The Behavior Of Obedience
Tim Temple


Open your Bible, please, to I John, chapter 2, as we continue to look at God's message to us through the one who thought of himself as “the beloved disciple.” In this series of studies in this first letter of John, we are thinking about the all important question of maintaining an intimate and powerful and fruitful fellowship with God the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. It is that kind of fellowship that makes Christians' lives worth living. We have seen so far in our studies that there are two aspects to this relationship that we can have with Christ. There is the matter of relationship, the fact that we can be related to the God of the universe. The establishment of our relationship to Him is by our response to His offer of salvation.

In Matthew, chapter 11, verse 28, Jesus said:

Matthew 11:

28Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

In Revelation, chapter 3, verse 20, He said:

Revelation 3:

20Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

When we respond to the invitation, it establishes a relationship with Christ. It makes us one with Christ and gives us the opportunity of having all of the spiritual blessings of Heaven in our lives here and now in this life.

Secret Of Fellowship

There is another aspect of knowing God, and that is the aspect of fellowship. Fellowship, as John is making clear in this letter, is the actual experience of the power and the wisdom and the love of God at work in us. It is the day-by-day experience of Christ working, living, manifesting Himself through us, and there is nothing more exciting than that. This experience of fellowship is continually ours, John says, if we live honestly before God and call the actions of our lives as God calls them, agreeing with Him about the things that we do or fail to do, doing away with all pretense and deceit, not trying to act out some kind of Christian life, but simply living in response to what He guides us and tells us to do. John refers to this as “walking in the light.” Fellowship is the secret of having God's power at work in our lives and walking in the light is the secret of fellowship.

Fellowship's Conduct

That sounds pretty easy, doesn't it—just to be open and honest and not kid ourselves, to stop pretending to be something we are not and just let Christ live through us and do what He tells us to do. Then when we do that, all that God is, is available to us and we can live as God intended His children to live in the fullness of fellowship, having things in common with God Himself. All of that is established in chapter 1, and we have talked about those things in some detail, but today we come to chapter 2. This chapter is going to give us another aspect of fellowship. That is fellowship's conduct. Walking in fellowship with the Lord will produce a certain conduct in us. It will affect the way we live. It will affect the choices we make. So John devotes his second chapter to describing and discussing the conduct of the person who lives in fellowship with God. He begins by giving us a description of conduct in verses 1-11. We will not have time to look at all of them today, but we are going to begin by looking at the first section of the chapter, which describes fellowship's conduct.

In chapter 1, we saw that obedience to God is not a natural thing. This living simply with Him sounds easy, but actually there are at least two problems with that. First, we have the ability, and in fact even the tendency, to sin which theologians call the sin nature . Secondly, so often when we do sin, we rationalize it away and we say, “Well, that is not really sin,” and so that sin in our lives which is so easy for us to fall into blocks our fellowship with God. It turns off the light, to use John's terminology. So in these first verses of chapter 2 he is going to show us the basis for obedience, how obedience is possible even for people like us who have such a tendency to sin, then to rationalize it away.

The basis for that relationship with Him which brings about that conduct is twofold. First, in verse 1 John says that it is possible for us to have fellowship with Him even though we have this sin situation because there is someone to make a plea for our sin. Look at chapter 2, verse 1:

I John 2:

1My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:

In chapter 1, verse 9, we talked about the fact that because Christ has paid for our sins God is faithful and just to forgive them. He does that and restores us to fellowship when we agree with God about the nature of the sin. He does that not because He is just going to give us one more chance, He is going to be good to us another time or because we are pretty good guys and He feels sorry for us. He forgives our sins, no matter how many times we sin. When we agree with Him about that sin, He forgives those sins because Jesus Christ paid for them and God the Father is faithful to Jesus Christ. He is just. He is righteous. He will forgive our sins because they have already been paid for.

Here we see the inside story on how that works. John says in verse 1 that our goal should be not to sin. How much of a specific goal is that with you, especially those among us who have been taught this truth in the past about the fact that we still have a sin nature—that ability and tendency to sin? And besides that, our experience has taught us that. It is easy for us to get to the place that we think, “What is the use? I can't really live without sin anyway.” God says that our purpose should be that we will purpose that we will not sin because those sins have been paid for and because God continues to forgive them and so he says in verse 1, “I am writing these things to you so that you might not sin…” Let me suggest to you to make a new resolution that you are not going to sin. I don't have to sin and with God as my helper, I am not going to.

