03 Feb How do we know that we know God?
1 John 2:3-11
3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
7 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. 8 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. 9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 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.
How do we know that we know God? This is the question that Apostle John is answering for us. Have you ever doubt or ask the question whether or not you are a true Christian? Let’s do this. Raise your hand high if you ever doubt the fact that you are a Christian? I think if you have been a Christian for more than a year, you would come to face this doubt. And it does not matter how long we have been believers, doubt is one issue that will keep creeping back. I wish I could wear a cape and the cross on my chest telling you what to do to never have doubt but I can’t because it’s not true.
My Christian journey has been one that is filled with questions every now and then. I grew up in a church as a Pastor’s kid (PK) but I was not a Christian until later part of my life. Growing up as a PK, I saw the difference between what people confessed with their mouth and reality. It created doubt and question in me. In my early teens, I would try to be different and it put me in a lot of trouble. I can see the hypocrisy of people around me so much that Christianity leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But when I came to faith, this thing happened to my heart that I could not understand. All the questions that bugged me for many years suddenly do not matter anymore. When God opened up my heart to the beauty of the gospel, this transformation occurred in me and I became very zealous for Jesus.
At this season, spiritual discipline does not feel like duty; it feels like delight. It’s like creating discipline around dating a girl. Those of you who are in a relationship knows that once you date him or her, your life changes. You began to say no to your boys in order to be with her, you began to google plan your date with him or her. And none of it feels like a chore. You do it because you want to. There is some discipline in that, but it never feels like work. So I began to devour Christian books and listen to tons of Christian podcasts. I love to read the Bible and finish the Bible reading plan every year. But in this transition, I wrestled with doubt. Because somehow church gives me the impression that ‘every day should be like your first date with Jesus.’ I bought in into this lie and began to question myself.
And I wrestled with doubt again later. I did not have a clean history. As much as I would love to have one, I don’t. I went through a season or two where I would delete from my life if possible. I loved Jesus, I loved the church and I tried to figure out the best I know how to follow Jesus, but I had this ongoing battle with sin in my life. And unfortunately, I was in an environment where it appeared that no one else was doing that. Everyone seemed to be a better Christian than I was and I was the Youth Pastor! So that created a lot of doubt in me. During that season, I really wrestled because I was battling some indwelling sin and didn’t feel like I could be honest about it because no one else seemed to be battling. I thought I was the abnormality.
The main purpose of the passage that we just read is that John wants us to know that we can have assurance that we are truly Christians. We can have assurance that we do know God. And this is very important. Because for John, knowing God is not a matter of intellectual knowledge but eternal life. To know God is to have eternal life. To know God is to be secured in your salvation. So here is what we must understand. It is one thing to say you know God but it is another to really know him. And the difference between the two is the difference between death and life. I am convinced today that there are many Christians in the church who say that the know God but in fact they do not know God at all. There are many professing Christian who are not Christian.
How do I know? There have been many study after study that show that the lifestyle of people in the church looks just like the people of the world. Study shows that people inside the church are just as materialistic as the world. Their spending patterns are very similar to the world. Only 6% of professing Christians gives at least 10% of their income. Not only that, people inside the church is just as sexually immoral as the world. The percentage of Christian men who consumed pornography is almost the same as non-Christian men. Professing Christians are as likely to have sex outside marriage. The rate of divorce between Christians and non-Christians are almost identically the same. In parenting, the priorities of Christian parents for their kids look identical to the priorities of non-Christian parents. Parent’s priorities is for the kids to be successful in the future and to be good at what they are doing. Is it wrong? Of course it is not. It is good for parents to prepare their kids for the future. But here is the problem. For all the time parents invest on their kid to take this lesson and that lesson, for all the hours they let their kids play video games and IPad, there is hardly any time where parents take their kids to read the Bible together, to pray together and to disciple them. Christian parents leave the spiritual growth of their children in the hand of Sunday school teacher for 2 hours per week. And then they wonder why many of their kids walk away from their faith when they became adult.
Here is my point. For many of us, it is very possible to say that we know God but yet we never know God. It is very possible to think that you are Christian when you are not. So, how do you know that you are a Christian? Let me list to you some of the common wrong answer.
- I was born in a Christian family. The Bible never teaches that you are saved because of your family.
- I go to church every Sunday. The Bible never teaches that God takes roll call. Your church attendance does not guarantee your salvation.
- I served in a church. Thank you for serving the church. But according to Jesus, it is possible to do many things for God and yet God declares, “Depart from me. I never knew you.”
