When Rich and I started this local assemble over 22 years ago we decided to call it Berean Bible Church. We founded this church not on eschatology, but on seeking the freedom to search the Scriptures, and allow them to be our sole guide, not creeds or church tradition. We wanted to be Bereans:
The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:10-11 ESV
The Complete Jewish Bible puts it this way:
Now the people here were of nobler character than the ones in Thessalonica; they eagerly welcomed the message, checking the Tanakh every day to see if the things Sha'ul was saying were true. Acts 17:11 CJB
So, the Bereans eagerly welcomed the message that Paul brought them, but then they checked the Tanakh, examined the Scriptures so see if what he was saying was true. I continually ask you to be Bereans. and this morning is no exception. I'm aware that we all come to a text with bias; we all have paradigms that we filter a text through. So it isn't easy to just let a text speak. and not add our own baggage on to it.
The text we are about to look at is critical to our Christian walk. But, if it is misunderstood I believe it could actually be harmful to your Christian walk. As we examine this text I ask that you "eagerly welcome the message I am bringing" and then examine the Scriptures to see if what I am saying is true. Our prayer when studying a text should always be that the Spirit would show us the truth of His word no matter how badly it damages our current theology.
What have I said is the theme of this Epistle? Fellowship! I see this book as written to believers telling them how to have fellowship with Yahweh:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:13 ESV
The "these things" is not referring to the whole Epistle, but to verses 6-12 that deal with believing. The words, "to you who believe in the name of the Son of God" do not mean to those of you who believe. The Greek here means, "to you believers." Nowhere in this Epistle does John even hint that he thinks some of his readers might not be Christians.
The view that I hold that this book is written to believers telling them how to have fellowship with Yahweh is not the commonly held view of this book. John Stott understands the audience to be mixed (believers and unbelievers), therefore, his stated purpose for the book is "to destroy the false assurance of the counterfeit as well as to confirm the right assurance of the genuine." Many see this book as being about assurance of salvation.
John MacArthur holds this same view and says, "We're actually looking at a text that is verse 3 through verse 6, a very important text, one that deals with the issue…How do you know you're a Christian? Speaking about assurance he writes, "There's that cognitive element that comes right out of the promises of Scripture. And secondly, there's that subjective element of assurance that comes by the witness of the Holy Spirit. And there's a third element, there's what I'll call the behavioral assurance that comes because we see how we live our lives. In a sense, it starts in the mind, it moves to the emotions, senses, and then it goes to the life."
Speaking of 1 John 2:3-6 he writes, "But there's a third element of assurance and this element of assurance takes us to our text. There is no assurance of salvation without sanctification. It isn't enough to know in your mind that the Bible promises that if you put your trust in Jesus Christ, you're going to be saved. and you can have a measure of assurance there, but that's sort of minimal. That's sort of entry-level assurance. Full assurance is connected to sanctification."
So, what he is saying is we get a little bit of assurance of our salvation because the Bible says if we believe we have eternal life. But full assurance comes from your life. So, you get more assurance from your works than you do from the Word of God? Sadly, this book is used today to teach that a Christian's assurance of eternal salvation rests, at least in part, upon his or her good works subsequent to regeneration.
John Piper writes, "Something had raised the issue of the assurance of salvation in the church that John was writing to. It runs through the whole letter."
The Lordship view that Stott, MacArthur, and Piper hold teaches that assurance comes from obedience, from holy living, from your works. Martin Luther said, "For certainty does not come to me from any kind of reflection on myself and on my state. On the contrary it comes solely through hearing the Word, solely because I cling to the Word and its promises." John Calvin wrote, "From one's work conscience feels more fear and consternation than assurance" [Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 3, 14,20]. John Calvin taught that assurance was of the essence of faith.
If good works are the basis of assurance, then the believer's eyes are distracted from the sufficiency of Christ, and His work to meet His eternal need. His eyes are focused on Himself. Our assurance is to be based upon God's Word; His promise that He would give eternal life to all who believe on His Son. Assurance does not come from our works, but from our faith.
