“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1st John 2:3-6)
I once had a mentor who said that a good reading of 1st John would either encourage you in your assurance of salvation or demonstrate that you aren’t in Christ. So far in chapter 2 of 1st John, the Apostle John has made the case that Jesus is the advocate of sinners. Jesus isn’t an advocate for those that are without sin (Luke 5:31). Jesus is an advocate for those that need to be reconciled to the Father.
In our verses today, John looks to help readers understand how to know they have embraced “Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). In this article, I want to draw out four very important points in these short three verses.
- Those in Christ keep God’s Commandments.
John is only reminding his readers of Jesus’s words in John 14:15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Now, what are the commands of Jesus? Jesus answers this in Luke 10:27: “… You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus here is summarizing God’s enduring Moral Law; The Ten Commandments.
John Calvin, because of the summary here in Luke 10:27, saw the Ten Commandments divided into what he called, two tables. The first table deals with man’s relationship with God and the second table deals with man’s relationship with man. Consider this quote from Calvin’s Institutes,
“We must consider the significance of the law’s division into two tables, mention of which is frequently made in Scripture, and deservedly so, as any sensible person may judge. The reason for this is easily grasped, so that there need be no room for doubt. For because the Lord intended to teach all righteousness in his law, he divided it in such a way that he assigned to the first table the duties by which we are to honour his majesty, and to the second the works of love which we owe to our neighbor.”
So, what is the expanded version of the commandments?
A Reminder of God’s Commandments: Exodus 20:1-17
“And God spoke all these words, saying,
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before[a] me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands[b] of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.[c]
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
These are ten enduring moral commandments. A close pastor friend of mine says this about God’s Moral Law here:
“God’s eternal Moral Law, which reveals His character was written on our hearts, broken by the first Adam, summarized at Mt. Sinai, taught by Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount, kept by the second Adam and can now be joyfully kept by those who put their trust in Christ.”
This is what the Apostle John is saying! Christians can and want to keep God’s commandments because they are new creations in Christ and given the Holy Spirit to obey the truth of God’s Word!
- If we despise God’s Commands, we are not in Christ.
John actually uses the word, liar. This destroys any claim that people can profess Christ as Savior and not as Lord. Easy believism is not an option. The Scripture knows nothing of a Christian who habitually despises God’s commandments. Now, we may not say with our mouths that we despise God’s commandments, but we can despise them through our actions. We also despise them by not giving any consideration to them or when they don’t impact the way we live. Furthermore, we despise them when we act as if we can live in rebellion because Christ kept the commandments perfectly for us. Every true Christian should desire to daily obey God’s Word. If that doesn’t characterize you, John says you are not a Christian. This is why John’s teaching here is such serious business.
- Obeying God’s Moral Law does something to us.
John says that God’s love is perfected in us as we obey God’s Law. What is the love of God? John answers this later in 1 John 5:3: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” As we obey the Lord, we will love Him more, finding our satisfaction not in the world, nor in what God hates, but wholly in the Lord. And the more this happens, our very wills will bend more and more to the will of God. This is God’s love being perfected in us; growing in Christlikeness (Romans 8:28-29).
- We obey God’s Moral Law by abiding in Christ.
John reminds us that the only way to obey God’s Moral Law is by abiding in Christ. To walk as Christ walked, we must be in Him. I think of the Apostle Paul’s words here: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). To abide in Christ is to be in Christ. And being in Christ is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit regenerates our hearts, causes us to respond in faith and repentance, and allows us to identify with Christ in his death and resurrection.
We are new creatures in Christ, and as new creatures in Christ, we have the capacity and the obligation to obey God’s Commandments- all ten of them.
- By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are to mortify any idols in our lives. This also means that by the power of the Holy Spirit we aren’t to create images of the invisible God (Jesus is the only acceptable image of the invisible God- Colossians 1).
- By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are to be reverent with God’s name.
- By the power of the Holy Spirit we are to rest from our labors on the Lord’s Day (the Sabbath being observed on Saturday became obsolete and the early church began to rest on Sunday after the resurrection) and dedicate ourselves entirely to worship on that day.
- By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are to honor our parents even if they aren’t great parents.
- By the power of the Holy Spirit we are not to murder or to even have hate (1 John 3:15) toward others.
- By the power of the Holy Spirit we are not to commit adultery or even look at a woman with lust (Matthew 5:28).
- By the power of the Holy Spirit we are not to steal or be greedy for dishonest gain.
- And by the power of the Holy Spirit we should not slander or covet.
And it is our joy to be obedient because we abide in Christ.
John Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion 1541 Edition (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2014), 117-8.
Joey Tomlinson (DMin, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a husband, father, and pastor at a local church in Newport News, Virginia. He blogs regularly on broadoakpiety.org and hosts a weekly podcast called The Broad Oak Piety Podcast with another local pastor in the community.