- I am a good person. Well, Pharisees are good moral people but Jesus calls them evil.
- I made a decision and I was baptised. It does not guarantee anything. Your past decision does not guarantee your present and future condition.
- I know a lot about God. This is the most common one in church. Knowledge about God does not equal to knowing God. The devil knows a lot about God. More than you and me. But he is still the devil.
So, how do we know that we know God? I’m glad you asked. John will answer that question for us. Let me give you the context of 1 John first. 1 John is written by Apostle John to his church in Ephesus. At the time of writing 1 John, John was already a very old man. He was most likely in his 70’s or 80’s. And during his time of pastoring the church in Ephesus, two things happened. First, there were many church leaders who leave the church. And by leaving, I do not mean leaving the church in order to plant another church. But they were Christians who seemed to love Jesus and became one of the leaders in the church, who then later denied their faith and walked away from the church. Second, there were many false teachers who taught that their lives have no bearing on their salvation. So you can claim to know God and live like the devil at the same time. But John would have none of it. And this leads to the question, “If the church leaders can deny their faith and leave the church, if the false teachers are wrong in their teaching, how then can we know that we are true Christians?” Because if you are familiar with John’s teaching, John strongly believes that to know God is eternal life. John does not believe that true Christians who know God can lose their eternal life. But having leadership positions in the church does not guarantee that you know God. Just because you are a preacher does not mean that you know God. So then the question is, how do we know that we truly know God? Are you with me?
To answer this question, John gives us three test on how we can know that we know God. They are test of doctrine, test of obedience and test of love. I’m not going to cover the test of doctrine in this sermon due to time. Test of doctrine is basically a test on whether or not you truly understand the heartbeat of the gospel that Jesus is both our advocate and our propitiation. Another sermon for another time. Tonight I want to focus on the second and third test, test of obedience and test of love, and especially the test of love.
Are you growing in your obedience to Christ?
1 John 2:3-6 – 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
This is the test of obedience. Are you growing in your obedience to Christ? John is saying that you know that you have come to know God if you keep his commandments. It cannot be clearer than this. John uses the word “know” 40 times in this letter. What does it tell us? He really wants his audience to know that they know. And the word know is used not to describe an intellectual knowledge but a personal relationship. With another word, what John is saying is that you can know that you have personal relationship with God by your obedience to his commandments. Then he goes on to say that it does not matter what you say you know if your lives contradict what you know. If you say you know God and have personal relationship with God but you are not growing in obedience to God, then there is only one conclusion: you are a liar. So the first way we can know that we know God is through our obedience to his commandments. You can know that you know God if you obey God. Personal relationship with God changes you and make you want to obey God’s commandments.
Let me give you an illustration. Let’s use a newlywed as an example. Let’s rewind to the time that you guys were just starting to date. Would you agree that there were significant changes in your life from being a single into a dating relationship? I hope you say yes. When you were single, you are pretty much free to do whatever you want. No one can tell you, “don’t do this and don’t do that.” But that freedom reduced significantly when you entered relationship. For the girl, usually she lost the freedom of her “me-time” and began to learn how to cook and opened up Depot Sederhana. On the men’s side, he lost the freedom to stay skinny. And now that they are in a marriage relationship, they lost even more of their freedom. They lost the freedom of waking up alone in their own bed. One that I am sure they don’t mind losing at all as a newlywed. But they also lost the freedom of making decision on their own. All of their decision now not only affected their personal life but also each other. And here is what I know. There will be many times where their personal freedom and choices collides and they have to decide where to go from there. They will lose their freedom more and more. But they do not lose their freedom because they have to but because they want to. They are so in love with one another that what they desire is to please the other person at the cost of their own freedom. That’s the way love works. It is impossible to have a deep intimate love relationship with someone and remain the same. Love makes you want to do what pleases the other person. Having a personal relationship with someone shapes and changes you.
So here is my point. If having a deep personal relationship with a person changes you to that extend, how much more if you have a deep personal relationship with God? There is absolutely no way you can say that you know God and your life is not changed by it. God is more majestic and glorious than your loved ones. He is holy and perfect. Knowing this God in a personal level will surely transform our lives. You can know that you love God by your obedience to his commandments. Your love for God is made perfect or completed by your obedience to him.