The section we begin this morning (2:3-11) contains three claims to intimate knowledge of God, expressed by the three Greek participles, "whoever says" at the beginning of verses 4, 6, and 9. As with the three conditional clauses beginning with, "if we say" in the previous section (1:6, 1:8, 1:10), these participles indirectly reflect the claims of the opponents. They are followed by the author's evaluation of these claims and their implications.
Colin G. Kruse writes, "In 1:6-2:2 the author dealt with the claims made by the secessionists to have fellowship with God while still walking in darkness; while claiming not to have sinned. In 2:3-11 he continues to deal with the claims of the secessionists, but here he focuses upon the claim they make to know God while not keeping His commands."
Each of these statements reflects, directly or indirectly, what the author believed the secessionists falsely claimed and is followed either by a direct rebuttal or by a counterstatement.
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 1 John 2:3 ESV
This verse is often taken as a way of knowing whether or not we are really saved. Do you know that you are a Christian because you keep His commandments? What commands do you keep? All of them?
For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 1 John 3:11 ESV
How are you doing with this command? Before you answer look at what Paul says about love:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV
Love "does not insist on its own way"—we could say, Love is not selfish. This means: "The loving person is willing to forgo their own comfort, their own preferences, their own schedule, their own desires for benefit of the person loved." So, do you know that you are a Christian because of your love of others?
The view that this verse is to be taken as a way of knowing whether or not we are really saved could certainly cause a believer to doubt their salvation. This view also flies directly into the face of all Johannine Theology, according to which we are saved by believing in Christ.
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. John 5:24 ESV
Eternal life is by grace through faith and works play no part.
The test suggested by 1 John 2:3 is not of the saving knowledge of God, but of the experiential knowledge of God. To get this wrong is to completely misread the Epistle!
"And by this we know that we have come to know him"—Kai, "and" at the beginning of this verse is important for understanding the argument, after discussing three claims of the opponents in 1:6, 8, and 10 and putting forward three counter-claims of his own in 1:7, 1:9, and 2:1, he is now returning to the theme of God as light introduced in 1:5.
"Know him"—what does the author mean by "knowing" Him? In 1 John, the verb "to know" (ginsk) is used in a number of different contexts where "knowing" has various shades of meaning. In our text, John uses "know" in its Hebrew sense of personal relationship. Knowing God involves fellowship with Him (1:4), walking in His light (1:7), being "in Him", abiding in Him. (2:5-6). These are all parallel versions of a single claim to be in an intimate relationship with God. John uses "know" here as a synonym for fellowship. For John, loving obedience is a natural result of fellowship with God. He is talking about our communion here and not our union. Our union is permanent and unchangeable, our communion can fluctuate.
The Greek here reads like this: "by this we may know that we have known Him (perfect tense—something done in the past), because we are now keeping His commandments (present tense)." The present willingness to keep His commandments, John is saying, is a sign of "knowing Him, being in fellowship with Him."
John MacArthur writes, "How to know you really know Him, whether it's walking in the light, being in the fellowship, or knowing Him…those three phrases are synonymous. They all refer to the same thing and that is salvation." As I have said many times, this Epistle is written to believer telling them how to have fellowship with God. Why would John tell believers how to be saved? He wrote a Gospel for that.
All believers know God to some extent, "And this is eternal life, that they know you…" (John 17:3). However, some know Him more fully and intimately than others do. Yeshua said to Thomas:
If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him." John 14:7 ESV
Thomas knew Christ as Messiah but he didn't know Him to the extent that he should have. Sometimes a person who has been married for a long time, and then gets a divorce, will say of his or her spouse, "I never really knew her (or him)." Obviously, they knew each other in one sense, but their knowledge of one another was not very complete or intimate. John's point was that our personal experiential knowledge of God will affect the way we live, and the way we live, obediently or disobediently, will reveal how well we really know God.
