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Lord, we need Thee every hour. We cannot live without You. We cannot know You without You. We cannot come to You unless You draw us. And we cannot see and we cannot hear unless You, the sovereign Lord, open our eyes and unstop our ears to understand what You would have us know. So we pray for You to come. O Lord, bless this time. Bless Your Word. In Your name we pray. Amen.
It is an immense joy to be here with you guys tonight. I love all of you and I love that we get to study God’s Word together. So let’s open our Bibles to 1 John chapter 2. I am sad to admit that I was not hear this morning so I did not get to hear Pastor Nathan George open up the first two verses of this chapter for us, but I heard it was excellent and we are going to start in verse 3 of chapter 2 and go through verse 11.
So follow along, 1 John chapter 2, staring in verse 3.
“And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. Whoever says “I know Him” but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. 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. Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 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.”
The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God is forever. Praise be to God. Amen.
It’s a sad fact that the Church, even the Church of Jesus, is often full of misconceptions about the place of obedience in the Christian life. These false ideas are often very subtle. Consider the following statement: Christians are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. What a glorious truth. I want to champion that statement. I don’t want to take anything away from it. But we need to be careful and carefully understand how our theology of being saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, how does that theology, how does that understanding, interact with our theology of the Christian life and what it means now that we have been saved, to walk as Christians, to live as Christians. And if we’re not careful, our doctrine of salvation through the sole work of Christ might turn into a doctrine of passive sanctification in which we simply let go and let God and just let Him shape us into obedient servants if He wants to, if He so chooses. We just sit back and say I haven’t done anything and I don’t need to do anything. I just sit here and receive.
The Apostle John does not have that passive view of the Christian life. He does not advocate an idle Christianity. But remember, this is the same John who said earlier if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. It’s the same John who talked about propitiation at the beginning of chapter 2, that Christ is our advocate and the propitiation for our sins. So John has a deep, full Gospel of grace and forgiveness.
But then he changes the topic in chapter 2, verse 1, and he gets to what he’s really trying to write about. He says in verse 1, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” Clearly John is not confused at all about whether obedience is important to Christians. He just gets straight to the point – I don’t want you to sin. That’s what he tells his readers. John, who wrote all those glorious things about forgiveness and our salvation, they’re still true, but he doesn’t say, “Well, your sin is paid for so go live however you want.” He says, “I don’t want you to sin. That’s why I’m writing to you, to encourage you, to spur you on, to ask you to fight against sin.”
John cares about our obedience. He cares about Christians following Christ and obeying His commandments.
But he doesn’t just command these things. He doesn’t just say, “Well, flee sin, good luck, try to obey Christ,” and just end his letter there. He is kind and he wants to motivate our hearts, to pursue obedience wholeheartedly. To that end, he’s going to give us three reasons, three reasons why we should care about obedience, too. Why should Christians strive to obey? Why should we care about fighting sin? Why should we strive for obedience in our lives? Why should we work hard to walk in the light and to shun darkness? What are these incentives that John offers us?
First. Why should we obey? Obedience brings assurance of salvation. Obedience brings assurance of salvation.
One of the problems that John is dealing with in his letter is hypocrisy in the Church. What do we think about people who call themselves Christians but they don’t act like it? John says that talk is cheap.
Look at 2, verse 4: Whoever says…
And look later down in verse 6: Whoever says…
In verse 9, a third time: Whoever says…
People can say whatever they want, but words are cheap. When does the rubber hit the road? Saying that something is so doesn’t necessarily make it so. We are free to say what we wish but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is true.
He’s really just echoing the challenge of James 2:18 that we read earlier for our New Testament reading. James says, “Show me your faith apart from your works,” that’s not possible, by the way, “you do that and I will show you my faith by my works. I will show you that I believe, that I am a Christian, through my obedience.”
Here is John’s simple test. It’s a simple test that he offers and it’s right there in verse 3: By this we know, we know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commandments.
It’s a simple test but it’s hard for us to hear because it’s hard for us to obey. But John holds it out to us. He holds this out to us as a challenge but as a promise, a promise of assurance that will come. Do you want to know that you really know Jesus, John asks. Do you want to know that you’re in Him? Then seek to grow in obedience to Him.
In other words, our knowledge that we truly belong to Christ increases as we grow in obedience to Christ. Again, the word for that concept is assurance, assurance, our knowledge that we belong to Christ, our confidence that we are His.
