Know That You Know God

Lesson Focus: Keeping Christ’s commandments, loving one another, and avoiding worldly influences are actions by which Christians can be certain they know God.

Do You Obey Christ?: 1 John 2:3-6.

3]  And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. [4]  Whoever says "I know him" but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, [5]  but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: [6]  whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. [ESV]

So far John has given a general introduction to his theme of Christian consistency. He has been defining the nature of the apostolic proclamation concerning the word of life in Christ. It centers first on the historical manifestation of the Eternal, and secondly on the fact that God is light. These two truths are fundamental and must control and condition our lives if we call ourselves Christian. Indeed, all Christian profession may be judged in relation to these truths. No thought or action can be condoned which is inconsistent either with God’s nature as light, pure and self-giving, or with His historical, palpable self-disclosure in Christ. This general introduction to the essential relation of man’s life to God’s truth is now particularized in three tests: moral (the test of obedience), social (the test of love), and doctrinal (the test of belief in Christ). The rest of the Epistle contains three successively elaborate expositions and applications of these tests.

Obedience, or the moral test [3-6]. By this we know is a characteristic phrase of the Epistle. The repetition of these expressions in the Epistle shows that John’s purpose is to supply tests by which the genuine Christian may be discerned from the spurious and vice versa. The Gnostics in particular laid claim to the knowledge of God. They claimed to have been enlightened with the true ‘gnosis’. John insists that no religious experience is valid if it does not have moral consequences. It is not the person who claims to be a Christian and to know God who is presumptuous, but he whose claim is contradicted by his conduct. He is a liar. Thus the first test that John gives is the moral test of obedience: if we keep his commandments. Only if we obey Him can we claim to know Him, not to have accurate information about Him merely, but to have become personally acquainted with Him. John is not talking about perfect obedience since that is impossible in this life. Rather he is talking about those who sincerely strive to be obedient in all things according to the capacity of our human weakness. The positive principle of verse 3 is illustrated by a negative example. A man’s words must be tested by his works. If he disobeys God’s commandments, his claim to have come to know God is a lie. His conduct contradicts his profession and proves it to be false. On the other hand, whoever keeps his word is shown by his obedience to be indeed a true Christian. Here keeping his word means observing not only His commandments in particular but His word in general, regarded as a single and complete revelation of His will. John adds that in the obedient one the love of God is perfected. True love for God is expressed not in sentimental language or mystical experience but in moral obedience. The proof of love is loyalty. John now states the same general principle in a slightly different form, and adds another and more positive illustration of it. The whole context, and especially verse 6, suggests that the phrase in him refers to Christ. To be in him is equivalent to the phrase to know him [3,4]. Being a Christian consists in essence of a personal relationship to God in Christ, knowing Him, loving Him, and abiding in Him as the branch abides in the vine. This is the meaning of eternal life [John 17:3]. It is not enough to keep his word [5]; we must walk in the same way in which he walked. Christian conformity is to the example of Christ as well as to His commandments. We cannot claim to abide in Him unless we behave like Him.

Do You Love Others?: 1 John 2:7-11.

[7]  Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. [8]  At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. [9]  Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. [10]  Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. [11]  But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. [ESV]

Love, the social test [7-8].  John now applies to professing Christians his second test, which is not moral but social. He has been writing about the Christian obligation to keep His commandments; he now singles out one of them which in one sense is old [7] and in another is new [8]. He does not explicitly reveal what the nature of this commandment is, but it is plain that the commandment concerns brotherly love. John has told them they must walk as Christ walked, and that was a walk in love. Is this commandment new or old? It is both. In one sense, it is an old commandment. They had learned it before. Indeed, they had known it from the outset of their Christian life (you had from the beginning). It was part of the ethical instruction they received from the day of their conversion. So basic was it to the teaching they received that John could even equate it with the word that you have heard. Brotherly love was part of the original message which had come to them. John was not now inventing it. It was not an innovation such as the heretics claimed to teach. It was as old as the gospel itself. Nevertheless what was old to them because they had heard it before, was in itself a new commandment. The newness refers to John 13:34 where Jesus calls it a new commandment because the standard was now His love for them (just as I have loved you). The idea of love in general was not new, but Jesus Christ invested it with a richer and deeper meaning. It was new in the emphasis He gave it and in the quality He gave it. A disciple was to love others not just as he loved himself but in the same measure as Christ had loved him, with selfless self-sacrifice even unto death. It was new in the extent He gave it, showing in the Parable of the Good Samaritan that the neighbor we must love is anyone who needs our compassion and help, irrespective of race and rank. In these ways it was a new commandment, and would always remain new. Christians have been delivered out of this present evil age and have already begun to taste the powers of the age to come. The darkness is the present age of the world which in verse 17 is also said to be passing away. The true light is Jesus Christ, with whom light came into the world. He is true not in the sense in which a statement is true as opposed to false, but in the sense in which the real differs from the unreal, the substance from the shadow and the prototype from the type. Christ is the true, or real, light, of which physical light is but a reflection, just as He is the true bread and the true vine. So the new commandment remains new because it belongs to the new age which has been ushered in by the shining of the true light.

