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Knowing the God Who is Light (1 John 2:3-5)
Sermon Notes
Sunday, 09 June 2013 00:00

Sunday we looked at 1 John 2:3-5


3Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.
This is the verse cited by those who understand 1st John as a book about “tests of whether a person has eternal life,” but there are serious problems with that interpretation.

1. Such an interpretation sees “know” as referring to “knowing Christ as Savior,” but the word “know” in both English and Greek is a word used in many ways. There are stages and degrees involved in knowing someone and I suggested that John is talking here about knowing Him in a deeper, more intimate way than when I first “met” Jesus as my Savior by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
2. 1st John is a book written to believers (John includes himself by using first person plural pronouns) and the stated purpose of his letter is that believers may have fellowship (1:4) with the apostles and thus share with them in fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
3. The English translation we know that we know Him, unfortunately obscures a slight shift in the verb forms in Greek that involves a subtle, but important, distinction!

We might translate the phrase as follows to reflect the Greek verb forms:
we know (present tense) that we have come to know (perfect tense ~ indicates the present state of affairs resulting from a past action) Him,
John’s point is this: The believer who has come to know the Lord (through fellowship and obedience to His commandments) can be assured that he has attained this knowledge. It is not a matter of guesswork or wishful thinking. A genuine knowledge of the Father and the Son does indeed flow into an obedient heart, and the longer one walks with God in this way, the richer and deeper this knowledge becomes.

This is exactly what Jesus had been talking about in the Upper Room in John 14:21 ~ “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
Clearly, this self-manifestation of the Savior to the hearts of obedient disciples is what coming to know Him is all about!

David R. Anderson, in his book Maximum Joy: First John – Relationship or Fellowship? points out that the root word for “know” here (ginosko) speaks of “experiential knowledge as opposed to intuitive knowledge.” It is what Greek grammarians call a “stative verb” because it describes a state of being as opposed to a verb of action. In other words, to “know” or to “believe” speak of inner truths but not outward actions. A Greek grammarian named McKay has written an excellent article dealing with the perfect tense of stative verbs in which he demonstrates that putting a stative verb into the perfect tense has the effect of intensifying the basic meaning of the verb. It’s a deeper state of whatever the meaning of the verb is. In this case, the verb means “to know” in the sense of an experience. So putting it into the perfect tense means “to know intensely,” “to experience deeply,” or “to know fully.” It’s much like the OT meaning when it says, “Adam ‘knew’ his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain …” It’s an intimate knowledge. None of the commentators who take the “tests of life” view of 1st John have observed this significant change in tenses here in 2:3 (p.74).


4He who says, “I know Him,” (again, perfect tense = “I have come to know Him intimately”) and does not keep His commandments, is a liar; and the truth is not in him.
Again, this verse and 2:3 are among the numerous “tests of life” (relationship) seen in this book by those who follow that interpretation. According to them, anyone who claims to be a Christian but does not keep Christ’s commandments is simply a liar, a false professor of Christ, still an unbeliever.
Another major problem with such an interpretation is that a person could never know absolutely for sure that he/she is a genuine Christian until they die, which contradicts 1st John 5:13 where John says that we can indeed know for sure that we have eternal life right now!

Anderson (p.77) helps here with a church history lesson:
In his early writings John Calvin did not think looking at one’s fruit could bring any assurance of salvation. He thought we were doomed if we looked to ourselves (to the fruit of our lives, to our works of obedience), at least as far as assurance is concerned. He said that we should look to Christ for assurance and that assurance was of the essence of saving faith.
But after his death Theodore Beza assumed control of the Geneva Academy, which trained so many pastors for the Continent as well as the British Isles. Beza supported the concept that Christ died only for the elect. If that were so, he reasoned, it would be invalid to look to Christ for one’s assurance, since the looker might be among the reprobate (those God predestined for hell, according to Beza) and thus be looking to a Savior who didn’t die for him. Well, if we couldn’t look to Christ for the assurance of our salvation, we would have to look to ourselves and our own fruits, said Beza. This began what I (Anderson) call the great Fruit Inspecting Industry during the Reformation, practiced to perfection by the English Puritans and brought to America on the Mayflower.

