By This We Know Love
Grace Community Church
January 21, 2018
How to Know That We Know Christ
Please turn with me to 1 John 2 as we continue our study of 1st John.
1 John 2:1-6
Dinesh and Tarakeshwari Rathod made history when they announced that they had summitted Mt. Everest on May 23, 2016, becoming the first Indian couple to climb the tallest mountain in the world. They showed pictures of them standing on the summit proudly holding the Indian flag as proof of their historic accomplishment. It wasn’t long, however, before other climbers began to come forward to point out that their pictures were actually published pictures of another team that they had meticulously photo shopped themselves into. It turns out they had only climbed as far as base camp one. The couple has since disappeared and cannot be reached for comment.
No one wants to be exposed as faking it in any area of life, but we especially don’t want to be found faking it as a Christian. Nothing could be more tragic than to spend our lives photo shopping ourselves in Christ but never actually be in Christ. Jesus warns about those who will say to him on judgment day, “Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name?” and he will answer, “depart from me, you evildoers, I never knew you.” They spent their lives passing themselves off as servants of Christ and photo shopping themselves doing great things for God, but it was all fake. It was all phony. The reality is they never knew the Lord, and the Lord never knew them. We don’t want that to be us on that day.
The Apostle John is walking a really tough line in his epistle: he wants to deal with the fakes – those who claim to know God but walk in darkness, those who claim to be spiritual giants but are lying to themselves and to God. At the same time, John doesn’t want to discourage or throw fear into the hearts of true believers who are genuine but may be struggling in their walk with the Lord. So what John does is balance strong words with gentle words. Severe warnings with solid reassurances. The truth is we all need to hear both.
The goal of John’s letter isn’t to reassure photo-shoppers. John Piper warns: A whole branch of "evangelical" theology has come into existence to provide assurance of salvation to lukewarm, disobedient people who call themselves Christians. …This book was written to blow that theology out of the water.
Piper is right: 1st John is hard on Photoshop Christians. At the same time, the Apostle knows that there are true believers who struggle with fears and doubts and persistent sins and to them he writes to assure them that they can know that they have eternal life. To them that he writes with the tender heart of a father:
My little children…
John speaks to the church in terms of love. Eleven times in this short letter he addresses them as “children”, “little children”, or “my little children”. Five times he calls them “beloved”. There’s an old saying, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” They know John cares. They know John loves them. John not only has the cred of being the only person still alive who was with Jesus when Jesus walked the earth, and on top of that was closer to Jesus than any other apostle, but he has cred with them because they know he loves them and only wants what’s best for them. My little children…
… I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. (vs. 1)
We might wonder how John can say he’s writing this so that we may not sin, when in chapter one he said that anyone who claims they don’t sin is a liar and walking in darkness. It lays out a tension that goes to the heart of what it means to be a Christian: we know that we are sinners and need the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood every day, and we know that following Christ leads us to a life of fighting and resisting sin. We need to hold those two truths in tension all the time. We know that anyone who says they’ve reached perfect sinlessness is photo-shopping themselves somewhere they’ve never been. We all sin. But if we think that following Jesus gives us a license to sin as much as we want to, John has some strong warnings for us in this book. What we’ll see is that the person who gets comfortable in a lifestyle of sin while claiming to know Christ is as fake as the person who claims to not sin.
So we hold these two truths in tension: We strive to not sin, we resist sin and fight sin looking to Christ to give us victory over our sin. At the same time, we know that we will sin. And when that happens, we know that Christ has made provision for our sin.
But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Jesus is our advocate, our attorney, pleading our case before the Father. Let’s talk a little theology for a minute cause this is important. The word “propitiation” means to turn away or appease wrath, usually used in reference to the anger of a deity. In ancient pagan religions, the word propitiation was used to describe bribing capricious, petty gods in order to appease their anger. Some Christian theologians, rightly rejecting the idea of equating God with the fickle, capricious pagan gods of ancient times, have rejected the historical meaning of the word propitiation. Steve Chalke goes so far as to say that such propitiation would be a form of cosmic child abuse, writing that it would be “a vengeful father, punishing his son for an offence he has not even committed…”
But the biblical picture of propitiation isn’t that of a furious god being paid off by his more even-tempered son. God’s wrath isn’t out of control rage. God’s wrath is His steady hatred of, and opposition to, sin. God’s wrath, rather than being at odds with His love, is a vital aspect of His love. Jesus didn’t die on the cross to somehow convince God to take out His wrath on him rather than mankind. Rather, God, in His love, sent His Son to pay the just penalty for sin that needed to be paid.
