“Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected” (1 John 2:4–5a).
1 John 2:3–6
During the second century, the church of Jesus Christ found itself having to deal with the Gnostic heresy. The heresy of Marcion, which attempted to expurgate all references to the Old Testament from the letters of Paul and the gospel of Luke, is one example of the widespread assault of Gnostic theology upon the church in those days.
The movement known as Gnosticism is difficult to assess precisely because a variety of different Gnostic groups were active during the early centuries of the church. Typically, all Gnostic systems based salvation on acquiring some kind of secret, “higher” knowledge that was not available to the uninitiated. Though Gnosticism did not emerge in the fullest sense until the second century, many of its ideas can be found, at least in primitive form, in the first century. Interestingly, many early church fathers said that Simon the Magician (see Acts 8:9–25) was himself a Gnostic.
First John makes it clear that certain proto-Gnostic views of knowledge flourished near the end of the first century. In today’s passage, John tells us how we can be sure that we have come to know Christ. Evidently, many of his opponents falsely claimed to know the Lord, and so John had to counter these claims and assure His audience of ways a believer might be confident of his knowledge of Jesus.
First John 2:3–6 tells us, in a variety of ways, that we can be sure we know Jesus if we keep His commandments. In John’s day, as in our own, many like to confess Jesus as Savior without submitting to Him as Lord. The tendency of Gnostics to dismiss the deeds done by the body as unimportant as long as they possessed the “right knowledge” made it easy for the false teachers troubling John’s original audience to deny the need to obey Jesus and flee from sin.
However, as John reminds us, if Jesus is not your Lord, He is not your Savior. If we confess the name of Jesus without a concern to follow Him, we lie when we say we know Him (v. 4). John Calvin agreed: “We cannot know him as Lord and Father, as he shows himself, without being dutiful children and obedient servants.”
Some in church history have advocated perfectionism based partly on verse 5 of today’s passage. 1 John 1:8 makes it clear that this cannot be the case, thus, we must scrutinize our lives to see if we are keeping His commandments. Do you obey Christ, albeit imperfectly, and are you repentant whenever you do not? If so, you can be sure that you know Him. If you claim Him as Savior, seek today to obey Him as Lord where you have not done so before.
Passages for Further Study
Ex. 20:4–6 Ps. 112:1 Luke 6:46 John 14:15 1 Cor. 7:19