1 John 2:4-5 – Can We Claim to Know God and Not Keep his Commands?

In the previous section of the letter John explained the one who knows God does what God has commanded. What about people who do claim to know God but choose to not keep his commands? The immediate application is likely to those who went out from John’s church, the opponents the apostolic teaching.

The way John expresses this statement is important. The verb is in the perfect tense, implying an action in the past which has some effect in the present of the speaker. In this case, the opponents have (already) said they know God and they are still claiming this at the time John writes. Maybe this is an over-interpretation, but imagine a person who made a public confession of faith, perhaps submitted to baptism, gave their testimony in front of the congregation, etc., and the continue to make that profession of faith by continuing to attend church and give to charity, etc.

If someone claims to know God but does not keep his commands, they are choosing to not know what God has revealed about himself and his will. They are a liar because they actually did not know God in the first place.

On the other hand, the one who does obey God‘s word, God‘s love is truly made complete in him. This is not a conditional sentence, although appears to be in the NIV. Notice that commandment and word are used in parallel here. To keep God’s word is to keep his commandment (cf., 1:8 and 1:10, see Lieu, I, II, & III John, 70). The very translated “obeying” is in the present tense, so an ongoing action. But “made complete” is in the perfect tense, so the past tense completed action.

Clean your room! By “the love of God” John means the love a believer has for God, so the love for God is perfect when we obey Jesus‘s command to love one another. The ESV translates the verb τελειόω as “perfected.” This may imply (in English) “made perfect.” The verb, however, has the sense of reaching the intended goal (Jobes, 1, 2, & 3 John, 86) or even reach a state of maturity. John is talking about our transformation as a child of God by means of obeying his commands, moving from immaturity to maturity.

By way of analogy, a child can be taught “clean your room,” perhaps rewarded or punished when that does or does not happen. But eventually a child matures to the point where they understand living in their own filth is not healthy and it is better to spend a little time clearing up their room on their own without the threat of punishment or the promise of a reward. They may even begin to discover ways to keep the command “clean your room” which go beyond a child’s immature view of what the command meant. As a child matures they (should) move from shoving clothes under the bed for the appearance of neatness to shoving them into a drawer, to folding them and placing them in a drawer, etc. As a child grows towards maturity, they discover new ways to obey the original command, and often that command starts to make more sense when viewed with mature eyes.

In a similar way, as the one who is in Christ obeys the commands of God, they ought to grow more mature and find ways to apply the command to “love one another” which are less obvious or more challenging.

The last phrase concludes the section, “By this we know we are we are in him.” But how does this work out in real life? What are some real indications of growing maturity in the Christian life?

4 thoughts on “1 John 2:4-5 – Can We Claim to Know God and Not Keep his Commands?

  1. Maturing of the Christian life is a process. This maturity is not perfected right away. It takes time as you said. While I think that someone can know God and not keep his commands, I think that it is important to note that those who truly know God might not always keep his commands but still strive to do so. This is where grace is provided. It is for the faithful person who still occasionally slips up then continues to strive for righteousness. I also believe that someone can know God but also reject him which might look like lying to himself about the truth. This person is still in the book of life and will still go to paradise. They just won’t receive the benefits of the Holy Spirit here on earth. This a very Calvinistic viewpoint.
    The real indications of maturity in the Christian walk should clearly be seen by the fruit that a person bears. In Galatians 5:22-23 we see a list of attributes of the fruit of the Spirit. The attributes are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The maturing Christian will bear more fruit than the Christian who is fresh out of the Spirit’s womb. Sorry about that. The maturity of a Christian shows when a reaction to a situation becomes a response to a situation. An immature Christian reacts in ways that are not loving or peaceful, or kind. The mature Christian responds to a situation with gentleness and self-control. A mature Christian does not let sin hinder them or take their sight away from what is good. If sin comes about in a mature Christian’s life the focus is not on sin. The focus is still on the desired destination.

  2. To know about God and to know God are not the same thing. I think this is where people get stuck in their theology. They know a lot about what God does and what he says in his Word but there’s no proof of believing those words to be true. How are we to know ourselves whether we have reached spiritual maturity? Potentially if we were saved as children, we learned a lot more about God before we actually knew how to apply it. If we went to church, awana, summer camp or certain functions like this we learned a lot about God and his love for us. For those that get saved before knowing God their journey may be a little different. They may have the fruits in their life without having the knowledge of who God is. One way, I don’t believe is better than the other because we are called to do both. Works do not decide whether we are saved or not, but they are good indication that we have decided to follow Jesus. We know both of these things from James and Paul. I think this is part of what John is getting at. We don’t need to live perfect lives in order to be saved but are we even trying to live perfect lives? If there is no proof of what the love of God has done for us, then how is that light, mentioned in chapter 1, supposed to be shown?

  3. I think as we mature and develop as followers of Christ, the idea of obedience and following God’s command gets easier and easier. For me, when I first became a follower of Christ, obeying all the commands seemed like a real tall order that I could never ever fulfill. It also did not seem like the most reasonable or fun thing to do; however, when I continued to grow and become mature in my faith I realized it is not as hard as I once thought. Obviously, there still is the realization that I will fail and not succeed in this goal as I ought to, but this does not discourage me and it is not near as central to my thought process as it used to be. As I have matured, my focus has been on doing what I can to follow God as closely and as accurate as possible because of how much I love Him. It has become more natural as I have aged literally and spiritually. I do think we can claim to know God without obeying His commands well; however, how well we are able to know Him is limited. In a sense the more we know Him, the more we love Him. When we love Him more, we are more inclined to do what He desires of us.

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