Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
Uni and Polytech and College students have just been through exam time. And sometimes you go into an exam with butterflies in your stomach because you lack confidence about passing the exam. And this is usually the case when you haven’t studied enough or you are not sure if you have studied the right things or if you have not mastered the material. And this often means that you come out of the exam with the same lack of confidence or perhaps even less confidence than when you went in. And I am sure that many of us know what that feels like.
But then there other exams that we come to with confidence. We did study well, and we know we studied the right things, and we understand and have all or most of the material mastered. And this usually means that we come out confident that we have passed the exam. And I trust that many of us know what this feels like also.
Well, knowledge and confidence and certainty are to the fore in the passage before us today. And the particular form of knowledge we are talking about here is the ASSURANCE of salvation. Later on in 1 John, in 5:13, John will tell us one of the key reasons why he wrote this letter: He says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” It is possible and indeed it should be that a believer is certain that he or she is a child of God. And it is in the verses before us today that John introduces the subject of assurance by telling believers that they may know that they “have come to know Him,” referring to the Lord Jesus Christ. You and I should be able to say, I know that I have come to know Jesus.
Now, for a new believer, this is as obvious as the nose on his or her face – of course I have come to know Jesus! They have great joy and life is new and wonderful. But whether it be sooner or later, doubts come as he or she starts to see that the old temptations are still there, and some of those ‘character flaws’ are still there, or they come face to face with hypocrisy in other Christians. And so, assurance wavers. And the question is asked, “How can I know for sure that I know Christ?” And it could be that this is a question you have asked, or are asking today.
Well, it is to this question that John now focuses his attention. One of the things we have learned in ch. 1 is that not every claim to be in fellowship with God is a true or genuine claim. So now John is going to get explicit about how believers can know for sure that they are in fellowship with God. You see, the fact is that this can be tested. There are certain things that will be the case in those who truly are God’s children. And there are three tests that John describes in his letter. And various commentators have given them these names – the MORAL test, the SOCIAL test, and the THEOLOGICAL test. And each of these tests is introduced in this next section of John’s letter.
So here WE ARE INTRODUCED TO THE FIRST TEST OF TRUE FELLOWSHIP – THE MORAL TEST. And we will come to the moral test in a moment as we consider the EVIDENCE of assurance. But we begin today by considering what is revealed in these verses about the ESSENCE of assurance: What exactly is the assurance of salvation? What is the core or the heart or the substance of the assurance of salvation? And we do this because this will be true in relation to each one of these three tests.
I. So we begin with the ESSENCE of assurance.
A. And there are three things (follow the three sets of three!) said about the essence of assurance in these verses. The first is, from v3, that we have come to KNOW HIM.” The essence of assurance includes knowing Him.
1. And I have already said that the “HIM” IN VIEW HERE IS THE LORD JESUS. Usually when we come across the word “him” or “her,” we go back to see who was most recently named to discover who “him” or “her” refers to. And v2 is about Jesus Christ. And v6 talks about abiding in Him and walking “in the same way in which He walked.” And because the Lord Jesus repeatedly used Abide in me language, and because this command to walk as He walked can only have the Lord Jesus in view, the “Him” of v3 is the Lord Jesus. So the essence of assurance includes knowing Jesus Christ.
2. And notice that John does not say that you need to know ABOUT Him, but that you need to know HIM. And there is an eternity of difference between these two things. In Matthew 7, Jesus describes the many who will say to Him on the Day of Judgment, “Lord, Lord, did we not do this or that in your name?” These are people who knew about the Lord Jesus but they did not know Him. You might be able to tell me a number of things about Jesus, but do you know Him? Well, we can only answer that question if we know what it means to know Jesus Christ. And to answer this, I borrow the thoughts of Rev. Joel Beeke who describes the three dimensions of knowing Jesus Christ:
a. The first is BELIEVING in Him. In 2 Timothy 1:12, the Apostle Paul said, “I know whom I have believed…” Do you believe in Jesus? Do you believe that He is the Son of God and that He died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins? To know Jesus Christ is to believe in Him.
b. But secondly, to know Jesus Christ is to EXPERIENCE Jesus Christ. And there is so much we could say here. But let’s note a few examples:
(1). In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Paul said, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.” Have you ever had the doctor tap your knee with that little hammer to test your reflexes? Tap and flick – out it goes. Well, we are born with an anti-weakness, insult, hardship, persecution, and calamity reflex. We instinctively react to the slightest hint of anything like that and we will have none of it. We want strength, respect, comfort, peace, and well-being. But experiencing Christ makes a person content with “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.”
