Sermon series: Balanced Spiritual Growth
Scriptures: 1 John 2:3-6
A woman told me a relative of hers had died. I asked if he was a Christian. She said, "Oh, yes, he made a profession of faith and was baptized at age seven. He never went back to church or read the Bible in the seventy years after that, but I'm sure he was a Christian." Such a claim is astonishing in light of what John wrote in these verses.
Obedience is a central theme throughout Scripture. From the story of creation to the end of Revelation, it's difficult to turn a page that doesn't deal - directly or indirectly - with God's call for obedience. Remember, Jesus not only said, "Believe me," he also said, "Follow me." God places a high premium on our obedience.
In our time, however, obeying God's commands often is ignored, dismissed, or glossed over. Why? Because obedience slaps us in the face. It confronts our sin. It challenges our lives. It runs contrary to our unwritten mantra: Who are you to tell me what to do?
Yet God commands us to obey, not because he is on a power trip, but rather because he wants what's best for us. God's commands are not to kill our fun, but to increase our enjoyment. Disobey those commands and quickly you will see how much sadness you can experience. God's commands are not to box us in but for our protection. Again, disobey those commands and quickly you will see how much trouble you will be in.
Four realities for obeying his commands are revealed in these verses.
I. Obedience proves our salvation
John begins by saying that "we know that we have come to know him" (1 John 2:3 NIV). John is saying that not only can we know God, but that we can know that we know God. In other words, we often know in our head, accepting facts about God and recognizing that we acted on such facts. But sometimes our heart doubts. John is saying that we can know in our hearts, too. And, one of those evidences or signs of knowing that we know God is that we obey his commandments.
Let me be very clear, John is not answering the question, "How does one become a Christian?" He is not saying that if you want to be saved or receive God's grace or know God, then you have to obey. He is saying, "Here's how you know that you know God: it's manifested in the way your live. It's manifested in your obedience." In other words, we know that we know God because we keep his commandments.
John is not teaching that salvation is conditional on obedience. John is teaching that salvation is evidenced by obedience. And, in turn, that obedience contributes to our assurance of salvation. Obedience is a sign that we know God, recognizing that God expects his people to live a certain way - His way.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Hosea complained that the people of Israel did not know God. "There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land" (Hosea 4:1 NIV). How did he know this? He immediately confirmed this by saying, "There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery" (Hosea 4:2 NIV). What had the people done? Each of those actions was a violation of the Ten Commandments. Proof of our knowledge of God involves knowing his character and requirements and living in obedience to those requirements.
How do we know that we know God? The test is whether we keep his commandments. Do you obey God's Word? Is the Bible your final rule for faith and practice? Be careful how you answer for many people place a greater emphasis on traditions than on the teachings of the Bible. In addition, in our Christian culture today we have assigned the obligations of Christianity (like make disciples, go into all the world, give ten percent of our money) to a few while keeping the privileges of Christianity (like experiencing God's comfort, receiving God's forgiveness, knowing God's guidance) for us all. Still others think that keeping a few commandments is enough. Remember, partial obedience is another name for disobedience.
The Nobel Prize-nominated Christian, Henry Shafer, who is a famous chemist who teaches at the University of Georgia, tells the story of how he came to reject Christianity. He had been raised in a nominally Christian home, attending a mainline Presbyterian church, and one day in the midst of a discussion in the kitchen, he made a point to his father about an ethical question by saying, "Look, Dad, the Bible says such and such." And his dad responded by saying, "I know what the Bible says. It's wrong." Henry Shafer said, at that moment he decided that Christianity must be bunk, because his dad claimed to be a Christian and yet rejected the teachings of the Bible. In God's mercy, God did a work of grace in Henry Shafer's heart and brought him to saving faith in Christ later on. And then, he realized that it wasn't that Christianity was bunk. It was that his father's profession of faith was bunk. You see, if you believe the Living God, you will believe his word; you will trust his word; you will acknowledge it as your final rule of faith and practice. You'll not just do it in the abstract; you'll do it where it hurts; you'll do it even when it's hard to obey.
II. Obedience transforms our lives
By way of contrast, in verse four, John restated verse three with a warning: "The man who says, 'I know him,' but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:4 NIV). His point is: If you claim to know God but your life is not changed by knowing him, then that is a certain sign that you don't know God. He is not saying that the truth is in one's head and has not made it to their hearts, like we try to do, letting people off the hook. He is saying that the person who does not keep God's commands does not have the truth at all. Why? Because the truth of God turns our lives upside down. It changes us. It transforms us. Once you have the truth it fills you with a fire in your belly and a love for the living God; it changes everything. God's truth always leads to love; it always leads to obedience; it always leads to a transformed life. So, when that transformed life is not present, you can be certain that the person has never had the truth; he or she has never known God.
This reality is all throughout Scripture, just said in a variety of ways. In Romans 5 Paul says, "Grace always reigns in righteousness." In Ephesians 2 Paul says, "Salvation always leads to obedience." In Romans 8 Paul says, "Justification is always accompanied by sanctification." In James 2 James says, "Faith always shows itself in works." Here in 1 John 2 John is saying the same thing: Truth always expresses itself in transformation.
III. Obedience springs from our love
John continued, "But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him" (1 John 2:5 NIV). In this verse John broadens the scope from "obey his commands" to "obeys his word." But it is second half of the verse that arrests my attention, "God's love is truly made complete in him." John seems to be saying that our love for God is a reflection of God's love for us and a response to it, so that our keeping of God's word could be a sign that God's love had done its full work in us. Made complete means that the believer's love is entire and mature.
