STUDY EIGHT: TWO TESTS OF FAITH – 1John 2:3 – 11

© Rosemary Bardsley 2022

In chapter 1 John introduced the concept of walking in the light, that is, walking in the truth, living on the basis of the truth, revealed in and by Jesus Christ: That if we are walking in the light -

We have a right understanding of who Jesus Christ is (and therefore of who God is).

We have a right understanding of our own identity as sinners who sin.

We have a right understanding of the substitutionary death and representative mediation of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

In this light, on the basis of this light, we have fellowship with the Father, with the Son and with each other.

John has already presented us with a few bench-marks by which to assess the integrity of our ‘faith’. He has pointed out to us that we are not living by the truth:

If we claim to have fellowship with God, but are still walking in the darkness (1:6).

If we claim to be without sin (1:8).

If we claim we have not sinned (1:10).

John now presents us with a few additional tests by which to assess our claim to be Christian. These tests of our faith are not big, traumatic events – things that we might assume tested or proved our faith. Rather they are ordinary, on-going, everyday things, that John says show up, expose, our claims to know Jesus Christ, to be either real or false.

A. OBEDIENCE – 2:3 – 6

Here John is addressing the question: How do we know if we know Jesus Christ?

Read verses 3 – 6. How does John answer this question?

 

 

John expresses the test of obedience in several ways:

We have come to know Jesus Christ if we obey his commands.

The person who says ‘I know him’ but does not do what he commands is a liar and the truth is not in him.

We know we live in him if we walk as Jesus walked.

At first glance this test of a valid relationship with Jesus Christ would appear to exclude everybody. At first glance, everybody would fail this test, because it is very obvious that there is no one who actually obeys all of Christ’s commands and there no one who lives exactly as Jesus lived.

And it is here that the distinction between our acts of individual sins and the overall quality/tenor of our life that we noted in a previous study becomes very important.

It is obvious that John is not making perfect 100% obedience a test for the integrity of our claim to know Jesus Christ. This is outlawed by what John has just said in 1:8 & 10: that to claim such sinlessness is not part of walking in the light; it is actually being self-deceived and calling God a liar. In these verses John used the Aorist tense – referring to individual sinful actions. But here in 2:3 – 6 he repeatedly uses the Present tense, referring to our habitual practice – the on-going characteristic – of our lives.

Verse 3 – ‘obey’ is present tense.
Verse 4 – (where the Greek has ‘keep’ not ‘do’) ‘keep’ is present tense.
Verse 5 – ‘obey’ (‘keep’ in the Greek) is present tense.
Verse 6 – ‘walk’ is present tense.

While John has stressed that Christians are still sinners who sin, he also stresses, as did both Jesus Christ and the other apostles, that a life of on-going habitual sin is totally inconsistent with allegiance to Jesus Christ.

Read these verses. What do they say about obedience as the expression and evidence of true faith?
Matthew 7:21

John 14:15

John 14:23, 24

John 15:14

Romans 6:11 – 14

James 2:18 – 26

The apostles repeatedly taught that the consequence of faith is a changed life. When they taught the truth about who Jesus Christ is and the salvation granted through his death they followed that with commands to live a life that was consistent with that truth. For example:

Paul spent eleven chapters of Romans explaining the Gospel, then wrote ‘Therefore, I urge you ... offer your bodies as living sacrifices ...’ (Romans 12:1).

He spent three chapters of Ephesians explaining the Gospel, then wrote ‘... then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received ...’ (Ephesians 4:1).

Peter, having explained the Gospel, wrote ‘Therefore, prepare your minds for action, be self-controlled ... Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice ....’ (1Peter 1:13; 2:1).

A.1 Why is obedience the test of genuine faith?
There are three reasons why obedience is the test of genuine faith:

[1] Genuine faith knows who Jesus is.

