Over the years and having spent roughly five years in the U.S., I have come across plenty of people who claim to know the Lord; in our discussions though I would sometimes get the feeling of doubt concerning the validity of such a claim.
How do we know that someone else knows the Lord? Or said differently, how can I test if someone is actually a Christian? Or even more important, how do I know that I am a Christian? This is one of the questions the apostle John is addressing in his letter we call 1 John.
In the first post (verses 1-4) we have seen the physical encounter and the strong eye-witness language to give credibility to that which has been proclaimed and still is in the churches of Asia Minor. Via fellowship with the apostolic message people can actually have fellowship with the Father and His son Jesus Christ. The next topic dealt with walking in light (1:5-2:2); that is, our ethical behavior does indeed give clues to our being in Christ (to use a Pauline slogan).
This topic is now continued in verses 3-6 in chapter 2. The beginning “and” might be resuming the theme of verse 5 of chapter 1. How do we know if we know God? How do I know that you know God? As my questions already indicate, there are two different ways the word “know” can be used. In 2:3 the first instance of “knowing” refers to being sure of or having assurance of something; whereas the second “knowing” refers to being in relationship to God. Thus we could translate: “And by this we are sure that we are in (right) relationship to God…”
So how can we be sure to be rightly related to God? By obedience! That might seem a bit strange but the theme of “keeping the commandments” can also be found in the Gospel of John (14:15, 21; 15:10). Other parallels are 1 John 5:2“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments” and 2 John 6 “And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.” Further, “Brown points out that in the Greek classical period knowledge of God was sought through the exercise of human reason, but in the Hellenistic period people sought this knowledge through the mystery religions, while in Israel the knowledge of God was derived from revelation” (Kruse, 77; Brown277-78).
To know God is to keep his commandments. In 1 John 3:23 we read “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” which sheds light on what the commandments of God are. Kruse further observes: “Ongoing assurance that we are people who know God is dependent upon ongoing obedience to his commands” (Kruse, 77).
Verse 4 now is verse is in stark contrast to the previous one. The former affirmed that keeping God’s commandment is evidence of knowing Him, whereas now the author depicts the person who does not obey God’s commandments as one who does not know Him either. Being a liar is to be in association with Satan – which also means to be in darkness. God is light and truth is His presence.
It seems that there is no huge differentiation between “word” (verse 5) and “the commandments” in verse 4. The “love of God” can be rendered in different ways (see Kruse, 80): (a) God’s love for us believers (as in 4:9); (b) our love for God (cf. 5:3); and (c) “the love which comes from God and is expressed through believers to others (3:17; 4:7)” (idem.). The second option is best since in the parallel of 5:3 the “keeping of his commandments” seems to be in close connection to “keeping his word” here.
But what does it mean that our love for God is perfected when we keep His commandments? Kruse maintain that the author’s intent here is “that our love for God completes its work when we obey his command to love one another” (80). What is said then is that the love we have for God is shown in our keeping of His commandments and that in this way love complete (brings to full fruition) its working in our obedience to God.
To remain or abide in him, according to Bultmann (26, n. 9), has almost the meaning of “being faithful”. In Pauline usage we would talk of “in Christ”; but here in 1 John it is a lot more ethical in emphasis. Again Kruse writes that “when the author speaks about living in God, as he does here in 2:6, or of being in God, as he does in 2:5b, it is something more than keeping God’s commands that he has in mind” and goes on to talk about a “new and very real spiritual existence” which believers have (81).
So, if I examine my own life and try to figure out who I am and what my relation is to the faithful God – revealed in Jesus Christ – I need to ask myself in light of 1 John 3:23 (“And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another): Do I believe/fully trust Jesus Christ with my life? And, do I love my fellow believers as I was commanded to do?
How this all works out and how we actually love one another will be seen as we further follow the argument of the apostle John. Until then, let us keep His commandments!