The content of this post was authored by Ron Fay and is posted on his behalf.
And by this we know that we have known him, if we keep his commands. 4 The one who says that he has known him and is not keeping his commands is a liar and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever would keep his word, by this truly the love of God has been perfected, by this we know that we are in him.
I love this section of 1 John like no other part of the entire Bible, with the possible exception of the intro to the Gospel of John. The grammatical constructs, while strange, make for some memorable verses and the concepts, while simple, take a lifetime to master.
The first strange grammatical instance is the “by this” introduction to a saying. Typically in Greek, a “by this” points to what came before, yet John reverses it by having it point forward, and he does so to great rhetorical advantage. Keeping God’s (or Jesus’, as the referent to “him” is not obvious) commands is the heart of the Christian life, yet it also remains the only way to know another Christian. Paul speaks of the fruit of the Spirit and has lists of virtues one must uphold, but to John it comes down to a few simple things, and the first one is to keep God’s commands.
Notice that John moves back into stressing the importance of living the life NOW, not yesterday or tomorrow, but right this second by saying whoever “is not keeping,” an intentional present tense verb that stressed the ongoing nature of keeping God’s commands. Notice also the importance of keeping God’s commands does not lessen with time, it stays with the believer. If one is not currently keeping God’s commands, then that person is in fact a liar, and liars cannot be saved because the truth, namely Jesus, is not in such people.
WOW, what a shot to the gut. Is John really saying that a single lapse will cause me to lose my salvation? No, but John is saying that prolonged hypocrisy, prolonged deception about one’s relationship with God, prolonged denial about the correct state of one’s spiritual life is hazardous. Remember, this section on living the Christian life NOW follows directly on the heels of John telling us that everyone sins, so he is not talking about constant perfection. Instead, John describes an intentional state of sin that, if one continues to dwell in it, will cause one to eventually leave the fold, and this is not unintentional on the person’s part either. John is certainly not saying that you can “accidentally” walk away from God. He is saying that you can willfully and deliberately sabotage your walk with Him, though.
We know that we are in God only through the continual (though not constant) keeping of God’s commands. Yes, sin occurs, but obedience should be the norm.
I have a saying that anyone who knows me in real life has probably heard a dozen times if they have heard it once:
A complacent Christian is a defeated Christian.
John is forcing the person who reads his work to understand that standing still is not enough, one must always move forward and always strive to be perfect. Though we can never hope to attain such a life this side of glory, that should in no way prevent us from trying.
May the Lord bless you as you try to be worthy of your calling, just as I try to be worthy of mine.