As John points out in 2:4 to say ‘I know him’ and then not do what he commands is to identify oneself as a liar, and to not know the truth. This is because to know Jesus Christ (which is also to know God the Father – John 14:7) is to know that he is the Lord God Almighty, the Sovereign, Creator God, to whom all power and authority belong. To know him is to know not only that his promises are trustworthy and to be believed, but also that his commands are equally trustworthy and to be both trusted and obeyed.

Jesus Christ is not a benevolent ‘Father Christmas’ kind of figure. As John has told us at the beginning of this letter, he is God - the Lord of all. It was disobedience to the word of God that plunged the whole world into sin and suffering. If a person really knows Jesus Christ that person also knows that obedience is not optional. He calls the shots, he sets the standards, not us.

[2] Genuine faith knows what Jesus did to rescue us from the impact of disobedience.

John has already referred to what was necessary to secure our release from the impact of disobedience: ‘the blood’ of Jesus, God’s Son (1:7); the ‘atoning sacrifice for our sins’ – Jesus Christ himself. When we remember who Jesus is, and consider what he did as our substitute under the just wrath and judgement of God, then we know with a certainty that disobedience is a horrific thing: That to continue in a life of on-going disobedience is to make mockery of his death, to demonstrate an incredibly flippant attitude to that death. His death, bearing our sin and guilt, shows us with great clarity how absolutely wrong disobedience to the word of God actually is.

[3] The Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, is engaged in the work of transformation.

Every genuine believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and he is engaged in an on-going, progressive work of transforming the believer into the image of Jesus Christ. The absence of progressive transformation (the absence of a general pattern of obedience) seriously suggests that the Holy Spirit is not present and that therefore that person has never truly believed in Jesus Christ.

What do these verses teach about this on-going transforming work?
2Corinthians 3:18

Colossians 3:9, 10

A.2 Obedience is the evidence of love for God – 2:5
In his final teaching to his disciples Jesus made it clear that obedience is the evidence of real love for him. We saw this in the verses from John 14 and 15 above.

To people who claim to love Jesus Christ, he says:

‘If you love me, you will obey what I command’ – John 14:15.
‘If anyone loves me he will obey my teaching’ – 14:23.
‘He who does not love me will not obey my teaching’ – 14:24.
‘You are my friends if you do what I command’ – 15:14.

There is no way to get around this or avoid it. It is very clear. These words confront us with the penetrating question: Do I really love Jesus Christ? Enough to obey him? Or do I actually love myself and my personal freedom? What do I want most? His honour? Or my personal autonomy? This is the challenge that Jesus put before the rich ruler. The rich ruler clearly understood the level of obedience involved, but he was not willing to hand over to Jesus the authority to rule his life. He reserved for himself the right to rule his own life, and turned his back on Jesus and on his previously expressed desire for ‘eternal life’.

Read Luke 18:18 – 25. What do you learn about the connection between obedience and love for Jesus/God?

 

 

A.3 Obedience is walking as Jesus walked – 2:6.
John has just told us that Jesus is ‘the Righteous One’. Now he tells us that if we claim to ‘live in him’ we must ‘walk’ that is ‘live’ as he lived. (This is similar to what he has said in 1:6 – that if we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.)

In 2:6 John uses the same phrase as Jesus used in John 15:1 – 8. There Jesus spoke of himself as the true vine, and of believers as remaining (NIV) or abiding (KJV) in him. The thought is that of living in Christ. This ‘I am the vine ... live in me’ parallels Jesus’ other ‘I am’ claims in John’s gospel:

I am the bread of life – whoever believes in me is permanently sustained and satisfied (6:35).
I am the light – whoever follows me has the light of life (8:12).
I am the door – the only entry point to life (10:7 – 10).
I am the good shepherd – I know my sheep, my sheep know me and hear my voice (10:11 – 14).
I am the resurrection and the life – whoever believes in me will never die (11:25, 26).
I am the way, the truth and the life – the only way to the Father (14:6).