John knows that even though that should be our attitude, and I hope it will be our attitude, he says, “Even if you have that as your goal, and I am writing this to you so that you can have that as your goal, if you sin, don't give up.” John realized how weak we are. He was human himself. He wasn't just some stuffy preacher. He was a human being, and he knew how easy it was to sin. Don't throw in the towel. Don't give up. Don't call yourself a failure. Don't think God could never have any more to do with you. Instead, remember that we have an advocate with the Father Who is Jesus Christ the righteous. If we do sin, in spite of God's provision, Jesus Christ steps up before the Father in Heaven and pleads our case like a lawyer before the judge. He is our Advocate. He is on our side, and He represents us to the Father. He reminds the Father that He, Jesus, paid for that sin and that is one of the things that Jesus Christ is busy doing in Heaven right now and has been since the time of His resurrection.

Bases For Obedience

Notice further how John refers to Him: “He is Jesus Christ the righteous…” and that is a reminder that it is Jesus Christ's righteousness that is the basis for our forgiveness. It is not our righteousness, but His. Jesus said in so many words, “Father, Tim did commit that sin, and yes, I know that I had to stand up for him yesterday and he did that. He is unrighteous, but he has trusted Me. He believes that I paid for his sins and I did, Father, and I am the righteous One.” He is our advocate, and who is He? Jesus Christ the righteous. So one of the bases for our obedience, one of the reasons that we can hope to have a life of obedience before God, is that we have someone in Heaven making a plea for us when we are disobedient.

There is a second basis for our obedience and that is in verse 2:

I John 2:

2And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

Let's think about the first part of that verse first. The word propitiation is an unfamiliar word to some of you, but it is a translation of a Greek word that means “satisfaction.” He is the satisfaction for our sins. That Greek word is the same Greek word that is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to refer to the Mercy Seat. The Mercy Seat was the lid or the covering of the altar in the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament tabernacle and then in the temple. God says that Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins. He is the satisfaction for our sins. That place, the lid of the altar, was the place where the blood of the sin offerings were placed all through the Old Testament sacrificial system. So what He is saying here is that the death of Jesus Christ satisfied God the Father just as those offerings temporarily satisfied Him in the Old Testament. Thus it is possible for us to be obedient to Christ and to have fellowship with Him because our sin question has been taken care of. We don't have to feel guilty or afraid in His presence any longer because God has been satisfied about our sins.

Then in the second part of the verse there is something that seems a little out of place in this context. He says, “…and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.” Obviously, God is drawing a contrast between Christians and non-Christians here. He refers to the world as people who have not accepted Christ as Savior. He reminds us that when Christ died on the Cross nearly 2000 years ago, He not only paid the debt for the sins of those of us who have accepted Christ as Savior, but He took the guilt of the whole world on Himself. That means that there is no one who will be kept away from God because of His sins if he accepts the work of God on his behalf. Sin does not have to separate an individual from God permanently because of the Cross of Jesus Christ. No matter how bad the sin, no matter how extreme it may be or how long it continues, sin can never separate anybody, anywhere, anytime, of any age from the heart of God if that sinner receives the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross as applicable to himself. That is what God says. There is no one for whom Christ did not die. He is the propitiation for our sins, yes, but for the sins of the whole world. That is a wonderful truth.

As we study through John's letter verse by verse, we might wonder why he mentions it in this context. He is really talking to Christians in the verses before this, and he is reminding us that we can have fellowship with God and keep the lights turned on by confession of our sin and continuing to walk in fellowship with Him. So why does He bring up the whole world right here? I believe the answer is, if you think about what we have been talking about in the last few verses, to help us see ourselves as Christians who won't come to grips with our sins. Why is it if Christ died for the sins of the whole world, the whole world is not reconciled to Christ? Why is it that there are some who are not believers in Christ?

In the first place, there are some who have never heard about Christ, and that should be a very important part of our prayer and our giving and even our going—to tell people who have never heard about Christ. But besides that, there are people whose sins have been paid for on the Cross and yet they are living separated from the God Who loved them enough to do that and Who seeks after them and knocks on their door. Why is that? The bottom line is that they do not believe in Him. They do not believe that message. They haven't accepted the message even though perhaps they have heard that Christ died in their place. That is why, though the message is available to them and salvation is available to them, they don't have it—simply because they won't appropriate it to themselves.

