Confidently Know Him Through Loving Obedience

Good morning! If you are visiting with us, I want to welcome you again to Grace Bible Fellowship Church. It is an honor to have you worshiping with us today. I also want to thank everyone who has led us in worship thus far, from Bilal’s opening that really sets up this message, the singing to help focus our hearts on Christ, and the Scripture reading. God orchestrates these things in miraculous ways. I want to also thank Bilal for his message last week entitled, “Whose Will? Whose Power?” It too was a great introduction to the sermon today because we are going to be focusing on God’s will for our lives. I’ve entitled my message, “Confidently Know Him Through Loving Obedience.”

1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. 3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. (1 John 2:1-6)

By way of review, I want to highlight a few points from all the previous messages in 1 John that relate to today’s message. John ended chapter one with several tests of salvation. These tests focus on those who have a saving faith, have embraced God’s free gift of forgiveness, and are continuously confessing their sins. We also found out that one of the reasons John wrote this epistle was to proclaim that the Word of Life is not an end in itself; its immediate purpose is fellowship, and the ultimate purpose is joy. 

We found out that the proclamation of the gospel is stated in terms not of salvation but of fellowship. Yet, properly understood, this is the meaning of salvation, including reconciliation to God in Christ, holiness of life, and incorporation into the church. Thus the foundation of all fellowship is our relationship with God. John taught us that a Christian is never out of fellowship with God since the relationship is permanent, and totally dependent on God, not us.

In chapter one, John condensed the gospel into one single great affirmation: God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all. The light and life of God are inherently connected to and characterized by truth. God’s light reveals the darkness of our hearts, and the sin in our life. Therefore it follows that a Christian cannot truly claim communion with God while living in the darkness. To profess one thing and live in contradiction to it is to lie and not practice the truth. John also clarified that when we as Christians sin, we do not lose our salvation, but we do lose the joy of fellowship and communion with God. Therefore, we are to continually repent and ask Christ’s forgiveness for our sin, so that our joy may be made complete. 

John highlighted that confession of sin is an indication of genuine salvation. Confession of sin is absolutely required to enter the light – we call justification – and for walking in it – we call sanctification. 

In the first two verses of chapter two, John highlighted God’s provision that He alone has made for Christians who have sinned. John emphasizes our need to not sin, but acknowledges that we will, and that God has already provided the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. We also learned that the law never made provision for allowing us to die to sin, but it did provide us God’s standard to live by. The law demands just and right living of all of us. But the law can only condemn and judge us; it cannot save us. We need God’s forgiveness and Christ’s perfect gift of salvation. 

Certainly the New Testament confirms that Christians are no longer slaves to sin, highlighted in Romans 6:6, 12–14, because God made the provision for us to die to sin according to 1 Peter 2:24. There is no doubt that God has provided the means for us to no longer be enslaved to sin.

Another one of John’s purposes for writing this letter is to discourage us from sinning and emphasize the provision that God has already made for our sins. John also highlighted the advocacy along with the perfect sacrifice of Christ. He highlighted a crucial aspect of the gospel: how God has made provision for hell-bound sinners through faith in Christ. God didn’t just save us from hell so we could live eternally with Him in heaven; He has made us heirs and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ! If that doesn’t excite your heart this morning, you need to check your pulse. That is truly the essence of amazing grace! Can you believe that we are joint heirs with Christ? We need to ultimately understand that God has placed a great emphasis on our relationship with Him. That is not a single event, but instead it is an on-going, intimate relationship. This point is part of the focus of today’s message – confidently knowing and fellowshipping with Him through loving obedience.

3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. (1 John 2:3-6)

Where is your mind right now? What are you thinking? Are you thinking that this section of Scripture is too weighty? Are you thinking this could be an extremely convicting message? Maybe you are thinking, “This is finally going to give me the assurance I have always wanted regarding my salvation.” Maybe you are asking yourself, “Do I really know God? Am I keeping His commandments? Am I just living a lie? Do I really manifest the love of God? Am I walking in a manner as Jesus did?” I hope this message today helps to answer your questions, to help give you the assurance of your salvation, or yet convict you that you do not know Christ.

To understand why John wrote these verses, we must first remember that John is correcting problems of belief and behavior of Christians. John is responding to what the church needed to hear then and what we need to hear today: the correction of problems of belief and behavior. In chapter one, John recorded three false claims that the heretics made. Now John expresses two great assurances which all believers in Christ can have. He introduces these assurances with the words, “by this we know.” If we claim to be Christians, it should be stated in terms of knowing God and abiding in Christ. This ultimately means that we are in a new life of obeying God and imitating Christ. Of course, being obedient and being transformed to the image of Christ absolutely require the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is through our submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit that we can be assured of knowing and abiding in Christ. 

