Knowing that we Know Him by Martyn Lloyd Jones
All the passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John.” It was preached in the 1940’s and re-published as one volume (formerly in five Volumes) in 2002 by Crossway Books.
And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked. 1 JOHN 2:3-6
THE APOSTLE HERE, at the beginning of the third verse, proceeds to apply the doctrine which he has been laying down from the beginning of his letter. The great theme, we remember is that of fellowship with God—fellowship with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ; that is the great thing which had prompted the Apostle to write at all. We have seen that fellowship with God is only possible in and through the Lord Jesus Christ and His perfect work. And indeed John has shown us so clearly that as we go forward in this walk with God, even should we fall into sin, that does not make our position hopeless. He shows us that even that is dealt with by the atoning work of our Lord as He presents it to the notice of the Father. He is pleading, an advocate presenting a case, and in the light of that we have this great certainty concerning the whole basis of our standing in the presence of God. That is the fundamental doctrine, and it is because it is fundamental that we have spent so much time with it. It is the foundation on which everything else that he is going to say in the letter is to be built; and you can never be too careful about the foundation. That is the part of the work on which you expend unusual care, and therefore, we have not hurried, in order to make quite sure that we are resting on nothing at all save on Jesus’ blood and righteousness, and that it is in Him and in Him alone that we have any hope whatsoever.
So having dealt with that, the Apostle now goes on to state certain other matters which are of great practical importance. The Christian life is a life; it is not a matter of intellectual assent to doctrine, and therefore he has to deal with the whole thing in a very practical manner. There are certain things which will interrupt our fellowship with God, and we must be very careful about them. So John, in these verses 3-6, deals with one of these matters, and as we shall emphasise later, it is most important to observe that this is the thing that he puts first.
As he comes to do this, he introduces to us a number of his typical, characteristic words. All these Biblical writers have their favourite words; it is one of the romantic aspects of the whole doctrine of inspiration. Inspiration does not mean mechanical dictation; the personality of these men is here. And as we all have favourite words, as every preacher has words which he tends to repeat, so these men have theirs; Paul had his and so did John and Peter. Well now, John’s favourite word appears here, the word know—‘hereby we know’—and if you read his Gospel and epistles again, you will find that it is there everywhere. He is also very fond of the word abide, as we see in John 15, and here it is again—you will find it running through this epistle. Then he also likes to play with the words keep and walking.
Incidentally, it is a point of interest as you study the problems of authorship—not only the authorship of these epistles, but also that of the Gospels—that these things make it abundantly plain and clear that these men wrote the Gospels as they did the epistles. And it is well to bear that in mind, because it is almost certain that the man who wrote this letter was taking it for granted that the people were already familiar with his Gospel. His primary concern here is not merely to know the gospel but to work it out, as it were, and so he uses the same terminology, and we see this interesting connection between the Gospel and the epistle—the laying down of the doctrine and the working out of the doctrine in life as well. So we come to more practical matters, and yet we shall still find that it is full of doctrine, again a point which we are never tired of noticing in the New Testament. The New Testament, while in an intellectual sense does divide and separate between doctrine and application, nevertheless never parts them in a radical sense. The application is always the outcome of doctrine; you talk about the source of a river and the river itself; while there is a division, in a sense there is no division. And doctrine is remarkably like that; doctrine and practice and yet both are one in an organic and vital sense.
So let us look at what the Apostle has to say to us, and let us take it in this way. He tells us that the Christian should know something; in other words, he introduces the great doctrine of assurance—‘hereby we do know that we know.’ Now I like that, because it is a perfect way of putting it. Peter tells us, ‘make your calling and election sure’ (2 Peter 1:10), which is perhaps an equally good way of putting it, but there is something about this verse of John’s which surely does fix it once and for ever. Christians are people who know what they know.
I remember once hearing a master describe a pupil, and I think he paid that pupil a very great compliment. He said, ‘That boy knows what he knows.’ He did not say, That boy knows everything,’ but that he was certain of the knowledge he possessed; he had mastered it, he had got it. Now that is what John tells us about the Christian; indeed the whole object of his letter, in a sense, is to give an exposition of this doctrine of assurance. You will find he goes on saying that. He says, as he looks back at the very end, in the last chapter, ‘These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life’ (5:13).
This, therefore, is a very vital doctrine. Yet for some remarkable reason there are many people who seem to have a rooted objection to it. I find it very curious that anyone who claims the name of Christian should be capable of objecting to the doctrine of assurance, because it is in many ways the most glorious truth of all. As natural human beings we want assurance; we want to be certain of things in this life and world, and one of our greatest difficulties is that we are uncertain about so many things. Yet when the New Testament comes and offers us this blessed assurance, there is something instinctive in us, as a result of sin, that objects to it.
