in an intimate and peaceful relationship with Him.
g. Passage Application: So for his readers this would have produced an immeasurable amount of comfort. These Gnostics have said – we know God. We know Him more than you could ever know Him. We know Him deeply, spiritually, mystically. John’s readers would have been so discouraged by this. Fearing and fretting that they had missed something. Do they truly know God? John says, do you cherish, cling to, and practice obedience to His commands? No doubt, most of his readers were saying … Of course! To which John says – that is how you know you know God. Because you weren’t like that before. Now you are.
h. [Slide 14] Broader Biblical Truth: And for us, from the whole bible, we see this truth plainly. Those whom the Lord redeems, He has prepared good works for them to do. He has brought us into light from darkness. He has opened our eyes. Our faith is alive and produces works. Therefore, we can look at our fruit and know that such fruit could never have come from something dead. Out of the heart the mouth speaks, and from a good tree comes good fruit. And our bearing fruit means we are alive and good. God has made us alive and good. Therefore we have come to know God.
i. Broader Biblical Application: And so for many of you this truth is so relieving. In times of darkest doubt, when we are plagued with uncertainty. Am I a child of God? We cry out into the night, and hear no response. Am I yours oh God!? The Holy Spirit, through God’s Word yells back – YOU CAN KNOW! And it is not if God answers. It is not if you feel Him. It is not if you sense His presence, or any other silly assurance we have come to expect. No. It is this. Does your heart delight in His word? Does your heart desire His will, His ways? Is your lifestyle characterized by obedience? Is this you? Not perfectly, but perpetually and progressively. If you say yes – then that is all the assurance you need. You know God because being intimately connected to God produces a love for His Word. But perhaps today, you say you know God. Perhaps you say that you have made Him your Lord and Savior… but you do not delight in His law, you do not keep His Word, and His commands are at best ignored by you, and at worst, appalled by you. Friend, no assurance can be given to you. You have none. And your only hope is to cry out to God for mercy. That He might change you, and give you a new heart. One that is capable of loving and obeying His Word.
[Slide 15(blank)] But there is another claim by the false teachers that John wishes to address. A claim that he wants his readers to know is also within their grasp.
II.) Living like Christ proves we abide in God, so we must analyze our lifestyles to see if we are His. (5b-6)
a. [Slide 16] 5b – By this we may know that we are in Him
i. This claim is that they are in God – which John says that there is a way for his readers to know that this is true about them.
ii. Before John said that there is a way to know that we know Him.
iii. Now John says that there is a way to know that we are in Him.
iv. So we must ask, what is the difference between knowing Him and being in Him?
v. Let me first say that generally, there is absolutely no difference. They are talking about being a child of God.
vi. Specifically, though the subtle difference between knowing God and being in God is that one speaks of relationship and the other of being. One is connection and the other proximity.
vii. One cannot be in God without knowing Him, nor can a person know Him without being in Him. That is where the similarities harmonize all of this. However, there is a subtle difference.
viii. Before, John speaks of something legal, relational, and covenantal. There is connection between two parties.
ix. But here John speaks of not mere connection, but appropriation, a takeover, and absorption.
x. When John speaks of us knowing God, He speaks of us having agreement and peace with God.
xi. When John speaks of us being in God, He speaks of the means of that peace in that God conquers every part of us.
xii. So how do you know that you have been conquered, subjugated, and acquired by God? That is where John is going next.
b. [Slide 17] 6 – whoever says he abides in him ought to
i. [Slide 18] This word abide is one that John uses often, but it has been abused by many in the church who place too heavy a role on human responsibility and not enough on God’s sovereignty.
ii. Some would say that there is a possibility that a person is unable remain or abide in Christ. They would say that Christ’s statements in John to abide in Him, is an ongoing command whereby a person must make sure that they are continually remaining in Christ.
iii. Although this word can mean to rest or wait, the predominant use of this word theologically is something that is immutable or unchangeable. It does not rest on someone’s choice or present any element of uncertainty at all.
iv. This word to rest or remain is used to speak of God’s relationship to His Son and His Word. Certainly, we would not want to suggest any uncertainty with regard to the relationship of the Father to the Son and His Word.
v. So when Jesus said “whoever abides in me he will bear much fruit”, he is not saying whatever Christian stays with me will bear much fruit but those who do not wont…rather He is saying all Christians will bear much fruit.
vi. Which is exactly how John is using this phrase here. He is speaking of being not choice. Identity not performance.
&nbnbsp; vii. Meaning that what John has just said “by this you will know that you are in God (that you have been conquered, subjugated and acquired by God)” is exactly what the person is claiming by saying they abide in Him.
viii. Putting all this together, John is saying – you wanna know who is in or who abides in God? Here’s how. A person who claims to have been conquered and acquired by God ought to what?
c. [Slide 19] walk in the same way in which he walked.
i. Walk here is the New Testament’s idiomatic way of saying – lifestyle or practice.
ii. So the lifestyle or practice of that person will be what?
iii. The same as the lifestyle or practice of Him or in the Greek Literally – that one.
iv. Well who is “that one”?
v. You’ll find that John uses this phrase often, and in every case he refers to Jesus. Afterall- he is the one who lived among us as one of us. He was tempted in all points as we were yet without sin.
vi. So how do we know we are in God?
vii. Are we following the standard of His Son? Are we imitating Him?