Do you know what? That is the very same reason that Christians are not enjoying the full flow of the power of God through our hearts and lives, the power of life and love and wisdom in our experience. It is available to us, but so many times we will not take it for ourselves because, like those unsaved people, we are turning our backs on the message of forgiveness that God gives us. As we saw last week, we say, “Well, God, I really don't need cleansing. I don't need to confess my sins. I don't need to claim the blood of Christ for the sin that I have done because I really don't need it. This that I am doing is not sin. It is simply a weakness. It is a tendency I have inherited from my family. I can't help it, and maybe if someone else did this kind of thing it might be sin, but with me it is just something I cannot help. It was the only solution for the problem that I faced, and it is not sin.”

If we go on, unwilling to agree with God about that thing that we have done; if we go on, explaining it away, it cuts the ground out from under the whole work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. It keeps us in the darkness, even though we know Him as Savior, even though we are His children, even though we are assured of our presence with Him someday in Heaven. This matter of day-to-day fellowship with Him and walking with Him is not ours to experience because we, like those unsaved people, won't deal with the message of our forgiveness day by day like they won't deal with the message of Christ having died for their sins in the first place. When we stop rationalizing our sins away and confess it before God, we say, “Yes, God, you say that this thing that I have done is sin, and even though I enjoyed it and even though I couldn't help it and even though it seemed like it was the only solution to my problem, I did it and God, I agree with you. I say that it is sin too.”

When we come to God with that attitude, we experience His forgiveness and then we have His power available to continue to obey Him step by step in the steps ahead of us. That is the basis for our fellowship. That basis of fellowship is obedience, agreeing with God.

The Test Of Obedience

In verses 3-6, John gets more specific and he tells us exactly what that behavior of obedience is. What does a person who is being obedient to God act like? Well, the test of obedience is given in verses 3-5. Look at verse 3:

I John 2:

3And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.

Let's stop there for a moment. It is a little hard to get the whole emphasis of what God is saying here if we don't understand something about the tenses of the verbs in verse 3. A more literal translation of verse 3 would be something like this: “By this we may know that we have known Him.” That is the past tense in the Greek. “By this we may know that we have known Him because we are keeping His commandments [present tense].” That fits our life. We have at some point in the past accepted Him as our Savior. We have put our trust in Him. We believe that He died to pay for the sins that we committed. We have known Him, but at the present time we are keeping His commandments; and if we are keeping His commandments, we know from that that we have trusted Him, we have known Him in the past.

John is saying that our present willingness to keep His commandments is proof that we have been born again. Our actions have changed and because they have changed and now you at least have a desire to obey God, even if you do sin from time to time, you can be sure that you are born again. There has been a change in you.

Faith Is The Key

It is very important that we not reverse this. It is easy to reverse it because it is our natural tendency as humans to think the other way around. You cannot know God by keeping His commandments. It doesn't work that way. It is impossible to become a child of God by keeping His commandments. That, however, is the way most human beings look at it. Surely if I do these things, if I keep the Ten Commandments, if I keep these other things that God has said in His Word that I should be doing, then surely God will accept me as His child. It does not work that way, and many people have become frustrated with the whole idea of Christianity because they have tried that for a few days or few weeks and they see that they simply cannot do it, so they give up. That is not the way God intended it to be. You can never come to know God by trying to keep His commandments. The knowledge of God comes by faith in Jesus Christ. Relationship to God comes by faith in Jesus Christ without any reference to the works that we may do. Stay with me; we will come to that in a minute. Relationship to Christ, knowing Christ, being a part of God's family, comes through faith in Jesus Christ, believing by faith that He died for our sins.

When we have accepted Christ as Savior, when we have put our trust in Him, out of that comes a desire to keep His commandments. Martin Luther is a famous name in church history that most of you know and many of you know a lot of detail about him. Martin Luther made the mistake of trying to find God by keeping His commandments. He became a monk. He was a member of the Roman Catholic Church, and as a monk he lived in a monastery. His life was very severely devoted to keeping God's commandments. In that context, because he had that kind of life, he fasted for days on end. He prayed lengthy prayers. He denied himself all kinds of things. He did all kinds of good works, but still he had no assurance at all of a relationship with God. He was so frustrated about that that he cried out to God for God to reveal Himself to him. Finally, after some years of that kind of searching for God and the frustration of trying to keep God's commandments and convince God to take him into His family, he came across some words from Paul's letter to the Romans in Romans, chapter 1, verse 17, “The just shall live by faith,” and the light came on for him and he realized faith is the key to this. Believing by faith that Christ paid for my sins is the key to acceptance with God. He found right relationship with God through faith in Christ, not the merits of all those good works that he had been doing.

