Can I Know that I Know God?
1 John 2:3-6
I know God by obeying God
Introduction: When I graduated from college I returned to Grand Rapids and reacquainted myself with some of my high school friends. One of them, Marc Moma, had recently been saved. I remember him specifically asking me, “Is the Christian life always like this.”
- He was full of joy and contentedness
- He wanted to know if there were ever any doubts or troubles. His love for Christ was so strong that he could not imagine it ever being different.
- He asked me if I ever experienced difficulties in my Christian experience. What would you say to a new Christian who asked you a similar question?
The answer to that tough question is yes, there are difficulties in trying to live a life pleasing to God. Sometimes we just want to ask, “Can I know that I know God?”
Using very precise language, John lays out for us how a Christian can know that he is born again—in other words, he tells us how we may know that we know God
As a matter of fact, John tells us that there are tests or answers that will help us determine whether or not we know God or fellowship with God. These tests, answered correctly give assurance that our salvation is genuine.
- Vv 3-6 the test of obedience (moral test of righteousness)
- Vv 7-11 the test of love (the social test)
- Vv 12-17 are digressions on application to the church and the Christian’s relation to the world
- Vv 18-27 the test of belief (the doctrinal test)
This morning we will look at vv 3–6 and take the test of obedience. Can I know that I know God? Answer—I know God by obeying God. But what does John mean by know?
I. We Know God by obeying His Commandments, v 3.
In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned the words, “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Cheap grace means living as though God ignores or condones our sins. It means living without the demand of obedience upon us. And where there is no call for obedience, then all things are tolerated. “Do your own thing” becomes the motto—nothing is labeled as “sinful.” Thus, there is no need of forgiveness.
But because John insists that God calls us to obey the commands that have been given; he also reminds us that when we fall short of keeping them, there is forgiveness in Christ. In short, the call to confession and the offer of forgiveness go hand in hand with the call to obedience. Remember John wrote these words to oppose Gnostic teachers who extolled gathering knowledge at the expense of obedience (for them knowledge = salvation).
One’s relationship/knowledge of God can vary from casual acquaintance to intimate fellowship. But God is not interested in a relationship that is casual and meaningless. He desires that we come to know him intimately…Knowing him, then, means that we live in perfect harmony with him by keeping his word. Keeping the commandments is “not a condition” of knowing God “but a sign” that one does know God.
Q. What does the Bible mean when it tells us to keep God’s commandments? Are we talking about some kind of perfection?
Calvin: the Apostle is by no means inconsistent with himself; since he has before shewed that all are guilty before God, he does not understand that those who keep his commandments wholly satisfy the law (no such example can be found in the world;) but that they are such as strive, according to the capacity of human infirmity, to form their life in conformity to the will of God.
Illustration: the story of my friend’s child who set the phone on the hook and how it wasn’t perfect obedience because the phone was sill off—the wife said to her husband he thinks he has obeyed; he doesn’t know that he is disobedient.
C. S. Lewis wrote, “We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules; whereas He really wants people of a particular sort.” And the sort of people that God wants are those who hope to conform themselves to the very character of God—Keeping God’s commands is the sign of knowing God and sinning is the sign of ignorance of God.
John is not implying perfection since none are without sin. But the real question to ask yourself is “Am I trying to keep God’s commandments?”
Q. So what kind of knowledge is John speaking of here?
- The early Greeks believed that accurate knowledge of all things, including God, was attainable (Plato). That is, they believed they could arrive at God by the mere process of reasoning. [This kind of knowledge] had two flaws
- it gave no adequate basis for ethics. A man could be a philosopher and yet indulge in all the depravity that infested unbelievers.
- Second, an intellectual knowledge of God did not satisfy the whole man, for man is more than intellect. [So while the Gnostics] filled the mind, it did not warm the heart or stir the emotions.
- Later Greeks, during the time of Alexander and his successors, said knowledge carried the idea that God could be known through emotional experience. If the mind did not satisfy, perhaps the senses would. There was a twofold problem with this approach too…
- First, it did not last (the experience).
- Second, it did not satisfy the mind. The worshiper had an experience; but what was the experience? He had a great weekend; but it did not mean much on Monday morning. (illustration of a charismatic friend)
- The bible’s understanding of the knowledge of God is essentially personal and practical. So it is satisfying. It is satisfying because it is knowledge, not of an idea or thing, but of a person, and because it issues in a profound change of conduct. In Jeremiah the goal of religion is said to be the “knowledge of God.” Note Jeremiah 9:23-24…
Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts (glory) boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord. (NASB95)
Any Greek would agree with the first part of that sentence, the part that says that the knowledge of God is man’s glory. But the second part, the part that speaks of God practicing kindness, justice, and righteousness, and delighting in those who emulate him in these characteristics, would be foreign to the same Greek thinker.