John Stott writes: [Propitiation] is an appeasement of the wrath of God by the love of God through the gift of God. The initiative is not taken by us, nor even by Christ, but by God himself in sheer unmerited love.1
God the Father took the initiative: God so loved the world that He sent His Son… And I think we need to recognize the tremendous price God the Father paid by pouring His wrath out upon His beloved Son. As a father, I would much rather suffer than watch my children suffer, and if I were the agent of their suffering, no matter how noble a cause it might be for, it would tear my heart apart. Our heavenly Father didn’t send His Son to do the dirty work while He got the easy part. It was only “sheer, ummerited love” that could have moved God the Father to punish His Son in our place. God’s wrath needed to be propitiated or He would cease to be just and good, but His vast love could not abandon us, so out of unfathomable love, He sent His Son Jesus.
When Jesus, our Advocate, stands before God, he doesn’t make the case that we’re innocent, or come up with excuses for why we sinned. Our Advocate, Jesus, acknowledges our sin, and then presents his own vicarious, sufficient payment on the cross for our acquittal. He points to his vicarious work on the cross, over and over again. He pours his shed on the mercy seat as offering for our sins. And his blood is more than enough to cleanse us of all sin.
But how do we know that we’re among those who are saved? How do we know we are Christians? How can we be sure that we’re not phonies who have photo-shopped ourselves coming to Christ in faith but have never actually come to him in genuine trust and faith? John gives us some tests, and we see the first one in vv. 3-6
3 And by this we know that we have come to know him if we keep his commandments.4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
How do we know we know him? By keeping his commandments. John isn’t promoting legalism, where we have to live perfectly to prove we know God. But he is combating the opposite extreme of thinking that it doesn’t matter what we do, or how we live, as long as we profess to believe in Jesus. If we are living in the darkness of consistent disobedience to God’s word, we don’t know him, and if we say we do, we are lying. On the other hand, if we are seeking to obey God’s word, it gives assurance to our hearts that we know him and belong to him. By this we know that we have come to know him.
I want to pause here a moment and ask, does what I just said bother you at all? Does the statement “if you keep Jesus’ commandments, you know him, if you don’t, you don’t” shake you up a little? Does it make you want to examine your life and ask, am I keeping Jesus’ commandments? It does me. It presses my heart to ask, “do I know Jesus? Am I keeping his word?” It’s meant to. John didn’t write this to leave us the same as he found us. He wrote this to press us not to sin, to help us know Christ better, to motivate us to walk in the light and not be comfortable walking in the dark. But it can also have an unnerving effect on some of us.
If you’ve are standing on the summit of perfect (or near-perfect) obedience to Christ and these verses just make you think, “yep, that’s me. I’m good”, you probably don’t need to hear the second half of the message. You’re free to go, just be quiet as you leave. I want to talk to those who, like me, haven’t arrived at a level of obedience that ends all doubt. Those who sometimes find themselves struggling with discouragement about their lack of obedience, like I do. Those who struggle with condemnation that makes the Lord feel distant and unapproachable. If that’s you, I want to talk to you. I also want to talk to those who really are deceiving themselves – walking in darkness, living in disobedience, all the while thinking they’re good with God. John has a lot to say to you as well. There are three things in these verses that are really important for us to know:
The obedience Jesus wants comes from love
…whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. (vs. 5)
In the Greek, it’s impossible to tell if the phrase the love of God means the love God has for us, the love we have for God, or the love of God in us for others. I’d say it means all three. We love God because He first loved us, and the love of God can only flow out of us if it first flows into us.
The more convinced we are of our Father’s love for us, the more confident we’ll be that His plan for our lives is best. Obedience to Him will be light and easy when we know with all our hearts that He loves us and knows what’s best for us. And the more we know His love, the more our hearts will be drawn to love Him. The more we know Him, the more we love Him. And the more we love Him, the more we know Him.
When our hearts struggle with desires to walk away from God, disobey Him, do our own thing, disregard His word, it’s a love problem before it’s an obedience problem. And the remedy is love. The more we know God’s love for us, the more we’ll love Him, and the more we love Him, the more we’ll want to obey Him. Jesus said, “if you love me, you’ll obey me.” (John 14:15) The obedience Jesus wants comes from love. If our hearts feel convicted that we’re not obeying the Lord as we should, the place to begin is drawing near to God’s love and letting that love fill our hearts with love for Him.
The difference between faking and trying
3 And by this we know that we have come to know him if we keep his commandments.4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him…
Barnabas Piper was trying to help his daughter go to sleep. She tended to lie awake for hours at night and so to help her he encouraged her to close her eyes, be quiet, and rest until she fell asleep. “So… you want me to fake sleep.” she said. No, he wanted her to try to go to sleep until she fell asleep.
