Keeping God’s Commandments

Keeping God’s Commandments

Text: 1 John 2:3-6.
Opening: When I was in seminary, I became aware of debate among theologians regarding an issue referred to as “Lordship Salvation.” At the center of this discussion was this question: Can a person receive (i.e. trust in) Christ as Savior and as a result be forgiven of all his sins while having no intention of submitting to Christ as Lord? One side said, “yes.” They argued that salvation is a free gift of God and it must be received with no strings attached … even something as noble as the intention to submit to the rule and reign of Christ over one’s life. On the other side were those who said, “No. Jesus is both Savior and Lord. To believe in Him is to be forgiven of one’s sin(that’s the Savior part) and to sincerely desire to follow His commands(that’s the Lord part). They said that setting one’s heart on obeying Jesus is not a work that is required to earn one’s salvation, but part and parcel of what the Bible means when it speaks of trusting in the Lord in the first place. If you’re wondering where I came down on this debate, I am definitely in the latter camp. To me, Jesus is both Savior and Lord and we are not given the opportunity to reduce Him to only one of those roles.
I’m pretty confident that the Apostle John would agree with me. In fact, he wrote the book of 1 John to the churches in Asia Minor because he was very concerned with some teachers in their midst who professed to know God and even claimed to have access to a secret knowledge of God that few others possessed, but gave no proof by the way they lived that God was real to them. So, John wrote this letter to provide some “vital signs” that could be used to determine where a person was at in their relationship with God. Remember that a vital sign is a measurement of a particular body function that reveals how healthy someone really is(for example: blood pressure, body temperature, respiratory rate and pulse). And just as there are physical vital signs that indicate what kind of shape our bodies are in, so there are also spiritual vital signs which tell us much about the spiritual health of a person as well. Today, we’re going to look at the first vital sign that John provides in his short letter. It is the believer’s obedience to the commandments of God. This is, in the mind of the Apostle, a key indicator in determining the vitality of a person’s relationship with God. Listen to what He write in 1 John 2:3-6 — — And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. I have only two simple observations about this passage … God wants us to know Him and God wants us to know that we know Him. Let’s start with the first one.
God wants us to know Him. This is clearly implied in the first part of verse three. “And by this we know that we have come to know Him.” John wants his readers to know that God is accessible…that it is possible to have a relationship with Him. In fact, He took extraordinary steps to make it possible for this to happen. It involved the Son of God, Jesus, choosing to become a human being in obedience to His Father’s will. Then, as a human being, He had to die on the cross in payment of our sins. That’s what verse two is all about. In sacrificing His Son to satisfy His righteous and holy wrath against sinners, God was saying, “There is nothing that I can do that I wouldn’t do to create a way for you to know Me.” This he says in contrast to the false teachers who had infiltrated the church and were teaching that only a privileged few could attain to a secret spiritual knowledge that would lead them to know God.  John makes it abundantly clear that God wants everyone to know Him… and that the way to Him is not a secret at all! It is through faith in Jesus that we come to know God and inherit eternal life as a result. This is what Jesus was referring to in what is called the High Priestly Prayer (John 17:3 — Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent). Application: If you came here this morning wondering if God wants anything to do with you, the good news according to the Bible is that He does. And it doesn’t matter what’s sins you may have committed. The blood of Jesus is sufficient to pay the penalty for every one of them. The only thing required of you is repentance(turning away from any attempt on your part to make life work apart from God) and faith(putting your trust in Jesus to be your Savior and Lord). Let me be absolutely clear on this: God has provided no other way for us to pardoned of our sin and begin a relationship with Him except through the cross of Calvary. Illustration: Some time ago, I heard a story about a young man in the wild west who shot and killed another fellow in cold blood. In most places justice was swift in those days, so the man was arrested and put on trial, found guilty and sentenced to die in a matter of days. Because he was so young, the pastor of the only church in town went to the judge to plead for the fellow’s life. He said, “He was young, impulsive and stupid, your honor. I know there is no excuse for what he did, but I’m asking you to give the boy another chance. Please show him some mercy.” The judge thought about the request for a few minutes and then said, “Okay, I will, but only on this condition. You must deliver the pardon between the pages of a Bible, but you cannot tell him it is there. If he takes receives the Word, he will also receive mercy. If he does not, he’ll die.” The pastor immediately retrieved a small Bible and placed within its pages the pardon of the judge. Then he headed for the jail. The young man saw minister approaching, but before the holy man could speak a word said, “Get out of here, pastor. I’m already a condemned man and nothing you can offer me now will save me. Get out!” The man as he was told. That’s when the sheriff walked in and told the young fellow what the judge had proposed and how he could have received mercy if he’d only taken the Word from the pastor. Two days later, as he stood on the platform where he would hang til death they asked him if he had any last words. He said, “I’m not dying today because I killed a man. I’m dying because I rejected the pardon.” The Apostle John wants everyone to know that there is a way out of judgment and death that can lead us to a personal relationship with God…but it is only through Christ who has willingly died as a sacrifice for our sin. The choice is left to each one of us.
