1 John 2:3-11 – How Do We Know We Know God?

We know we know God because we keep his commands (2:3). The phrase “by this” are missing in the NIV perhaps because it is a transition between the previous point (claiming to be without sin) and the next point (knowing we know God).

Does “him” refer to God or Jesus? Father or son?  Likely this is God the Father, although 2:2 does describe Jesus as our advocate and atoning sacrifice. Perhaps this is intentionally ambiguous: in the Gospel of John knowing Father is to know the Son, and to know the son is to know the Father.

Jewish Law, TorahKnowledge in the Bible is more than just factual knowledge (that we are aware of the fact that God exists). In the Old Testament knowledge often has a sense of intimacy, so that it can be used as a metaphor for sexual intimacy (“Adam knew his wife”). Since John introduced the idea of fellowship in the introduction to the letter (1:3) and dealt with those who claim fellowship but continue to sin, it is important to understand knowledge in this context as intimate personal knowledge that comes from being in fellowship with God.

What does John mean by “keeping his commandments”? Is this the Law? Is this the Law of Christ? The command of Christ might be understood as the two great commandments, love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. But even in that context, those are summaries of the whole law. The noun ἐντολή is in the plural here, although John’s Gospel uses both the singular and the plural for Jesus’s commandment to love. John will use this noun seventeen times in the letter.

Are “his commandments” the Ten Commandments? The whole Jewish Law?  There is “no hint elsewhere in the letter that the author is concerned about obedience to the Mosaic Law” (Kruse, The Letters of John, 78). Robert Yarbrough points out the word ἐντολή is not used in the LXX for the Ten Commandments, so it is not the case the “commandments” in 1 John 2 are the Decalogue (1-3 John, 82).

Knowing something implies responsibility for that knowledge. If you know what is right and good you are obligated to do what is right and good.  Following C. H. Dodd, Jobes thinks this knowledge was promised as part of the new covenant (1, 2, & 3 John, 81). Jeremiah 31:34 says that when God makes the new covenant, the Law will be written on the heart so that God’s people will be able to keep it.  In this case we know God and this implies our responsibility to keep his commands. But what commands? “When he uses the singular form, it always refers explicitly to Christ’s command that his followers should love one another.

Knowing God and being in fellowship with him is expressed in how we live.  It is not possessing secret knowledge only revealed to the few (Gnosticism and the mystery religions), nor is it expressed religious rituals and rites (pagan sacrifices designed to placate the gods). If we know God then we know how he wants us to live. And if we know how God wants us to live, then we ought to live that way.

In the previous section of the letter, John dealt with the claim the opponents are without sin, now he is dealing with the claim they actually know God. To return to the original question, “how do we know we (really) know God?” For John, one clear indication is a person knows what God has commanded and is trying to respond to those commands. But this is not a long list of “thou shalt not” commands, John summarizes God’s demands a “love one another.”

What are some ways we can know we really know God by demonstrating love for one another? Who is included in this “one another”? Are there any limits in 1 John on who the Christian ought to love?

6 thoughts on “1 John 2:3-11 – How Do We Know We Know God?

  1. To answer the question asked following the post I would say that we can know we really know God by demonstrating love for one another through our actions and our thoughts. I know that in verse 9-10 it states, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.” Therefore, even if we act in a godly way or exhibit Christian like actions but still have hateful thoughts towards our brothers and sisters there is no difference than being horrible in person. Demonstrating love for another is being brought to the attention to the readers again to stress the importance of the concept. Demonstrating love for one another is being good to one another in person just as well as not having negative thoughts about one another in our minds. If our relationship with one another does not exhibit love, then our relationship with God cannot exhibit love either. To love God and hate a Christian brother or sister is not possible. I do not think that there are any limits of love in which Christians are supposed to express. Even if someone does not return the same love in which we provide to them, we are still supposed to continue to show God’s love. They will know we are Christians by our love.

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  2. The trouble with this question is that it can only be answered by ourselves. I cannot answer whether you know God or not and you cannot answer whether I know God or not. No one knows whether someone else truly knows God or not. One can have a strong inkling as to whether someone truly knows God but this can never be confirmed to them. The question then becomes, how do I know that I know God? It is by my actions. Specifically by my response to knowing God. If I know God then I know his commands and if I know God’s commands then I should strive to live out those commands. The commands here are specifically to love God and to love one another. Ways in which we can show this love is through sacrificial living. Putting aside my desires for the needs of someone else; whether that is a very simple physical action such as making your siblings lunches for school because your parents do not have time or an emotional sacrifice of giving up your time to listen to someone who needs to let out their thoughts. Ultimately this idea of sacrificial love is what takes the forefront of our thoughts. It seeps into our beings. Now, the next question is who? I truly believe that Jesus was talking about taking care of each other meaning fellow Jews/Christians first. This does not mean that this love does not extend to possible converts (which means everyone). We are supposed to act this way towards everyone. Finally, we are not to love the world. This does not mean not to act in love towards the people in the world but not to love the world as a construct of sin. We also probably shouldn’t love the antichrist but that is for another post.

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  3. In this passage John refers to a new command when he tells his readers that they should love one another. I think he is referring, back to the teachings of Jesus in John 13:34 and 35. In these passages Jesus states that he is giving his disciples a new command, tells them to love one another, and then states that people will know that they are his disciples when they see how they love each other. I think that John is passing on this teaching to his readers here in 1 John 2:3- 11. He makes similar statements, such as referring to the teaching as a new commandment, and also states that if they don’t love each other it reveals that they don’t know Jesus. I think that John is trying to teach the same lesson to his readers that Jesus taught him, but expanding on it to help them understand and be more introspective about their own faith.

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