John’s point is that there is no knowledge of God without an accompanying righteousness, for God is righteous. How do you know that you know God? The answer is that you know him when you come into contact with a personality that changes your personality and specifically leads you to live a righteous life. We know God by keeping his commandments!
Spurgeon referred to the kind of knowing that John is talking about here as “Heart Knowledge of God.” He said this knowledge of God not only creates faith, but creates good works also.
Why is the righteous life a proof that we know God? Because it is not natural to sinful man. Consequently, it is proof of a divine and supernatural working in our lives if we obey him.
Philippians 2:12b-13 work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (NASB95)
II. Our Love for God is perfected through obedience, vv 4-5a.
At this point John introduces two types of men. On the one hand, there is the man who claims to know God but who does not keep his commandments. John calls him a liar. On the other hand, there is the man who obeys God out of a genuine love of him. John does not even say that this man claims to know God; but he does know him.
Verse 4 is the converse of 2:3, the one who claims to know God but is consistently disobedient is a liar. What is internal will eventually come to the surface!
*This verse introduces the first of three claims which may be made by any Christian.
- V 4 Anyone who says, “I know him,” (must be obedient, v 5).
- V 6 Anyone who claims to abide in him, (must live as Jesus lived).
- V 9 Anyone who claims to be in the light, (must love his brother, v 10).
Verse 5a Note: moving from obeying commandments to keeping his word shows that obedience is much broader and includes believing the promises of God as well.
Verse 5 also presents somewhat of a problem—“but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.” Is love of God speaking of…
- God’s love for man
- Man’s love for God
- A God qualitative kind of love
I believe that it refers to our love for God. If a man loves God, he will seek to please him and keep his commandments. Anything else is hypocrisy. The man who obeys God can know that his love for God is being perfected. “Love is the proof of loyalty” as Stott said.
Note verses from our context
- 1 John 2:15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (NASB95)
- 1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. (NASB95)
The love of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ reaches its perfection when the same love is shown to ‘one another’ and to God by obedience.
Deuteronomy 10:12 “Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,” (NASB95)
Love of God, like knowledge of God, is expressed through “keeping God’s word,” through our allegiance to God. John contends that it is impossible to claim to love or to know God without also living in obedience to God. We know God by obeying his commandments, our love for God is perfected through obedience and…
III. We abide in God by imitating Jesus, vv 5b-6.
Verse 5b Verse 6 really answers the statement at the end of v 5 “By this we know we are in him”—foreshadowing the concept of remaining or abiding in him.
Verse 6 The perfect expression of love for God is found in Jesus’ own example. And so John writes, whoever claims to abide in [God] must walk or live as Jesus did.
1 Cor 11:1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. (NASB95)
Phil 2:5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, (NASB95)
1 Peter 2:21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, (NASB95)
Hebrews 12:1-3 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (NASB95)
Q. How do we know that we are in him? (verses 5b, 6).
- We know that we are in God when we have intimate fellowship with him through Jesus Christ (1:3).
Acts 17:28 “for in Him we live and move and exist…” This is Paul’s argument for all mankind being under obligation to worship God. So if we claim to know God, then we place ourselves under obligation to God himself. As God’s people we must follow the example he has given us in his Son. So…
- As Jesus lived while he was on earth, so we must live in imitation of him. This is how we abide in God.
Abide, i.e. live,= faithfulness, steadfastness, perseverance or continuing in allegiance to someone
John 8:31 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; (NASB95)
To live (abide) in God one must know God, and ultimate knowledge of God comes only through an intimate knowledge of and relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Do we say we are Christians? Then “whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” The call is to emulate Jesus in our conduct. The point is not that we must manifest perfect obedience in all that we do. Rather we are to reflect on our lives, asking whether our thoughts, words and deeds show that our primary allegiance is to the God who is light. We know God by obeying his commandments, our love for God is perfected through obedience, and we abide in God by imitating His Son, Jesus Christ!
Conclusion: In this passage John is not only rebutting dangerous tendencies in the Church of his time, but discussing a problem of great importance—the validity of religious experience. Some people have deep inner peace in their relationship with God. Others seem continually plagued by confusion and doubts. Those who seek God are granted a sense of God’s love and acceptance of them. Those who chase desperately for feelings of assurance usually do not find what they are looking for. KEY for assurance>focus on God and what God has done for us. For if we focus on ourselves or our own feelings, even with good intentions, we drift without direction or anchor.
MacArthur in Saved Without a Doubt, If you desire to obey the Word out of gratitude for all Christ has done for you, and if you see that desire producing an overall pattern of obedience, you have passed an important test indicating the presence of saving faith.
We sang earlier this morning the song Trust and Obey, salvation is God’s responsibility; our responsibility is to trust in that salvation and then to obey its truths. There’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.
Are you trusting Him today?