(2). But on the ‘positive’ side of this equation, 1 Corinthians 6 reveals that experiencing Christ means we can leave sinful lifestyles and behaviours in the past. And 2 Peter 1:5-8 says, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And the qualities Peter listed were virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.
(3). Jesus Christ is immensely powerful. So if you know Him, His power will be at work in you in the ways we have described. So, have you experienced Jesus Christ? Can you see the effects of knowing Christ in you? To know Jesus Christ is to experience Him.
c. But the third dimension of knowing Him is COMMUNION with Jesus Christ. The disciples enjoyed the presence of Jesus and talked with Him every day while He was on earth. And they are now and always will be enjoying His presence and talking with Him in heaven. Do you think they stopped enjoying His presence and talking with Him between His ascension and their death? Of course not! Jesus said, “I am with you always.” Jesus said, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Communion with Christ means enjoying His presence, now, hearing His voice through His word, and speaking to Him in prayer and song. Do you commune with Jesus?
d. To know Jesus is to believe in Him, to experience Him, and to commune with Him.
B. But knowing Him is only the first of the three parts of the essence of assurance that we see in these verses. The second we see towards the end of v5, where it says, “By this we may know that we are IN HIM.” One commentator counted all the times in Paul’s epistles where he uses a phrase like “in Christ” or in Him.” He came up with 164 times! I am only going to mention two of them. And I pick these two because they very beautifully summarize our point and because a good number of catechism students should know them from memory: 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.” Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The essence of assurance includes knowing that you have been personally united to Christ – He is in you and you are in Him.
C. But there is one more part of the essence of assurance that we see in these verses. It comes in v6 where we read about ABIDING IN HIM. In John 15, we read Jesus repeatedly saying, “Abide in me.” So it makes perfect sense that the Apostle John should speak of this here. So what does it mean to abide in Christ? Well, on the one side it means not to depart, or leave and on the other side to stay with. The image Jesus used in John 15 was that of a branch that continues to grow because it is connected to the tree trunk. So a Christian continues to grow because he or she is connected to Christ and His church. This means then that anyone who thinks he or she is a Christian because they walked up the front of some Christian meeting once, or because they were baptized or christened once, but they now live an immoral life and have nothing to do with the church is not abiding in Christ. To abide in Christ is to continue to live in fellowship with Him and His people, every day.
II. So, the essence of assurance is to KNOW Jesus Christ, to BE IN Jesus Christ, and to ABIDE IN Jesus Christ. But these verses also set before us the EVIDENCE of assurance. And here we turn our attention to what we have called the moral test as we see the three things that will be true of the one who truly is a child of God.
A. And the first is OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD. We read in vv3-4, “And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. Whoever says “I know Him” but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
1. One of the most beautiful parts of the Bible is the promise in Jeremiah 31 of a new covenant. It pointed forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus and NT times. Listen to what we read there, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah … I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” And when Jesus had come, He said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And while a lot of emphasis is given today to the Going and Make Disciples and Baptizing them part of Jesus’ Great Commission, not so much emphasis is given to the last part of His words, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
a. When Jesus Christ comes into a person’s life, there will be an eagerness to obey His commands. You have the 10 commandments, you have the Book of Proverbs, you have the Sermon on the Mount, you have the ethical or practical or duty parts of the epistles… Those are the commands of the Lord Jesus and you must strive to keep them; you must be concerned to live the Christian life as fully as you can.
2. Now, because of what we have just seen in ch. 1:8-9, and ch. 2:1b, it must be said here that NO ONE KEEPS GOD’S COMMANDS PERFECTLY. We must be eager to choose what is right whenever the moment of right or wrong appears. But when we sin, we go to Him in confession and repentance.
3. And remember also that the obedience in view here is not to make yourself a Christian but because you are a Christian! The obedience in view here says God has forgiven me. He has adopted me into His family. Jesus gave His life for me on the cross. I will give Him my thankful obedience!
