Bible Passage: 1 John 2:3-11
We don’t always know ourselves. Sometimes it is because we are not paying attention. E.g. Some random personality tests you can find on Facebook. Question: “If you are suddenly given an entire day to spare, who would you spend it with?” Choices: (a) Family. (b) Friends. (c) By yourself. And if you choose (a) family, then the result would be something like, “You value quality time with those whom you love, and family is one of your top priorities in life. And we go: “Yeah that’s so me!” I know a mother who has a special ability to know if her kid has to go to the toilet. But sometimes, we don’t know ourselves well, because we are being lied to. Who is the liar? The liar is our own self. In other words, we don’t always know ourselves because of self-deception. E.g. We like to think of ourselves as kind, by the way we treat random strangers and acquaintances, not by the way we treat those who are in our household or those who are not lovely.
Biblical example: Solomon and the two mothers.
1 Kings 3:16-28. 16 Then two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 17 The one woman said, “Oh, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house, and I gave birth to a child while she was in the house. 18 Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. And we were alone. There was no one else with us in the house; only we two were in the house. 19 And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. 20 And she arose at midnight and took my son from beside me, while your servant slept, and laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast. 21 When I rose in the morning to nurse my child, behold, he was dead. But when I looked at him closely in the morning, behold, he was not the child that I had borne.” 22 But the other woman said, “No, the living child is mine, and the dead child is yours.” The first said, “No, the dead child is yours, and the living child is mine.” Thus they spoke before the king. 23 Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; and the other says, ‘No; but your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’” 24 And the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought before the king. 25 And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.” 26 Then the woman whose son was alive said to the king, because her heart yearned for her son, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.” But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him.” 27 Then the king answered and said, “Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means put him to death; she is his mother.” 28 And all Israel heard of the judgement that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice. Before Solomon pronounced his judgement, both mothers genuinely thought they loved the baby. But later, we find out that only one of them loved the baby, while the other only loved herself.
Other biblical examples:
Because of self-deception, the rich young ruler thought he was a true follower of Jesus Christ. He was able to convince himself so, until the moment when Jesus made him choose between Jesus and money.
Because of self-deception, Judas became a disciple of Jesus and followed him for three years.
Because of self-deception, the Pharisees thought that they were righteous and godly, even until the moment when they nailed Jesus on the cross.
And the question we must ask ourselves today is this: do we really know Jesus Christ. Knowing Jesus Christ is a necessary condition for salvation. Phil 3:10-11. 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. But this “knowing” is not just knowing facts about him. James 2:19. “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”
“God is one” points back to Deut 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This is the ultimate OT Christians confession.
But for James, it is not enough to simply know about God.
Because according to the Bible, the word “knowing” can carry two meanings:
In the first use, knowing means simply to be aware of something. This is what 1 John 3:20 means when John said, “God knows everything.”
But in the second use, the word “knowing” describes an intimate relationship. For us to know God, and simultaneously to be known by him, is about building a personal, loving relationship with him. This is what verse 3 says: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” And maybe this verse seems familiar to you. Maybe you have read something similar elsewhere. It is because this verse is very similar to what Jesus said in John 14:15. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Both are almost identical, and John is doing this purposefully.
To love = to know.
In the letter of 1 John, knowing God involves Having fellowship with him (1:3), “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
Walking in his light (1:7), “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” And being ‘in him’ (2:5). “but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him.” In the Bible, to “know” someone includes close communion and love. To know Christ means to “keep his commandments.” This knowledge of Christ is called a “perfected” love of God in v.5.
“But whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.” What does it mean? Perfected does not mean it makes us sinless. But it is proven. Love of God is proven to be powerful to change. Illustration: discovery of insulin. Before insulin was discovered in 1921, people with diabetes didn’t live for long; there wasn’t much doctors could do for them. The most effective treatment was to put patients with diabetes on very strict diets with minimal carbohydrate intake. This could buy patients a few extra years but couldn’t save them. Harsh diets (some prescribed as little as 450 calories a day!) sometimes even caused patients to die of starvation. In 1889, some German researchers found that when the pancreas gland was removed from dogs, the animals developed symptoms of diabetes and died soon afterward. So, they think that the pancreas is responsible for preventing diabetes. In 1921, a young surgeon named Frederick Banting and his assistant Charles Best figured out how to remove insulin from a dog’s pancreas. Skeptical colleagues said the stuff looked like “thick brown muck,” but little did they know this would lead to life and hope for millions of people with diabetes. In January 1922, Leonard Thompson, a 14-year-old boy dying from diabetes in a Toronto hospital, became the first person to receive an injection of insulin. Within 24 hours, Leonard’s dangerously high blood glucose levels dropped to near-normal levels. The recovery of Leonard Thompson proves that insulin injection works. In the same way, the result of our lives will prove that God’s love works. If God loves us, we will love him, and so obey the commandments of his Son Jesus Christ. But if there is no change in our hearts and our souls, then what does it prove? That God’s love didn’t work? No. The problem is not God’s love; it is us.