According to William Perkins, one of the leading preachers of Puritanism during the days of Beza, there are nine fruits to look for in your introspective endeavors to determine if you are really among the elect and will go to heaven when you die. Here they are:
1. Feelings of bitterness of heart when we have offended God by sin;
2. Striving against the flesh;
3. Desiring God’s grace earnestly;
4. Considering that God’s grace is a most precious jewel;
5. Loving the ministers of God’s word;
6. Calling upon God earnestly and with tears;
7. Desiring Christ’s second coming;
8. Avoiding all occasions of sin;
9. Persevering in the effects to the last gasp of life.
From reading this list it should be obvious that if we look to these fruits in our lives as the basis for assurance of salvation from hell, then no one could have the assurance of his salvation until he died, if, after all, one must persevere in the faith until his last gasp. When then would he be assured of his salvation? Obviously, after his last gasp.

Assurance of salvation became the preoccupation of the English Puritans who moved to America. Whole volumes of hundreds and hundreds of pages were written just to help people figure out whether or not they would go to heaven when they died. The Puritans dedicated entire volumes to the introspection necessary to ascertain whether one’s faith was sufficient to save them. In commenting on his 650 page tome, John Owen (1683) stated that his main purpose was ‘to help professors of Christ to determine whether or not they were possessors of Christ.’
They all became fruit inspectors. And as the early writings of John Calvin pointed out, such an approach leaves one in doom and despair. (Sadly, Calvin remarried justification and sanctification truth in his later writings due to pressure from the accusations from the Council of Trent that his teaching led to license)

How can we have any joy as long as we are looking to our own lives and fruit as the source of our assurance as to whether we are going to heaven or not? How much firmer a foundation is the Bible – specifically, Jesus’ promise to give the free gift of everlasting life to anyone who simply believes in Him for it! We can be absolutely sure we have eternal life when we are looking to Christ alone and standing solely on the solid rock of the Scriptures!

5But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.
In the person who so keeps God’s word the love of God is perfected, another verb in the perfect tense. It is love in its fullness, its completeness. The love of God (our love for Him as we keep His commandments/ His word, and our experience of His love for us) “is made complete,” or “is perfected.” As John 14:21 puts it, this speaks of reciprocal love – our love for Him and His love for us. Love is most complete when it is reciprocated. If it is all one-sided, it is still imperfect and incomplete.

Lastly, John’s phrase “in Him” is speaking of the abiding experience of the disciple with His Teacher (John 15:1-8) and as such is a relationship that is not permanent. This should never be confused with Paul’s concept of being “in Christ” which refers to our permanent position in the Body of Christ which occurs when we believe in Jesus for eternal life and the Holy Spirit baptizes us spiritually into the Body of Christ. That is a relationship that is permanent!
Unlike the Father-child relationship, the relationship of a disciple to his Teacher can be lost: “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch (John 15:6).” This “anyone,” of course, means “any disciple,” since only a disciple can “abide” in Christ.
As the whole discourse in John 15 makes clear, the disciple must remain in his Master, just as the branch must abide in the Vine (as Jesus said in John 15:4 ~ “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”).

Jesus is speaking of mutual abiding, Christ in the believer and the believer in Him.
This concerns the believer’s daily experience, not his position.
Think about it: A family relationship is permanent; a school relationship is not and may be lost.
In using the words in Him, therefore, John is referring to the “abiding” Teacher/disciple relationship, and not to the irreversible relationship of our heavenly Father with us, His children.
That John is referring to the Teacher/disciple relationship is made evident in the next verse (2:6) where John uses the term Jesus used in referring to a disciple’s responsibility to abide in Him.
6He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.
What John has been saying in verse 5 is that the disciple’s experience of the love of God being perfected in him is evidence that this disciple is indeed in Him in the sense of “abiding” in his Lord. “By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” (John 15:8)

 

 

 

 

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