We've talked in the past about the fact that the opponents that John is dealing with may have been the Docetists. They were the forerunners of the later Gnostics, and although they hadn't been formed into a religious group as such, their teachings were in embryo even in the early church, and contaminating it. They claimed that they were special elect beings who had a superior knowledge of God—and this word "knowledge" was very intrinsic to their vocabulary. They were in the know. They had the secret knowledge. Remnants of the Gnostic mentality is found in modern New Age and modern philosophy, psychology, even shows up in places like the Masons, secret knowledge. It's in all kinds of religions. They claimed to know God in a way that the ordinary run-of-the-mill Christian didn't.
There is much discussion among the scholars about whom does the author refer when he speaks about knowing "Him"? Is he referring to God the Father, or to Yeshua, His Son? To me it isn't an issue, they're both Yahweh.
So, John says, "And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments"—this is a third class conditional sentence, which means potential action. Maybe we will, and maybe we won't. If we as believers don't keep His commandments Johns says that we have not come to know Him.
"Keep" is a translation of the Greek word tereo, which means: "to keep watch upon, to guard, to watch over protectively." Greek scholar Alford says in his lexicon the word means: "to guard or watch or keep as in the case of some precious thing." It's in the present subjunctive, which means it's continual. There's a continual sense in which you exercise a guardianship of the commandments because you consider them precious.
What does Lazarus mean by "His commands"? Some have suggested that the he intends some sort of reference to the Decalogue here in 2:3-4. Are believers in Christ to live by the Ten Commandments? Look at what Yeshua said:
"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." Matthew 22:36-40 ESV
Yeshua boiled the Tanakh down to two commands, love God and love your neighbor. The Ten Commandments is simply a list of ways you can demonstrate that you love God and your neighbor. You love God so you don't make an idol. You love God so you don't worship anybody else. You love God so you don't take His name in vain. And you love your neighbor so you don't covet what he has, or his wife. And you don't kill, and you don't steal, and you don't commit adultery. That's all about love.
Believers, the Old Covenant Law has passed away, it is GONE. We now live under the New Covenant, the Law of Christ. Christ reinstituted nine of the ten commands (the Sabbath is excluded). Believers, we don't have to be confused as to what is permissible behavior and what is not; we simply need to become familiar with the New Testament, the Law of Christ, and we'll know how to live.
John uses the Greek entol, translated as: "command" 14 times in 1 John. Sometimes it is found in singular form, other times in plural form. When he uses the singular form, it always refers explicitly to Christ's command that His followers should love one another (2:7 [3×], 8; 3:23 [2×]; 4:21). The plural form occurs where there is no explicit reference to Yeshua's command (2:3, 4; 3:22, 24; 5:2, 3 [2×]).
John never uses the word nomos "law" for the rule of Christian obedience: this word is reserved for the Mosaic law. There is no indication anywhere in 1 John that the author is concerned about his readers failing to keep the Mosaic law.
In the great commission, Yeshua said that His disciples were to teach their converts to observe the Mosaic law? No, they were to teach them all that He had commanded them. It is the precepts of Christ that are in view here rather than the Law of Moses.
Whoever says "I know him" but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 1 John 2:4 ESV
"Whoever says"—this is the textual marker for John's diatribe format. This is one of several assertions of the false teachers. This statement is found in verse 4, verse 6, and verse 9. The false teachers were claiming to know (perfect tense) God, but were trying to separate "knowing Him" from godly living.
"But does not keep his commandments"—this is present active participle which speaks of habitual lifestyle action. The behavior of the secessionists is depicted as ongoing disobedience to God's commands. We see here that knowing God and keeping His commandments are inextricably linked. John states that keeping His commandments is one way that we know that we know Him.
John says that anyone who says they know Him while not keeping His commands, "is a liar, and the truth is not in him"—"he is a liar" is synonymous with, "the truth is not in him." This is similar to what we saw in chapter 1 where he said, "the truth is not in us" (1:8) and "His word is not in us" (1:10). Some say that this essentially brands the opponents as unbelievers. They would refer to John 14:6 where Yeshua says that He is the truth. And would say that Christ is not in them. But, saying they are, "a liar, and the truth is not in him" is not saying they are not Christians, but that His truth is not a controlling force within them. You can't have fellowship with Christ while disobeying His commands.
but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 1 John 2:5 ESV
"But whoever keeps his word"—this is present active subjunctive, which speaks of habitual lifestyle action. Is there a difference in meaning between "commands" in verse 4 and "word" here? Some try to say that His word is broader than His commands. But, it seems best to see them as interchangeable, as they are in:
"He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him." John 14:21 NASB
Yeshua answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. John 14:23 NASB
So, I don't think that we should understand a difference here between "His commandments" in the opponents' claim in 2:4 and "His word" in the author's counter-claim in 2:5.