Now there are some reasons for that. There are some who feel it is presumption; they show a kind of mock modesty. They say, ‘Who am I to presume to say that I know Him. He is so utterly and absolutely holy, and I am so aware of my own sinfulness and unworthiness, how can I claim this? What right have I to say, “I know whom I have believed,” or “I know that my sins are forgiven?” And there are others, I know, who are antagonistic to the doctrine because of their reaction to certain people who believe it. They say in effect, ‘Well, I don’t want to be like those people who say they know—those glib, superficial people who talk in terms of positive assurance and who, as they are doing so, seem to deny the very thing they are saying. There is a loudness about them and a self-satisfaction.’
Now let us be perfectly fair. There is a sense in which we can understand people reacting against such an attitude, and that is why we must be so careful that our personality and actions and everything that is true of us should be in conformity with the claims which we make. But while there is a sense in which one can understand the people who are antagonised in that way, it is always a very poor argument to refuse a doctrine simply because of other people. Indeed, I think I can prove that to you quite logically and conclusively. If you are going to judge everything in terms of liking certain people, then you will end by believing nothing. You cannot belong to a political party, or any other party, without finding that there are always people you do not like, and so you will find that you have to come out of everything!
But the final answer is that whatever certain people may do, the New Testament is full of this doctrine; indeed, it is, finally, the only solution that the New Testament offers to people in a world like this. You see, the New Testament’s picture of life in this world is a very dark and gloomy one. It talks about ‘wars and rumors of wars’ (Matthew 24:6), and it prepares people for persecution and trials and tribulations. But this is the way to come through it—that we know that we know Him; that we have this blessed assurance that ‘neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:38-39).
That was Paul’s comfort and consolation. There he was, an old man, a prisoner at the end of his life. So how did he keep going? ‘I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day’ (2 Timothy 1:12). The New Testament is full of it, so that apart from anything else, not to believe this doctrine is really to deny one of the most central of the New Testament doctrines.
Here, then, the Apostle John puts it quite plainly to us: what are we to know? And he tells us that there are two main things. Firstly, we are to know the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us be quite clear about this. ‘Hereby we do know that we know him’; he does not say we are to know certain things about Him. No, rather, he says, we are to know Him. He has just been telling us about Him. He is our ‘advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous’; He is ‘the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.’ And what John says here is that we are to know that we know Him.
There are certain matters which I always feel should truly be put in the form of a question, and this is one. Do we know Him? I am not asking whether we know certain things about Him. We know about His birth as a baby in Bethlehem; we know about Him as a boy in the Temple; we know He was a carpenter; we have read the Gospels; we know about the miracles. We are full of knowledge of these things. But that is not what John has in mind. It is something personal, direct, immediate, this word know.
Now the Bible is always very strong. It does not mean a general, superficial acquaintance; there is an intimacy about it, a knowledge in a special sense; it is a personal acquaintance, an intimacy and an interest. It is nothing less than that, and John says that we should know the Lord Jesus Christ in that way. Our fellowship is to be with the Father and with His Son; and in this verse the ‘him’ is undoubtedly a reference to the Son about whom he has been speaking, but it includes a knowledge of the Father also. So we are back again with this fundamental question, this question which we should really ask ourselves every time we pray: Do I know God? Am I simply going to offer up a prayer of hopes and fears and aspirations, or do I know that God is there; is the Lord Jesus Christ real to me?
That, the New Testament tells us, is the Christian position, not to believe things about Him but to know Him. So let us examine ourselves by this test. Are you able to hold conversations with the Lord Jesus Christ and to have fellowship and communion with Him?
The second thing we are to know, John tells us, is that we are in Him. Let me remind you of our text: ‘And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar; and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.’
Here is the other doctrine which John is constantly teaching, that we are not even to stop at a knowledge of Him in a sense of a personal, intimate acquaintance. We are to be aware of a union with Him, this mystical union of the believer with Christ. It is one of the great New Testament phrases—‘in Christ.’ In Romans 16, in the list which Paul gives of those to whom he sends his regards, he, referring to certain people, says they were ‘in Christ before me.’ You can find this everywhere in the New Testament; we are incorporated into Christ, we are in Him in the sense that any one member of my body is in the body—‘Ye are the body of Christ,’ says Paul, ‘and members in particular’ (1 Corinthians 12:27).