Then in 15:1 – 8:

I am the true vine – whoever lives in me will bear much fruit.’

Just as it is not possible to have believed in Jesus and not have spiritual life, so it is not possible to have believed in Jesus and not bear fruit, that is, to show oneself to be his disciple by the ‘fruit’ of obedience. Obedience is the inevitable expression of a life lived in union and fellowship with Jesus Christ.

And it is in this context of living in Christ that he says to us ‘Love each other as I have loved you’ (John 15:12). That is, live as I lived. Walk as I walk. Follow me. And this leads John in his letter directly on to the second test of faith: the test of love.

B. LOVE – 2:7 – 11
In 2:5 John made a connection between obedience to God’s word and love. He expands on this in verses 9 – 11. Before he does so he explains that the command about love is both old and new. Firstly, he addresses his readers as agapetoi – ‘beloved’ (NIV ‘dear friends). By this address he affirms his love for his readers, and his fellowship with them. The stern words that he has been using since 1:5 do not mean that he is rejecting them or their profession of allegiance to Jesus Christ (as we will see very clearly in 2:12 – 14). He accepts them as genuine fellow believers; he loves them; but, because of the insidious impact of the false teaching he needs to warn them of the errors of that teaching and encourage them to hold fast to the message originally proclaimed to them by John and other apostles.

B.1 The old – new command to love – 2:7, 8
In exhorting them to love he is not telling them something that they had not been told when they first heard the Gospel – they had had it ‘since the beginning’ and it was ‘the message you have heard’ (verse 7). It wasn’t a ‘new’ command that arose because of their present circumstances.

However, it is ‘new’ because it is intimately connected with Jesus Christ, and was therefore not known before the coming of Jesus Christ: John says ‘its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining’ (verse 8).

What does Jesus say about his command to love in these verses?
John 13:12 – 15

John 13:34 – 35

John 15:12

How does Paul express a similar concept in these verses?
Ephesians 4:32 – 5:1

 

Philippians 2:1 – 5

 

Colossians 3:13

Jesus Christ, both in his person and in his saving work has given ‘love’ a renewed and more precise definition. The Old Testament commanded love. It also commanded in God’s people a compassion that reflected the compassionate love of God towards them. So the command to love is ‘old’ in that respect also. But in Jesus Christ we see more clearly what ‘love’ really looks like, and what ‘love’ demands of us. Jesus shines his light not only on the nature of God, but also on the nature of love. When he commands us to ‘love one another as I have loved you’ the whole idea of love becomes immeasurable. And this is the ‘new’ aspect of which John is writing.

To ‘love’ means that we will embrace personal humility and self-denial in order to bring about good for one another, as Jesus did to gain our salvation.

To ‘love’ means that we will forgive one another, as Jesus forgave us.

To ‘love’ means that we will ‘bear with’ one another, as Jesus bears with us.

To love in this way means that the truth of the gospel is being expressed in our interpersonal lives – the true light is shining in our lives, and as it does the darkness is passing (2:8). This ‘love’ is part of the ‘walking in the light’ of which John spoke in 1:7, in contrast to ‘walking in the darkness’ of 1:6.

B.2 The test of love – 2:9 – 11
John now takes up the contrast between walking in the darkness and walking in the light as it relates to loving or hating.

Read 2:7 – 11. What does John say about this love/hate test?

 

 

John has added a further exclusion, a further issue that is incompatible and inconsistent with a claim to believe in Jesus Christ:

‘Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness ... whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him’ (2:9, 11).

On the contrary he says:

‘Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble’ (2:10).

As with the test of obedience, this test of love is about the on-going characteristic, the habitual practice, of a person’s life. The verbs ‘hates’ and ‘loves’ are both in the Present tense. A life characterised by hate is evidence that a person is still living in the darkness, that that person simply does not know Jesus Christ, the light of the world. In contrast, the person who knows Jesus Christ, and is therefore walking in the light, will live a life characterised by love.