Sermon: 1 John 2:1-6
The Test of Obedience
October 2, 2016
Pastor Dennis Elhard
Our text this morning provides a test. It is the test of obedience. Words like “obedience” and “commands” are not popular terms at all these days. No one wants to be commanded to do anything, nor do we like the idea of being required to obey commands or rules. We tend to bristle at the whole idea. One commentator said it this way: “We have built a world based on free choices, not on obedience.” Choice has become one of our culture’s highest virtues – close to idolatry I would say. The voices for choice cry for the choice to end the life of the preborn, to end the life of the aged, and to choose one’s gender – these are just some of the obvious, but the desire for choice pervades almost everything in our world today. The clamour for choice often puts the individual in the seat of God. Today the cry for choice trumps the call to obedience.
As Christians, we need to ask ourselves, is this in any way a biblical idea? Well, I’m afraid to say, the apostle John would have none of it! Scripture teaches that obedience is a concept that remains key to the life of a genuine Christian, and we are going to see that stated very clearly in our text this morning. We have deluded ourselves in much of western Christianity and have come to think that the call to obedience is not necessary, or is only a “good option” (worthy goal), or worse, that any call to obedience is nothing but a form of legalism. Church, we need to get this straight in our hearts and minds – obedience matters and it matters a lot! In fact, your salvation is staked on it! We learn this from our passage today: Jesus is our advocate when we sin, but our lives should be characterized by obedience to Him.
First: Jesus, our defender (vs. 1-2). John begins chapter two by calling his readers, “My dear (little) children.” He is well advanced in years when he wrote this letter, and he speaks to them as a spiritual father using this term of affection. This reveals the pastoral heart of John, as well as his authority over them. John then provides another purpose statement for his letter – “I write this to you so that you will not sin.” That he makes this purpose statement suggests that not sinning is a possibility. “God’s purpose in giving us this letter through John is to move us toward a life that is increasingly free from sin.” (Marty) Many of us have been conditioned to be resigned to fact that we sin, and can never be perfect, and so we might as well just get into the habit of confessing our sins. While confessing is important, God’s desire and plan for us is that our lives would not be characterized by sin, that we would have victory over the sin in our lives, and live in increasing righteousness. And that shouldn’t surprise us because we are told in both the OT and NT that “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” God is at work in every genuine believer to conform them into the likeness of His Son, who is the Holy One. While we won’t achieve perfection, our lives should reveal increasing righteousness and decreasing sinfulness.
BUT, if we do sin, and we will, we have one who will stand with us as our defender before the Father – He is “Jesus, the Righteous One.” We learn two things here:
1. Jesus is our advocate. The Greek word translated by the NIV as “speaks in our defence” is the word “parakletos” – the same word used by John in his gospel to refer to the Holy spirit. The word means one who comes along side as a helper, or an advocate. We learn in the book of Hebrews that Jesus is our merciful High Priest who intercedes for us before the Father. Because he became like us he knows our weaknesses in every way – the perfect intercessor. Jesus is not pleading our innocence before God, but reminds the Father of his blood that was shed for our forgiveness. What an amazing thought that Jesus, along with the HS, is interceding on our behalf, for our sins, before our heavenly Father. What grace!
2. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sin. Here is another amazing thought. Jesus is not only our High Priest and advocate; he is also the sacrifice that was offered for our sins, and the sins of the whole world. A number of translations have the word “propitiation” here instead of “atoning sacrifice (NIV). There is much debate among biblical scholars and commentators about what John is referring to here. Propitiation means to “appease or conciliate – an offering that turns away the wrath of God directed at sin.” The “atoning sacrifice” focuses more on the covering or wiping away of sin in the meaning of Jesus’ death. Many contemporary theologians shy away from the idea of God’s wrath being appeased in Jesus’ death, but I disagree. I believe that both aspects were a part of Jesus sacrifice – propitiation and covering of sin for our forgiveness.
If we sin, we have an advocate who speaks to the Father on our behalf. However I believe, based on 1: 9, that his advocacy is dependent on our confession. We must confess our sins to expect Jesus to intercede on our behalf. And because of Jesus’ sacrifice the Father’s wrath has been appeased and our sins have been removed – not only ours but the sins of the whole world (universal in scope; not application). He is our Saviour and our defender.
Second: The tests of the claim to know Jesus (vs. 3-6). Verse three begins with the word “and” in the Greek – clearly connecting verses 2 and 3. Jesus is our advocate and atoning sacrifice, and what comes now is the test that reveals whether we really know him or not. The word “know” is very important in this section – it appears four times. It refers to an intimate kind of knowledge or understanding – not a casual one. This is evident because the word is also used to refer to sexual relations.