So the Christian is in Christ. That analogy which is used in John 15 puts this perfectly, the reference to the branch and the vine. It is a vital, organic relationship—not a mechanical attachment, but a live one; it is sharing the life of the vine itself. And that is the relationship of Christians to their Lord. John tells us we ought to know that we are in that vital, organic relationship; we should know that we are a part of Christ, that we are in Him and He is in us and we have received of His life.
And here we see again the great New Testament doctrine of regeneration. Christians are not just people who hold a number of opinions, though they do hold opinions. They are not only men and women who are aware of forgiveness; they are people who can say, ‘I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me’ (Galatians 2:20). They are aware of another quality of life; they are aware of the life of the Son of God Himself in their lives; they are in Christ, and the life of Christ has come into them and through them. Now what John tells us is that we must know these things—‘We know that we know.’ Do you know that you are in Him in that way? Do you know for certain that His life is in you? This is the great principle which John emphasises.
How does the Christian know these things? That is the second point; or, to put it another way, let us consider the basis of this knowledge. How do we test the validity of our experience? It is a most important subject. There can be very little doubt but that John as he wrote these words had certain people very definitely in his mind. We have already referred, in dealing with the first chapter in my book Fellowship with God, to the Gnostics of this early century. There were, you remember, certain people who laid claim to some special knowledge. The mystery religions had already started, these strange amalgams of the Christian faith and eastern religions which were sometimes an admixture of philosophy and mysticism.
Now this is something that was not confined to the ancient world. I think you will find that there are quite a number at the present time. Philosophers tend to become mystics. It is a curious thing; it sounds contradictory at first, and yet in the end it is not contradictory at all. These men of ability and understanding have set out as philosophers, and they claim that by thinking and reasoning, they can discover the whole meaning of life. They set out to do so, and then, after a while, in utter honesty, they have to admit they have not succeeded. So they say, ‘What is to be done?’ and their tendency is to pass by, as it were, the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is here in the centre, and to swing from philosophy right over to mysticism. Having tried reason, they in a sense abandon it and submit themselves to some strange mystical experience.
There were people like that in the ancient world, and I have no doubt John had this in mind. They had been initiated—that was the word—into some mystic truth. They met together and there things were revealed to them. They were always thinking about their experiences, and they said that they had this unusual knowledge as a result. Read the epistle to the Colossians with that in your mind as a background and you will find it most illuminating.
So John deals with the question in this way. ‘It is very important,’ he says, ‘that you should test your experience; every experience is not a true one, for there are false experiences. So prove the spirits, test them, examine them. Do not believe every spirit; there are antichrists and false spirits. The devil transforms himself into an angel of light. He can counterfeit most of the Christian experiences—I do not say all, but most—so if you have an experience, you must test and examine it. ‘Now,’ says John, ‘there are people who claim they have an unusual knowledge of Christ and they are claiming a mystic experience, so how do you test it?’
And here he leads us to his great first test. This is of vital importance, because I find in my experience as a minister that there are large numbers of people who are unhappy about themselves and their Christian life simply because they have not had the same unusual experience which somebody else has had. They have not, for example, had the experience of seeing a ball of fire and feeling that the whole room has been illuminated, and because of that they do not feel that they are Christians at all. They say that they have not had this special vision and thereby they are robbed of the wonderful experience that the New Testament has to give.
How may I know that I know Him? Well, observe how John puts it, and I must say there is to me almost an element of divine humour at this point. People are fond of describing John as a mystic. You will find there are certain people who do not like the Apostle Paul, but they like John. They say that Paul argues too much and that there is too much logic and reason about him, whereas John is full of love and mysticism.
So how interesting it is that John, who is described as the mystic, is the man who tells us that the way to test ourselves is not to seek for some mystical experience, but to examine our conduct and our lives! ‘Hereby we know that we are in him’; not by the strange, the mystical, far from it; it is as prosaic as this: ‘If we keep his commandments’; nothing less than that. It is not experience that enables us to say that we know Him; it is not feelings, not sensations, not vision, not amazing answers to prayer, not thrills, nor the unusual. We are all familiar with this kind of thing. There are so many who seem to think that the only way in which you can be absolutely sure is that you have one of these things and that you should always be talking about them. But no, says John, that is not what comes first, that is not the safe thing.