B. So the first evidence of assurance that is a part of the moral test is obedience to Christ’s commands. But the second evidence of assurance is ADHERENCE TO THE WORD OF GOD. Verse 5 says, “But whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.”
1. The Greek word translated here as “keep” implies duration and perseverance: to observe diligently, to guard carefully. It is a zealous desire to adhere to God’s will.
a. Before the ministry, I was a shoe repairer. And that means I still notice people’s shoes. I notice things like when the sole has come away from the upper. And usually that means the glue is no longer doing its job, so the sole is not adhering to the upper. It did once, but it isn’t now!
b. Well, it can be like this too with those who claim to be Christians. Some can like the word for a time but for one reason or another, it ‘does not stick;’ they do not adhere to it. The Lord Jesus spoke of this in the Parable of the Sower/Soils. And if you know this parable you will know that some heard and “received it with joy.” But they had “no root; they believe[d] for a while, [but] in time of testing fall away … [or] they were choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit [did] not mature.” But the good soil, said Jesus, are “those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” Times of testing and the cares and riches and pleasures of life are the common experience of every professing believer. And it is only those who are regularly in God’s Word who will persevere.
2. But notice what John says about these ‘word keepers,’ “in him truly is the love of God perfected.” Your love for God matures and reaches its fulfilment as you persevere in the love of Christ, as seen in the keeping of His commandments, which are found in His Word. Why do we elders call you to two worship services on Sunday and participation in a regular Church Bible study? Because “whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.”
C. So the second evidence of assurance is adherence to the word of God. But the third and last evidence described here is THE WAY WE WALK. Verse 6 says, “Whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.”
1. Walking is a common biblical image for the Christian life. And it is very appropriate because the Christian life is a journey that calls for slow but steady progress.
2. And because, as we have seen, the essence of assurance is to know Christ, to be in Christ, and to abide in Christ, it follows that we would walk as Christ walked through His life journey.
a. His PRIORITIES – In John 4:35, Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.” What Jesus meant was that a basic necessity of life for Him was obedience. Is that the case with you? Is obedience to God your food? Or is it more like your dessert – optional or occasional?
b. His CHARACTER
(1). In Matthew 11:29, Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart.” Does that describe the Christians you know? Does that describe you? Or is it often the case that we are assertive and hard and judgmental and condemning?
(2). John 13 records the time when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. He then said, “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.” Does this describe the Christians you know? Does this describe you? Jesus loved God with all His being and He loved His neighbour as Himself. And we see this as He received little children and as he care for distressed widows and as He touched lepers and spoke to Samaritans. The Pharisees called him the Friend of sinners. How happy He would have been to be called this. Are you one who shows compassion and sympathy and patience to others? Are you one who loves even those you disagree with? Are you one who repays evil with good? For this is how Jesus walked.
The evidences of assurance then are obedience to Christ’s commands, adherence to God’s Word, and an eagerness to walk as Jesus walked.
But having said all this, we must now end with these two closing comments:
1. And the first is that the assurance of salvation is not always strongly known. The Canons of Dort says (1.12), “The elect in due time, though in various stages and in different measure,” receive the assurance of their salvation. If you have heard all that has been said and you have doubts then the solution is not to try harder but to focus on what the Lord Jesus has done and then to turn to the Lord in prayer, to confess your sins, and to ask Him to deepen your devotion to Him in the ways we have described.
2. And closely related to this, the fact is that the longer you live the Christian life, the more you will become aware of your sin. So you should not be the sole evaluator of your Christian walk. Some sort of daily check of your own ‘spiritual pulse’ is likely to create doubt rather than assurance. We have already seen in the first part of John the emphasis given on our “fellowship with others.” We are saved into the church of Jesus Christ. And so, as one commentator says, Assurance is a community project. This is why church membership is important and church Discipline and the involvement of the Elders in our lives. But it is also a good thing for us to ask those who know us well, Friend, when you take a bite of the fruit of my life, is it sweeter than it used to be? And how encouraging it will be to hear them reply, Yes, it certainly is! And how helpful it will be to hear them point out an area or two where work might be needed.
There is something wonderful about going in to an exam knowing what you know! But having heard the moral test introduced, Can you say, “I know that I have come to know Him”? Amen.