1 John 2:1-6 Knowing that We Know Him: The Obedience Test (Rev. Erik Veerman)

Nov 20, 2022    Erik Veerman

1 John 2:1-6

Rev. Erik Veerman


Knowing that You Know Him: the Obedience Test

Our sermon text this morning is from 1 John chapter 2, the first 6 verses. Page 1210 in the pew Bible.

This is our third sermon in 1 John. The book opens with the apostle John establishing his credibility and emphasizing Jesus. Jesus is the eternal Son of God who has been made manifest. He is, in fact, the foundation to this whole letter. John then turns his attention to the matter at hand: authentic faith. He makes a clear delineation that there is true belief and false belief. True living and false living. He calls his readers and us to be on the right side of the line – walking in the light of true faith in Christ.

And that brings us to chapter 2. John goes a level deeper. He begins a series of tests to determine whether your faith is genuine.

So, let’s come now to God’s Word.

Reading of 1 John 2:1-6



In a 2017 article about religion, an author wrote these stinging words: “Ahhh, Christianity in America. Or should I say, the single greatest cause of atheism today. You know who I’m talking about, right? The type of people who acknowledge Jesus with their words, and deny him through their lifestyle.”

Or take these thoughts written earlier last week. “Dear American Church… you are slowly dying. If you are paying attention, you probably realize that. Your buildings are slowly clearing, your pews gradually emptying, your congregations visibly aging away, your voice carrying less resonance than it used to. There are many complicated and interconnected reasons for this,” he wrote. This author then went on to identify what he believed was the number one reason. He wrote, “You are dying because of your hypocrisy.”

By the way, while it’s true that church attendance in the United States has been slowly declining, it’s not actually true for Gospel-centered churches. The opposite is happening.

But nonetheless, it’s generally true. And many outside the church see the church as full of hypocrites - people who believe one thing, but their words and actions betray their belief. According to a recent study, 55% of people outside the church see people inside the church as hypocrites.

Now, some of that is a perceived hypocrisy. That’s because sometimes the ethical standards used to evaluate the church and Christians are different than the ethical standards that the Scriptures teach. We’ll get into that later.

But some of the hypocrisy is real. You know this. Many high-profile pastors and Christian leaders have been “disgraced” so to speak. The reasons include infidelity, bullying, or extravagant lifestyles. And that’s just some well-known leaders. Real hypocrisy is seen and experienced at all levels. Some of you have been deeply hurt by similar hypocrisy.

We need to be honest, each of us has areas in our lives that don’t line up with what we believe. Sometimes we’re blind to it, but sometimes we know it yet stubbornly persist in our hypocrisy.

And what the apostle John is teaching us here is that our lives need to reflect our beliefs. Our words and actions cannot be disconnected from our relationship with God. Part of knowing God is pursuing his commands. 

If you look at verse 3, that idea is right there. “…we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” It’s talking about knowing Christ - knowing him and his commandments. And do you see that layered use of the word “know?” “We know that we…. know him” It does not say, “we know him if we keep his commandments.” In other words, keeping his commandments is not how you come to know God in Christ. It’s not the basis for your knowledge of God. Rather, keeping his commandments demonstrates that you have indeed come to know God. It’s a confirmation.

The end of verse 5 and into 6 is very similar “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” It’s speaking of Jesus. We know we are in him if we walk as he walked… meaning the manner in which we live reflects the manner in which Jesus lived.

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my sermon titles and I usually don’t mention them. Sometimes, in fact, I wish I could change them. This morning, though, I want to point out my title because the next three 1 John sermons will have similar titles. My title this morning is “Knowing that You Know Him: The Obedience Test.” Next week will be, “Knowing that You Know Him: The Love Test.” The sermon after that, which will be in January, “Knowing that You Know Him: The World Test.” And after that, “Knowing that You Know Him: The Doctrine Test.” So, the obedience test, the love test, the world test, and the doctrine test.

