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TEXT: I John 2:3-6
SUBJECT: I John #4: The Obedient Know God
Because of their explosive tempers, James and John were nicknamed, Boanerges or 'the sons of thunder'. It was Jesus who gave them the nickname, and why not? That's what they were! We don't know how often they flared up, but when they did, it was a doozy! In Samaria, for example, they were so angry that no one invited them in for dinner, that they wanted God to burn the whole city to the ground! They were hot-headed men; quick to take offense; and none too gentle in their response to it. The young James and John were Sons of Thunder.
By the time John wrote his Epistles, his brother was long dead and he was himself very old. The years, I'm sure, had tamped down the vehemence of his temper, but they had not turned him into a sweet old man. He still had an edge, and no one can read his Epistles without feeling how razor sharp it still was.
Thankfully, he wasn't still trying to call fire out of Heaven to burn up the enemies of Christ. But he was still calling a thing what it was.
The heretics may have been the nicest guys in the world, but John knew what they really were: they were cancers on the Body of Christ, and if left in peace they would soon kill the Church. So, he did not leave them in peace. Without naming names, he very clearly identified them, exposed their errors, and attacked their persons. John did not think heretics were good men who were wrong on some things (like the rest of us). He saw them as enemies of Christ and His People, and as long as he had breath in his lungs or ink in his pen, he would urge the true disciples of Christ to have nothing to do with them. Don't listen to them; don't fellowship with them; don't think they're Christians. They must have had their good points, too, but John doesn't care if they love animals or never forget Mom on Mother's Day! They're False Teachers, and for all their soaring knowledge, the one thing they didn't know was.God!
How does John know they don't? He knows they don't know God because knowing God always produces three things-which, try as he man, he cannot see in them: (1) obedience, (2) brotherly love, and (3) trusting Christ. The three overlap somewhat, but in vv.3-6, the focus in on practical, everyday obedience, i.e., doing what the Lord tells you to do, and not doing what He tells you not to do.
AN IMPLIED QUESTION
v. 3 is the answer to an unspoken question. The question is simply this: (1) Who really knows God? Or to make it more personal, (2) Do I really know God?
Let's be clear on what he means by 'knowing God'. He doesn't mean 'knowing that there is a God'-everyone knows that, including the people say otherwise. He also doesn't mean 'knowing some true things about the True God'-for the heretics were, until recently, in the church and must have satisfied the people with their professions of faith.
By 'knowing God', John means knowing God in a saving way; he means what Jesus meant in John's Gospel, 17:3-
This is Life Eternal, that they may know you, the only True God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
Whether our Lord chose these words on His own, or wittingly borrowed them from the Old Testament, they very much reflect its great promise of a New Covenant, one that would produce what the Old Covenant could only demand, Jeremiah 31:34b-
They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, for I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more.
Who was it? Martin Luther? Philip Melanchthon? I can't remember, but here's what it was-
To know God is to know His benefits.
This is the knowledge John has in mind here; a saving knowledge of God, the kind of knowledge that only a child of God can have.
And so, who has this kind of knowledge?
John leaves no doubt.
THE OBEDIENT KNOW GOD
The people who obey God are the ones who know Him, v.3-
Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.
I found the repeated use of the word, we, of real interest. I'd expect him to say something along the lines of John 13:35-
By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.
In other words, I thought he should say, 'This is how others will know that you know God'-because they will see you obeying His commandments. But he doesn't say, 'others'; he says, we.
It seems the heresy had seeped into their own thinking, to the point that even they-the sincere followers of Christ-were starting to wonder if obedience was really necessary, or, perhaps, if consistent obedience was always the product of the saving knowledge of God. Even they were starting to wonder! And why wouldn't they? Obedience is hard work! Even if you truly love the Lord, it is painful and tedious to do what He says all the time. Self-affirmation has always been more popular than self-denial! And so, if you could really know God without having to obey Him, to quote the Beach Boys-
Wouldn't it be nice?
Maybe it would be 'nice'; it would certainly be easier and help us sleep better at night. But it is not possible! The Saving Knowledge of God always produces obedience, always, in every single person who has it!
Is this obedience perfect, or nearly perfect? John has already answered that one, denouncing the heretics who say they have no sin or even, have not sinned. Except for our Lord Jesus, no one has ever obeyed God as well as he should have. Only He can challenge the critics-
Which of you convicts me of sin?
Only He can say-
I do always those things that please Him.
It was Charles DeGaulle who said, No man is hero to his valet. Even the greatest man doesn't seem all that great to people who see him in his underwear. But there's the thing! John saw Jesus in His underwear-literally as well as figuratively-and he found nothing wrong with Him, nothing in need of improvement; no blind spots, no moral weaknesses, no spiritual defects. This is why, back in v.2, he calls Him-
Jesus Christ the Righteous!
No one but Christ is perfectly obedient, or even almost perfectly...but, for all of his faults, the disciple of Christ is a disciple of Christ; he not only says, 'Lord, Lord', but he also-
Does what his Lord commands.
.not perfectly and not always, but his life is characterized by a true desire to obey Him, some success in that obedience, and...a willingness to confess and repent when he doesn't obey.
