1 John 2:3-6 October 9, 2016
Sermon Series on I John Sermon #4
Today’s Sermon: “If You Live In Christ, Then You Will Live Like Christ”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
When we think of the word “Grace” we think of “amazing grace” and “the wonderful grace of Jesus,” but what about “cheap grace?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, coined the term, “Cheap grace.” He explained that cheap grace is “grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” Cheap grace means living as though God ignores our sins. Cheap grace is grace without obedience; it’s thinking that you can have Jesus Christ as your savior without having Him as your lord. But the Bible doesn’t teach such grace. Rather, the grace given to us in Jesus Christ always leads to obedience, submission, and growing in holiness. And this is what the Apostle John is dealing with in 1 John 2:3-6. Let’s walk through these four verses, and as we do, let’s ask God to apply the warnings, promises, and encouragements that are found here.
(vv. 3. 5b-6)We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
The first matter that John deals with is how we can discern between true believers and the counterfeit believers. How do we make a reasonable judgement between those who really are born again, and those who only make professions of faith?
The reason this is important is that it makes a difference in how we treat people in the church: how we counsel them, how we apply the Scriptures to them, and whether they need encouragement or warning. It also matters for the glory of God, because people who profess faith in Christ bear His Name, and their actions should honor Him.
While we are not to critically judge people, the Scriptures command us to be discerning of people, including their profession of faith.
John gives us a test by which the true believer in Christ can be proven, in contrast to the counterfeit. And here it is: No profession of faith is genuine if it does not result in a transformed life. Or as Titus 1:16 puts it: “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.”
Here’s what God’s Word teaches us in 1 John 2:3-6: “You cannot claim to live in Christ unless you are living like Christ.” Or to put it positively, “If Christ truly lives in you, then you will certainly live like Christ.”
Now while that is a warning to “nominal believers,” it is an encouragement to real believers. Why? Because if Christ does lie in you, then He will give you the grace to lie like Him. (Phil. 1:6)
Here’s how Charles Spurgeon expressed it: First there must be initiation, and then there will follow imitation. We become a Christian by our initiation into Christ; and then the imitation of Christ follows. We must never reverse the order. We cannot be Christians unless we are in Christ, in union with Him and in all He has done for us. And then we are not truly in Christ unless we live in Him and move and have our being in Him, and the life of Christ is lived in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. First there must be initiation, and then imitation will follow.
Now I don’t want this truth to confuse you or to unnecessarily discourage you. We don’t want to fall into a sort of Pharisaical legalism, whereby we determine our spiritual condition by how well we keep religious, man-made laws. We know that God’s Word teaches salvation by grace alone in Christ alone by faith alone.
But Scripture also teaches that this saving grace should not stand alone! “Faith without works is dead.” We don’t want to fall into the kind of cheap grace that Bonhoeffer warned us against.
Take a look at vv. 5b-6: “This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” One of the truths that distinguishes Christianity from all other religions is that our Lord Jesus Christ calls his followers to imitate His example. Different religious leaders and philosophers established rules for their followers, but no one ever professed himself a pattern, and much less a perfect pattern, for all to follow. Think about that! Yet only Jesus Christ could make this demand on His followers. Why? For as only the Lord Jesus Christ has perfectly fulfilled God’s law, so also he alone might “set us an example to follow his steps.” Only the Perfect One can say “Imitate me completely!” Other religious leaders and founders have said, “There is the way; walk in it; but only Jesus said “I am the Way; follow me!”
So while He is the Author of our salvation from first to last, and our lifestyle plays no part in our salvation, yet He calls us to imitate Him in his perfect obedience, and to live as He lived.
This is why Paul could say to us in 1 Cor. 11:1 “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” This is why Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:21 “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His footsteps.” Jesus Himself in the Sermon on the Mount said “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 6:48)
Let me ask you: “What does it mean to live like Christ? In what ways are your called to follow His example?” (Possible answers: humility; love my enemies; dying to self and selfish desires; delighting in God’s Word and God’s will, etc.) Let us pray, “O Lord, give us a heart for you! Make us love what you love and hate what you hate. Let me be more like Jesus!”
