1 John series: (post #4)
By the apostle John’s own admission, he wrote the book (epistle, letter) of 1 John to help Christians have full assurance regarding their salvation (1 John 5:13). He said this assurance can be achieved by way of the professing Christian taking a self-examination. That examination centers around a list of ten practical evidences that John says will mark the life of the true Christian. Thus far in this series we have dealt with the two of these evidences. Those were enjoying fellowshipping with other Christians and walking in the spiritual light of Jesus’ teachings. Now let’s get to a third evidence, one John calls “keeping Christ’s commandments.”
Consider the following three passages from 1 John (each from the N.K.J.V.):
My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. (1 John 2:1-6)
Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. (1 John 3:24)
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:2-3)
In these passages, John uses various types of terminology to describe the lifestyle of keeping Christ’s commandments. He refers to it as keeping Christ’s word (2:5), having the love of God perfected in the person (2:5), abiding in Christ (2:6; 3:24), walking just as Jesus walked (2:6), and exhibiting the love of God (5:3). This lifestyle doesn’t produce salvation — no lifestyle can — but it does showcase it. As John says, “Now by this we know that we know Him…” (2:3), and, “By this we know that we are in Him” (2:5).
While keeping Christ’s commandments is closely related to walking in the light of His teachings, it is slightly different in that keeping a commandment carries more force than walking in light. Admittedly, sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between a teaching and a commandment, but it can be done. For example, in Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus says to His followers, “Beware of false prophets.” That can be classified as a commandment. But then He follows up that command by saying of false prophets, “You will know them by their fruits.” That can be classified as a teaching. For the most part, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount consists of commandments while His parables consist of teachings. His Olivet Discourse (Matthew chapters 24 and 25) is also by in large a teaching, His most extensive one on prophecy.
It is surely no coincidence that John, in his gospel, quotes Jesus as saying to His disciples, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15, N.K.J.V.). It isn’t hard to imagine John thinking back upon that quote as he penned the words of our three text passages. To John, claiming to love Jesus but not keeping His commandments was a ludicrous contradiction. Not only is keeping Christ’s commandments proof of an individual’s love for Christ, it is also proof of that individual’s salvation if he or she claims to be a Christian.
Another quote from Jesus that John could have remembered is found in Matthew 7:21. There, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father which is in heaven.” Obviously, keeping Christ’s commandments walks hand in hand with doing the will of God. Paul chimes in here as well when he speaks in Titus 1:16 of those who “…profess to know God, but in works they deny Him…” (N.K.J.V.).
Of course, the common pushback to equating keeping Christ’s commandments to authenticating salvation is the old line, “But God looks upon the heart.” Well, no one is disputing that God knows each person’s heart, but John would contend that if a person’s heart has been truly changed by the salvation offered in Jesus, that change will show up in the person’s outward conduct at some point.
John, in his typically blunt style, doesn’t mince words about this. He says, “He who says, ‘I know him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar” (2:4). Wow, John, tell us how you really feel. I dare say that if all pastors started using such dogmatic language in their sermons, many a church would be looking for a new pastor soon! Then again, maybe more of this type of language would help us identify the tares in our congregations (Matthew 13:24-30).
Lastly, it’s also important to note that John says that Christ’s commandments are actually not burdensome to the genuine Christian (5:3). Truth be told, many people, including many lost people, have enough willpower and intestinal fortitude to make themselves do certain things or keep various rules and commandments. But having to expend such effort will quickly become burdensome. By contrast, the genuine Christian, having been born again spiritually by the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, will desire to obey Christ’s commandments as a way of showing love and devotion to Him. In other words, keeping Christ’s commandments won’t be work and drudgery to the legit Christian. As Jesus Himself said concerning those who metaphorically get in yoke with Him, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30, N.K.J.V.). You see, with that being the situation, it’s no wonder that one of the practical evidences of salvation is the simple keeping of Christ’s commandments.