Assurance is different from faith. We need to keep these things separate. Faith looks to one source. It looks to one end, and that is God and Jesus. When we have faith, we deposit all our confidence and our trust in Christ alone for our salvation. Jesus must be our all-sufficient Savior. He is the object of our faith and faith rests in Him only.
But look at verse 3. What does John not say? He doesn’t say “and by this we have come to know Him, by this we have come to know Him if we keep His commandments.” He doesn’t say that. He doesn’t say “we come to know Jesus by obeying.” He says “we know that we have come to know Him.” So he’s not saying, “How do you know Jesus? By obedience.” He’s saying, “How do you know that you know Jesus? How do you understand yourself to be a Christian?”
So assurance, unlike faith, faith looks to Christ, but assurance, at least in one sense, looks at us. We look at ourselves. When we’re looking for assurance, we want to know is my faith real? Not just looking at Christ and saying, “There He is, the all-sufficient sacrifice for sin, the One who can save me,” but we’re asking, “Is that connected to me in some way? Is He my Savior? Is my faith real? Do I truly know Christ in a saving way?”
So John is not saying that obedience saves us, but obedience is a method, it’s a way that we test our faith and find assurance. When our obedience strengthens and deepens, it points to the likelihood of our faith in Christ.
Think of it this way. If there is something that you are very intent on discovering, you want to know that there’s this thing that’s out there but it’s hard to see, it’s hard to hear, it’s hard to smell or taste or touch, sometimes we’ll use animals to help us out. The classic example is the canary in the coalmine. Miners would bring these birds, these canaries, in cages down into the mine with them because the carbon monoxide gas, the odorless, colorless gas that was poisonous, was not just dangerous to humans but to canaries as well, and the canaries were actually more sensitive to it. So if the miners were working and the canary starts to have problems, falls down, faints, starts to get sick, the miners knew we need to get out of here quick. We need to escape. The miners, they needed a visible sign to warn them of the invisible fumes that were endangering their lives.
The canaries were not causing carbon monoxide. They weren’t producing the gas. They were showing that it was there.
This is the same way that obedience functions in the Christian life. It doesn’t produce faith. It doesn’t produce standing with God. But it shows that we are with Him, that we know Him. Obedience is the visible sign that proves an invisible reality.
This is necessary for us. Sometimes, and some people in this room, may have never struggled with assurance before. If that is you, the Lord bless you. I am very happy for you. Faith is a gift. But some of us, we struggle with this. Don’t we? We struggle with knowing, “Do I really belong to Him?” God is merciful to us. He understands. He knows that we might struggle with this and He knows that we might despair of even being able to understand our own hearts at times. In those times, when we struggle with assurance, we become painfully aware that only God really knows what our hearts have within them. Only God can see with total certainty if we have faith.
So God doesn’t grant us magical eyeglasses that we can wear. He doesn’t write a sign in the sky with clouds that says “I say that Ben Preiser has faith.” He doesn’t do that but He provides for us through this text, and others, the test of assurance. He says “I look on the inward.” But humans, we look on the outward appearance and God counsels us to look at the behavior of our lives and ask, “What does that imply? How does the way that I live, what does that implying about where my confidence and my hope are? What does it imply about my inward condition?”
When we’re struggling with assurance and we wonder whether we belong to the Lord, we can look at our own lives and ask, “Am I different now than when I first became a Christian? Has my obedience to Christ grown in the past year or the past five years?”
Some of us might be sitting uncomfortably in our pews right now because it’s hard to answer that question. My intent, and John’s intent, is not to afflict real Christians and cause them to live in doubt. His intent is to offer to true Christians a real test that we can use, not to say you need to be perfectly obedient. This is not a perfect righteousness that we need to exhibit. But to say, “Do I care? Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness? Do I really grow at all in this?”
The flipside of this is that if we can’t detect any obedience in our lives, we ought to be nervous. We ought to wonder about our profession of faith. It’s a sober warning that John is giving, and it’s right there in the passage: Whoever says I know Him but does not keep His commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him.
God wants us to tell the truth, not just with our mouths but with our whole lives, with everything that we do. He wants us to be truthful and not just for people around us but for ourselves. If you are sitting here and you’re wondering, “Do I keep Christ’s commandments?” I want you to know that is a mercy to you. One of the worst things that could happen is for someone to go their whole life assuming that they’re safe, assuming that they do belong to Christ, without having any reason to think that that’s true. If that is you, I would counsel you to listen to what I said earlier in the sermon, that Christ alone can save. Christ alone can bring you peace. He is the ultimate righteousness that you need to remove the wrath of God, as it says in verse 2. The propitiation for our sins, the sacrifice that takes away our guilt.