As I mentioned earlier, John is writing to believers in the church, people who knew Christ, but they were not assured or confident that they knew Him. Of course the “soft spoken and timid” John launches right into an explanation of how we can be sure we know Christ. It is through external evidence of an inward change that helps us know that we “know” Christ. God wanted the early church and all believers to be free from nagging doubts and fears about our fellowship with Him, so He has John clarify about how we can know, to be assured of our salvation!

When God through John called us to fellowship, He called us to “know” Christ. God also had Paul make this same point in Philippians 3:10-11: “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Sometimes people claim to know God, but are unresponsive to His Word. Unfortunately, such a person may possess accurate information about God, and may even be able to debate the finer points of theology. This person may have even memorized large portions of Scripture, may be a member of a church, or even attend regular services. However, if this person isn’t responsive to God’s Word, his claim to know Him is a lie. Ultimately, fellowship and relationship with God is demonstrated by walking as Jesus walked.

I don’t know about you, but when I started my study on these verses, I was both really excited about the assurance of my salvation, then immediately convicted, “Am I really loving God as I need to love Him, and keeping His commandments?” So I was really excited and really convicted. You may find that same thing today as we go through these verses. But with that introduction, let’s dive into each of these verses and mine the truths that God has given us. John provides a test of knowing Jesus Christ.

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. (1 John 2:3)

John uses the transitional phrase, “By this,” to introduce this new test that can validate our fellowship with God and that helps us to be assured of our salvation. John gives us this test so we can confirm that we “know” Him, that we are walking in the light, and that we have a genuine fellowship with Him. 

John really likes the word “know.” He uses it forty-two times in this letter. Here in verse three, he uses it twice to emphasize the importance of knowing that we need to have a relationship with God. God doesn’t want us to live in a constant state of uncertainty; He wants us to know that we know Him. No doubts, no questions, confidently assured that we know Him!

So John starts by saying, “we know that we have come to know Him.” Remember, the church is being traumatized by the heretics, and John is encouraging the church that they can have the full assurance of salvation. He is emphasizing that we can know God, we can know what He wants for our lives, and finally we can be assured that we can know that we know! 

I really like how John states that we can know with certainty we have come to know Him; he does not say “we hope,” “we think,” “we desire,” or “we wish,” but instead John says, “We know!” The phrase here “we know” means to continually perceive something by experience.

How can we be sure that we know Him? John provides us clarity by giving us a specific test: we know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commandments. If we obey Him, keeping His commandments, we can be confident that we know Him and have fellowship with Him. So we can be assured of our salvation by loving obedience to God’s commandments in Scripture. Don’t get confused. It’s important not to misunderstand what John is saying. He does not suggest that a relationship with God is established by obedience, but instead that relationship is demonstrated by obedience.

I know some of you guys are thinking, “How in the world can we ‘know’ God, since no one can always be perfectly obedient to His commandments?” Here is John Calvin’s reply to this question: “John does not mean that those who wholly satisfy the Law, keep His commandments (and no such instance can be found in the world), but [instead it is] those who strive, according to the capacity of human infirmity, to form their life in obedience to God.” John Calvin and the apostle John aren’t just talking about a mere external conformity to God’s commandments, they are talking about a concentrated, attentive, and focused obedience to His commands from an inward desire to love Him, only through the Holy Spirit. John’s key point is that external obedience provides evidence of fellowship with God, corresponding to an internal transformation of knowing Christ through a saving faith. 

This is not a legalistic obedience. Instead, it is about a thoughtful attitude of obedience that flows from internally embracing God’s commands as the Holy Spirit reveals them through His Word. It is an obedience that flows from our desire to follow Christ out of love for Him. John wrote later in this epistle in chapter five, verses two and three, “We love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God that we keep His commandments” 

This correlation between obedience and the love of Christ is not new to John. He had heard it years before as he was a disciple of Christ. In John 14:21, Jesus said, “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.” And in John 15:10 Jesus said, “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.” 

So one of the key evidences of true conversion, and thus fellowship with God, is obedience to His commandments, brought about from a desire to love Him. 1 John is not only a book of assurance based on knowledge of the gospel, it is also about a corresponding lifestyle of love and obedience, which is specifically highlighted later in verse five. 

John now applies this new test of knowing Jesus Christ.

The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:4)

Here in verse four, John explains the antithetical of verse three. He explains that the one who claims to know God, but is constantly and habitually disobedient to His commands, is a liar. John also implies that this person will be exposed as a liar because of his disobedience to God’s commands. In other words, what is true internally, what is in our hearts, will eventually come forth in actions and deeds. 

John now rings true to his nickname that Christ gave him and his brother James. He “thunders” at those who claim to have come to know Christ but do not keep His commandments. Just as John said in chapter one verse six to those who claim to have fellowship with God and yet walk in darkness, “they lie and do not practice the truth.” John exclaims that anyone who claims to know Him and lives in consistent and intentional disobedience to His commandments “is a liar and the truth is not in him.” Paul says in Titus 1:16, “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.” John and Paul are saying that a person’s conduct must not continually contradict the claim of knowing God, otherwise this person is a liar. 