It made him realize that sometimes trying and faking look very similar. The person who is trying to love someone may look a lot like the person who is faking loving someone. The person who is trying to grow spiritually by reading their Bible and praying even though they don’t feel like doing it may look like the person who is faking being spiritual by reading their Bible and praying. The difference isn’t necessarily the actions, but the motives. Am I trying to grow into something, get better at something, change in some area? Or am I just trying to make people think I’m something I’m not? Motivation is key.
The answer isn’t “fake it till you make it”. That’s hypocrisy. The answer is try until it pays off. Barnabas Piper shares this observation: Plenty of people fake it in their spiritual lives. They want to look like healthy Christians or to make it through church without anyone looking askance at them or asking a personal question. That comes from a heart of pride and deceit. Trying until it pays off is different. It comes from a heart of need and an eye on the goal of growth in holiness.2
The other difference is that faking tries to make it seem we’re further along than we are. Trying is honest about where we’re at. Dinesh and Tarakeshwari Rathod only made it to base camp one. Nothing to be ashamed about that – most people in the world will never even get that far. The problem was they faked getting somewhere they hadn’t and being something they weren’t.
Let’s try hard to be honest. That’s a part of what it means to walk in the light. John calls us to try to keep Jesus’ commandments. We won’t always be perfect at it, which is why we will always need Jesus as our Advocate. But don’t be the guy that fakes it and says, “yeah, I know him” but lives a life of disobedience to him.
The Bible tells us that when it comes to our salvation, it’s all the work of Christ. But when it comes to our growth in sanctification, we are to make every effort. That sounds a lot like trying to me. Try hard, and try to be honest. And if we aren’t making any effort, we’re faking it as Christians.
The difference between direction and destination
whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (vs. 6)
When Jenn and Jordan and our grandsons visited us for Christmas, it was fun to see Asher, who was 13 months old, just starting to stand on his own without holding onto anything. And every time he did, he would look around with a smile expecting everyone to cheer and applaud his great accomplishment! And we did! We cheered and hooted and made a big deal out of it every time.
But there will come a time when we won’t hoot and holler every time Asher stands on his own. One day he’ll take a first step. Then he’ll be walking and running and riding a bike and going to school. He’s where he is now, and he’s going in a direction. Justus isn’t where Asher’s at. But he’s going in the same direction.
Notice what John says, we “ought to walk in the same way in which he (Jesus) walked. No way we’re going to walk in the way that Jesus walked as perfectly as Jesus walked. We might barely be standing. We might be stumbling. Jesus was perfect in the way he walked, we won’t be perfect. We need to know the difference between direction and destination. We are to walk in same way that Jesus walked. The same direction – love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, holiness, righteousness, mercy, obedience to our heavenly Father. Same direction – but we need to remember that Jesus has arrived, and we haven’t.
Husbands, we are to love our wives as Christ loved the church. We’re not going to be as perfect at it as Jesus is, but we should be going in the same direction: laying down our lives, cherishing them, building them up. If what we’re doing doesn’t look like that, if we’re selfishly demanding they serve us, if we’re tearing them down, if we’re treating them like their unimportant, then we’re living in disobedience, walking in darkness. We may stumble in loving them, we may be imperfect in laying down our lives, but that’s different than going in the opposite direction. When we fail, we have an Advocate. But if we’re hardened in disobedience, then we’re lying if we say we know Him. It’s that simple. It’s meant to be that simple.
Jesus walked in love, truth, compassion, gentleness, grace. We struggle with selfishness, being less than truthful, apathy towards other’s plight, harsh, unkind. But are we going in Jesus’ direction? Or are we settled in the opposite direction? The answer to that question makes all the difference. Call band up.
Some of us are at base camp one. Some of us aren’t even there yet. Some have reached base camp two, or three, or four. None of us have – or will – reach the summit of perfect obedience to Christ in this life. Being a sincere Christian doesn’t happen when we reach a certain level of maturity or obedience. It begins when we genuinely come to Jesus with faith and trust, and begin the lifelong journey of following Jesus in obedience. We can know that we know Jesus when we’re sincerely walking the walk, not just talking the talk. We will fail, we’ll fall, we may even lose ground sometimes. And when we do, we have an Advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous One whose blood cleanses us from all sin.
And if this troubles your conscience, if it hits your heart and you wonder, am I walking as Jesus walked, even a little? Let God’s word draw you with holy fear to the foot of the cross, where mercy and grace flow freely to all who humbly come and call upon the Lord. We have an Advocate in our Savior, Christ Jesus. Let’s go to him now in prayer.
1 Stott, John. The Letters of John (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) (p. 92). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.