Keeping His Commands (I John 2:3-6)
Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Passage: 1 John 2:3–2:6
Signs of Life
Keeping His Commands
I John 2:3-6
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
February 18th, 2018
I. Armed with Assurance
Let's start this morning by once again looking at the Apostle John's purpose statement for what we call his first letter. Look with me at I John 5:13. You may remember that our main focus for the past two lessons has been assurance. John was not an insurance agent, but he was an agent of assurance. Listen to how John expresses his aim of assurance in I John chapter 5. Verse 13. He writes...
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know [that you may be sure, have assurance] that you have eternal life. (I John 5:13)
Some may ask, “Why is this so important?” Well, there are two reasons for followers of Jesus to be armed with assurance. First, not surprisingly, assurance reassures us when we are struggling with voices of condemnation and doubt. John drives that home for us in I John 3:19-21. But second, understanding assurance also helps us help others when it comes to having genuine assurance.
How do we help others know if they are genuinely right with God? We listen to God's word, then share God's word. We follow what He teaches us about true anchors of assurance. There have been and there are plenty of teachers giving people false assurance, and those teachers will be held accountable for such teaching.
This morning, wherever you are spiritually, I want to encourage you, John wants to encourage you, God wants to encourage you about the nature of new life.
So let's turn over to John 2:3-6, and consider the second of these 'signs of life'.
II. The Passage: "Whoever Keeps His Word" (2:3-6)
Listen to what John tells us here about how we can know whether or not we know God. Chapter 2, verses 3-6...
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. (I John 2:3–6)
So I think this breaks up nicely into three parts. Let's look at those together. For example, in verse 3, I believe we see John...
1. Considering a Principle (v. 3)
Do you see that principle? It stand behinds John's words about assurance. The principle is simply this: those who have truly come to know God will keep his commandments.
Now, we will qualify that statement in just a few minutes. But please don't miss what John is saying. The only way John can say, “and by this we know”, is if the principle is true. And the principle is true because it grounded in the reality of eternal life. That is what new life is like. Where is John getting this from? From Jesus...
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
And Jesus reiterates that point in John 14:21, 14:23, and 15:10. And listen to how John talks about our love for God in the last chapter of this letter:
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (I John 5:3)
The nature of new life was described by the prophets of the OT. God spoke through Ezekiel:
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezek. 36:26–27)
The new heart Christ purchased for us on the cross is a heart that loves God. And those who love God, and love Christ, will obey them. And because they act out of love, God's commands “are not burdensome”, that is, they are not thought of as heavy and done begrudgingly.
But look where John goes with this principle. In the next couple of verses, we also see him...
2. Considering a Profession (vs. 4, 5a)
And when I say “profession”, I mean a vocalization, not a vocation. In verse 4, and the first half of verse 5, John takes the principle from verse 3 and applies it in cases where someone professes that they are a follower of Jesus; where someone claims they are a Christian.
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.
Next week we will talk about the idea of God's love being perfected. For now, all I want you to see here is that John is not afraid to appropriately apply this principle in real life. This truth about the nature of new life is not to stay in a vacuum sealed case in some ivory tower; God did not reveal that truth so it would remain simply a concept. No. God armed His church with the truth about the nature of new life so that she could push back against liars who twist the truth and spread a spiritual cancer of deception.
We should not be afraid to speak the truth in love. Yes, in humility. Yes, with grace. Yes, after much prayer and counsel. But with courage, we must speak.
When false teachers and counterfeit Christians say it is okay to live like the world, to walk like the ungodly, to talk like unbelievers, to compromise the truth and call the wrong, “right”, and the right, “wrong”, we must speak this truth in love: Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him...
But there's one more verse in this section, and one more idea. We also see John, in verse 6...
3. Considering a Pattern (v. 6)
What does John mean when he talks about keeping the commands of Jesus? He helps us visualize this by pointing us, in verses 5b and 6, to the literal embodiment of the concept.
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.
Keeping the commandments, obeying the teachings of Jesus means living as Jesus lived. It is about Christlikeness; about becoming like the One who became like us. At the end of this same chapter John reaffirms this point about followers of Jesus, the righteous one: If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. (I John 2:29)
Remember what God taught us, through Paul, about the goal of this new life as God-lovers:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28–29)
How can know if we are truly Christians? If we are becoming like Christ. If we are following the One who calls us to follow through the forgiveness of the cross.
III. Pursuing, Not Perfect
Now, that's a lot to take in, isn't it? And the principle John reveals here inspires lots of questions, doesn't it? Thankfully, John tells us even more in this letter about this second anchor of assurance. And those other passages help us with the questions I believe our main passage raises. Let me share three of those questions with you, we can consider together how John helps us with those questions.
First, when John states that true Christians keep the commands of Jesus, does he mean that true Christians never sin?
The answer to that question is an emphatic “no”. Listen very carefully to what John writes in the very first chapter of this letter. This is I John 1:5-2:!. The Apostle writes...