The false teachers were claiming to know God, but they were trying to separate salvation from daily moral living, so that they could live however they wanted to yet claim to be in Christ. They claimed superior knowledge of God, but their lifestyles revealed their true motives, their true intentions. They claimed to know Him but lived immoral lives that pleased themselves, which was in complete and intentional disobedience to God’s commandments. John is specifically exposing the lies of those who claimed they had ascended to a higher level of divine knowledge. Not only is their claim false, but the truth is altogether absent from their daily life. These are false Christians. 

John says these people are liars. He uses some pretty forceful and explicit language by using this word “liar.” He has previously stated in chapter one that this person lies and deceives themselves. This person’s whole nature is controlled by a lie; the foundation of their faith is a lie, and that lie drives their daily life. The ending phrase, “And the truth is not in him” gives clarity to their complete emptiness of God’s truth. These people are not saved because the truth of Christ is not in them. John has already said that true knowledge of God is apparent in those who know Him; there is an outward manifestation of an inward change. We cannot know God by merely claiming to do so, nor by merely imagining to know Him. It is God who reveals Himself inwardly through the Holy Spirit, and it is through the urging of the Holy Spirit and our love for Him that our obedience to His commands provides outward evidence of salvation.

but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him (1 John 2:5)

John now restates the claim made in verse three, such that it links the claim of knowing God with the practice of godly conduct characterized by love. Knowing and love are tied together. He cites the love of God specifically because it reemphasizes Jesus’ command in John 15:12; “that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” John has previously highlighted this connection between love and obedience throughout the Gospel of John, in at least chapters 13–16, and particularly in John 13:34-35 where Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” All men will know. And in John 14:15, Jesus says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

Those who not only claim to know God, but also keep God’s Word, are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and the love of God has been completed in them. John is saying that whoever sincerely and diligently attempts to keep God’s Word, the love of God has truly been perfected in them. John is not talking about being perfected in the sense that we have arrived, or achieved perfection. He is saying that salvation has been perfectly accomplished in those who keep God’s Word; it’s an evidence of salvation. Keeping God’s word is the key! John is saying that to truly keep God’s Word is to have a continuous, ongoing love for God. 

Once again, for those who would say, “No one can perfectly love God!” John Calvin has another good response: “…it is enough for everyone to aspire to this perfection according to the measure of grace given to them. To make progress in this, as in knowledge, is what we ought to do.” Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are to strive to love, strive to be obedient.

A genuine love is required for us to know that we are in Him. To be “in Him,” refers to being “in Christ.” John is using “in Him” to refer to abiding, knowing, and loving Christ. John Stott comments on this phrase by saying, “Being a Christian consists in essence of a personal relationship to God in Christ, knowing Him, loving Him, and abiding in Him as the branch abides in the vine. This is the meaning of eternal life.”

The final portion of verse five links, as a transition, from the first part of verse five to what is to follow in verse six. “By this we know we are in Him.” John now provides an illustration of knowing Jesus Christ

the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. (1 John 2:6)

Here in verse six is the final and full conclusion of this passage of Scripture. John’s exclamation point is that the only person who can pass the test of obedience and realize full assurance of salvation is the one who abides in Him, abides in Christ. 

We all know that Jesus Christ is the perfect role model for obedience. So what did Jesus say about abiding in Him? In John 15:4-5, Jesus says, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” We must be abiding in Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit in order to be obedient. Just as the branches draw their life from the vine, believers draw their spiritual life from Christ. To abide in Christ means to remain in Him, to continue, to persist. To abide is not some temporary, artificial, or brief attachment. Abiding means to have a deep-rooted, permanent, and enduring connection, true fellowship with Christ.

In order to abide in Christ, we are to follow what Paul highlights in Colossians 1:23: “continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard…” Paul also highlights in Colossians 2:6-7, “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith…”

I don’t think there is any room for misinterpretation here. John makes it abundantly clear that if we claim to abide in Christ, we must walk in the same manner as Jesus walked. I am confident John is not talking about walking at a certain pace, or in a certain style; he is referring to our daily conduct, with “walking” as a metaphor for daily living. He is talking about daily conduct. Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul implores believers “…to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Wow, that’s a high calling! Christ set the standard for how we are to walk. Does that mean we can’t try? We shouldn’t strive? Obviously Christ perfectly illustrated what it meant to abide in the Father and to be perfectly obedient to Him. In every way Jesus obeyed His Father’s will. 

What does John say about seeking God’s will? The Gospel of John provides numerous examples of Jesus’ obedience to the Father’s will. Jesus says in John 6:38, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” He also says in John 8:29, “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.” And in John 14:31, Jesus said, “So that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me.” 

