Consistency Between Profession and Practice – 1 John 2:3-6

By: Northern Seminary

We live in an age of tolerance, but no one is tolerant of hypocrisy. No one thinks it’s acceptable to say one thing and do another. For example, a doctor loses credibility if he or she is seriously obese – you can’t tell others to look after their health if you’re not looking after yours. We are equally critical of corrupt police. How can someone uphold the law who is breaking the law? And it’s unacceptable for a pastor to preach on The Ten Commandments while cheating on his wife – you can’t commit adultery and stand in church preaching against it. I groan when I see a Dad and his kids out on bicycles if the children are wearing safety helmets but not Dad. He’s sending a signal: “Do what I say, not what I do,” but that doesn’t work long term. Eventually they won’t pay any attention to his words.

We look for consistency between profession and practice, between words and deeds, between what we say we believe and what we do with our lives.

John, writing to the early Christians, saw consistency as essential for every Christian.

1 John 2:3-6

3 We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. 4 Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

There is one overwhelming and unmistakable message in these verses: no matter what you claim, the proof about what you believe is shown by how you live.

John’s words had a particular target. He was deeply concerned by people in his day who said they had enlightenment or knowledge of God which was so special that how they lived was no longer important. John would not concede one inch of truth to that claim.

In these verses John deals with that by writing down three things someone might say about their relationship with Christ, and then spelling out what it means if those words are true.

1. “I know him.”

Here are three people I might say I know.

I could say…

I know the Queen – Queen Elizabeth II, monarch of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and lots of territories.[1]

I could say…

I know Tom Jones, the Welsh singer who emerged in the mid 1960s as a top vocalist with thirty-six top-40 hits in the UK and nineteen in the US.

I could say…

I know Alan Brown – he’s my older brother and lives in a town called Glenrothes in Scotland.

I know the Queen. I know Tom Jones. I know Alan Brown. In each case I say I know them, but does that word mean the same thing each time?

Well, I’ve been close to the Queen several times, especially when my wife, Alison, asked me to accompany her when she was invited to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party. At one part in the afternoon, the Queen was no more than two paces away, but she didn’t speak to us or invite us indoors for a chat. We were near, but I suppose the two yards away could have been two miles. I can’t say I got to know her well.

Do I know Tom Jones? Well, in a way I do, and certainly more than I know the Queen. Just as he reached the peak of his fame in the late 1960s, I was working in journalism in Glasgow. I went to a Tom Jones press conference and hardly any other reporters turned up. So each of us who were there had plenty time with him. I asked him a few questions, got my photograph taken with him, and collected his autograph – as you do. But that’s it. Nothing else, not ever. He never wrote or called, and I never went to any of his live concerts. I knew Tom Jones for an hour or two, that’s all.

How well do I know Alan Brown, my brother? Knowing him is in a different league to these others. I know Alan through and through just as he also knows me. We grew up together. We are not just contacts, not just friends, but family. We have shared many years of life together. We belong together. There is a family bond which could never be dissolved.

The Queen, Tom Jones, and my brother – three instances of knowing someone. What does John mean when he writes about knowing Jesus Christ?

When John or any New Testament writer talked about knowing Jesus, he was not talking about being acquainted with Jesus. Plenty people met Jesus, heard him speak, or saw his miracles, but that was it. For all too many, there was nothing more. Certainly Jesus was impressive, and maybe they were interested. Some, of course, just dismissed or despised him. All these people knew him, but only at a distance and they never followed him. In fact, some tried to trick and trap Jesus. They knew Jesus, but only in a superficial way. Their lives never belonged to him.

When John writes about people knowing Jesus, he means much more than superficial awareness, something much deeper. John is talking about knowing Jesus as Lord, the one to whom they have surrendered everything, the one who now directs their lives and controls their behavior. John is one hundred per cent explicit about that. “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar” (1 John 2:3-4).

John says there is no wriggle room here: you cannot know Jesus – not in any sense of really being connected to him, belonging to him, yielding your will and your heart to him – without becoming a whole new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), and that includes complete transformation of how you live.

His words are in line with what Jesus taught himself: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matt. 7:21-23).

Jesus will be very clear: ‘I never knew you.’ No, and their lives will prove they never knew him either.

2. “I love him.”

John writes: “…if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them” (v.5).

No-one can be absolutely sure whether John is talking about our love for God or his love for us.[2] He actually writes about the love of God, and that could be either us loving him or him loving us. Both options, of course, are true and especially because we could not love God if he did not first love us (1 John 4:10, 19). But John is focused here on our attitude to God, so most likely he is talking about our love for God.

His point is that where there is love, there is always evidence of it. If someone says: “I love Jesus” that will make a significant and positive difference in their lives. Love changes what people do.

Let me illustrate, and I promise I have my wife’s permission to share this story.

When Alison and I were first married and just back from the honeymoon, I went off to work and all day looked forward with great anticipation to the first meal Alison was preparing for my return home. She would have read all the recipe books, shopped carefully to get the right ingredients, and then slaved long and hard over a hot stove, and it would be wonderful.