d. [Slide 20] Passage Truth: So John to his readers addresses this claim of the false teachers that they are in God. They are one with God. John doesn’t deny being able to claim such a thing, but wants his readers to know that there is a way to validate whether such a claim is true. A person is united to God, overtaken and conquered, acquired and absorbed, if they live like Christ. Again, John is not speaking in the perfect sense. He can’t be, otherwise he is denying things he has already said in verses 1:5-2:2. But as a whole, if a person endeavors and is relatively successful at following Christ, this is evidence that such a person has been united to God, absorbed and conquered by Him.
e. Passage Application: Again, such a teaching produces either great comfort or great concern. For most of his readers, probably they felt overwhelming peace and joy – knowing that they want to be like Christ above all else. Not only do they want to be like Christ, but they actually see that happening in their lives.
f. [Slide 21] Broader Biblical Truth: From the whole bible, we know this is true. That is why we have been redeemed. Romans 8:29 tells us that all who have been foreknown have been predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. That IS the future of all God’s children.
g. Broader Biblical Application: So for us, we also gain either great comfort or great trepidation from this second test of John. Do you desire to be like Christ? When you see His obedience to the Father, His preaching, His love for others, does this translate to you desiring that in your life, and to an imperfect but progressive degree, seeing it actually happen? If you have become more like Him, it is evidence that you have been conquered. But some of you here today, that isn’t true. You aren’t more like Him today than when you first claimed Him. In fact, perhaps, you are less like Him. What does that mean? It means that you have no assurance friend. You are resting and hoping in empty words and human decisions rather than the power of God. But if that concerns you, you may not yet be without hope. Cry out to the Lord, seek Him. Again, his promises are to answer those who diligently seek Him.
[Slide 22(blank)] So we have already gotten a lot from this text this morning, but how can we bring all these thoughts to our lives today?
Overall, from today’s passage, we are humbled by our Father’s overwhelming love for us in that He has provisioned a way for us to know that we know Him and that we are in Him. And that is by His work to continually conform us to the image of His Son.
Before we close let me apply this text in two ways.
First, I want to take what we have learned here in this passage and compare it to a very dangerous and destructive teaching that is pervasive in the American Christian Church. I want to do this so that you can see the disconnect between what is being taught in churches in our area, and what the scriptures teach. Ultimately this is a false understanding of the way God’s grace and God’s law interact. Oftentimes we hear people say that the law has been fulfilled by Christ and therefore we are not bound by God’s law but live according to His grace. Now although, most of what I just said is coming from the bible itself, what is truly being said is that we can do whatever we want because God has freed us from the law. A person can sin with no impunity, stagnate, and perhaps even apostatize without losing assurance of their salvation. Furthermore, to question someone’s salvation who is living in a life of sin, far from God, and disregarding God’s laws, becomes judgmental. We are met with that famously misinterpreted pithy statement “judge not.”
But the scriptures today put the keeping of God’s law and Word as a proof of knowing God. Living in the pattern set forth by Christ is proof that we are united to God. So to suggest that we are no longer bound to keep God’s law effectively moves in the opposite direction of what John teaches as the means by which we can know that we are God’s child. This is catastrophe. This is a recipe for hopelessness, doubt, depression, and constant fear. Is it any wonder that people in our churches struggle with assurance to know that they are God’s child? Has God truly freed us from His law? Or has He freed us TO His law? Furthermore, to suggest that we are being judgmental to question someone’s salvation based on their lack of keeping God’s commands and lack of Christlikeness, seems to align them, not with John… but with his opponents. Was it not John’s opponents that suggested they knew God without keeping his laws? That they were in Him without being like His Son?
Which brings me quite naturally to the other way I’d like to apply this text.
Perhaps you were one who was lied to by this false teaching. Perhaps you were one who was told to pray a prayer or do something to gain your salvation. And here today you sit, and you measure your life and you are no more like Christ today than you were when you prayed. There is no evidence in you that God is conforming you to His Son. Friend I bring little comfort for you today. Let me be clear. You have absolutely no reason to think you are God’s child. None. And you can’t start obeying God today, hoping that somehow that will generate a relationship with Him or assure you that you are His child. Because God produces that obedience in you… not your own human effort. But may I offer some hope to you. What you truly lack is not assurance or even ability. The real thing you lack is God Himself. And none come to the Father except through the Son. Cry out to God. Seek Him. He promises that he will answer those who diligently seek Him.
[Slide 23] My final word this morning though, is of joy. Because friend, if you are here today and you look at your life and you see the scars of the Holy Spirit’s hostile takeover on your soul. If you bear the marks of His power and grace. If you look over your life and see the indentations of God’s pressing you into the mold of Christ. Not perfect yet, but definitely not the same. If you see that today, then you can have assurance that you are His. Why? Because that assurance does not come from your performance, but from the power of God in you. Any child of God who looks at their life and sees what He has done, realizes that they have no room for boasting. I saw this this week. In 55AD Paul wrote I Corinthians and called himself the least of the apostles. In 60AD Paul wrote Ephesians and called himself the least of the saints. In 62AD Paul wrote I Timothy and called himself the chief of sinners. It is a marvelous mystery. The more we are made into the image of Christ, the more we obey, the more we become what God wants us to be, the more we realize how little we bring to the table. If this is you… if you realize how unworthy you are while simultaneously noticing how He is changing you… then BE COMFORTED! Because you are His child. He has made you worthy in His Son.