3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.
4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;
5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected;
6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
1 John 1:3-6
The question on the table is not, how do we keep His commandments? The question on the table is, how do we as a community know that we know Him? How do we distinguish the community of believers in Christ? There is the assumption that if we know Him, we keep His commandments. The whole tone of this letter is as a loving older granddad encouraging his children and grandchildren.
So he says, are you in doubt as to whether you know Him? Are you in doubt as to the authenticity of your community of belief? Notice how you keep His commandments! It may not be a perfection of obedience, but we already know that if we sin, He acts as our advocate, and that He died as a propitiation for our sins. But your life is not bereft of obedience, you keep His commandments more than ever, and it is increasing, and you can take comfort in that your fruits are showing that you really do know Him.
If a person, if I myself, say I have come to know Him, and there really is just no obedience, if I do not in any instance seem to keep His commandments, if there is no power or persistence in my obedience, then the solution is not to double up on my resolve. However, if the trajectory of the believing community as a whole isn’t to keep His commandments, there is a question about the authenticity of the community. Our resolve is not the problem. There is some kind of flaw in our knowledge of Him.
So, from the place of love, from the place of compassion, from the place of humility, if we see someone who just clearly doesn’t seem to be keeping His commandments, the community of faith has the go ahead here to diagnose him. However, the symptom is the lack of commandment keeping – the real illness is a lack of knowledge of Him. If we want to work with him we should throw out the idea that we need to coerce him to obey. We need to treat the real disease: his lack of belief. If someone doesn’t know Him, he will never be able from a true heart to persist in keeping any of His commands. We were led to our paltry yet real obedience because we know Him, do we think this person who doesn’t know Christ is going to be able to do better because we demand it?
The idea of command
I have been meditating on John’s use of the word command here. Isn’t “command” an affront to freedom, to sonship, to love? Doesn’t John himself later write, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love (1 John 4:18)”? The word command begs the idea of fear, that if we do not comply there are consequences to be forced upon us, to make us comply. It is not a suggestion, we have heard, it is a command! Perhaps John is schizophrenic on this point.
There is a better way. I do not think the way is to water down the idea of command, to make it a suggestion. I have four sons. Occasionally, my two middle sons gang up on my youngest, and berate him and insult him and even physically overcome him because they think he is irritating. There was even an instance where one of them was spitting in my youngest son’s face. you are reading this, and getting angry yourself, aren’t you? How can I let this go on in my house?! It is truly awful, I was incensed! I had a dream about it. I kept telling them, stop doing this to him, love him and respect him, he is your brother and he is my beloved son! But they really just wouldn’t stop. In the dream, I pulled a gun out and held it to their head and said, treat him with respect or I will kill you! In the dream they sullenly stopped their invective and said with a leaden tongue, “Sorry Josh.” I told them the dream too, and I said I am that upset about it. I told them that the fact is, they really do deserve to die, and someone did die in their place. It has had some real effect, thank God.
The point is, it is not an idle suggestion, a wish, that we love each other! It is of deep and incredible importance! It is the animus behind real community. He utterly means that we love. He is love, and we are each the object of His intense compassion and care and concern. We are the pearl He gave up everything to obtain. When we sin, we harm ourselves, we harm others whom He loves. So, He commands. Do not hate, do not act selfishly in a way that harms this beloved one. Don’t go there. It isn’t a suggestion, it really is a command, and it carries the death penalty.
The trick is, in what way do we “keep” His commands? It can’t mean that we perfectly obey everything He ever said to do. We’ve already seen that if we say we are that perfect, “if we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves” (1 John 1:8). It can’t mean that we obey perfectly, it contradicts the thing he just said 3 sentences ago. Isn’t a bit of a command that we are to confess our sins and allow Him to forgive us and cleanse us? So how does this work? It means, we constantly apply His commands to ourselves, as leading us to confession. We either obey His commands, or we confess not obeying them to the point of cleansing. Either way, in the most important sense, we keep them. We keep them dear. We say they are right. We want desperately to comply, we love the idea of compliance. We hate it when we don’t comply. We agree with the commands, we agree that He is right, we strongly agree. We either comply and obey, or we confess that we don’t, but we walk in the light about all of it, and this is keeping His commandments. It really can’t mean anything more stringent than this without breaking the context, and actually, it allows us to keep them much more stringently if we allow them to drive us to confession instead of pretending that in a shallow sense we obey them all.
We recall that it is a low view of the law, an easy view, a doable view, that the legalist espouses. He says, I keep His commandments – I don’t murder! However, Jesus’ commands push these laws from mere behavior all the way to the heart. We must love our enemies! It isn’t just that we mustn’t commit adultery, we mustn’t covet our neighbor’s wife. These things are not suggestions. They are commandments, and they bring us constantly to our knees in confession. Our need for cleansing and forgiveness is a never-ending river in this life.
You think this is too easy, too watered down. Yet, do you seriously believe that you are going to keep His commandments perfectly? Of course you don’t! John quite agrees with you. So how else do you propose that this “keeping” of His commandments is to work? How do you think this knowing of Him happens? It is when we confess, and from beyond our own knowledge or power or resolve He etches holiness supernaturally on the stone of our hearts. Thus we come to know Him, and thus we learn to keep them.
Wait a minute, you may say! Are God’s works imperfect and incomplete? If He works a work in us, must we keep confessing? Is our sin stronger or more persistent than His work? Of course not! In the first instance of our tiniest shred of faith, He saved us completely into eternity. In a final way we are justified, no longer under the law. But His grace is for us now, in this place where even in our own complexity of being we are still in the world but not of the world. We still do the thing, today, that we would rather not do. And this eternal and final work that has been given to us, this everlasting redemption and never-ending acceptance, is not just for us in some distant future. It works for us today, here and now. It manifests in the details and minutiae of our actual humble life. It is a very present reality when we need it in a most existential sense.