I got home, slippers were ready for me, cup of tea given to me, and a delicious aroma was coming from the kitchen. Married life seemed very good. Minutes later Alison ushered me to the table. There was a large dish in the middle, the lid was lifted and I saw a sumptuous casserole. I like casserole, and – being a good husband – I told my wife it was easily the best casserole I had ever tasted in my life.

Next day I hurried home. Again, the slippers, the cup of tea, wonderful smells of food being prepared, and minutes later at the table…casserole. Two days running, but I really do like casserole so again I told Alison how magnificent it was. Third day, and there were the slippers, the cup of tea, the awesome flavors from the kitchen…and casserole. “Fabulous food!” I told Alison.

I should cut this story short by saying the glorious casseroles continued for about a week before I finally said, “I love your casseroles, but I’m sure I would also enjoy other things!” “Oh,” Alison said, “I kept making casseroles because you seemed to enjoy them so much, and I love you so I wanted to please you.”

That last phrase is what touched my heart: “I love you so I wanted to please you.” And that’s right. When you love someone, you long to delight them. Love shows in what you do.

That’s why John says you can’t love God without obedience to God’s word. Where there is no evidence of trying to please God there is no evidence of ever loving God. John is very clear: you cannot say “I love you” to God and live contrary to his will and his standards.

3. “I live in him.”

John writes: “This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (verses 5-6).

Those words about living ‘in him’ can seem strange. Most of us are familiar with asking Christ into our lives, but the New Testament also frequently talks about us being ‘in Christ” or ‘in him,’ as if God has opened up his heart and welcomed us in. And he has. His arms were stretched out to us, and we have been enveloped in his love and grace. Paul used these words to describe it: “For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

That means Christ becomes the air we breathe and the land in which we live. He is our world. We gave him our lives, and he swept us up and put us in a new and better place. Imagine you find a fish stranded on the beach. It’s still alive but it can’t live for long flopping around on the sand. You pick it up and throw it back into the water. Now the fish is in the sea. It’s in water. That’s its real world. That’s where it belongs. That’s where it can flourish. That’s where it is truly at home.

In Christ is where we belong. No one finds their fulfillment anywhere else. Outside of him we flop around, frustrated, struggling, unfulfilled, falling short of life in all its fullness, and ultimately dying. Inside Christ we are fulfilled, complete and we are given the eternal life for which God made us.

But back to this matter of the proof, the evidence, that someone is living in Christ? John says that person “must live as Jesus did.” It would be impossible to live in Christ with a lifestyle incompatible with Christ’s.

I watched a film recently about the Amish, the people descended from mid-European Anabaptists who live in the US and Canada and are often known for their simple living and avoidance of most modern technology. I don’t agree with the way the Amish go about their faith, but it would be hard not to be impressed with the loyalty to their values. One thing that struck me is that young people growing up Amish face a decision to stay or to go from the community. They can choose the Amish way of living or choose the way of the rest of the world. What they can’t do is stay in the Amish community and live like the rest of the world. You cannot be Amish and live a non-Amish life.

John makes a similar point. Walk as Jesus walked: his path, his values, his purposes. But you cannot be his and live the world’s way, the world’s lifestyle and chase the world’s goals. If you do, then it’s clear you are not in Christ. That’s John’s message. “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (v. 6).

So, three things people say:

“I know him.”

“I love him.”

“I live in him.”

All of these are good words, but words can be cheap. Actions prove whether words are real. John makes it very clear words are a lie when actions don’t match the words.

Jesus left no ambiguity either when he said: “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). “If you love me, keep my commands.”

John’s words and Jesus’ words leave a deep challenge, and sobering questions: ‘My life belongs to Christ, but do my thoughts, my words, my actions, my values, my goals show that claim is real?’ Put that another way: ‘If someone heard me say that “I know him, I love him, and I live in him,” would that person find evidence in my life to prove my words are true?’

I pray that for you and for me they would.


[1] There are several versions of the full and formal title of Queen Elizabeth II, but here is my favorite!:

Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith, Duchess of Edinburgh, Countess of Merioneth, Baroness Greenwich, Duke of Lancaster, Lord of Mann, Duke of Normandy, Sovereign of the Most Honourable Order of the Garter, Sovereign of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Sovereign of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Sovereign of the Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick, Sovereign of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, Sovereign of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Sovereign of the Distinguished Service Order, Sovereign of the Imperial Service Order, Sovereign of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India, Sovereign of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire, Sovereign of the Order of British India, Sovereign of the Indian Order of Merit, Sovereign of the Order of Burma, Sovereign of the Royal Order of Victoria and Albert, Sovereign of the Royal Family Order of King Edward VII, Sovereign of the Order of Merit, Sovereign of the Order of the Companions of Honour, Sovereign of the Royal Victorian Order, Sovereign of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. 

[2] His words in Greek are agapē tou theou. He’s using a genitive, but it’s unclear whether he’s using a subjective genitive which would be translated, “God’s love for us,” or an objective genitive: “our love for God.”

November 4, 2013

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