Orthdoxy vs. Orthopraxy: The importance of what you know 1 John 5:20-21

18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him and the evil one does not touch him.
19 We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

(1 John 5:18-21, NASB).

The importance of knowledge

These last verses are a little machine gun fire of knowing.

We know: no one who is born of God sins
We know: we are of God
We know: the Son of God has come

We are given understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true. Understanding, knowledge, and truth. The mind is of paramount importance. There is no presence or move of the Holy Spirit that does not grant a profound understanding of the great truths of Christianity. Christianity is not at its root a system of praxis, but a doxa: it is belief and worship. As Christians, we are more interested in orthodoxy than in orthopraxy. It is our connection to the vine of Christ that leads to fruit, and that connection is a connection of revelation of truth and belief. “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us” (1 John 4:16). Righteous deeds that do not come from grace can only lead to boastful pride and lifeless self-sufficiency and judgment.

Assurance of the truth of our knowledge for all

This book is written to fathers, to young men, and to children (1 John 2:13). All age groups have their reasons for doubting the authenticity of their faith. The younger you are, the more you doubt yourself because of your lack of experience and because of the vigor of your passions and lusts. Children doubt because they are constantly treated as unimportant and because they know so little, and because they are constantly confronted with their failures and rebuked for their foolishness. The older you become, the more failures you have under your belt, and the more sin has ravaged and destroyed you. The older you get, the more your subtle love for the world fails you and is rooted out. So it is easy to doubt that you are of God, that you have true understanding, that your knowledge is true. These are beautiful assurances that we need to be reminded of, that despite our failures and hardships and sin, we really are of God. Our lack of perfect sanctification does not negate the reality of our faith! On the contrary, our lack of contentment with our past, our mindfulness of the need for God’s one-way love, and our transparency in confession qualifies us for the humble servant-leadership and compassion that Jesus is looking for. Our knowledge is real knowledge, given by the Spirit of truth, and by the Son Jesus Christ straight from God the Father. We are in Him who is true, and all of us need the assurance that it is truly so. This is such a wonderful coda to the book of 1 John! We do know Christ, we have been given true understanding, and we can be assured that we have a certain hope of eternal life. Even as old men we are but infants in light of our future which has yet to be revealed.

Guard yourselves from idols

I have always thought that the last verse in 1 John, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols”, was a strange thing to tack on that came out of nowhere. I even thought that perhaps it was one of those verses that an overzealous monk might have added, and that maybe it wasn’t part of the original inspired text. However, it makes perfect sense in context. We’re talking about the contrast between the world of belief and perfect persistent love and abundant contentment, and the world of lust and boasting and measuring success and condemnation and conditional endable love and its concomitant lack of contentment. We are encouraged to set our lives according to our identity in Christ and our wonderful eternal destiny, not on the small pleasures which will pass but which press so hard upon us now. We are not unsusceptible to the allure of the approval of others, and of damning carnal pleasures, but we are made of different stuff altogether. We are eternally loved by Jesus Christ, our advocate with the Father who has loved us to the death and has risen from the dead to love us with an unstoppable and unconquerable power. Why love anything less than Him?

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