The Test of Obedience

Becoming Like Jesus  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  35:45
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Good afternoon. So good to see everyone this afternoon. This afternoon as we look at 1 John 2:3-11, we are reminded of the importance of our call to obedience as Christians. Obedience is not a popular word in our culture today, and for some of us, it may even bring up feelings of resistance or rebellion. However, as we look at this passage, we will see that John's words challenge us to reexamine our attitudes towards obedience and consider its essential role in our faith. John emphasizes that the one who says they know God must also keep his commandments. This is not a call to legalism, but rather a recognition that obedience is a natural outflow of our love for God. Through our obedience, we demonstrate our love for him and our desire to follow his ways. So let us approach this passage with open hearts and minds, ready to be challenged and transformed by God's word.
We read in verse three.
1 John 2:3 ESV
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.
Verse three is essential in helping us understand what it means to know God. John teaches that obedience to God's commands is critical to knowing him. To understand this passage more deeply, we need to answer a few questions that arise from our verse.
The first question is, what does John mean by "knowing" God? The Greek word used here has different shades of meaning depending on the context in which it is used. In this case, the author means that knowing God involves more than just knowing facts about him or recognizing him in certain situations. Rather, it means having a personal relationship with him. John is more concerned about the moral implications of knowing God, as he highlights the importance of obedience to God's commands.
The second question that needs answering is to whom the author is referring when he speaks about knowing "him." Is he referring to God the Father or Jesus Christ? By looking at the wider context of the book, we can see that the author is referring to God the Father. Although Jesus Christ is mentioned as the one whose blood cleanses sins, Johns main concern is to warn against false claims of having fellowship with God. In this chapter, John addresses the false claims of those who say they know God while having inadequate opinions about his Son.
The third question that arises is what John means by "his commands." The Greek word used here appears 14 times in 1 John. Sometimes it appears in the singular form, referring explicitly to Christ's command to love one another. Other times it appears in the plural form, which is more generic and refers to all of God's commands. In this passage, the author says that we can be sure that we know God if we obey his commandments. Although the passage doesn't specify which commandments the author is referring to, the context makes it clear that the author is referring to Jesus' command to love one another.
John wants us to understand that knowing God involves a personal relationship with him and not just knowing facts about him. To know God, we must obey his commands, and the most important command is to love one another. It's not enough to claim to know God without obeying his commands. True knowledge of God leads to obedience, and obedience leads to a deeper relationship with him.
Then in verse four John writes.
1 John 2:4 ESV
Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,
In verse four we see John addressing those who claim to know God but do not obey His commands. This is a common claim, but the author refutes it by using the perfect tense of the verb "to know" to depict the opponents' claim to know God. However, their ongoing disobedience to God's commands is depicted as an ongoing action by the use of the present tense in the expression "does not keep." And so John is using the Greek language to stress their hypocrisy. It is not something that we are capable of representing in the English language in the same manner that Greek is able.
It's important to note that the commands of God that John has in mind are to believe in His Son and to do what He commands. The author warns that anyone who claims to know God while disobeying what He commands is a liar and that the truth is not in them.
We must understand that having an authentic relationship with God requires obedience to His commands. This doesn't mean that we will never fail to obey God's commands, but those who truly know God will not be characterized by ongoing disobedience to His commands.
1 John 2:5 ESV
but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:
Verse five actually includes the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next. Why the verse number was placed here I have no idea. So, let’s first look at the beginning of our verse which reds, “but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.”
In verse five we see that John is emphasizing the importance of obedience to God's word. The present tense of the verb 'obeys' or 'keeps' highlights the ongoing nature of obedience, and the perfect tense of 'made complete' or 'is perfected' emphasizes that those who obey God's word are people in whom God's love is perfected. And that has ongoing ramifications for the believer.
The expression 'the love of God' has multiple interpretations, but based on similar statements in the letter, it is likely that the author means believers' love for God. Thus, those who obey God's word are the ones in whom love for God is perfected.
But what does it mean for love to be perfected? The verb translated here ‘perfected’ often means 'to complete,' as seen in Jesus' use of the word in John's Gospel. In 1 John, the idea of perfection as completion is also present in other verses that use this Greek word and the love of God. These verses suggest that the author means our love for God completes its work when we obey his command to love one another.
The last part of verse five acts like a bridge between the verses preceding it and those that follow. The verse provides us with a crucial linking that connects the two ideas presented within each section. In particular we are going to find that the phrase ‘This is how we know we are in him’ is being used here by John to foreshadow what it means for us to ‘remain in him’ that is going to be found in the next verse.
The structure of the passage reinforces the idea that verse five is best understood in the context of what follows it. The positive statement about assurance in verse three, which begins with the words "by this we know," is followed by the negative statement in verse four about those who claim to know God but do not obey his commands. Similarly, the positive statement in the last part of verse five is followed by the call to "walk as Jesus did" in verse six, which emphasizes the importance of obedience to God's commands.
I know that this gets a bit confusing, and I apologize, but by the end we will have put it all together. At least I hope so.
Therefore, we can understand the statement "This is how we know we are in him" as a precursor to the call for obedience in verse six. By obeying God's commands and walking as Jesus did, we can be assured that we are truly in him. We must take seriously the call to obedience in this passage and strive to live lives that are in accordance with God's will. We can’t simply claim to know God; we must also obey his commands and walk in his ways.
Now, in verse six we read.
1 John 2:6 ESV
whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
In this verse John is making a clear distinction between those who claim to know God and those who actually do. The primary function of the statements introduced with the words ‘the one who says’/‘whoever claims’ is to introduce a positive statement of the characteristics of those who do indeed ‘live in him’.
Living in God is not simply a matter of keeping his commands. It is a new and very real spiritual existence that believers enjoy, and which is effected by the Holy Spirit, who bears witness to the truth. This is evident in the ten times the concept of living in God is mentioned in the letter, and the emphasis on the mutual indwelling of believers in God and God in believers.