[9-11]  John now shows that Jesus Christ, the true light, is the light of love, and that therefore to be, or to abide, or to walk in the light is to walk in love. Light and love, darkness and hatred belong together. In verses 3 to 6 the general principle preceded the specific example. Here the example comes first. The Gnostic claim was as much to have been enlightened as to possess the knowledge of God. The falsity of the claim to be in the light is betrayed not now by disobedience, but by hatred. The true Christian, who knows God and walks in the light, both obeys God and loves his brother. The genuineness of his faith is seen in his right relation to both God and man. Now follows the general principle, stated first positively and then negatively. The contrast is stark and absolute. Love and hatred are set in opposition to each other with no alternative, just as we are said to be either in the light or in the darkness, and there is no twilight. The first part of the contrast is simple. What follows shows, however, that our love and hatred not only reveal whether we are already in the light or in the darkness, but actually contribute towards the light or the darkness in which we already are. Thus, of the man of love who abides in the light it may be said that there is no cause for stumbling. The light shines on our path, so that we can see clearly and so walk properly. If we love people, we see how to avoid sinning against them. The man with hatred in his heart cannot, however, because he is in the darkness and walks in the darkness. Therefore he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. Hatred distorts our perspective. We do not first misjudge people and then hate them as a result; our view of them is already jaundiced by our hatred. It is love which sees straight, thinks clearly and makes us balanced in our outlook, judgments and conduct.

Do You Avoid Worldly Influences?: 1 John 2:15-17.

[15]  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. [16]  For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. [17]  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

[15]  John now turns to a description of the world and instruction about the Church’s attitude to it. In so doing he changes from affirmations about the Christians’ standing to warnings about their behavior. Christian people have entered into a great inheritance in the forgiveness of sins, fellowship with God and the conquest of the wicked one, but their temptations have not come to an end. In these three verses John mentions world six times. While John uses world with different meanings in his Gospel and in his Epistles, in these verses world means life under the power of evil and apart from God. How does this command to not love the world reconcile with John 3:16 and the statement that God so loved the world? There are two possible explanations. The first is that the world has a different connotation in these verses. Viewed as people, the world must be loved. Viewed as an evil system, organized under the dominion of Satan and not of God, it is not to be loved. The second explanation is that it is the verb love, not its object the world, which has a different shade of meaning. In the one it is ‘the holy love of Redemption’; in the other it is ‘the selfish love of participation’. The first aims to save the sinner’s person; the second to share his sin. Perhaps there is a subtle change of emphasis in both words as John uses them in this verse. But the commandment is uncompromising. The Christian is to love God and his brother, but he is not to love the world. And love is a fit subject for such commandment and prohibition because it is not an uncontrollable emotion but the steady devotion of the will. The reason why we are enjoined not to love the world is because love for the Father and love for the world are mutually exclusive. If a man is engrossed in the outlook and pursuits of the world which rejects Christ, it is evident that he has no love for the Father.

[16-17]  In describing the world, John selects three desires: the flesh, the eyes and the pride in possessions. These are the essential marks of the worldly way of life. The first describes the desire of our fallen and sinful nature. It may be said to be in the world because the world is the sphere of its free operation. It is noteworthy that within the space of three verses, John mentions the world, the flesh and the devil [14-16]. The second desire seems to indicate temptations which assault us not from within, but from without through the eyes. This is the tendency to be captivated by the outward show of things without inquiring into their real values. The pride in possessions is an arrogance or vainglory relating to one’s external circumstances, whether wealth or rank or dress. The second reason for not setting our love on the world is that the new age has arrived, and the present age is doomed. The world, like the darkness that is in it, is already disintegrating. And men with a lust that is worldly will pass away with it. Only one class of people will remain: whoever does the will of God. The same choice between God and the world, or more particularly between the lust of the world and the will of God, still confronts Christians.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         John sets forth obedience as the test of a believer knowing God or abiding in God. What does John mean by knowing or abiding in God? How does the necessity of obedience relate to our salvation? Must we obey in order to be saved? [Here you need to focus on the difference between justification and sanctification. We are justified by grace alone. Our obedience to God’s commands does not play any role in our justification. But sanctification is a necessary process that must follow true justification. If our heart has been truly regenerated or re-born, then a life that seeks to be obedient to our Lord must follow. So, in this passage, John is discussing sanctification, not justification].

2.         How is the command to "love our brother" both new and old? Discuss John’s comparison/contrast between light and love versus darkness and hatred. How are love and hatred the necessary consequences of walking in light or in darkness?

3.         How are verses 15-17 John’s teaching on how the believer is to walk in light and not in darkness? What does John mean by world in these verses? What are the three essential marks of the worldly way of life? How does focusing on walking in the light enable us to resist worldly desires?


The Epistles of John, John Stott, Eerdmans.

The Letters of John, Colin Kruse, Eerdmans.

The Message of John’s Letters, David Jackman, Inter-Varsity Press.

Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts