1 John 2:3-6
If We Keep His Commandments
One reason that John was an apostle was because he was one of the twelve who was with Jesus for three years hearing him preach and teach and watching him do the things that only Jesus could do. But it wasn’t just a knowledge based on observation; he knew the Lord and the Lord knew him in a saving and personal way. John had been changed by the Lord and was a new man.
One thing that John heard Jesus say and which he later recorded in his gospel was this: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (14:15). Therefore, it is no wonder that we now read John writing the very same words in his first letter. He has just acknowledged that we are sinners and that our sins are forgiven upon our Lord’s sacrificial death as we confess those sins. But just as we see throughout the New Testament, John places just as much emphasis on the new life believers should live as a result of the new birth, of forgiveness of sins, of amazing grace. He practically repeats what Jesus said: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” Jesus made keeping his commands a measure of our love for him; John makes such keeping as the touchstone of whether we have even come to know him at all—that is, whether or not we have experienced the new birth. Indeed, John is emphatic: “Whoever says, ‘I know him’ (or, ‘have come to know him’), but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” One must work hard to misunderstand that.
I should say that the verbs translated “keep” (his commandments) are in the present tense. In Greek, tense has more to do with kind of action and less to do with time of action, meaning that a present tense verb in Greek stresses continuous action. In other words, a literal translation would be, “keeping his commandments,” continually, daily, on a regular basis. Thus, we are not called to obey God every once in a while or when it is convenient for us to do so; Christians seek to obey God in all aspects of life continuously and every day. They know they fail; they know that they have a sin nature that cleaves to them, but they do not use such as an excuse for sin. Their desire is that “the love of God [be] perfected” in them, and they know that this cannot happen unless they are “straining forward to what lies ahead…press[ing] on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ” (Philippians 3:13-14). This is how we test ourselves, not by confessing our sins, but by walking in the same manner as he walked.