John then goes on to say that those who claim to live in God must walk as Jesus did. This is not an easy task, as Jesus' obedience to God's commands was perfect. The thrust of the whole section is that those who claim to know God while not obeying his commands are liars. Those who say they live in God must walk as Jesus walked, keeping God’s commands to them as Jesus obeyed God’s commands to him.
What John has said so far, basically, is that those who claim to know God must obey his commands and walk as Jesus did. It is not enough to simply make the claim; our actions must back it up.
Then in verse seven John writes.
1 John 2:7 ESV
Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard.
Verse seven is used as a means to transition to a discussion of a command that is not new but old. This command is one that the readers already know well, having heard it from the beginning. This old command is none other than the message they have heard, the gospel message by which they were made children of God.
John is not introducing a new commandment but reminding his readers of the commandment to love one another, which they have already heard from the beginning. The love commandment is not a new obligation but rather an old one, rooted in the gospel message that they received when they first believed in Jesus Christ.
In this sense, the love commandment is not a new requirement that is added to the gospel message, but rather a natural expression of the gospel message itself. The love that believers show to one another is a reflection of the love that God has shown them through Christ Jesus.
While the love commandment is not a new one, the author presents it in a new light, as an expression of the truth that is seen in Jesus Christ and in his followers. The darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.
We see this in verse eight where we read.
1 John 2:8 ESV
At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.
In verse eight we come across an apparent contradiction between this verse and the previous one. However, we can understand this verse better if we look at it in the light of John 13:34, which reads
John 13:34 ESV
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
Here Jesus gave the commandment to love one another. Jesus himself called it a "new commandment." However, since the historical ministry of Jesus was past for John and his readers, this "new commandment" became, well, an "old commandment" for them. The juxtaposition of "old" and "new" is Johns way of reminding his readers that he is not imposing some new expectation upon them but rather only recalling them to what they have known from the beginning of their Christian walk.
In the next part of the verse, John says that this commandment is true in Jesus and in his readers. Here, the word "true" has an unusual use. While it typically means "true" in relation to statements of fact or "truthful" in relation to persons, there are a few places in the New Testament where it is used to mean "real" or "genuine." The context in verse eight demands a sense of "truly expressed." So, John writes a new commandment "which finds true expression in Jesus Christ and in his readers." This verse reflects the author's belief that his readers are not only his "dear friends," but also people in whom he believes the original message is actually bearing genuine fruit.
Also, the old or new commandment finds true expression in Jesus Christ and his readers because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. In 1 John, "darkness" stands for either sinful behavior or the realm in which sinful behavior has dominion. The darkness that is passing away is what John later describes as "the world and its sinful desires." The darkness is passing away because the true light, which refers to Jesus Christ himself, has begun to shine.
John continues in verse nine and he writes
1 John 2:9 ESV
Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.
In verse nine we see John address a very serious issue within the Christian community of his time. The gnostics, who claimed to be in the light, were not practicing love for their fellow believers, and John strongly condemns this behavior.
John makes it clear that the claim to be in the light, while hating fellow believers, is incompatible. It is their ongoing hatred of other believers that reveals they are still in darkness, despite their claims to be in the light. This is a powerful reminder to us that our actions and attitudes towards our fellow believers matter greatly.
It is also important to note that John does not imply that the gnostics hated all believers. It is more likely that they hated John and those who belonged to his group. This is a sad reminder that even in the early days of Christianity, there were divisions and disagreements within the community.
We need to take seriously the call to love one another. Jesus himself said in John 13:35, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Our love for one another is a powerful witness to the world of the truth and power of the gospel.
We need to make every effort to love our fellow believers, even those with whom we may disagree. We need to seek to build unity within the body of Christ, so that we may be a powerful witness to the world of God's love and grace.
Then in verse ten John wrote,
1 John 2:10 ESV
Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.
In verse ten, John provides an alternative to the claims of the gnostics. The gnostics claim to be in the light, but their hatred of fellow believers shows that they are still in darkness. John's alternative is that whoever loves his brother lives in the light. The light of Jesus Christ is already shining, and the proper behavior of those who live in that light is love for fellow believers.
John emphasizes the importance of living in the light by stating that there is nothing in the person who lives in the light that will cause them to stumble. The Greek word skandalon is used to refer to the thing that cause stumbling in this verse. It is the word that we get the word scandal from in English today. In the New Testament, skandalon is used to denote that which causes people to fall into sin. The author is saying that in the lives of those who walk in the light, there is nothing to cause them to fall into sin.
It is not specified what sin the author has in mind, but in the context of 1 John, it is probably the sin of the gnostics. Their denial that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God come in the flesh who gave himself to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and their aberrant behavior, culminating in their leaving the Christian community to plunge back into the realm of darkness, the 'world'.
In contrast to the gnostics we are called to love our fellow believers and walk in the light. This means acknowledging Jesus Christ as the Son of God and living a life of obedience to his commandments. When we live in the light, we are not only protected from stumbling, but we also bear witness to the truth of Jesus Christ to the world around us.
Finally, in verse eleven John writes.
1 John 2:11 ESV
But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
In verse eleven John continues to contrast the behavior of those who walk in the light with those who remain in darkness. He states that whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. This reinforces the point made earlier in verse nine that the behavior of the gnostics, who claimed to be in the light but hated their fellow believers, revealed their true spiritual state.
John goes on to explain that those who walk in darkness do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. This blindness is not just a physical one but a spiritual one. They are blinded by their own sinful behavior, which prevents them from seeing the truth and knowing the way.
It is clear from this passage that John views hatred for fellow believers as a sign of spiritual darkness. Those who walk in the light of Jesus Christ are characterized by love for one another, while those who walk in darkness are characterized by hatred. As believers, we are called to love one another and to walk in the light, guided by the truth of Jesus Christ.

