“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” 1 John 2:3
Do you love holiness and the law of God? That question is hard because I do at times as a result of Christ’s work in me and at other times I don’t because of remaining sin. Two competing desires, one of them waging war against what the other desires. This verse rings in my ears sometimes and I become fearful, because, well, I so often do not keep His commandments. You could phrase the verse like this: if you keep His commandments you can know you have come to truly know Christ. That’s scary. It makes me think of the verse in Philippians 2:12-13, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” This “knowing” of Christ is not just knowing facts about Christ or giving mental, intellectual assent to Him as a good moral teacher, but loving Him intimately as the supreme being of the universe, because He first loved us through the cross.
I’m the worst sinner I know though. I’m petty, idolatrous, deceitful, evil, fearful, distrusting of God, easily angered and irritable, passive, and just plain rebellious toward God many times. All of these things display ways in which I have not believed the Gospel deeply enough and they expose areas in which there is unbelief in Christ in my heart. May God have mercy on me, a depraved sinner. But is John saying that we keep His commandments perfectly in order to be accepted by God? That is so often how a verse like this is interpreted by people. They’ll say, “Yeah, yeah, be good, obey God, and then he will like you.” Not at all! Rather it is the reverse for those who love Christ. For believer’s who have trusted Christ alone to be their righteousness replacement, God has accepted them fully, and therefore, as a result of that love shown to them, with a renewed nature they seek to bring Him honor through adherence to His law, because now they actually love to do it, it is no longer a burden as before. And yet many times I don’t. I find this fight going on within me, a desire to love God and a desire to turn to sin. Paul displays this struggle within believers in Romans 7. It is God alone who is holding me back from pursuing the depths of sin because, as Jonathan Edwards says (paraphrase), our straying hearts are pressing with great heaviness toward hell and it is only by His grace He does not let us to pursue it. Lord, bind my wandering heart to Thee!
Earlier in verse one of the same chapter, John says, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” So John assumes we will commit sin and offers the remedy for restoration to God in order that we may not continue in it: the precious blood of Christ. This is extremely comforting for me when I consider the weight of my sin and His love for me to save me from His wrath due to me for that sin. I must not find my comfort so much in adherence to the law, but rather in Christ alone and His work on my behalf, and then seeing that work itself out in my life through His continual regeneration to become like Him which brings assurance of salvation. I am utterly dependent upon Him to change me and must pursue Him pleading with Him to work in me greater holiness. “For it is God who is at work in you to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
If you have come to truly know Christ, you would also confess that He has supernaturally entered your heart by the Holy Spirit and made you new from the inside out, having poured out His love into your heart. Since believers are those that now possess a regenerated nature, we also have new desires and a restored will, to praise God in all we do, whereas before, we could have cared less. It is no longer a burden to obey God’s law (like it was before conversion when we thought we had to adhere to it in order to be saved), but now it is a delight, it is life, health to our souls, and most of all, glorifying to God. We are not trying to pay Him back for what He has done for us through the cross, but are simply enamored by the love He has so clearly shown us in the cross itself, that in it He rescued us from God Himself and His deserved wrath. We are freed to obey Christ because of His accomplishment!
So the times I consider this verse, as soon as I become afraid and fearful because of my sin, I must run to the cross where my Savior bled and died, in order that I may be assured of His love and become conformed to His image, that by His power alone, I may be progressively changed and sanctified, increasingly turning away from sin. We should all be questioning the authenticity of our faith in light of Scripture and if you love the world and your sin so much that Christ isn’t really a thought in your mind (but you just give lip service to Him), you have good reason to question your faith and thus your salvation. How is it we know we know Him? How do we have assurance? We do what He commands out of love for Him, in faith, not out of duty (which doesn’t last). Beg God to grant you eyes to see the value of Christ and cast your cares upon Him that you may be saved.
And for those who love Christ, who struggle with sin (which who doesn’t?), and who are afraid when they read a verse like the one at the beginning of this entry, be comforted. Only by returning to the cross can you find forgiveness, cleansing by His blood, restoration to God, and assurance that you are saved. This is what John means in chapter one of first John when he talks about walking in the light as He is in the light: coming to Christ to be washed clean and being exposed before Him, with all of your nastiness that you may be cleaned up. And as John says at the beginning of chapter two, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”