Now God forbid that anyone should misunderstand me! There are experiences in the Christian life, and I thank God for them, rare experiences that come, certain things like those which the Apostle Paul experienced and which he is almost afraid to mention. He says, ‘I do not talk of that man taken up into the third heaven some fourteen years ago, but rather thank God that these things are possible’ (see 2 Corinthians 12). However, these are not the things that John puts first. Here is the first test: What is your life like; how do you live? The test whereby we know we are His is this: are you keeping His commandments?
Keeping His commandments does not mean I just put on the wall a list of specific injunctions and do my best to keep them. Rather, it means that I am always concerned to be living the Christian life as fully as I can; that my great object is to be well-pleasing in His sight. I know what He wants me to do; I find it in the Old and in the New Testaments. I have the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount which apply to me, and I have the whole moral, ethical teaching of the New Testament. Those are His commandments and I have to keep them. ‘And if you can say quite honestly,’ says John, ‘that you are very concerned about doing that; if you can say you are striving to do that and that that is your ambition in life, you can know that you are in Him, for to know Him is to walk as He walked.’ ‘He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.’ That puts it perfectly once and for ever.
The Bible often describes our life as a walk. ‘Enoch walked with God’ (Gen 5:24); ‘Noah walked with God’ (Gen 6:9). Then read what God said to Abraham in Genesis 17:1—Walk before me, and be thou perfect.’ ‘I,’ said Jesus Christ, ‘am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life’ (John 8:12). Then, listen to Paul saying the same kind of thing: ‘For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light’ (Ephesians 5:8).
It is a wonderful picture of the Christian life; it is a journey; we walk along, and what John says here quite simply and without any explanation is this: ‘If you say you are in Him, then you ought to walk as He walked. Look at His walk, look at His demeanour, see how He lived His life in the world. If you say that you are in Him, if you say His life is in your life, if you say you are like the branch to the vine, then you will bear the character of the tree—that is inevitable. That which takes of the life of something represents and manifests that self-same life. If you, therefore, say you are in Him, you ought also to walk as He walked.’
See how our Lord walks through the pages of the four Gospels. The first thing you see is a humble, lowly and meek person. ‘A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench’ (Isaiah 42:3). ‘Come unto me. . . ,‘ He says, ‘learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart’ (Matthew 11:28-29). It is as we look at Him, as we begin to examine ourselves, that we feel we have no right to be here at all. There is so often a hardness about our testimony; we think we are in Him; we imagine we are testifying to the power of the Christian life. But the great thing we know about Him is that He was meek and lowly. The world does not encourage modesty, and I am afraid that at times the Church today does not do so either. We try to imitate the world, and we become self- assertive. We are so afraid of being called weaklings by the world that we develop into a boisterous kind of Christian. But I do not see that in the New Testament—meek and lowly.
The Corinthians in their folly said of the great Apostle Paul that his presence was ‘weak, and his speech contemptible’ (2 Corinthians 10:10), though he was introducing the meekness and the lowliness of his Lord. We are anxious to impress, and it is as true of the Church as it is of the world. The Church would turn the preacher into a man of great and dominating personality. How different that is from what we find here; we ought to walk as Christ walked. His great concern was to do the will of God, to please Him and not to please men. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He mourned because of the sin of this world; it hurt, it pained Him. Do we share something of His godly sorrow because of the state of the world? Paul puts it like this in 2 Corinthians 5:4: We ‘do groan, being burdened.’ Do we groan? Do we give the impression of being burdened because of the sin and iniquity that is rampant around and about us? That is how He walked, and that is how we ought to walk.
And above all we see in Him love to God and love towards men and women—His compassion, His sympathy, His patience, His lovingkindness.
Well, according to the Apostle John, that is the test we are to apply to ourselves. Not the thrills and the visions, but that within me I feel a great desire to be like Him, to follow in His steps, to walk as He walked, to keep His commandments and to fulfil His word.
This is an inevitable test. Now John does not say, ‘If you live that life you are making yourself a Christian,’ but rather, ‘If you are a Christian this is how you live.’ If you have the life, it is bound to show itself, and if it does not, then you have not the life. That is logical; it is absolutely inevitable. These things are not matters to be argued about; we just face the facts. You cannot be receiving the life of Christ without becoming like Him. You cannot walk with God without keeping His commandments. You cannot know God without immediately, automatically loving Him. Love always manifests itself by doing what the object of its love desires.
There, then, is the first great test, the safest test; not the strange mystical initiation into some new knowledge, but keeping His commandments, keeping His word, walking even as He walked.
So again, do you know that you know Him? Does your life prove to you that you do? If these are the things you are most concerned about, it is because you know Him. God grant that we all may be able to say together, ‘I know that I know Him.’(181-190)