But John is saying a heart that is truly changed will obey the Lord. This is a powerful incentive for us. How eager we ought to be, as Christians, not only do we get the joy of pleasing God by the way that we live, but we are building up an assurance for ourselves, showing ourselves and to others, yes, I truly am one of Jesus’ children. I truly am a Christian. That’s a gift for us. Our obedience brings assurance of salvation.
That’s our first motivation.
Second. Why else? Why else do we obey? What is another incentive that John holds out to us? Secondly, obedience makes us like God. As staggering as that sounds, obedience makes us like God.
Look down at verse 5 – Whoever keeps His Word in him truly the love of God is perfected.
So the person who keeps Jesus’ commandments are the ones in whom the love of God is truly perfected. Now what does that phrase mean? What could that mean? I can think of at least two ways that we can understand. What does it mean? The love of God is truly perfected. What does that mean?
First, the love of God could mean that love that I have toward God. The love I have for God. As in, I, Ben, have a great love for vanilla fig leaf ice cream. The ice cream doesn’t love me, right? That would be ridiculous, although maybe it does. No. It doesn’t. It’s ice cream. The ice cream doesn’t love me, I love the ice cream. Right? It’s the love of ice cream, the love that I have for the ice cream.
So if this is the case, if this is the way that we understand that phrase “the love of God,” then perhaps the whole thing means that the love of God is truly perfected in us as we obey, as we follow the commandments. What that would mean is that as we grow in obedience, our love for God increases. Our love for God is perfected as we obey, as we follow.
Maybe. Maybe that’s what John is saying. Maybe he’s saying, “Look, obedience can deepen your assurance.” That’s good. “And it can help you love God more.” Great. That would be a wonderful blessing. That’s actually true in the Bible. Love and obedience do go together. Jesus says in John 14:15, “if you love Me, you’ll keep My commandments.” So there is clearly a close relationship between why do we obey God, because we love God, and probably even to grow in our love for God.
So I’m not saying that that’s a bad idea. However, I don’t think that’s what John means here. I don’t think that that’s what he is saying. What does it mean that the love of God is truly perfected in those who obey? There’s another way to take that phrase “the love of God.” It could be the love we have for God or it could be the love that God has, the love of God, God’s love, the love that belongs to God.
So when John says “the love of God is perfected in us,” God’s love is perfected in us, what he’s saying is that we as we obey begin to exhibit and demonstrate and show and exemplify the very love that God has. As we grow in obedience to His commandments, we show the love of God, the love that God has.
So the love of God is God’s love, but the perfecting is happening inside of us. It’s not happening inside of God; His love is already perfect. But it’s coming to fruition within us. As we continue to obey and as we grow in love, our love increasingly resembles the very love of God.
This is confirmed in verses 7 and 8. John talks about a new commandment and this ought to remind us when he uses this phrase “new commandment,” that should remind us of John 13:34, where Jesus is having the last supper with His disciples, He’s washed their feet, a supreme act of love, and they’re all sort of wondering why did You do that? What’s going on? Aren’t You our Master? Why are You our servant now? And Jesus says to them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Just as I have loved you, you are to love one another. Jesus says the love that I have, Jesus, God, says My love is the love that you are to exhibit towards one another. The love of God.
As we obey that commandment from John 13:34, the new commandment to love one another, our love increasingly transforms to become more and more like God.
Just in case your mind isn’t boggled enough by this, because mine is, lest we rush over that too quickly, let’s just remind ourselves about the love of God for a minute or two. What is God’s love? What is it like? God’s love sought us out while we were still sinners. God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us, Romans 5:8.
God’s love sent His Son so that we could live forever. For God so loved the world that He gave His Son, His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life, John 3:16.
God’s love gave us new life though we were dead in our sins, God being rich in mercy because of the great love with which He loved us made us alive together with Christ, even while we were dead in our trespasses.
By grace you have been saved, Ephesians 2:4 and 5.
God’s love adopted us as His very own children. See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God, and so we are. 1 John 3:1.
The love of God is demonstrated in Jesus, who loved us and gave Himself for us. Galatians 2:20.
Jesus who loves the Church as a faithful husband does and gave Himself up for her. Ephesians 5:25.
