By Colton Corter
“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:3-6)
So far, we’ve seen that John is writing this letter so that this local body of believers would know that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). Assurance is a precious gift and should be sought after will all our energy. We really can know if we have placed our trust in Christ.
But while assurance is good and right, there is such thing as false assurance. Pastor John Onwuchekwa describes four type of people in the world. All of us find ourselves in one of these three categories. First, there are people who are saved and know that they are saved. These people have trusted in Christ alone for their salvation, finding their joy in God and have assurance that they will inherit eternal life. Second, there are those precious saints who are saved but don’t know that they are saved. Assurance is to be sought after but the lack of assurance does not mean we don’t have real saving faith. For many reasons – including sin, temptation and God’s withdrawal of His assisting grace – a true child of God may walk in temporary darkness. Third, there are those who are not saved and they know that they are not saved. Many people make no pretense to be Christians, openly in rebellion against the Living God. But, fourth, there are those who are not saved but they think that they are. These are the type of people John is describing in these verses.
It is completely possible to have a profession of faith without actually possessing faith. Not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” on the last day will enter into eternal and ever-increasing joy in God (Matt. 7:21-23). Assurance is a good thing. False assurance is a damning thing.
So how can we discern the difference? John is going to give us three different “tests” to see if our faith is a living faith or a dead faith. This is the first one: We know that our faith is real if we keep God’s commandments. Real, saving knowledge of Christ is the kind that results in good works. Any “faith” that attempts to sever trust in Christ from obedience to Christ is a faith of our own imagination. True faith embraces the righteousness of Christ alone for justification and then from the foundation builds upwards into Christ likeness.
The love of God is “perfected” in those who listen to God’s Word and follow what He says. God has something more than mere pardon in mind when He saves us from our sin. God justifies the ungodly but then, by His free grace, makes the ungodly, godly. So then we aren’t focusing less on grace by emphasizing the need to pursue personal holiness. In fact, we are focusing on grace more! It is less than gospel-centered to try to downplay our new life in Christ. You don’t protect the gospel root by denying the cultivation of gospel fruit. They must be distinguished but never separated. We are saved by faith alone but the faith that saves is never alone!
Part of our problem when thinking about saving faith is that we sever the benefits of Christ from Christ Himself. Sinclair Ferguson pleads with us to receive “The Whole Christ.” We are obedient to God because He has caused us to be. He has given us new life when we were dead and has accounted us righteous based solely on the objective work of Christ. But He did that for a reason. The essence of saving faith is coming to Christ not only as our savior and Lord, but also coming to Him as our supreme delight. Our obedience comes from our love of the glory of God. God Himself becomes the end of the gospel. We are freed to be obedient, His commandments are not burden to us. When we are saved, we get God. Justification without enjoyment of God forever is not the gospel and so claiming to trust Christ without proof of new affections is to make a false claim.
We know we have eternal life when from our affections we serve God with gladness.