Summary: John’s moral test for genuine salvation consists of: 1) The Test Stated (1 John 2:3), 2) The Test Applied (1 John 2:4–5) and 3) The Test Exemplified (1 John 2:6)
Most of us don’t like tests. Tests conjure up bad images in our minds: that horrible math final exam your senior year in high school, that stress test the doctor has ordered, or that dreaded driver’s license test with a dour instructor in the car with you demanding that you display expertise in parallel parking. But some tests are actually fun. You can go on Internet sites and take an IQ test or a 1960s test, and you get to answer a lot of fun questions. But some tests are absolutely vital to take. The Apostle John’s test is that kind of test. John is going to give you an opportunity to test yourself as to whether you are truly a Christian (Allen, D. L. (2013). 1–3 John: Fellowship in God’s Family. (R. K. Hughes, Ed.) (p. 61). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.).
Many in contemporary Christianity simply ignore the biblical understanding of assurance. Teachers frequently assure them that if they have repeated a certain prayer, gone forward at an evangelistic rally, made a profession of faith, given mental assent to the gospel, or even been baptized, they are definitely saved and should never question their salvation. Such people do not want to examine themselves as the Bible teaches (2 Cor. 13:5), because to do so, they reason, might damage their fragile self-esteem or make them guilty of doubting God. As a result, the entire subject of assurance is often de-emphasized or ignored altogether.
1 John 2:3-6 is a the moral test, which is the test of righteousness. The point here is that the one who knows God will increasingly lead a righteous life, for God is righteous. John addresses manifest assurance—from the perspective of obedience, which constitutes visible, objective evidence that someone is a Christian. That is a crucial element in John’s moral test for believers, an aspect that he divides into three parts: 1) The Test Stated (1 John 2:3), 2) The Test Applied (1 John 2:4–5) and 3) The Test Exemplified (1 John 2:6).
1) The Test Stated (1 John 2:3)
1 John 2:3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. (ESV)
By this is a transitional phrase John used to introduce a new set of tests that verify salvation and encourage assurance. John presented his readers with some additional ways they could verify that they were walking in the light and had a genuine relationship with God.
The apostle states the case with certainty; he does not say “we hope,” “we think,” or “we wish,” but we know. We know translates the present tense form of the verb ginōskō, and means to continually perceive something by experience. Assurance comes from obeying God’s commandments in Scripture. Those who fail to do so will and should wonder if they are converted and the Holy Spirit is truly leading them. But obedient believers can be assured that they have come to know Him (Christ). The perfect tense of the verb ginōskō (have come to know) looks back on a past action (savingly believing in Jesus Christ) that has continuing results in the present.
Knowledge of God was a favorite theme of ancient religion. It was particularly common in a group of religions which have come to be known as “Gnostic” (from Gk. gnōsis, “knowledge”). Although they flourished in the second century, some of their basic motifs were already current earlier and their roots stretched a long way back. For some religions of this kind “knowledge” of God meant some kind of mystical experience or direct vision of the divine. For others it meant knowledge of esoteric myths, sometimes given in visions, which conveyed salvation to those who were initiated in them. In both cases knowledge was a purely religious attainment and had little, if any, connection with moral behavior. The evidence which we have already gathered from this Epistle suggests that John’s opponents were not too concerned about sin and evil, and did not think that sin was a barrier to fellowship with God (Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Epistles of John (p. 121). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).
• The most dangerous thing that someone can do is have a false security of salvation. Are you basing assurance of salvation on an experience, special feeling or event because you know biblical truths.
• As John will explain, real assurance of salvation can never be properly based on these factors. Instead, it is the saving knowledge of Christ that comes from being in a right relationship with Him. John’s point, then, is that external obedience provides evidence for whether or not an internal, transforming reality—that of coming to know Jesus Christ in salvation—has taken place .
Please turn to John 14 (p.901)
The word that John renders, in 1 John 2:3 to keep (a form of the verb tēreō) stresses the idea of an observant, watchful obedience. It can also be translated “guard,” which would in this context mean guarding His commandments. Since keep is a present, active subjunctive, it conveys the sense of believers continually safeguarding the commandments because they consider them precious (5:3; Ezra 7:10; Pss. 19:7–8; 119:1, 34, 77, 97, 113, 165; Rom. 7:22). John did not want his readers to settle for a marginal or minimal standard of righteousness. Rather, the apostle emphasized an extensive obedience that stems from a genuine reverence for God’s commands (Ps. 119:66, 172; cf. Acts 17:11; James 1:25). John is not saying that the Christian must be perfectly obedient before he can in any way know God, and be rightly related to him; for he has already claimed that no one is sinless (1:8–2:2). Obedience is not the condition for knowing God; but “obeying orders” should characterize that knowledge (normally, if not without exception), and may be the means of testing it (Smalley, S. S. (1989). 1, 2, 3 John (Vol. 51, p. 45). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.).