This small passage is part of a larger unit where John describes the Christian life in terms of a relationship with God, a walking or living in the light, a walk which expresses itself in confession and obedience, 1:5-2:29. In our passage for study John sets out to establish that there is a relationship between a believer's moral behavior and their standing in Christ. Against the heresy of perfectionism, John shows that the genuine believer is one who struggles with obedience.
v1-2. John has just written about God's free forgiveness in Christ, but of course, in writing about free forgiveness, he is not encouraging free sin. We all sin, and thankfully God's mercy extends to us in Jesus Christ. Jesus bore our punishment and personally intercedes on our behalf. Therefore, through Jesus we have fellowship with God.
v3. In 1:5-2:2, John explained the test of sin, a test that a believer might use to assess their full standing before God. This test had to do with a believer's awareness of sin and of their willingness to confess that sin. John now goes on to give a second test, the test of obedience. An evidence of our full standing with God in Christ is found in our desire to put God's commands into practice. A believer does not sit easily with sin. Although it is true that virtually all our motivations are compromised, if not corrupt, we do not sit easily with this fact and strive to rise above it. It is this very struggle that serves as an evidence of our full standing in Christ.
v4. Those believers who claim an intimate knowledge of the divine, but then ignore his commands, show by their behavior that they do not really know the truth; their knowledge of God is flawed.
v5. On the other hand, those believers who give weight to the revealed will of God and seek to apply it in their daily life, imperfect as that application always is, demonstrate that they truly are in a personal relationship with the living God. A practical concern for God's will evidences a person's union with the divine. Such is the test of obedience and it serves to assure us of our standing in Christ.
v6. John now underlines his main point. A believer who claims "I abide in Christ" will strive to live like Christ. It is just not possible for a person to claim to be a follower of Christ, but then hold the opinion that they don't need to live like Christ.
Few B grade movies have any decent lines, but in the Henderson Monster there were actually two good line, the best worth committing to memory: "Our most noble motivations cannot tolerate close inspection." How true!
Our passage for study always causes heartfelt problems. The first two verses on forgiveness are certainly not a problem, but the idea that our abiding in Christ is somehow linked to our living as he lived, causes us no end of problems. If our most noble motivations cannot tolerate close inspection how can we ever claim to abide in Christ?
Sadly, we too easily miss the point that John is making in this passage. John is not saying that a person who doesn't always live like Jesus doesn't live with Jesus. John is not demanding perfection of us. His point is quite simple; a person who lives with Jesus tends to live like Jesus. Such a person strives to be like Jesus. A true believer is a person who struggles to obey God's word, falls flat on their face, picks themselves up, dusts themselves off, and gets into it again. It is this type of behavior which evidences a person's standing in Christ. If we don't care less about our sins then we might need to worry about our standing as a believer, but if we are concerned about our constant failure to live up to to the perfection evident in Christ's life, then obviously we are a genuine believer.
Let us remember that living with Jesus involves trying to live like Jesus. It's the "trying" that reminds us that we do live with Jesus.
1. What obedience is John speaking of in this passage - is it the overt act, or is it that of the mind, emotion and will? Discuss the quote: "What a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."
2. It is argued that God's love accomplishes its purpose more fully when we are obedient to his laws. Discuss this proposition.