At this point, it is easy to raise the spectre of Legalism-and we need to beware of that. But, is it legalistic to say that all Christians obey the Lord-and more than that-that we have to obey Him?
John doesn't believe it is-and remember, in the early part of his career, the number one enemy of the Gospel was not Gnosticism, as it is here, but Jewish Legalism. John can smell a rat with the best of them. But there's no 'rat' in saying 'Christians do--and have to--obey the commandments'.
The New Testament scholar, FF Bruce, named Paul The Apostle of the Heart Set Free, set free from the crushing burdens and impossible demands of Legalism to the liberty we have in Christ. But this same man, for all his emphasis on Salvation by Grace Alone made it clear that the people who are saved by Grace live godly lives, however imperfectly, II Timothy 2:19
The foundation of God stands sure, having this seal: the Lord knows those who are His.and let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.
Many other verses from Paul can be cited to the same effect, especially in Romans 6 and Galatians 5, which, coincidentally, are his most masterful defenses of the Gospel over against Legalism.
John knows the obedient Christian knows God in a way the heretics do not and never will. And he knows this, without a special insight into the hearts of men, but through the simple words of Jesus-
By their fruits you shall know them.
The heretics are calling themselves 'the Knowing' and 'the Spiritual Ones', but John calls them what they really are-
.and without a speck of truth in them!
In v.5, John gives two of the benefits of Obeying God, and-please note-there is nothing here about 'blessing others' or even 'glorifying God'. Good works do both, of course, but John leaves that for another time. Here, he points out the benefits of obedience to the obedient. By obeying the commandments, he says, two things will follow:
This perfecting of God's love in you does not mean that God loves you more when you're good than when you're bad. For, like God Himself, His love is-infinite, eternal and unchangeable. Even when His disciplines us for our sins, the discipline is itself a proof of His love-
Whom the Lord loves, He chastens, and scourges every son He receives.
Paul is at pains to remind us that God's love for us is seen supremely on the Cross, and Jesus went to that Cross when we were at our worst, when we were-
Without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly.
While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Obeying God does not make Him love you more. What it does is ripen your love for Him. When we fall into sin and stay there, what happens to our love? It-
And, if that's not bad enough, it gradually moves on to other things, three of which John names later in this chapter; they are God's Three Great Rivals, then, there, here and now-
The lust of the eyes.
The lust of the flesh.
The pride of life.
These are loves that rob God of the love we ought to have for Him. We keep our love focused on God by keeping His commandments. This is the first benefit of obedience.
The second is a greater sense of Assurance, v.6b-
By this we know we are in Him.
By what? Special knowledge? Spiritual ecstasy? Hearing voices? No. Obedience. Not that obedience puts us in Christ-only faith does that!-but obedience is the fruit of saving faith. When I find myself trying to obey the Lord and confessing my sins when I don't, I can know that I believe in Christ, and now I can know that the promises of the Gospel are mine, for whoever-
Believes in Christ shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life.
Obedience, therefore, is in no way added to faith, but grows out of our faith. Faith and works must be distinguished, but they cannot be separated!
Because, as James 2 suggests, the faith that does not work is not faith.
John closes the section with a much needed exhortation, v.6-
He who says he abides in Him ought also to walk just as He walked.
Here, John hints at another theme, one he will camp on a bit later. For, up to now, he has urged us to obey God, but then, he slips in a new idea, that obeying the Commandments of God is only done when we imitate Christ. For Jesus is God, and His obedient life was what ours ought to be.
Not in the sense of performing miracles or preaching sermons or accepting worship, but in the sense of everyday holiness. Things like.
.Allowing yourself to be inconvenienced by annoying people.overlooking the faults of your friends.praying for the people who hate your guts.giving away the money you could really use. standing up for the weak.befriending people who cannot help you.not wasting time.forgiving and loving the people who were not there for you when you needed them most.
This is the kind of life we ought to be living, a holy life, one that's Christlike and not just passable.
Well, I don't know about you, but if I stopped here, I'd go home the sorriest man in town. Because, when I look at my life, I see a great many things wrong with it-and not just at the margins, but things dead center.
I sincerely believe that I ought to keep His commandments and that I can have no peace of mind unless I do. But I don't! There's the rub.
Maybe I'm not a flat-out liar like the heretics who said they had no sin and so what if they did? But I am also not much of a doer of the Word. There's not a worse Christian in this building that the one you're listening to.
How can I change? How can I become a consistent Commandment Keeper instead of the frequent Commandment Breaker that I am?
John leaves no doubt. He doesn't tell us to examine ourselves (though there's some good in that, too). Neither does he tell us that, considering how disobedient we are, to conclude that we were never saved in the first place.
What he tells us to do is to remember our Advocate at God's Right Hand! And to remember that this Jesus has met the claims of God in our place. For it is only in being Christ-centered that we come to respect, love, and keep God's commands.
The responsibility to obey the commandments of God is ours. But the power to keep them is not. That comes from Christ, and He will freely give it to all who truly seek it in Him.
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