John continues to say that you can know that you are in Christ if you are walking like Christ. Personal relationship with Christ leads to conformity to Christ. This is why a couple becomes more and more like one another the longer they are in a loving marriage relationship. They began to like the same thing, think the same way and even look like one another. This is what happen when we have personal relationship with Christ; we become more like Christ. We walk like Christ. We think like Christ. We love like Christ. And no, it does not mean perfection. It does not mean that you will never stumble but it means that you are growing in your obedience to Christ.
Let me put it in a picture for you. So if I meet and talk with homosexuals’ couple who practices homosexuality and they say, “We are Christians,” I will look at them with love and open up the Bible and show them that their lifestyles contradict God’s word. I will tell them that they are living in disobedience to Christ. If when they see that and they say, “Oh we did not know that. We did not know we are living in sin but now we understand and we want to obey Jesus. We trust that God knows best and his way is the better way and we need to repent of our sins. Starting today, we will abstain from the practice of homosexuality,” then I know that they are true Christians. But if they say, “Thank you for explaining the Bible to us but we love each other too much to leave one another in order to obey Christ,” then I will lovingly tell them that they are not Christians. According to John, they are liars. It’s not my word, it’s the Bible!
So, are you growing in your obedience to Christ? All of us are sinners and we have our own struggles. In fact, I am convinced that the more you know Christ, the more you will struggle. The more he will reveal area of your life that is contrary to his will. So, my question is not are you perfect or not. But are you growing in your desire to obey Christ? Is the posture your heart one that says to God, “Lord, I want to obey you but I am struggling in many ways. Please help me to obey you more and more”? This is how you know that you know God. You are growing in your obedience to God.
Are you growing in your love for others?
1 John 2:7-11 – 7 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. 8 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. 9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 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.
This is the test of love. So if in the previous test we can know God by our obedience to him, in this test John points out a specific commandment that Jesus gave. John says that this commandment is not a new commandment but it is an old commandment. But at the same time, it is a new commandment. Therefore, it is an old but new commandment. What does John mean? What commandment is he talking about? How can it be old but new commandment at the same time? Let me explain.
Now I’m not sure if you are aware but the Jews have a total of 613 laws. Why 613? Because there are 613 Jewish letters in the Ten Commandments. I have no idea why they do that but I guess that’s just how they roll. Now think about it. 613 laws. That’s A LOT! I bet many of you can’t even remember the 10 commandments. In Matthew chapter 22, we found a conversation between Jesus and the experts of the law. One of the Pharisees, a lawyer asked Jesus a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Now, this is not what the lawyer is asking. He is not asking Jesus which law is important and which law can be ignored. That’s not the essence of the question. The Pharisees loves the law and they would not diminish a single law. So the essence of the question is rather ‘Which one law is the heartbeat of every other laws?’
Jesus’ answer to this lawyer will reveal to us the heartbeat of God’s law. Jesus answered, Matthew 22:37-40 – 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Jesus was not inventing a new commandments. Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19:18. This is the commandment that the Jews knew from very beginning. In fact, you can argue that the commandment to love one another is the universal law that is as old as creation. That is why in almost every religion, you can find some version of the golden rule – do to others as you would have them do unto you. And here is Jesus saying that all 613 of the laws of God hang on these two commandments. Love God and love people. You cannot separate the two. They go together. They are un-separable. Your love for God is reflected in your love for other people. Andy Stanley puts it this way, “Love for God is best illustrated, demonstrated and authenticated by love for those who are nothing like you and who may not like you.” How you love people who are not like you is the measure of how you love God. And this is not a new commandment. It is an old commandment.
But then it does not stop there. John says that the old commandment is also at the same time the new commandment. How? Here is how. At the night before crucifixion, Jesus gathers all of his disciples together. And that very night, Jesus introduces the new commandment. Are you ready? John is also the one who record this old but new commandment. John 13:34-35 – 34 “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. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” What makes the new commandment new is not the commandment itself but the quality and the dimension of the commandment. The disciples know that they were to love one another. But that is not what Jesus is saying. What Jesus is saying to them is, “Disciples, I want you to love one another just as I have loved you.” What Jesus is doing is he revolutionizes the understanding of love. As Christians, we are not told to simply love one another but to love one another just as Jesus has loved us. And this is radical. This is new.
So imagine that scene with me for a little bit. Jesus was talking with his 11 disciples. Judas already left the room at this time. And Jesus tells his disciples, “Guys, I want you to love one another the way I have loved you. Matthew, do you remember how I have loved you? You were a tax collector and everyone hates you. No one wants to be near you.”