You know what the interesting thing is? He then he spent the rest of his life keeping God's commandments. Why? He already had a relationship with God. Why did he keep the commandments? After he had relationship with God through faith in Christ, he kept God's commandments because he wanted to, not because he was trying to earn God's favor, but because he realized he had God's favor, not so that he could become a son of God but because he realized he was a son of God through faith in Christ. Whether we fully realize it or not, that kind of thing happens to every one of us who puts his faith in Jesus Christ. We come to the place that we believe that Jesus Christ is our Savior and we receive that invitation and accept Him as Savior by faith. When we do, He comes invisibly, usually quietly, into our lives, and He begins His delivering work. He begins giving us that desire to do the things that please Him. A sign of the delivering work is a change in our attitude about obeying Him.

Let me ask you something. I am not going to ask you if you sin. I know you do. I don't know what your sins are, and you don't know what my sins are, but let's not kid ourselves; we all know we are sinners, don't we? The question I want to ask you is not have you sinned, but how do you feel about your sin? Does it bother you that you can deliberately do something that God has said not to do? Does it bother you if you fail to or even refuse to do some of the things that God has said He wants you to do? If you can sin without any kind of problem, if you can disobey God and it not really bother you, let me tell you, my friend, you have reason to question whether or not you have really accepted Christ as Savior. When we trust Christ as Savior, there is still that tendency to sin and that ability to sin, but when we know Christ as Savior and we commit sin, it bothers us and that is because we have a desire to do God's will. We have a desire to obey God. We have a desire to please God because He has come into our lives and He has made that change in our hearts and in our lives. That doesn't mean that we are successful in pleasing God; it doesn't mean that we always do the things that He wants us to do and that we want to do, but it means, at least, that the desire is there to please Him. The sign of that delivering work of God in our hearts is at least the desire to obey Him, our attitude about Him. If we have that desire, we can know, John says, that we know Him.

He takes it a step further in verse 5. He says:

I John 2:

5But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.

You see how relationship leads on to fellowship. The faith in Christ by which we begin the Christian life doesn't stop there. The faith that we exercised to accept Him as Savior begins the process that leads us then to the experience of an increasingly deeper relationship with Christ. John says here that the love of God is being perfected; it is being completed. It may take a while for some of us who are particularly resistant. It takes long years—I speak from personal experience on that—but God's promise is that He begins the process in our hearts that continues as long as we take in His Word and learn what He wants us to do. As long as we don't interrupt that process by refusing to do what He wants us to do by turning off the lights, there is a process working in us that draws us closer and closer to Him.

The True Nature Of Obedient Behavior

John says that the test of our fellowship is our behavior and that brings us now to the next section. If obedient behavior is the test of relationship, what is the true nature of that behavior? That is in verse 6:

I John 2:

6He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.

He is talking about the fellowship with the Lord, knowing Him as Savior, wanting to please Him; and the sign of that fellowship with Him, John says, is to walk in the same way in which Christ walks. That is a concept that is pretty popular right now with all of the “what would Jesus do” bracelets and jewelry that we see all around us. I want to be very careful what I say right here, and I want you to be very careful that you listen to what I am about to say. I want to tell you that as much as I like that publicity for Jesus and the publicity for obedience to Him, I think it may be a bit misunderstood because that slogan and this verse doesn't mean that we should go around trying to do the same things that Jesus did. How long has it been since you raised the dead? How long has it been since you turned water into wine? If you just go around trying to do the same things that Jesus did, you are going to be frustrated pretty soon.

Certainly we can do some of the things that Jesus did, and it is good to ask ourselves what would Jesus do, but what this verse is talking about and what that slogan is talking about is that we are to act on the same principles that Jesus acted on, to seek to have the same kind of relationship to the Father that He had. How did Jesus walk? How did He do the things that He did? That was the question everybody was asking while He was on earth. That is what brought Nicodemus to Him in the night, to try to ferret out that secret of why Jesus was able to do the things He did. “No Rabbi ever spoke like this before. How are you doing this?” Many others came to Him wondering what the secret of His power was.

The amazing thing is that He kept telling people how He did it, and He keeps telling us how to do it; but like most of the people of his day, we just skip right over it without really noticing what He is saying. For example, in John, chapter 14, verse 10, he said this:

John 14:

10Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.