One of the key phrases in 1 John is the phrase “by this we know” or “by this we may know” Verse 3 is the first time that it’s used. And we’ll see it 7 other times in the book. And it’s connected to how we know…. How we know that we truly know God. How we know that he abides in us. How we know what we believe is true.. It’s the idea of assurance. Helping us to have confidence in our faith in Christ… or actually moving us to true faith in Christ. And John does that by giving us different tests to check the authenticity of our faith. Again, the obedience test, the love test, the world test, and the doctrine test. That’s where we’re headed this morning and the next three 1 John sermons.

If you remember from last week, John’s message was framed in general terms. Sin in general terms. Walking in the light and walking in darkness in general terms. He was drawing the line for us, telling us that there is a line between true faith and false faith. And now in chapter 2, he gives us these specific tests.

Before we go there, though… before we jump into the test of obedience, let’s consider 2 things:

•First, sin and redemption. That’s the focus of verses 1 and 2.

•And second, the word “know.” That word is used over and over throughout the book, so it would be helpful to understand it.

Sin and Redemption

But first, in the beginning of chapter 2, John continues his explanation of sin. At the end of chapter 1, if you remember, John rejected any notion that sin is no longer present in the Christian life. No, even though we are redeemed, in this life we still struggle with sin. We can’t reject sin’s continued presence. John says in chapter 2 verse 1, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” In those few words, it’s a recognition both that sin still is present in the Christian life, but that we can pursue holiness and righteousness. He continues, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” This is a great word of reassurance for the Christian. If you are truly in Christ, when you do sin, Christ is interceding for you, continually. He is your advocate.

But how is that so? That’s what verse 2 answers: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” That word “Propitiation” is a big word, isn’t it? It essentially means to satisfy a demand. Our sin deserves punishment and judgment, but Jesus is our propitiation. He satisfied God’s wrath against sin. It does not mean that God the Father is the angry one and Jesus, the Son, is the loving one. No, not at all. God the Father loved us so much that he gave his Son to be the propitiation for sin. To satisfy divine justice. In essence, that’s the Gospel. That’s where John wants us to begin.

To say all of that in another way, redemption in Christ is the foundation to knowing God. The life tests that John is going to apply are to validate that you know God… that you truly have the Gospel hope of Christ. That’s why John begins with the Gospel in verses 1 and 2.

Let me make a brief side note. When it says that Jesus is the propitiation for “the sins of the whole world,” it does not mean that every person in the whole world is saved through Jesus. Some people have claimed that it means that. But that makes no sense when you consider that the entire book of 1 John is clear that there is true faith and false faith, true belief and false belief. Those who truly believe and demonstrate that by their lives, have this redemption in Christ. Those who do not have true faith, do not have redemption in Christ, but need it. What it means for Jesus to be the propitiation for the whole world, is that true faith in Christ is for people of every tribe, language, and nation – the whole world, in that sense.

To Know

And that bring us to a second important consideration. What does the word “know” mean? We see it multiple times here. It’s the Greek word “ginosko.” That word can be applied in different ways. For example, when it’s applied to a relationship, it implies a very deep and personal relationship. Our English understanding of the word “know” when applied to relationships doesn’t really capture that. For us, when we know someone, it could just be an acquaintance. But John’s readers would understand that it’s a lot deeper. When John talks about “knowing him” he’s not talking about knowing of Jesus. He’s talking about faith and trust in him. Furthermore, back to verse 3, the second use of the word “know” (“to know him”) is an active perfect tense. It indicates a present relationship with Christ, that began in the past, but is ongoing. Someone who truly knows Christ has that kind of relationship with him. It’s similar to the word “abiding” in verse 6. Abiding in Jesus means living in or living with him in a permanent sense. And to say it again, that knowing and abiding in Jesus comes through the Gospel.