"In him truly the love of God is perfected"—"is perfected" is a perfect passive indicative which speaks of completed action. In John's Gospel Yeshua speaks repeatedly, using teleio, of completing the work assigned to Him by his Father (4:34; 5:36; 17:4).
The term "love of God" here is ambiguous. The RSV takes it to mean our love for God. The NIV takes it to mean God's love for us. The NASB leaves it as it is in Greek: ambiguous—"Love of God." Scholars are divided between the two options, and it's hard to decide. I see this, "the love of God is perfected" in the sense that the Christian has perceived it, has responded to it, and it is having its intended effect in his or her behavior. I think God's love for us is in view here, rather than our love for Him. When a Christian moves beyond simply obeying God and desires to please Him, God's love in him or her has reached its desired: It "has truly been perfected."
Believers, love for Christ and obedience to His word are in no way a test of saving faith, but they are tests of genuine, heartfelt discipleship to Yeshua. Let me ask you this, "Can you be a believer and not love Christ?" To answer that, let's go to Yeshua's Upper Room Discourse where He is talking to believers:
Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. John 15:3 ESV
Who is the "you"? It is all the disciples that are in the upper room. What does He mean by "you are clean"? To understand exactly what He means by this, we need to look back at chapter 13.
Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Yeshua answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Yeshua said to him, "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you." John 13:8-10 ESV
"Clean" here refers to salvation. Not all of them were clean because Judas was with them. In chapter 15, after Judas had gone, He simply says, "already you are clean." Yeshua is talking to His children; they were believers. Now with that in mind notice what else Yeshua says about those with Him in the upper room:
You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I will come to you.' If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. John 14:28 ESV
Do you understand what Yeshua is saying to them? "If you loved me, you would have rejoiced"—"if you loved Me" is a second class conditional sentence, which is called "contrary to fact." "If you loved me, [which you don't] you would have rejoiced [which you are not]. Robertson's Word Pictures states, "If ye loved me" is a second-class condition with the imperfect active of agapao referring to present time, implying that the disciples are not loving Jesus as they should."
Did they love Him? Yeshua said they didn't! He said that if they loved Him they would be rejoicing about His departure to the Father. But they were not, because they didn't love Him. So can a believe not be loving the Lord? Obviously!
"By this we may know that we are in him"—by what we know? This could be linked with what precedes, "whoever keeps His word" or they could be linked with what follows, and thus pave the way for what is to come in 2:6. It seems most likely that it refers back to the preceding material, serving as a sort of inclusion with the use in 2:3, and summing up the author's rebuttal to the first claim of the opponents in the section. What follows in 2:6 is the second of the opponents' claims, "Whoever says."
"We are in him"—the expression "in Him" (en auto) is not equivalent to Paul's concept of being "in Christ" (en Christo). Paul used this phrase to describe every believer's relationship to Christ because of his or her justification. The unsaved are not "in Christ." However, John used "in Him" as Yeshua did—in the Upper Room Discourse—to describe, not all believers, but the group of believers who are in fellowship with Christ. John is not saying that this is how we know we're saved, but this is how we know we are in fellowship with Him.
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. John 15:1-2 ESV
The phrase "in Me" is used 16 times in this Gospel and in each case it refers to fellowship with Christ. So far as I know, that expression is never used of a non Christian. A person "in Me" is always a Christian. This is not a parable, the details matter.
whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:6 ESV
This is the second of the three claims of the opponents as expressed by the phrase "whoever says." Once more we have a claim by the opponents: they claim to abide in God.