Verse 3 begins with a Greek phrase that we are going to come across often in 1 John – 10 X in the letter – unfortunately here the NIV obscures it. The phrase ‘we know that’ is usually translated by the NIV as “This is how we know” (“By this we may know” – ESV), and it occurs again at the end of verse 5 in today’s text. I like the NIV’s rendering as “This is how we know” because it makes it easily understood that he is about to present us with a test. So what are the tests that reveal that we know Jesus – are true believers?
A. Obeying his commands. Verse 3 then should read, “This is how we know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.” (Oh, oh, there are those two words: obey, command) So here’s the test; John is essentially saying, “Do you want to know if you are a believer (that’s one who “knows” who God is)? Look at your life! Do you keep God’s commands?” (Marty) Verse 4 re-states this truth in an even more direct and hard-hitting way – “The man (or woman) who says, ‘I know Him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” This is the second time that John has used the word “liar” in a short space. In chapter 1 those who claim to have fellowship with God and yet walk in darkness (life of sin) are liars, and now those who claim to know Jesus and yet don’t do what he commands are also liars. This is tough language, and intended to have some shock value. There is no question in John’s mind that sin and obedience to God are irreconcilable. For John, (quote) “the test of the knowledge of God is moral conduct. There is no knowledge of God that does not also keep his commandments.”
Again, John provides the opposite scenario. If anyone obeys his word, their love for God will grow and be made complete – reach perfection. By perfection, John has in mind the growing maturity of the steadfast believer. It is interesting that this verse seems to suggest that if we obey the commands of the Lord, we will grow in our maturity of our love towards Him. The second test of the claim to know Jesus is this:
B. Walking as Jesus walked. “This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus walked.” To be “in him” is to know him and have fellowship with him. To “live in him” means to “abide” in him or to “remain” in him – it is relational language. There is no ambiguity here. “If we claim to know God, if we claim to be Christians, if we claim to be saved, we must live as Jesus lived.” So how did Jesus live? He lived his life in total obedience and submission to the will of his Father in heaven, even to the point of accepting death on a cross. We, too, must live to please God, and not ourselves. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
So where do you land on the spectrum of obedience to Christ this morning? The tests given in this passage are meant for us to examine our own lives. Do you harbour sins that you think are no big deal? The message is clear – unambiguous. “If you claim to know Jesus, to be a Christian, and do not follow his commands, you are a liar, and the truth is not in you – these are not my words! Do you think that Jesus cares about obedience? There are so-called Christian books that are on the shelf today that suggest any call to obedience or any challenge to live godly lives are legalistic and flat out deny the gospel of grace. What did Jesus say?
- “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and HS, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28)
- “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14 & 15 – 6X)
- “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like the wise man who built his house on the rock.” (stood the test) “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like the foolish man who built his house on sand (destroyed).
So what do you think, does Jesus care about your obedience? Not only does he care, he demands it! If we think we can claim to follow Christ, to know Christ, and yet continue to walk in sin, we are only deceiving ourselves – and we are quite good at self-deception! God is urging us all to take a hard look at ourselves and evaluate things from his Word - his perspective. “Relationship to God requires moral behaviour worthy of God.”
I want make this perfectly clear right now. Obedience to God does not bring about justification – or salvation – which comes from faith alone, but obedience as a pattern of life does give evidence that one has truly been born again. Nowhere do the scriptures recognize a salvation that does not produce obedience/good works.
So I want to address a couple of common but destructive teachings that are being perpetrated in the church today. (Marty) The first misconception is this; I’ll bet you’ve heard it: “Christianity is not about rules, it’s about relationship.” Is this true – given what we have just considered from 1 John and the very words of Jesus? Certainly, Christianity is about relationship, but not at the expense of obedience. In fact, the Bible teaches that true, genuine relationship with God will produce obedience and good works! This idea flies in the face of the whole NT where Jesus commands his followers to obey everything he commanded them Second, this passage also contradicts the common idea that someone can “become a Christian” by receiving Christ as Saviour, and at a later time decide whether to receive him as their Lord. (Marty) “This is actually false teaching. It is utterly contrary to the very nature of the gospel. Obedience is not an option for Christians.” Obedience – which is surrendering to his Lordship – is the test of whether you actually “know him” – language referring one who is a true believer – that is exactly the point that John is making here. If you don’t obey him, you don’t know him; and if you don’t know him He is not your Lord; and neither can he be your Saviour. If someone’s heart’s desire is not interested in pleasing God, it’s a fairly clear indicator that they really don’t know him. (Sinners prayer)
Jesus is our advocate when we sin, but our lives should be characterized by obedience to Him. This is the test, the test of obedience. Notice that I am not promoting sinlessness here – that’s why we need an advocate. I am referring to someone who claims to be a believer, but whose life is characterized by sin more than righteousness. John says those who live that way don’t know him and are not in fellowship with him. Is your walk with Jesus resulting in increasing obedience and righteousness? That is the evidence that you know him and have eternal life. We need to examine ourselves and make sure that Jesus is our Saviour AND Lord.