V.4. “Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” Forgiveness does not remove the moral obligation to obey the commands of God. Some readers may take the promise of 1:9 as a licence to sin, but John makes clear that this would be to abuse and misapply the promise (v.1). “Jesus Christ the righteous” is presented as sacrifice, advocate, and example. Have we been lying to ourselves? Maybe we are, because the truth is too scary. The truth, i.e. we are not a Christian. Do not underestimate self-deception. Self deception is the most deceiving. Because the better you are at spotting your own lies, the better you become at lying to yourself. You can’t trust your own feelings on this. Those who claim to know God, but don’t keep his command, by implication do not know God. How do you know you are a Christian? If you are not a Christian, your fear will not drive you to prove it. But instead will drive you to lie to yourself even more. The only reliable test: if you love me, keep my commandments. The greatest enemy to loving God: self love. A sinful kind of self-love that fights with God for your love. We must place God above ourselves. If anyone says “I can’t do it,” must be very careful and serious about the heart’s problem. Because, you may have just found out that you have been lying to yourself.
Is this salvation by works? No. Salvation is still by faith.
V.7. No new commandment: we are saved by faith. John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Not as if John is preaching a new way, or a new requirement to be saved. But by the works of Christ, we have become the adopted sons of God. No longer will God turn to us in his righteous wrath, to destroy us for the sins we have committed. But now, because our sins have been paid in full, in the death of Jesus Christ, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. And now, being sons of God, we have been changed inside out. Knowing how much we are loved by God, and knowing how much we are unworthy of this love, we are naturally inclined to love him back with all our hearts. Dedicating ourselves to him alone.
I think Gal 4:6-9 describes this most perfectly. “6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. 8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?”
In this sense, Jesus’ call to “keep his commandments” is new, because the darkness (our sin) is passing away. The old commandment is to believe in Jesus. And the new commandment is to obey Jesus. This new commandment is not, strictly speaking, new, because to obey Jesus is the natural and necessary consequence of us believing in Jesus.
But it is new, because before we believed in Jesus, the command to obey Jesus was meaningless. Because nobody could obey Jesus truly before believing in him. It was an impossible command. But now, this new faith in Jesus has definitely changed us. So that with a new identity and with new desires, we are made able and willing to “obey the new commandment,” which is to walk in the light, as Jesus is in the light. Jesus, the light of the world, has come. And his light has shone upon the world, and most significantly, his light has shone upon us. So that those who embrace the light will be lit up more and more, while darkness is losing more and more grounds. Wherever the light shines, darkness must retreat, until it is completely dispelled. The darkness which John is referring to is the world in which sinful behaviour predominates. This darkness is what he later describes as ‘the world and its sinful desires’ in 2:17. The darkness is passing away because the true light, Jesus Christ, has begun to shine.
And Jesus Christ will not remain the only light in this world. He had made us light of the world, so that we should shine in darkness alongside him. This is why verse 8 says, “which is true in him and in you.” The “him” refers to Jesus. True in him = his good deeds shine for others to see, and such good deeds are the outworking of his inner desire for God’s glory and for personal holiness. This is not surprising. The surprising part is where John puts us together with Christ. “True in him and also in you.” The HS who is at work in Jesus the Son of Man, is also at work in us sons of man.
V.8 the darkness of the world is passing away. V.9 if anyone still lives in disobedience to Christ, he is in the darkness that will pass away. John 3:19-21. “19 And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” Salvation is not just from death, but also from sin. For sin and death are tied together. Obedience is God’s salvation from sin. And what is the new command? To love one another. Jesus says in John 13:34, ‘A new commandment I give you: Love one another.’ The command to love one another was described by Jesus himself as a ‘new command’. And now we turn our attention to the last three verses of our passage today, verse 9 to verse 11. 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. How to obey Christ? Love one another. We have come to know the love of Christ. Parable of the unforgiving servant. What to do if we hate? Not a forceful, unwilling obedience. Solution is not just do more, try harder. But look more to Christ. We are called to love neighbours as self. Even enemies. The easiest to love and the most obligated to love, are our brothers and sisters. Hatred: Un forgiveness, gossip, not care (keeping a distance), “none of my business.” To love them is proof that we have an affinity to light. And sin is an affinity to darkness. Vv.1-2. Basis of salvation. John wants his readers to respond to God’s mercy with a life of obedience. This is an expression of concern for those among whom he has served (2 John 4–6; 3 John 3, 4). The Greek word is parakletos, a “helper,” such as an attorney in a legal matter. In the Gospel of John it is used of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). A propitiation is a sacrifice to God meant to take away the enmity brought by sin between God and the worshipper. Only Christ can be an effective propitiation.
1. The passage implies that knowing Christ is a necessary condition for salvation.
a. What does this knowledge include? What, and how “much” should we know, in order to be saved?
b. The Bible implies that true knowledge of Christ will lead to obedience to him. Why do you think it is so? How do you see this being true in your own life?
2. One of the greatest lies that Satan use to stop us from loving God, is self-love. Self-love teaches that we love ourselves best, and that we must place ourselves above other people and things.
a. Have you ever struggled to believe that God’s love for you is better than your own version of self-love?
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