And hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, “I know him,” and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoso keepeth his word, in him verily hath the love of God been perfected. Hereby we know that we are in him: he that saith he abideth in him ought himself also to walk even as he walked (1 John 2:3-6).
In our examination into the first letter of John, we have seen that John’s purpose is to encourage Christians in the face of false teachers and “professors” of Christianity. He has previously established that the message he provides concerns the Word of Life, how He is light, and in Him there is no darkness (1 John 1:1-5). He then establishes that we must walk in the light: we will not do so perfectly, for we all sin, but we must strive to cease from sin (1 John 1:6-2:1). If we do sin, we have an advocate in Jesus Christ, who is the propitiation for the sins of all the world (1 John 2:1-2).
John continues to speak about Jesus, and his specific concern involves how we demonstrate that we “know” Jesus (1 John 2:3-6). In a world of competing claims regarding Jesus, how can we know whether we practice the truth? This question was as concerning in the first century as it is in the twenty-first.
John does not leave the disciples in doubt: to know Jesus is to do His commandments. This message is entirely consistent with the message Jesus provided during His life. The comparison between the man who built on the rock versus the man who built on the sand was the difference between those who keep and do Jesus’ words and those who do not (Matthew 7:24-27). In His farewell address to His disciples, Jesus indicates that if His disciples love Him, they will keep His commandments (John 14:15). Those who have and keep Jesus’ commandments loves Jesus, and such are loved by the Father (John 14:21). We are to keep His commandments just as He kept His Father’s commandments (John 15:10); this is to be done so that the disciples’ joy may be full, which is the very purpose for John’s letter (John 15:11, 1 John 1:4). To keep Jesus’ commands is to be His friend (John 15:14).
John does not shy away from the need to follow Jesus’ commands; in fact, he constantly emphasizes that need. James has similar things to say in James 1:22-25, contrasting those who “hear” the word from those who “hear and do” it.
The only legitimate test as to whether one who professes Jesus is truly His follower is to understand what he does: what is his fruit (cf. Matthew 7:15-20)? Is there evidence of repentance: is there less sin and more righteousness (Galatians 5:17-24)? Do they justify their sin or do they glorify God? Do they represent humble believers in the King, or have they been swept away by some other teacher (Luke 17:7-10, 2 Timothy 4:3-5)? The only way we can demonstrate that we know Jesus is to do what He tells us to do!
Those who profess knowing Jesus and yet do not practice His commands are liars (1 John 2:4). It does not matter how sincere or dishonest they may be: they do not have the truth either way. This is why it is so important to do His commandments!
If we keep His commands, John says that the love of God is perfected in us (1 John 2:5). While some may try to make some kind of absolute out of the statement, such distracts us from John’s true meaning. It is not as if we will ever entirely keep Jesus’ commands (1 John 1:8), but it is the humble obedient servant of Jesus Christ whom God can make complete in the Son. Such people can truly understand the nature of Jesus; they entirely understand, by their practicing of the truth, all the love that God has richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ.
Lest anyone believe that this knowledge is somehow based only in learning, John goes on to demonstrate that “keeping His commandments” is “walking as Jesus walked” (1 John 2:5-6). If we “abide” in Jesus, we ought to walk in His ways. The only way we can ever come to a deeper knowledge and understanding of the ways of Christ are to walk in those ways. We keep His commandments not in some Pharisaical attempt to check off obligations, but in order to be conformed into Jesus’ image: to love as He loved, to show compassion as He showed compassion, to avoid sin as He avoided sin. In short, it is to walk as Jesus walked. The only way to know Jesus is to know His life, His ways, and His suffering in our own lives. Let us strive to know Jesus!
Ethan R. Longhenry