Here John addresses motive. In essence, he is communicating that we know that we know God when we love to do what he commands.
Three motives for obedience exist: We can obey because we have to; we can obey because we need to; or we can obey because we want to. A slave obeys because he has to. If he doesn't obey he will be punished. An employee obeys because he needs to. He may not enjoy his work, but he enjoys getting his paycheck. He needs to obey because he has a family to feed and to clothe. But a believer obeys God's word because he wants to - for the relationship between him and God is one of love. Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15 NIV).
I read of a housekeeper that went to work for a bachelor. Each day when the man would leave for work, he would leave a list of projects for the housekeeper to complete. In time, the two fell in love and became married. Upon arriving at work, following their wedding, his buddies asked if he left her the list. He said, "No." "Well," they said, "she will watch television all day and do nothing." The newlywed replied, "No. She will do all those tasks and more, not because she has to but because she wants. She will do it for love."
True love for God is expressed in moral obedience. We keep the commandments because of our love for God. When we comprehend what Jesus did for us by sacrificing himself on the cross, our response is to love him and to obey him. Love delights to do God's will because it understands the cost and sacrifice of that love. Jesus loved to do God's will, did he not? And, if we are like Jesus, then we will love to do God's will as well. If we love God, we will keep his commands and that obedience will in turn evidence our true love to God.
IV. Obedience characterizes our walk
In 1 John 2:1, John called, "Jesus Christ, the Righteous One". Then, John wrote, "This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did" (1 John 2:5-6 NIV). John employs another expression of being a Christian: in him. The phrase is synonymous with "live [literally, abide] in him." It implies a living relationship of the deepest and closest sorts with God through Jesus Christ. This relationship issues forth, not in passivity and indifference and inattention to duty, but in activity and commitment and love for God's will, imitating Christ's way of living.
In other words, if someone said to the apostle John, "I know Christ." John would reply, "Good. But, if you're in him, abiding in Christ, then you are walking like Christ, living like Christ." And, how did Christ live? He lived in obedience to the Father.
Here's the question for you: Would people know that you are a believer by the way you live? Do you walk as Jesus walked?
You have heard the quip: "Actions speak louder than words." That's exactly what John is saying. Do our actions show that we are living in Christ? When I was a teenager a question circulated: If you were arrested for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you?
Great saints of old evidenced their faith by their lives. Robert Chapman, a Brethren, set before himself this great aim. He said: "Seeing so many preach Christ, and so few live Christ, I will aim to live Christ." John Nelson Darby said of Robert Chapman: "He lives what I teach." William Arnott was a great preacher of the past. A friend of his said: "His preaching was good, his writing was better, but his life was best of all." One who only spent a night in the presence of the great Murray M'Cheyne said: "Oh, that is the most Jesus-like man I ever saw!"
What will people say of you when you're dead and gone? What will they say of me?
R.W. DeHann wrote of a missionary who, shortly after arriving on the field, was speaking for the first time to a group of villagers. He was trying to present the gospel to them. He began by describing Jesus, referring to him as a man who was compassionate and kind, loving, caring, one who went about doing good works towards all men. When he was speaking, he noticed that his lesson brought smiles of familiarity to the faces of his audience, and some of them nodded their heads to one another in agreement. He was somewhat puzzled, and he interrupted his message to ask: "Do you know who I'm talking about?" One of the villagers quickly responded: "Yes, we do. You're talking about a man who used to come here." Eagerly they told about a missionary doctor who came to their remote village to minister to their physical needs, and his life was so like Christ in caring for those people that they saw Jesus in him. He walked like Jesus walked.
Are you living in Christ? If you're resting in Jesus Christ, if you've found him to be the source of every spiritual blessing, you're trusting in him for salvation; you're fellowshipping with him in grace; then your whole life will have been changed. You see, everyone who is united with Christ expresses that union with Christ by living like Christ, by walking as he walked.
David Platt's book, Radical, challenges the modern caricature of Christianity and calls for a return to biblical Christianity. In the opening chapter, he begins by writing:
"I was confronted with a startling reality: Jesus actually spurned the things that my church culture said were most important. So what was I to do? I found myself faced with two big questions. The first was simple: Was I going to believe Jesus? Was I going to embrace Jesus even though he said radical things that drove the crowds away? The second question was more challenging. Was I going to obey Jesus? My biggest fear, even now, is that I will hear Jesus' words and walk away, content to settle for less than radical obedience to him."
Then, Platt concludes the chapter by writing:
"First, from the outset you need to commit to believe whatever Jesus says. As a Christian, it would be a grave mistake to come to Jesus and say, 'Let me hear what you have to say, and then I'll decide whether or not I like it.' If you approach Jesus this way, you will never truly hear what he has to say. You have to say yes to the words of Jesus before you even hear them. Then second, you need to commit to obey what you have heard. The gospel does not prompt you to mere reflection; the gospel requires a response. In the process of hearing Jesus, you are compelled to take an honest look at your life, your family, and your church and not just ask, 'What is he saying?' but also ask, 'What shall I do?'"
This message is important for at least two reasons. It's important because some people profess to be Christians, but are not living in accordance with God's word and really have no deep desire to do so. And what John would say to you is, "You're not a Christian, friend. Come to grips with that. Realize that you need grace! You don't need to be cleaned up and made to look better; you need grace; you need saving grace!"
This message is important because some people wrestle with a lack of assurance because of imperfections in their lives. And John would say, "I'm not asking for perfect obedience to God's word; I'm asking you to look at your heart and answer this question: Are you keeping God's commandments?" While keeping the commandments is not a condition for salvation, it is a sign, an evidence, of your salvation - a mark of a Christian.