So What?

Two points of application for today.
First, do we at times neglect the call to obedience?

Do We Neglect Our Call To Obedience?

As believers, we are called to obedience, but sometimes we may find ourselves recoiling at the mere word "obedience." Perhaps we have grown up in conservative churches and families where obedience was emphasized so much that it became suffocating. However, John could not be clearer - whoever claims to know God must obey His commands.
It is also possible that in our concern to emphasize grace, we have neglected the call to obedience. We often think of the New Testament as a series of dichotomies - grace versus law, Jesus versus Moses - but this oversimplifies the complexity of the biblical stories. The call to obedience is a difficult paradox - it is an essential component of our faith and yet does not form the basis of our salvation.
We must remember that Jesus himself emphasized the importance of personal righteousness and obedience. In his Sermon on the Mount, he said that our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees. While he was critical of their behavior, he still instructed his followers to take note of their teachings. We must not neglect the call to obedience in our pursuit of grace. Rather, we must strive for personal righteousness as a reflection of our love for God and our gratitude for His grace.
It is our love for God and our gratitude for His grace that should motivate us to become obedient children of the Father.
Lastly, we need to look at the command to love

The Command to Love

We often talk about the importance of love, but do we truly understand the demands it places on us? First John highlights the importance of love, but we must not use it as an excuse to avoid disagreement or critical discernment in church life. Rather, we should cultivate a disposition of heart that reflects the selfless love of God and rejects a habit of condemning and criticizing others.
Also, John's command to love includes a call to reconciliation, especially with those we struggle to love. Reconciliation is the first step towards healing relationships that have gone wrong, even in difficult circumstances. However, we must also exercise discernment when dealing with those who belong to the world and seek to harm us, while still maintaining a loving and open posture towards others.
While we are called to promote love, we must also be alert to the dangers that surround us, such as moral and intellectual dangers, religious deceptions, and theological errors. We must strive for a balance of love and discernment in our relationships with others, promoting a selfless and Christ-centered love that does not compromise our commitment to the truth of the Gospel.
I know that sometimes it feels like sermons are simply meant to beat us into submission so that we might think a certain way and act a certain way. But that’s not the case at all. As we have looked at this call to obedience that John has given we need to also remember the incredible grace that we have received through faith in Jesus Christ. It is by his perfect obedience and sacrificial love that we have been reconciled to God and given the gift of eternal life. Our obedience to God's commandments is not a burden, but rather a natural response to the love that has been poured out on us.
We need to remember that obedience is not simply about following rules or checking boxes, but about cultivating a heart that is aligned with God's will and characterized by love for him and for others. We may stumble and fall along the way, but we can always turn to Jesus in repentance and receive his forgiveness and his grace.
My hope is that each of us leave here today with a renewed commitment to walk in obedience to God's commandments, empowered by his grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And may our love for one another be a powerful testimony to the world of the transforming power of the gospel.
Let us pray.
Our Heavenly Father,
We come before you with grateful hearts, thanking you for the truth revealed in your Word. Thank you for reminding us of the importance of obedience and love in our Christian walk. We ask that you help us to keep your commandments and walk in your ways every day.
Thank you for your grace and mercy that enables us to love one another as you have loved us. We pray that you would continue to transform us into your likeness, so that we may reflect your love to the world.
Lord, we also pray for those who do not yet know you. May they see the love and joy in our hearts and be drawn to you. We pray that they would come to know you as their Lord and Savior and experience the same transformation and joy that we have in you.
Thank you for hearing our prayers and for your faithfulness to us. We pray all these things in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
And now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
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