God wants us to know that we know Him. God never wants us to be insecure about our relationship to Him.. That’s why he provides the first vital sign for us in verses three and four. “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.” John is saying that salvation can never be just an inward attitude with no external evidence to support it. If we know God it is impossible to remain the same person we’ve always been. And the first indication that we know God, the first vital sign that attests to our spiritual health, is that we keep His commandments. This has three implications for each of us:
·     Those who know Him obey Him. That’s what John is referring to when he mentions …whoever keeps His word.  The word “keep” means to “give heed to” someone. It is not merely the idea of listening to what God says, but hearing with the intention of obeying. John knows that having a personal relationship with the living God is transforming to say the least. Anyone can claim to know Him, but that claim is nothing more than a lie unless it is backed up with a willingness to obey His commandments. Illustration: Do you remember the story of Saul and the Amalekites from 1 Samuel 15? Because they had attacked Israel when they were on their way to the Promised Land and thus discouraged them from obeying God, later He command King Saul and his armies to destroy every Amalekite and their livestock. But Saul did not obey. He allowed Agag their king to live and a number of the choicest livestock. Then, when the prophet Samuel confronted Saul, first he lied(I have carried out the Lord’s instructions), then he denied(by blaming it on his men – the soldiers brought them from the Amalekites), and finally he justified(he only withheld some of the best of the livestock … to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gigal). How did Samuel respond? He said, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion (disobedience) is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry – 1 Samuel 15:22-23. Listen…we don’t like to think of disobedience as a sin on the part of practicing witchcraft or as the epitome of arrogance is deciding that we know better than God what is right and wrong, but that is how the Bible talks about it. And if someone claims that he has a relationship with God but continually fails to obey His commands, he, too, is a liar and the truth is nowhere to be found in him.
·     Those who know Him love Him(Verse 5a — whoever keeps His word, in Him the love of God is truly perfected). There are actually two possible ways to translate this verse. The first is how I just read it to you. The other (the Revised Standard Version follows this way) says it like this: Whoever keeps His word, in Him truly love for God is perfected. I think the second gets it right because it’s in keep with what John the Apostle says about love in his gospel. “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he it is who loves Me” – John 14:21. John is reminding us that when we keep God’s commandments, our obedience a clear measurement of our love for Him.It is no good to profess love for the Lord when our actions clearly say something else altogether. Jesus said as much in a parable about two sons in Matthew 21:28-31. Their father went to the first of the two and said, “Go and work today in the vineyard.” The boy replied, “I will not,” but later changed his mind and went. The father went to the second son and said to him, “Go and work today in the vineyard.” He answered, “I will, sir,” but did not go. Jesus asked his audience which did what his father commanded. They said the second. That’s when Jesus pointed out that these two sons represented two groups of people … a group of sinners(tax-collectors and prostitutes) and a group of self-righteous people(the chief priests and the elders). The latter said many pious and religious things, but did not obey the Lord. The former lived in rebellion to God until the day they decided to obey His Word. And in doing so, they expressed their love for Him because that’s what our obedience to God says … I love you.  (Review: Those who know Him obey Him, love Him and thirdly…)
·     Those who know Him behave like Him(By this we may be sure that we are in Him: whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same manner in which He walked – 1 John 2:5b-6). Jesus always obeyed His heavenly Father. He said, “I always do what pleases Him” – John 8:29. He also said, “I have come down from heaven not to do my will, but to do the will of Him who sent Me” – John 6:38. John the Apostle wants us to know that when we have the same ambition, to do what pleases God, to obey His will, to keep His commandments, we are behaving just like Jesus. At times this might mean that our actions seem a little out of place to some, but don’t worry … they thought the same thing of our Lord. They didn’t understand why He chose to eat with sinners(Matthew 9:11), why He allowed His disciples to break the traditions of the elders(Matthew 15:2), or why He took such a strong position on marriage and divorce(Matthew 19:7). It is always more important, however, that we behave like Jesus and do what pleases our Father in heaven, then to live please anyone else.