And Peter replies, “Yes Jesus and you make our lives so much harder by bringing him on board. People keep staring at us and talk bad about us. I told you it was not a good idea to bring him on board.”
And Jesus continues, “Did I reject you Matthew? Did I exclude you because you were a tax collector?”
Matthew answers, “No teacher, you did not.”
Jesus continues, “But what did I do? I went to your house and ate with you. I welcomed you into my party and I made you my disciple. Matthew, the way I have loved you, I want you to love one another that way.”
“Nathanael, do you remember how I have loved you?”
And Peter replies, “Yes Jesus, he used to doubt you. He said that there is nothing good that can come out Nazareth. I didn’t know why you called him to follow you.”
Nathanael answers, “Yes teacher, I remember.”
Jesus continues, “Did I reject you because you doubted me?”
“I have seen you before you see me Nathanael and I have loved you even before you know me. And now you are one of my twelve disciples. Just as I have loved you, love one another.”
“John, do you remember how I have loved you?”
And Peter replies, “He was one of the zealots. The crazy guy. I don’t know why…”
“Peter, shoooshhhh. In fact Peter, you might not know it yet but do you know how I have loved you? You will deny me three times this very same night. But I have prayed for you so that your love for me will not fail. I loved you and prayed for you even though I know you will deny me. Peter, just as I have loved you, love one another.”
Now, do you see what happen? This is the new commandment. We are not simply told to love one another but we are told to love just as Jesus has loved us. So now the question is, how does Jesus loved us? In Ephesians 3, Paul prays to God that we may know the breadth, the length, the height and the depth of the love of Christ for us.
Do you know the breadth of Christ’s love? The book of revelation says that Jesus was slain to ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. Jesus did not die for Indonesian only. He died for all kinds of people from every corners of the world.
Do you know the length of Christ’s love? Again in the book of Revelations, probably the weirdest book in the whole Bible, we discover that from before the foundation of the world, the lamb was already slain. Did you catch that? Before God created the earth, before you and I ever existed, before time began, in the eternity past, Jesus was already slain. His love for you began even before time began. And it will continue throughout eternity. Christ will never run out of love for you. He loves you from eternity past into eternity future. And we will delight in his love for us for eternity.
Do you know the height of Christ’s love? In one of Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17, Jesus pray that we might enjoy the glory that Jesus have with the Father. Can you imagine it? The glory of the almighty God, the glory that belongs to the triune God, Jesus wants us to enjoy the same glory. What sort of glory is it? I have no idea! I’m not part of the trinity so I don’t have a clue. But we’ll find out together. Christ’s love will bring us to that height.
Do you know the depth of Christ’s love? Do you know how much he is willing to go in order to love you? Let me tell you. No one ever make a greater sacrifice to love someone more than Jesus. He who was equal with God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of servant and being born in the likeness of man. And being found in human form, he humbled himself to the point of death, even death on the cross. In Jesus you find that the son of God become the son of man in order that the son of man can become the son of God. The CROSS is the depth of Christ’s love for you.
This is how Christ has loved you. And Jesus said that we are to love one another the way he has loved us. And by this the world will know that we are his disciples. Not by how much we know about him; not by what we do for him; not by how many sermons we preached; but by our radical and sacrificial love for one another. And John says that this love is true not only in Christ but also in us who believes in him. This love is true in you! You can know that you know God by your love for one another. When we understand and experienced how Christ has loved us, the way we love changes.
That is why John says that it is impossible for love and hate to coexist at the same time. It is impossible for you to experience the love of Christ and hate your brothers and sisters in church. If you say you know Christ and you hate your brothers and sisters in Christ, then the only logical conclusion is that you are still in darkness. Translation: You do not know Christ. You cannot be in awe of Christ’s love for you and want to chop his or her head off at the same time. It is one or the other. But if you love your brothers and sisters in Christ, then you know that you are in the light. Translation: You have personal relationship with Christ. There is no cause of stumbling in you. It means either that the way you live your life does not become stumbling block for other people or it means that you will not stumble in your walk with Christ. But if you continue to hate your brother, then you are in darkness, you walk in darkness and you do not know where you are going. You are still blind. You do not have personal relationship with Jesus who is the light of the world. So the second way you can know that you know God is by your radical love for one another.