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. >>>
 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. [2:1] My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (I John 1:5–10)
Clearly, John is writing to believers who have an “advocate with the Father” (2:1), those of whom it can be said, “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1:7) But nevertheless, these believers still sin. This is precisely why John encourages them to be honest about their sin, to confess and to claim the forgiveness Jesus shed his blood to obtain for us.
But that should raise a second question: If genuine followers of Jesus can and do still sin, who does John have in mind when he talks about those who do not keep his commands?
Look with me at I John 3:4-9. Think carefully about the language John uses here. He writes:
Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.  You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.  Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.  Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.  No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.
I believe in this passage John's language is very helpful in terms of those who do not keep the commands of Jesus: it is not simply those who sin, but those who “make a practice of sinning”. It was Jesus who first used this phrase in John 8:34: Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”
So if love for God fuels the heart of the genuine Christian, what fuels the heart of those within the church who make a practice of sinning? John tells us in 2:15-17. He warns his readers...
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
Though true followers of Jesus can sin, and do struggle with sin, and will wrestle with the desires of the flesh, of the eyes, and with the pride of life, they do not make a practice of sinning, that is, they are not defined by a lifestyle, an overall orientation, a settled disposition inspired by an abiding love of what is worldly. Those who make a practice of sinning are at home in the darkness, even though they claim to be in the light. Those who are truly in the light cannot be at home in the darkness. That is not the nature of new life.
With that in mind, a third question we might be asking in regard to John's teaching on keeping Christ's commands might go something like this: In light of our weakness and the world in which we live, how could any of us really become more and more like Jesus?
John answers that in the final chapter of this letter. Listen again to I John 5:3...
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.  For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith...[skip down to verse 18] We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
Did you hear those amazing words? If we are truly born of God, born again as sons and daughters, then we will overcome the world. Why? Because the Son of God protects us. As we talked about last week, the Holy Spirit guards us against lies the lies of the world. In the same way, Jesus guards us from the devil and the disposition of the world. From beginning to end, salvation is His work. God gets all the glory!
Brothers and sisters, genuine Christians, true followers of Jesus can struggle with all sorts of destructive desires and worldly wants. Just think of all the vices and unhealthy practices and wrong thinking, all the sins described in the letters of the NT. And those were written to Christians! True believers are not perfect, and John is not arguing they are. What I believe He is saying is that though we, in this life, will never be perfect, we will always be pursuing. Another Apostle, Paul, described the impulse this way in Philippians 3:12–14:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Though knocked down, eventually, we will always get up. Though defeated by temptation, eventually, we will always fight back. Though tripped up by a lie, we will always strain toward the truth; giving room to sin, but never NOT being grieved by it. We can and do compromise in the temple of this world system, but we will never be comfortable there. Why? Because that is not the nature of new life... those who have truly come to know God will keep his commandments.
I believe John's first impulse in all this is to rebuke those who were teaching exactly the opposite; those who were saying, “Live however you want, your sins are forgiven”, OR, “Your earthly life is irrelevant, now that Jesus has secured your spiritual, eternal life.”
And just as in John's time, there are churches teaching similar lies. And there are people in every church who call themselves “Christians”, but have no real desire or interest in surrendering everything to Jesus Christ, in taking up their cross, in glorifying Him, in loving God and hating sin.
This is not overly complicated: those who say they are servants of God, but really have no interest in serving God, are not His. Those who claim to be followers of Christ, but really have no desire to follow Him, are not His.
Yes, there are seasons of struggle and doubt for the genuine believer. Yes, there are times of compromise and complacency. But the nature of new life does not allow the child of God to stay in those places. For those who belong to Jesus, the Spirit of Jesus continues to stir them, even when they struggle, and his fruit is ever-pressing up and out of them.
Again, this is not overly complicated: Christians follow Christ because that is the nature of new life. Why does it look like this? Because God starts with our hearts. And if our hearts are new, if our hearts belong to Him, then the overall orientation and overflow of that heart will be love and obedience.
It is love that inspires love, right? I John 4:19...We love because He first loved us. The verse that stands out to me in all this is one we've read twice already this morning, I John 5:3...
For this is the love of God [that is, love for God], that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
When you come to embrace the fact that God's Son carried the burden of your rebellion, of your resistance, of your me-centeredness, that he carried it up to the cross, and died because of it, dying for you, guess what happens? You begin to see His commands very differently. The ways of the One who carried your burden are not burdensome. At the cross, Christ revealed our foolishness, weakness, and spiritual bankruptcy. But at the same time, He revealed the riches of His mercy, grace, and love.
At that very revelation, both side of it, continues to drive the true believer forward.
Brothers and sister, friends, be honest this morning. Consider your own heart, your own affections, your own desires, your own orientation, your own disposition, your own lifestyle, consider these things in light of what God has revealed. And after that, be reassured...OR... be repentant. Turn. Trust. There is blood that cleanses. There is forgiveness for sin. There is an advocate with the Father.
More in Signs of Life
February 25, 2018Loving His Children (I John 4:7-12)
February 11, 2018Confessing His Son (I John 2:18-27)
February 4, 2018How to Know If You're a Christian (I John 3:19-21)