This is the first occurrence in 1 John of the verb "abide," which is the Greek meno. This is a major theological term for Lazarus. It is used a total of 24 times in this letter and 40 times in John's Gospel, 11 of them in John 15.
This phrase, "abides in Him" means exactly the same thing as "knowing Him" in verse 4, which is the same as saying we have "fellowship with Him" in 1:6. They are all one and the same experience. Having fellowship with Him, knowing Him, and abiding in Him, it's all the same, they are all synonyms for having a close, intimate relationship with Him.
John uses present tense forms of the verbs to depict both the making of the claim (Whoever says) and what is being claimed (He abides) as ongoing actions.
"Abiding" goes back to the Upper Room Discourse, to Yeshua's words about the vine and the branches. There Yeshua said:
Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. John 15:3 ESV
"Clean" here refers to salvation; we saw that earlier in John 13:10, where Yeshua said, "And you are clean, but not every one of you." Thy weren't all clean because Judas was there. But now He says to the remaining disciples, "you are clean." Yeshua is talking to His children; they were believers. So Yeshua then tells those who are clean, those who have believed in Him, His children to:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. John 15:4 ESV
"Abide in me"—that's a strong word in the original text. It's in a tense that expresses a decisive command. It is the active voice, that is something we are expected to do. We initiate that. Believers are commanded to abide in Christ. So how do we abide in Him?
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. John 15:10 ESV
You only abide when you keep His word, and when you walk as He walked. John's point was that a believer who is abiding in God will obey God, just as Yeshua abode in God and gave evidence of that by obeying His Father.
John says that the person who abides, "Ought to walk in the same way in which he walked"—what John is saying is that we cannot claim to abide in Him unless we behave like Him. The behavior and conduct of the historical Yeshua is put forward here as a model for believers to emulate, and this presupposes that the readers of this letter had some information about Yeshua's earthly life and ministry to base their imitation on. It is reasonable to assume the primary source for such knowledge would be the Fourth Gospel. Yeshua told His disciples:
For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. John 13:15 ESV
In this context Yeshua was an example as He has shown the disciples how they are to serve one another lovingly, in complete humility as He has served them in washing their feet. But the "example" that Yeshua gave them was not just humility, but sacrificial service. Disciples were supposed to follow their teacher's example. Are you His disciple?
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV
"Be imitators of God"—"be" is a present imperative and has the idea: "to become." They are to develop continuously into imitators of Yahweh. The Greek word for "imitator" is mimetes, which is the word that we get our English word "mimic" from: to mimic or to copy something. As Christians, as children of the heavenly Father, we have a duty to imitate Christ, if He is compassionate, we are to be compassionate, If He is loving, we are to be loving. We are to display Him in all we say and do.
Commenting on 1 John 2:6, Luther said: "It is not Christ's walking on the sea, but His ordinary walk, that we are called on to imitate." Johannine imitation means: "to follow as a disciple, a completely dedicated adherent and advocate."
John says that if we are abiding in Christ, we will walk as He walked. This means that He is our supreme example for living. Yeshua showed us how we should live in total dependence on the Father and in complete submission to His will.
"For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. John 6:38 NASB
That's obedience. He said, "I'm only here to do what the Father tells Me to do. Whatever He tells Me to do, that's what I do."
"And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him." John 8:29 NASB
Yeshua says, "I always do the things that are pleasing to Him." John says, "the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked." So if we are abiding in Him, we should be able to say, "I always do the things that are pleasing to Him."
but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. Get up, let us go from here. John 14:31 NASB
Yeshua obeyed the Father. That's the pattern. Believers, to walk as He walked is something we cannot accomplish in our own strength. It is supernatural. It is impossible for a man to imitate Christ apart from the power of the Spirit. To walk as Yeshua walked means that our lives should be characterized by daily dependence on God, submission to Him, and obedience to His will. Our overall aim in life will be to seek first His kingdom and righteousness. We will seek to please Him by our thoughts, words, and deeds. While we will never perfectly walk as Yeshua walked, it should be our constant aim and effort to do so.