John’s Love Letters, Part 5: Walking In Obedience to the Mission

“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” -1 John 2:3-6 ESV 

In William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible series, he lays out the three ways in which the phrase ‘know God’ was interpreted by Jews and Greeks and I couldn’t help but notice that the first two views is how a lot of Christians today view the concept of ‘knowing God.’

To know God, to abide in God, to have fellowship with God has always been the quest of the human spirit, for Augustine was right when he said that God had made men for himself and that they were restless until they found their rest in him. We may say that in the ancient world there were three lines of thought in regard to knowing God. 

 (i) In the great classical age of their thought and literature, in the sixth and fifth centuries before Christ, the Greeks were convinced that they could arrive at God by the sheer process of intellectual reasoning and argument. In The World of the New Testament, T. R. Glover has a chapter on The Greek in which he brilliantly and vividly sketches the character of the Greek mind in its greatest days when the Greek glorified the intellect. “A harder and more precise thinker than Plato it will be difficult to discover,” said Marshall Macgregor. Xenophon tells how Socrates had a conversation with a young man. “How do you know that?” asked Socrates. “Do you know it or are you guessing?” The young man had to say, “I am guessing.” “Very well,” answered Socrates, “when we are done with guessing and when we know, shall we talk about it then?” Guesses were not good enough for the Greek thinker. 

To the classical Greek curiosity was not a fault but was the greatest of the virtues, for it was the mother of philosophy. Glover writes of this outlook: “Everything must be examined; all the world is the proper study of man; there is no question which it is wrong for man to ask; nature in the long run must stand and deliver; God too must explain himself, for did he not make man so?” For the Greeks of the great classical age the way to God was by the intellect. 

(ii) The later Greeks, in the immediate background time of the New Testament, sought to find God in emotional experience. The characteristic religious phenomenon of these days was the Mystery Religions. In any view of the history of religion they are an amazing feature. Their aim was union with the divine and they were all in the form of passion plays. They were all founded on the story of some god who lived, and suffered terribly, and died a cruel death, and rose again. The initiate was given a long course of instruction; he was made to practise ascetic discipline. He was worked up to an intense pitch of expectation and emotional sensitivity. He was then allowed to come to a passion play in which the story of the suffering, dying, and rising god was played out on the stage. Everything was designed to heighten the emotional atmosphere. There was cunning lighting; sensuous music; perfumed incense; a marvellous liturgy. In this atmosphere the story was played out and the worshipper identified himself with the experiences of the god until he could cry out: “I am thou, and thou art I”; until he shared the god’s suffering and also shared his victory and immortality. 

This was not so much knowing God as feeling God. But it was a highly emotional experience and, as such, it was necessarily transient. It was a kind of religious drug. It quite definitely found God in an abnormal experience and its aim was to escape from ordinary life. 

(iii) Lastly, there was the Jewish way of knowing God which is closely allied with the Christian way. To the Jew knowledge of God came, not by man’s speculation or by an exotic experience of emotion, but by God’s own revelation. The God who revealed himself was a holy God and his holiness brought the obligation to his worshipper to be holy, too. A. E. Brooke says, “John can conceive of no real knowledge of God which does not issue in obedience.” Knowledge of God can be proved only by obedience to God; and knowledge of God can be gained only by obedience to God. C. H. Dodd says, “To know God is to experience his love in Christ, and to return that love in obedience.” – William Barclay, Daily Study Bible 

Imagine, if you will, a road. On both sides of the road is a very deep ditch. The left side of the ditch is called ‘cessationism.’ The right side of the ditch is called, ‘charis-mania.’ On the side of cessationism you have those who reject God’s sovereign operation of His gifts and working of miracles in the Church to the point that they are dry and stagnant in their mission. (Let’s face it. There’s virtually no such thing as a growing cessationist church.) On the other side, you have those who only desire to have an emotional experience with God and reject sound doctrine and teaching on the basis that they just don’t ‘feel’ it. Not to be confused with mainline charismatics (e.g. Assemblies of God, COGIC, IPHC, etc. ),  charis-maniacs often believe that modern-day ‘prophecy’ supersedes the authority of the real Word of God, the 66 books of canonized Scripture that we call the Bible.

Now, if you can’t tell, these are caricatures of both sides, but in some cases they are very real.

Both of these camps are wrong, and I would even argue that some individuals in both camps have no real relationship with God because they’re too busy feeding and worshipping their intellect or their emotions, but back to the analogy.

In the middle of this road you have a balance that applies both knowledge of God’s Word and fiery adoration for Jesus Christ and uses them both as a propeller in the mission of God through action.

Churches that will be driving forces in the Kingdom of God will always be ones that preach the uncompromised Gospel and demand action from their people to be a community of Gospel-preaching, Christ-saturated, Spirit and fire-baptized believers on mission.

So, what does 1 John 2:3-6 have to do with all of this? Our passage teaches that radical intimacy with God is born out of a true knowledge of God and is fueled by obedience to God. This does not mean that we never disobey God, but it means that are lives are generally characterized by obedient living and we are always seeking to live out our knowledge and understanding of God through our fulfillment of the Great Commission.

How do we do that? We simply be the Church. In “Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe,” Mark Driscoll offers this insight about fulfilling the Great Commission.

“The church is to be an evangelistic people on mission in the world, passionate to see lost people meet Jesus Christ as Savior, God, and Lord. Any church submitting to the Holy Spirit and obedient to Scripture wants fewer divorces, addictions, thefts, and abuses and knows the only way to see that happen is to make more disciples. The church loves people and is continually and painfully aware of the devastation that is wrought in this life and in the life to come for those who are not reconciled to God. Therefore, while not imposing religion on anyone, the church of Jesus Christ is to constantly be proposing reconciliation with God to everyone.” – Mark Driscoll, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe

In conclusion, walking in obedience out of love for God reveals the faith that’s within us. We live out our knowledge of God by preaching gospel, making disciples, and living missional lives.

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