God’s love will never leave us. I am sure that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor things present nor things to come, nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God and Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38 and 39.
God’s love is intense, it’s intentional, and it is indefatigable. It never ends. It never ceases. It never fails. God’s love is sovereign and strong, merciful and mighty.
What an incredible truth that we puny human sinners might begin to demonstrate that love, the love of God Himself. Brothers and sisters, it is not just our duty to grow in love, but our privilege. As God’s people we have the distinct delight and blessing of becoming like the God who made us, who saved us, and who loves us.
Whoever keeps His Word in him, truly the love of God is perfected. Obedience likens us to God and makes us like Him.
Lastly, our last motivation to obey, to grow in our obedience, obedience participates in the new creation. It partakes of the new creation.
So amazing enough as it is that we are called to grow in the love of God, as soon as we hear that, if you’re like me, you wonder how? How could that possibly happen? Isn’t that just totally beyond us? Isn’t imitating that kind of love utterly impossible for us to do? How can we do it?
It’s not because of our own ability or moral excellence or strength or our will. It’s because of verse 8 in 1 John chapter 2. Verse 8 says, “It is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in Him and in you, because, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.”
This is John’s language to describe the new creation that God has begun in us. The darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.
Ephesians 5:8 says at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.
Colossians 1:13 affirms we have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son.
John wants us to understand that our ability to live according to the kingdom of light and love does not come from us, but from the King Himself, who has made us citizens of His kingdom and has empowered us by His Spirit to live like we belong to Him. It is Christ’s power that helps us, His power that transforms us, His Spirit that indwells us and fills us with knowledge of God’s love for us which then changes us to show God’s love to others and to God Himself.
As it says in 2 Corinthians 5, we are a new creation, the old has passed away. Just like the darkness in 1 John 2:8, and the new has come. Our old sinful nature is passing away and shriveling up into nothingness but the Spirit within us is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of holiness and light and life, and John wants us to see that.
Though we may wonder how on earth we can show the love of God, John wants us to know we have been made new in Christ and it is His strength, not our own, that will enable us to do this.
Well, I was somewhat inspired I guess you could say by Pastor Kevin’s many recent quotations of The Chronicles of Narnia, so I brought my own Narnia here and I thought this would be an excellent way to close our service tonight.
Lucy, this is from Prince Caspian, which is a little less known of the Narnia books, but this war is going on, people are fighting. The fate of Narnia is at stake and Lucy has met with Aslan and she is nervous, she is concerned. How will light and goodness win? What’s going to happen? She’s scared and she wonders how can we know? How can we be safe? How can we know that this is going to turn out all right? And not only does Aslan welcome her, but he kind of rebukes her and he says, in effect, “You’re part of the problem, Lucy, because of your lack of faith, because you have not come to me sooner.”
So Lucy’s with Aslan and she is nervous and she says, “I was so pleased at finding you again and I thought you’d let me stay and I thought you’d come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away like last time.” Remember in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe Aslan comes and just everyone is just obliterated. The White Witch, gone. All the forces of evil, gone. Lucy says, “I thought that was going to happen again. I thought that you were going to do that and I was going to get to just watch.”
Remember like what we talked about at the beginning of this sermon? That I was just going to get to see everything happen the way that I wanted it to. That I was just going to sit back and salvation was going to be accomplished for me and I wasn’t going to have to lift a finger.
Sometimes God does work that way, but Aslan says, “It is hard for you, little one, but things never happen the same way twice, and it has been hard for us all in Narnia before now.” Life is hard sometimes and the fight of obedience is hard sometimes and we feel like we’re despairing of the strength to go on. So Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face, because she’s ashamed, because she knows that she could have done better, because she knows that her King had called her to live in a certain way and she had failed.
But there must have been magic in his mane. She could feel lion strength going into her. Quite suddenly she sat up. “I’m sorry, Aslan,” she said, “I’m ready now.” “Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan, “and now all Narnia will be renewed.”
Friends, when we fail, what more do we need than to come to our Savior and say “I’m sorry, I’m sorry my love has been weak, but I’m ready now.”
May that be our prayer tonight.
Let’s pray together. Father, what should we render to You for Your blessings to us? Not that You have saved us only but that You call us to be like You, that the image that You have put within us You are renewing day by day. We thank You, Lord. We ask Your forgiveness for the times that we have failed and we confess that we rely on You, on You for the strength to go on because You have made us new. Give us faith and confidence, Lord, give us obedience. In Your name we pray. Amen.