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?

6 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.

  4. Can we claim to know god and not keep his commands? This is a profound question posed by the author of 1 John (who I presume to be John himself). I believe that as we grow both physically and mentally we should also strive and commit to growing spirituality. I think it is also interesting and important to note this completion aspect of God’s word in the role of our growing faith, “On the other hand, the one who does obey God‘s word, God‘s love is truly made complete in him.” It is a great reminder to use that God and God alone can fulfill us and complete us- there is no person or thing that can fill that void in our lives. Knowing God is keeping His commands, and once we live a life that is committed to keeping these commands, we will have the overwhelming feeling of fulfillment from Christ in our lives. We must not lose sight that this process of keeping God’s commands is a lifelong journey. We don’t just decide to wake up one day and change entirely- we must commit to keeping God’s commands daily, and our a time period of days, months, years, and decades, we may be blessed enough to see the fulfillment of the fruit that comes from a life devoted to Christ.

  5. It’s important to interpret this the correct way because it can be misconstrued and applied in a wrongful way on how this does work in our real life today. If these verses are interpreted in eisegesis, it can be taken in a way as if one doesn’t follow every single command that God has given over the course of Scripture then that means everyone is going to hell which results in people being turned away from the church. This drives them to believe that there are a certain set of rules, and one must follow in order to be accepted into the kingdom of God. When interrupting this in exegesis we are more equipped to understand how to apply this to our life and helps us understand wisdom in a different way than how we traditionally view it.

    Understanding that way back in Deuteronomy, Moses was given a set of commandments by God in order to keep God’s chosen people accountable by a certain criterion. There are also commands that are mentioned in Scripture that may seem silly to follow today like: wearing a head covering. When first reading 1 John 2:4-5 these are more than likely the commandments that come to your mind, then the panic sets in as to whether or not you’re in the good graces of God. To offer some comfort, this isn’t exactly what John was referring to (thank God because then we would all be in trouble even with the salvation of Christ).

    Take into consideration the cultural timeframe in which John was writing, at this time there were many at the time that were preaching false doctrine and assuming the role of a messianic pretender. Here John is taking a severe blow to these false teachers and pretenders that took the knowledge of God and His word to satisfy their own selfish motives. John is more than likely addressing these individuals that preached to the gentiles they were not bound by a moral law. In basic terms John is calling them all liars and there is no truth to their character or God in them. But John reassures them in the next verse that if they keep Scripture in their heart and preach accordingly by keeping the moral law the truth of God and Christ will carry them through death to the resurrection.

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