We all know from our own lives, a believer’s obedience will not be perfect. We also know that our walk will not be perfect as Jesus’ was. However, Jesus did set and establish the perfect standard we are to follow. So to walk as Christ walked involves constantly seeking His will, following His example, learning His ways, and striving toward the mark of this high calling. It means we are to be walking in the light. But our daily walk cannot be confined or limited to some inward disposition of obedience and love; it must be expressed outwardly in all our actions, in our whole conduct, throughout our life. Apart from the Holy Spirit, this would be absolutely, totally impossible! Which in itself is another confirmation of our salvation.

It is certainly true that Christians have not, nor will we, reach perfection of love or obedience here on this earth, but we should always be growing and striving in that direction with the help of the Holy Spirit. The goal of every believer is not just heaven when we die, but Christ-likeness now!

In summary, we demonstrate that we know God when we obey His commandments. John says that we can have assurance that we know Him if we obey His commandments. He makes it very clear that to know God the Father only comes from knowing Jesus Christ, His Son. 

Obedience to God’s commands is evidence of true salvation. However, works of obedience will not save you, they are only evidence of salvation. If we are striving, out of love for Christ, to be obedient to God’s commands, then we can have the assurance of knowing God and His salvation. 

If we habitually and continually disobey God’s commands yet claim to know God, it is a lie, because our conduct contradicts our profession of faith and proves it to be false.

In order to live or abide in Christ, we must first know God. An ultimate knowledge of God comes only through an intimate knowledge of and relationship with Christ. But none of this can be accomplished on our own, we must have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
John is calling us to be imitators of Christ; we are to have such an intimate relationship with Him that we are to be like Him. Therefore our daily conduct and deeds should shine like lights that we are “in Christ.” In Ephesians 5:1-2, Paul says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us…”

A claim to know God, when rightly understood, can be an assurance of salvation and an affirmation of being a true follower of Christ. 

We should realize that there is a continuous and direct connection between the redemptive and sanctifying actions of God. In Philippians 1:6, Paul says, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Once again highlighting that salvation is all about Christ, not us. Paul highlights that this is all a work of God our Father who brought us to salvation and is now sanctifying us. This same redemptive and sanctifying connection should be evident in our lives as living obediently to His commands and walking in a manner as Jesus did. Bottom line: our daily lives will reveal our spiritual condition. Will we be perfect in our obedience? Absolutely not! Should we be striving to be obedient out of love for Him? Absolutely yes!

So what are we going to do with today’s message? This is a lot of truth today. What does this application look like in our daily lives? How are we going to love Him, to be obedient to His commands? Today’s message has been about knowing that we know we have been saved. It is also about living a life that evidences our fellowship with God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son. If we claim to know Christ and abide in Him, it will be evident in our life. We will be walking in the light and obeying God’s commands because we passionately love the Lord. That is the key to real assurance of salvation and fellowship with the Father.

Keeping God’s commandments certainly involves loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind. But it also means loving one another. The love of God revealed in Christ reaches its perfection when that same love is shown to one another.

We cannot begin to walk as Jesus did without the Holy Spirit helping us to set our hearts on doing God’s will and guiding our walk. The Holy Spirit working in us is evidence itself of our salvation. 

In order to keep God’s commands, we must love others. Our lives are to be characterized by a consistent lifestyle of loving and serving others. It means we should be more concerned about others than ourselves. It means we should think the best of others even when they are not living as we prefer. Husbands should love their wives as Christ loves the church. Wives should honor and obey their husbands. We should love our brothers and sisters in Christ. We should love our neighbors. And yes, we should even love our enemies. Not to leave children out here, children should honor and obey their parents. All of this means we should love others like Christ loves us. When you think, “I just can’t love that person,” think of what Christ is saying to you: “I loved you even when you didn’t love me.”

In order to keep His commandments, we must serve others. There must be a consistent lifestyle of serving others. It means we should use our gifts and talents to serve the body. It means we should serve others by walking through life with them. It means we should serve by getting involved and building relationships with other believers. It means we should reach out to people in need. It means we should be compassionate with others. It means we should serve others as Jesus serves us. 

In order for us to abide in Him, we must depend on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We must depend completely on Him for all that we need in order to live for Him and serve Him. In order to abide in Him, we should forgive as He forgives us. It means we must forgive, because it is not an option. It means we should forgive those who have hurt our feelings or even sinned greatly against us. It means that in order to abide in Christ we should walk as Christ did. 

Our willing obedience to love, serve, and walk as Christ in our daily life can only be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit. Being obedient to the Spirit’s guiding will be a reliable indicator, both to us and to others, that we have come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and that we have fellowship with God the Father, the God of light and life, through a loving and living relationship. 

3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. (1 John 2:3-6)