Besides the word ginosko/ (“to know”) applied to relationships, it’s also used here in a general sense. In verse 3, the phrase “by this we know” is speaking about knowing something. In fact, those uses are similar to knowing about something in English. That use of “know” is pretty straight forward. So, to put it all together, verse 3 is saying this: “…we have a clear understanding that we have come to a genuine personal ongoing relationship with Christ, if we keep his commandments”

You may have figured this out already, but the word ginosko is where the word gnostic comes from (g-n-o-s-t-i-c). Last week I mentioned that John’s audience was dealing with very early forms of Gnosticism. Even though he doesn’t name this false teaching, John uses language that they would have used. The Gnostics were all about knowing God. And because he uses the word ginosko over 30 times in the book, his readers would have been keen to hear how to truly know God. You see, there’s no problem with the goal to know God. We all want to know God, but some of John’s audience (who were being affect by this early expressions of Gnosticism) either rejected the basis for knowing God, which is faith in Christ … or they rejected the implications of truly knowing God, which includes obedience.

Here's how one commentator described this influence. He writes, “Like an infection in the Christian community, this virus urged that the pathway to salvation did not depend on freedom from sin, but rather freedom from ignorance. If esoteric mysticism opened the way to God, then other mundane matters, such as earthly obedience and morality could easily be swept aside.”

He’s saying that this hyper spiritualism was disconnected from sin and redemption in Christ. It therefore ignored the moral implications connected with knowing Jesus.

Ok, let’s take a time out here! We’ve just gotten into some weeds – words, definitions, philosophies. Some of you may be tracking along, but it’s a lot to take in. Let me try to summarize it, then we’ll get into the obedience test.

•First, the foundation to knowing God is found in the Gospel – the redemption of Christ through the cross. That’s the first two verses. 

•Second, the people to whom John was writing, were dealing with a grave misunderstanding of how to know God and the implications of knowing him

•And third, in response to the misunderstandings, these verses are part 1 in a series of practical tests that the apostle is giving. These tests are not telling you how to know God intimately. Rather, they are telling you how to know that you know God intimately.

The Test of Obedience

And that (finally!) brings us to the test of obedience.

To put it simply, John is answering the lingering question from chapter 1: If true faith is demonstrated by walking in the in the light, and false faith is demonstrated by walking in the darkness, how do we know what those walks of life look like? Because if I say to you, “walk in the light” and I leave it at that, you could respond, “ok, great. I can do that. And by the way, I think that walking in the light means this or that.” 

For example, some have said, “there’s no problem sleeping with my girlfriend or boyfriend. That doesn’t reflect on my Christian walk. After all, we’re committed to each other.” Or “I’m not affecting anyone else, when I watch pornography.” Or, “the tax laws in our country don’t matter to my Christian beliefs. I can fudge my write offs. Afterall,” as some think, "taxation is theft.”

But you see, those are examples of coming up with your own morality. It’s not what the apostle John is saying. Rather, he’s putting a flag in the ground. He’s saying, knowing God in Christ is tested by your obedience. Not an obedience that you define, where you decide what is right and wrong. Rather, it’s tested by your desire to pursue what God has commanded.

You see, what John’s readers were dealing with is different from what we are dealing with. Yes, there are some gnostic influences out there, today, but the bigger issue for us is moral relativism. Or its counterpart, ethical relativism. 

•Moral relativism says: “what is right and wrong is not dependent on some objective standard out there. Rather you, the individual, determine what is right and wrong based on your own feelings and intuitions.” An example of moral relativism in our culture is the area of sexuality. The growing trend is seeing sexual identity and sexual practices as an individual choice, not something where there’s an external standard of right and wrong. 

•And similarly, ethical relativism says: “what is right and wrong are not determined either by an individual nor some objective standard for everyone. Rather what is right and wrong are determined by the society in which you live.” For example, take honor killings. In some middle eastern cultures, in order to preserve the honor of a family, it is acceptable in certain circumstances to kill someone. If someone commits adultery and shames the family, the family is justified to take the life of that individual. Someone who subscribes to ethical relativism would be fine with that. To them, it’s a standard that the broader community has determined. 