Applications: So, if you’re wondering how you’re doing today in your relationship with God, you might want to ask yourself these three questions:
·     Do you earnestly desire to obey God?
·     Do you truly love God?
·     Do you strive to live like God?
Conclusion: I have shared with you before that I played baseball in college at Slippery Rock University for a couple of years. Because I loved the game, after graduation I also played in a semi-pro league in western Pennsylvania. That’s where I really honed my skills as a pitcher, facing an even higher level of competition made up of really good ballplayers who had finished their college careers and were either entering the work world or still hoping to be taken in the next MLB draft. When I wasn’t pitching, I often played in the outfield because I had a pretty good arm making it more difficult for someone to try to stretch a single into a double or a double into a triple. I remember a game that was important to our team because it would determine how we would be seeded in the playoffs that began the next week. In the top of the last inning, we were ahead by a run. My brother was also a pitcher and he was on the mound preparing to face a guy who was later taken in the draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Now it just so happened that there were two outs in the inning and our opponents already had a guy on first base. As this big, strong guy game to the plate, I remember thinking to myself, “Mark, don’t throw this guy anything over the heart of the plate. If you do, he’s going to hit it very hard.” I no sooner got that thought out to myself, when my brother tried to sneak a fastball by him. It didn’t work. This guy hit the ball really hard, but it didn’t gain a lot of height. In fact, it screamed out over the infield and then continued on about five feet over my head in right field. We had a fence that was about ten feet high and the ball cleared it by only an inch or two. Incredibly, it struck a tree growing up against the fence and bounced back into the field of play where a team member picked it up and made a throw home, holding both runners on second and third. Only two people in the entire park new for sure if the ball had cleared the fence. That was me and the centerfielder. Of course, the other fans were yelling that it was a home run while our fans were equally certain it had struck the top rail of the fence and did not leaven the park. At that point the umpire at second base called time out and starting walking toward me. The center fielder knew what was about to happen, so he said quietly, “Kerry, tell him the ball it the fence!” I said, “But it didn’t. It went over.” He said, “Tell him it hit the fence or we’ll probably going to lose this game.” The ump looked at me and said, “I’m only going to ask you this once. Did it go over the fence or hit it?” I said, “It was a home run.” All our fans groaned and I’m sure my team wondered why I wouldn’t lie to preserve a win. In fact, when we got the next out and I went to the bench, the only person to talk to me was my brother and other guy named Johnny Scharrar. He came over, slapped me on the knee and said, “Ker … you did the right thing.” Well, it turned out that we came back in the bottom half of the last inning and won the game, but the best part of the story for me came a year later when I was back in town after moving away to begin working with CCC in Chattanooga, TN. I was walking along main street, when I heard someone yell my name. It was Johnny. He hustled across the street and we struck up a brief conversation. Eventually he got around to that game and said this: Do you remember when you said the ball went over the fence and we all wanted you to say it was only a double? I want to tell you that I will never forget that and I totally respect you for telling the truth. We ended our conversation soon thereafter and I walked away praising the Lord that I never questioned if I should tell the truth in that moment because I understood that to be a Christian is to behave like Jesus, and He always spoke the truth.