I hope you can see how important it is for us to love another the way Christ has loved us. The new commandment to love one another is not an additional commandment on top of loving Jesus. This is not a commandment for Christianity 2.0. You cannot separate your love for God with your love for one another. Our love for one another is not optional. The gospel transforms both our vertical and horizontal relationship or it has not transform us at all. You do not get to choose one over the other. It is impossible for the gospel to transform our relationship with God but does nothing to our relationship with one another. So now as Christians, we are to love one another the way Christ has loved us. The new commandment is a lot simpler but harder at the same time. It is simpler in the way that if we live out this one commandment, then we have lived out every commandment in the New Testament. And I’m not exaggerating. Every commandment in the New Testament is an application of Jesus’s command to love one another as he has loved us. But at the same time, it is so much harder because now we don’t get to choose whom we want to love and whom we do not want to love. In the old commandment, we will always find loophole to the rules. We are expert at finding loopholes. If you have kids, you know it. Your kids will always find loopholes to the rules you created. “Little Yoyo, why are you still up at 11?” “Well dad, you told me to not watch TV after 10 but you did not say anything about playing IPad after 10.” Right? But with the new commandment, there is no loopholes. Now the question is no longer about which law I must obey, the question is, “In the light of how Christ has loved me, what does the love of Christ required of me?” And I want to introduce you to three phrases that we need to use more often in our relationship with one another and how the love of Christ transformed those phrases.
- “I am sorry.” How many of you know this is a very hard phrase to say? I am sorry is not easy to say because it requires us to acknowledge that we are at fault. What often times happen is we say, “I am sorry if…” Therefore, our sorry is conditional. “I am sorry if I offended you. I am sorry if I make you feel that way. I am sorry if I make you think that way. I am sorry if…” What we are saying is that the reason I am sorry is not because I did something wrong but because you think I did something wrong and I am sorry to make you think that I did something wrong but I am actually not wrong. Are you with me? But if you understand how Christ has loved you, then we should be the freest of all people to admit our wrongs. We know that we have wronged Christ millions of times and yet he still loves us. And now we can freely confess our wrongs to one another. So rather than saying, “I am sorry if…” we say, “I am sorry for…” It does not matter who is more wrong. The love of Christ required us to own our wrongs toward one another. And unless you were born of a virgin birth and your name is Jesus, you have things to be sorry for in your relationship with one another.
- “I forgive you.” Forgiveness is not so much about words you say but about posture of your heart. It is very possible to say you forgive someone but continue to hold grudges in your heart. Sometimes I heard things like, “I will not forgive that person until he or she apologizes to me.” But if we know how Christ has loved us, then we have absolutely no reason to hold grudges. Jesus died for you and offered you his forgiveness even before you knew that you sinned against him. In our relationship with one another, we will surely hurt one another because all of us are sinners. But if we know how Christ has loved us, then our heart posture should always lean toward forgiving one another even before the crime is committed. Forgiveness is the lifestyle of Christians. We are not only to forgive those who expresses regret for their wrongs but we are to forgive everyone who sinned against us. I am not saying for us to diminish their wrongs but I am saying that our heart posture must always be forgiving even if the other party never admit their wrongs.
- “I love you.” If we understand how Christ has loved us, then we know that love is not only a happy joyful emotion that you feel when another person gives you what you want. To love someone is to put their best interest above your interest. To love someone is to put their joy above your joy. To love someone is to serve them for their pleasure at the cost of your own personal freedom. To love someone is costly. Love will be costly to those who practice it but this is how we are loved by Jesus. Love costs Jesus his life. Jesus experienced hell on earth because of his love for us. And we are to love to one another with this costly sacrificial love.
Now imagine with me a community of Christians who are quick to own their mistakes, quick to forgive and quick to sacrificially love one another. Imagine if the church get this right. What will that church look like? Let me tell you what it will look like. It will look like Christ. It will smell like Christ. It will feel like Christ. And the world will take notice. The world will see Christ through the way the disciples of Christ love one another. May we be the kind of church that makes Christ known by our love for one another.
- Is there a season in your life where you doubt your Christianity? Can you share it and what do you think cause it?
- From the list of wrongs reasons to believe that you are Christians, which one(s) do you think is most pervasive? Why?
- Explain the relationship between personal relationship and obedience to God’s commandments. Can you see this obedience growing in you?
- What makes the “new commandment” new? Why is it very radical?
- Can you give some personal application on how would you apply the new commandment in ROCK Sydney International?
- Out of the three phrases, (I am sorry, I forgive you, I love you), which is one is the hardest for you to apply and why?
- How does the gospel empower you to live out the new commandment? (Be specific).