But the Scriptures teach neither moral relativism nor ethical relativism. Rather, they teach that God has a standard for all humanity. His laws and commands are transcendent.

God has given us his law – the moral law. It’s summarized in the 10 commandments. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he explains and applies God’s law to different situations. Jesus also reveals that obeying God’s law begins in our hearts and minds. Furthermore, God has written his law on the hearts of all humanity, but we suppress that truth in unrighteousness.

But when we come to truly know God, to truly believe in Christ, God gives us a desire to pursue his commandments… to love him, to worship him alone, to love our neighbors. And the place we go to know his commandments, to know how to worship him, to know how to love our neighbor… is His Word.

That’s the emphasis of verses 3-5. Keeping his commandments, verses 3 and 4. Keeping his Word, verse 5. It’s not seeking to keep my personal beliefs of what is right and wrong. Neither is it seeking to keep my community’s beliefs of what is right and wrong (in moral categories) but rather it’s seeking God’s standard. Part of what it means to keep God’s commandments, is recognizing that his law is the only true standard of right and wrong.

So, the first test of whether you truly know God is the test of obedience. That means your heart’s desire is to know and keep his commandments…. your heart’s desire is to live a life honorable to him in those those commands… and your heart’s desire is to grow in your understanding of God’s Word and mature in keeping it.

That’s the positive side of the test. Verse 4, on the other hand, is the negative side: “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” In some sense, that is what hypocrisy means. Saying you believe but not demonstrating that you believe. And let me make a distinction. John is talking about a capital “H” hypocrite. Someone who says they have faith in Christ, but there is no evidence in his or her life of repentance… no desire to know or pursue God’s commands. That’s different than say a lowercase “h” hypocrite. Someone who has some inconsistencies in their life between their faith and their living. Because at one level, we are all hypocrites. The difference is, are we striving to grow and mature in our obedience… or are we living a lie, as John puts it.

I want to make sure that something is really really clear. That word “perfected” in verse 5… it does not mean perfection in you. Rather it means that that God’s love for us is demonstrated to be true or proven to be true when we are pursuing his Word. In that sense his love for us is perfected. Verses 3-5 do not teach that a true Christian no longer sins. John has already clarified that in chapter 1. And verse 2 of this chapter also makes that clear. We do sin. The test of obedience is whether we are seeking to know and keep his commands. And when we do fail and break his commands, whether we feel convicted about that and have a renewed desire to keep them.

You may be struggling with an addiction, and while there may be times when you have victories, you may also experience setbacks. Times when that temptation gives way to that sin… in the moment, you are pulled in. The test here is how you respond in those times. Are you grieved but renewed in the grace of God in Christ… with a desire to press on in pursuing obedience? In those cases, run to verse 1 – “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous.” Run to him. Your strength in keeping his commandments, after all, is not in yourself, it is in him.

Jesus is the one to whom we all need to turn. The reason he’s called “the righteous” in verse 1 is because he is the only one who perfectly obeyed the law. Jesus was the only true non-hypocrite. He never thought or did one thing that violated God’s commands. He never acted in a manner contrary to God’s will. He is the only one who knows God perfectly and has kept his commands perfectly. He’s the embodiment of the law and the word. As John puts it in chapter 1, he is the Word of Life.

And to that end, Jesus is the perfect model for us. He is the one to whom we can turn as we seek to keep God’s commands. Through him we can seek to walk in the same way as he walked (as it says). And in him, we can truly know God.

So as you search your hearts, and as you apply the test of obedience, may you realize that you passed the test, knowing that you know him. Pursuing his commands… not in your strength, not to be saved, but because you have been saved. You are living out that salvation because you know him. May that be the testimony of your life. And if it is not, may you come to know him… may it become your testimony.