Jesus said, “I don't do these things in my own power. It is the Father who dwells in Me. I don't speak these words of Myself. I only speak what I hear Him telling Me to speak. I am a man available to God the Father. He is in Me, and He is working in Me. That is the secret of the things that I do.” Also in John 8:29 He said:

John 8:

29And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.

Let's be honest with ourselves. We know whether or not we are doing the things that are pleasing to God, don't we? As we move through the day, we don't stop to analyze it, but there is a sense there if we do stop for a moment to think about it of whether or not we are pleasing God. In John, chapter 6, verse 27, Jesus said:

John 6:

27Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.

He says, “The thing that keeps Me going is to do the will of Him who sent Me.” That was the secret of the way that Jesus lived, of the way that Jesus walked. It wasn't so much in what He did; it was in how He did it. That secret was, “I do always those things that please Him. My meat is to do the will of Him who sent Me.” That is a great secret, but it is one of the hardest things for Christians to learn. How did He walk? He walked in total, unrelenting, unbroken fellowship and dependency on the activity of the Father who indwelt Him.

With us, it is the Holy Spirit who indwells us; but it is the same God, and we have such difficulty with this. Do always the things that please Him? Our attitude is, “Please, Father, I would rather do it my way.” We seem to have this idea that God is looking for us to do great things for Him, and if we fail to do these great things He expects us to do, somehow the whole program is going to fall apart. If we do these great things that God is shaping us to do, He will be eternally grateful to us for our help and for our faithfulness. Doesn't that sound familiar? That is not Christianity. That is not what a Christian is called to do.

If we could ever learn this great secret that John is trying to share with us, it would revolutionize our lives. A quiet, unrelenting dependence upon the indwelling God to be at work in us, to show us what to do and empowering us to do those things—that is what Christianity is. That is what fellowship is, and that is what abiding in Him is. We find out from His Word what He wants us to do. We experience the power He gives us to do that. We experience the power to say no to things that are contrary to what He wants us to do, and step by step, day by day, we walk in a way that pleases Him through the power that He gives us to do that. We can expect Him to do that continuously, and we need to consent to its being done and not take it back and try to do some of it ourselves.

That is where the rub comes. We don't always want to consent to what He wants us to do, do we? We don't always want to do the thing that pleases Him because that means that we have to absolutely renounce our selfcenteredness and our self dependence. We have lived like that for so long that it is hard for some of us to not call the shots. We don't like that. We want it to be some of us and some of Him, a little bit of our desires and preferences, even though most of the time we are going to do things His way, but we need to reserve the right to do some of these things the way we want to do them. That is the way our minds work. We are glad to let Him have the lion's share, but we hang on desperately to some areas of our lives. That is the problem. What we have to remember is the rest of the transaction. If we allow Him to live out His life through us, if we allow Him to tell us what to do and give us the power to do it, He will be reproducing in us the power of His resurrection.

The wonderful thing about that is that His resurrection power is the kind of power that works in the worst kinds of situations, those kinds of situations when nothing man can do is working, when all hope is gone, when all possible avenues of human effort have been blocked off, the resurrection power still works, and that is what the love of God will lead us into step by step, little by little, as we grow in dependence on Him and as we grow along with Him. What is the key to it? Like Jesus, we learn to be dependent on the Father. We do those things that please Him. We say what He gives us to say. We do what He tells us to do. We learn to walk as Jesus walked, in complete, unbroken fellowship with Him and dependence upon Him. That is the behavior of fellowship.

Be Reflectors Of The Light

Where does that leave us? It tells us that we have to stop being counterfeits. We have to stop just acting like Christians and instead make a commitment that we are going to do the things that He tells us to do. One way to look at it is that we will be reflectors, reflecting the character and the quality and the principles by which Christ Himself lived, doing what He tells us to do, not acting like a light, but being reflectors of the light. Paul expressed it this way in the second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 3, verse 18:

II Corinthians 3:

18But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

That is what John is talking about. That is what he is trying to lead us into and what the Spirit of God is working at in our lives. That is the goal for which God is leading, to come to know Him; and as we spend time in His presence and study of the Word and prayer, we become more like Him. That is what God wants us to do. Paul prayed for the Ephesians in chapter 1, verse 18, and I think he would pray that same prayer for us:

Ephesians 1:

18The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,

He is praying that we would begin to see the direction in which God is moving and walk with Him in that. That should be our prayer for ourselves. That is my prayer for you, and I hope that is your prayer for me.

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