Pulling this together
Notice that we have the same contrast again in this paragraph as in 1 John 1:5-10. There are those who say they are something, and yet are liars, and those who keep and abide. I think it is important to emphasize that he is not going to say something in one paragraph and then utterly contradict it in the next. It is strange how many people want to interpret this in a way that paints John as schizophrenic. Let’s chart this out again, adding these verses:
|The faker’s world||The honest person’s world|
|our action||God’s view||our action||God’s view|
|SAY: fellowship with Him||lie, don’t practice truth||WALK: in the light||fellowship with one another
blood of Jesus cleanses us
|SAY: we have no sin||deceive ourselves, truth not in us||CONFESS: our sins||faithful and just to forgive,
cleanse us from all unrighteousness
|SAY: we have not sinned||make HIM a liar, His word is not in us|
|SAY: I have come to know Him, not keep commandments||liar, truth not in him||keeps His word||love of God truly perfected|
|SAY: I abide in Him||(implied) doesn’t really abide – no “rubber meets the road”||Actually abides in him||walk in the same manner as He walked|
I think the obvious truth is, we need to stop talking so much, and acknowledge our failure to abide in Him, and our failure to know Him. We need to acknowledge that the fruit of ‘rubber-meets-the-road’ simple obedience and righteousness is lacking in our lives. If we confess, we are in that act keeping His commandments. If we confess, and He cleanses, do we not abide? What idea of cleansing doesn’t include a change in the way we walk? Personally, I would be lying if I said that confession and grace had not had their effect on me. It certainly doesn’t mean I have entered some realm of sinless perfection. It means, there is fruit of confession and the supernatural action of God in me, and perhaps imperfectly and yet truly I am learning to abide.
Perhaps the point of this idea of walking as He walked is to lead us to better confession. If we ever really think we are something, that we have truly arrived in some position or power of ministry, we can remember this – if claim that you are abiding in Him, you should be walking around homeless healing the sick, restoring sight, raising the dead, hanging out in wilderness places, and you should have droves of people leave you because your words are too difficult. You should have sinners and prostitutes and the despised people of society hanging around you, drawn like moths to a flame. The religious do-gooders should hate you because you offer too liberal a grace to this rabble. There should be such scandal concerning what you are doing that people are scheming to kill you. Are you walking as He walked? Then stop talking and start confessing! In this way we stop marginalizing and belittling Jesus’ way of life, and even though we may not be walking completely as He walked, we keep His commands to the point of taking them very seriously and confessing our sin in falling short.
Abiding, on reflection, goes beyond persistence. If we soldier on, if we keep His word despite the difficulty in doing so, it says that we are an alien to His word, but we stick with it. We are that loyal guy who is in the wrong career. We hate it but from duty we do it. We long for the Friday of the soul, but we stick with the weekday obedience we must do. Soldiering on from a sense of duty is NOT abiding! Abiding indicates an EASY persistence. It indicates rest, belonging, simplicity. It indicates a contentment in the place where we are. It indicates an easy familiarity. We work with colleagues, but we abide with our family. All is not perfect all the time where we abide, but the problems are our problems, and we know each other well in our dwelling together.
If we KEEP but do not abide, we are, some place within us, seeking a way out. We have not arrived home. We are yet aliens. If we say we are at home, if we say we abide, this is not good enough. It does not do to be an alien, pretending to love, pretending to rest, while longing for a release. Our heart must love the place to truly abide. Where we abide the wanderlust is truly gone. Jesus cannot just be our boss. He must be our dwelling, our rest, our Friday night party. No pretense will do at all. We can’t just say it, it must be a present reality. Because Jesus abided with the Father, He was able to obey Him to the very end.
How do we achieve this? You cannot effectively demand that a person let go of their wanderlust. You cannot command love. The heart is difficult and squirrelly and the command of the law is powerless to control it. The law can make us soldier on but it cannot make us abide. It does not happen this way. It is love which must be perfected in us, and not our love. It is the love of God, love coming at us when it is not inherently in us, which produces this delicious reality. God is the one who prepares a dwelling place for us, God is the one who makes us feel at home in His kingdom. God is the one who makes us an alien everywhere but His dwelling.
Father, perfect Your love in us, that we might truly abide in You! Amen.
Walking as Jesus walked
We generally want to interpret this as meaning that we should walk around healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, and raising the dead. This may well be true! If we go to John’s gospel and read what Jesus thought was important about His own walk, we find other emphasis:
28 So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.
29 “And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.”
30 As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. John 8:28-30
Perhaps also, His ultimate instance of doing the things that are pleasing to Him, was going to the cross, and even in this, He asks us to walk as He walked:
24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. Matthew 16:24-25
I think that it is perhaps very true that if we focus on doing the miracles that He performed, we can miss the essential aspect of walking as He walked. This is not to say that we should eschew asking for or expecting miracles. However, it is also quite possible that in taking up our cross, and following Him, in being instruments of compassion and mercy, we gain the unction to see the miraculous flow:
10 Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples.
11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?”
12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.
13 “But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
This mercy, this compassion, is the genesis of the miraculous; the miraculous is not an end in itself:
23 “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins have been forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?
24 “But, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,”–He said to the paralytic–“I say to you, get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home.”
We also have this, that tells us that the doing of miracles is not the true essence to walking as Jesus walked:
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.
22 “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’
23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’
So, how does this measure up, in terms of walking as Jesus walked? It means that we do not focus on the miraculous, but on mercy and compassion. It means we focus on doing the Father’s will. It means we take up our cross daily and follow Him. His was a life of love for people, and from that of service for their interests. It was a life of having joy set before Him, and thus of bearing His cross. So we are to walk, to abide.