(v. 4) The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
Here we see that a mere verbal profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is not sufficient to ensure that a person is truly a believer. John is giving us a warning, both to discern true Christians from false Christians, but also a warning to examine our own lives and see if we indeed are bearing the fruit of following Jesus Christ.
You see, you really don’t know God if you do not desire to keep God’s commandments. If you claim to know God, but your life is not changed by knowing Him, that is a sign that you don’t know God.
I have performed a lot of funerals over the past three decades, and someday I may be called upon to do yours. What would you want me to say at your funeral? Could I say with certainty that you were trusting in Jesus Christ? Would your life back up that profession of faith?
John Piper wrote that some people claim that because God is love, then everything you and I do is okay with God, because He covers it with all his love. But the Apostle John is writing here that if you really know God’s love (v. 5a), then you will hate sin and you will move away from a life of disobedience, and you will want to walk in His ways instead.
Piper also wrote that “If you refuse to obey God’s commandments, then you don’t know God.”
Why is this so? Because the truth of the gospel always leads to love and to obedience; it always leads to a transformed life. And so, when that transformed life is not there, then you can be certain that that person has never had the truth; he’s never met the Lord Jesus Christ who is “the way and the truth and the life.” The teaching of the Bible is clear:
“True grace always reigns in righteousness,” Paul says in Romans 5.
“Grace-salvation always leads to obedience,” Paul says in Ephesians 2.
“Justification is always accompanied by sanctification,” Paul says in Romans 8.
“Faith always shows itself in works,” James says in James 2.
Those are just different biblical ways of stressing the point that John is making here. Truth always expresses itself in action. Faith, trust, real knowledge of God always are always expressed in the action of obeying God’s commandments.
As Martyn Lloyd Jones said: “You cannot walk with God without keeping His commandments.”
You cannot claim to have received Christ’s life without becoming like Him as a result.
So, where do you stand?
(v. 5a) But if anyone obeys His Word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.
Here God desires to encourage you to press on in your walk with Christ. If you obey Him, His love is perfected in you.
John is explaining that we can say that we really know God when our love for God comes to fruition by keeping God’s word. True love for God is expressed in obedience to the commands of His Word. In other words, the proof of love is obedient loyalty. Consider this: what would a wife think of a husband who said, “Oh, honey, I love you,” but every week he committed adultery with another woman? Well, that profession of love would ring hollow, wouldn’t it? True love is loyal. True love is faithful. And, therefore, God asks us “Do you truly love Me? Then you will grow in your loyal to My word; you’ll make slow but steady progress is being committed to My word.”
Now again, like in bowling, we want to avoid the gutters on either side of the lane, and aim for the middle. So on the one hand, we stay away from cheap grace that has little to do with holiness. On the other hand, we avoid the error of legalism, thinking that we can earn merit by our obedience to God’s commands. Therefore it might be helpful to think of Keeping God’s commandments not as conditions for approval by God, but rather as the characteristic of one who is already accepted by God, by grace, through faith in Christ.
What does it mean or look like for God’s love to truly be made complete or perfect in you? That’s a staggering thought, isn’t it, that God’s love may come to its full expression in us?
Look at 1 John 4:12 “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.” Do you grasp what John is saying here? The invisible God, who has revealed Himself in His perfect Son, now reveals Himself in us, His people, as we love one another! That is, God’s perfect love is seen in our love for each other, because that special love is the love that He put in our hearts by His Spirit. God’s amazing love is brought to completion as it is reproduced in us and in our relationships!
Brothers and sisters, we don’t have this kind of love in our hearts. We can’t hope to demonstrate God’s complete love by our own strength and mercy. How much we need to humble ourselves and cry out to God for a fresh outpouring of His love into our hearts! So… confess you lack of love for others. Repent of your selfishness and coldness of heart. Ask God to forgive you and to fill you with His love. Rely fully on Him, for the One who is love, to love others through you. The One who promised is faithful, and He will do it!