What John has been teaching up to this point is that a life of sin and new life in Christ are incompatible. He says in chapter 1 vs 6 that you cannot walk in darkness, that means walk in sin, and say that you have fellowship with God. He also makes it clear in the next verse that fellowship with one another is predicated on being right with God.
Now that is the positive perspective, being right with God is being in fellowship with God and with one another. From a negative perspective, John says that sin breaks fellowship with God and with one another. And sin is defined by the commandments.
You cannot determine sin apart from the commandments of God. Now God did plant in the heart of man a conscience which is supposed to make us feel guilty for our sin, but we can’t actually rely on our conscience to do that, because it’s possible for the conscience to become so callused by sin that it no longer does what it should. 1Tim. 4:1-2 says, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron.” So false teaching, demonic doctrines, and the lies of the enemy can cause the conscience to stop working, so that a person no longer feels any remorse or not even any consciousness of sin.
John indicates that the most reliable way we come to know sin is through the commandments. Paul agreed with that principle. He said I would not have come to know sin except through the commandment. Romans 7:7 “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.” So the law is not sin, but the law is good, and the law defines sin as sin.
Listen, it’s important to recognize sin as sin. I don’t think you can be saved unless you recognize you are a sinner. I think that’s why John deals first of all in his epistle with the issue of sin. Paul does the same thing in the first chapters of Romans, defining sin. The lie of Satan is to debunk the law and thereby attempt to nullify sin. The lie of the false teachers and false prophets abounding in the church in America today is to in effect say that there is no sin, or to legitimize sin, or say that what the Bible calls sin is not really sin at all.
So starting in chapter 2 vs 3 John shows that fellowship with God is contingent on not living in sin, and that sin is defined by the commandments. Vs 3 “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; . but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected, or completed.” In other words, the love of God is received by us, which sets off a chain reaction in us, that completes the transformation that God initiated in us, which is that we love like He loves us.
So that, to use the metaphysical language of John in vs 6, we walk as Christ walked. We walk in the light as He is in the light. We become like Christ. We love like Christ loves.
Now I warned you last time at the end of my message that it’s possible to misinterpret the message of John and get the idea that you had to keep the commandments and try to be a better person in hope that you earn the right to fellowship with God. But if you do that then you miss the essential point of salvation. The essential point in salvation is that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. And that happens by faith in what Jesus did on the cross as our propitiation, as the satisfaction for the judgment of God towards sin.
That cleansing, that forgiveness of sins, produces in us a righteousness from God, not on the basis of what we have done, but on the basis of what Christ has done. But it also produces in us a transformation; change of heart, a change of our nature, a change from death to life. This new heart is the key to keeping the commandments. It’s not just mustering up enough will power to overcome your natural tendencies and become by an act of self will and discipline a nicer person.
Rather God changes our heart. He gives us a new spirit and puts His Spirit within us. The result is that we are a new creation. We have a new nature, new desires, new attitudes informed by the Spirit of God, so that we might be empowered to do His will. And so as a regenerated child of God, we are able to keep His commandments because we want to please Him. The product of our regeneration is sanctification. We learn to act like children of God.
God spoke of this supernatural change of heart which would come about through salvation previously in the Old Testament. The first reference to it is found in Jeremiah 31:31, which says, “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Notice that in the new covenant, God not only forgives their sin, but writes HIs laws upon their heart, puts His law within them. That speaks of a heart change, from a heart of stone to a heart that is in tune with God, a heart that loves God, and consequently a heart that obeys God.
There are three references in Ezekiel to this heart transformation resulting in keeping the commandments. The first is found in Ezekiel 11:19-20 which says, “And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.” Then further down in vs 27 God says, “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
So not only is the regenerated man given a new heart, by which he has a love for God and a desire to keep the commandments of God, but he is also given the Holy Spirit, who gives us the power to keep God’s commandments. We get a new heart, and a new spirit, plus the Holy Spirit to indwell us. That’s the difference between the old and new covenant. In the old covenant, they were given the law and the penalty for not keeping the law. In the new covenant, we are given the law, Jesus paid the penalty due because of the law, and we are given a new heart, a new spirit, and the Holy Spirit to enable us to keep His word.
The last reference to this transformation is Ezekiel 36:26 which basically says the same thing as those previous references. Ezekiel 36:25-27 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
Now that’s such a tremendously important doctrine that God repeats it no less than three times in the Old Testament. And it’s important to comprehend this doctrine because that truth is the basis for understanding what John is teaching here in 1 John 2. As we understand that doctrine, we can now read vs 7 and 8 with discernment.
Listen to vs 7 and 8. “Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.”
Without the insight given us through the Spirit as we consider the promises of God in Ezekiel and Jeremiah, we might be scratching our heads over this idea of an old commandment and new commandment. And perhaps because of that many commentators have tried to find some sort of distinction being made here between the old covenant and the new covenant. They say that under the old covenant there are given 613 or so laws, but under the new covenant we are given only two; love God and love one another. And so they seek to explain it as if in the new covenant there are only two, easier commandments that we are obligated to keep, and everything else is just legalism that has now been eliminated by grace.
But that, of course, is the wrong exegesis. What John is actually saying here is that the difference between the old commandment and the new commandment is simply that there is a new way of keeping it. In the old covenant there was just the law given, and the penalty given for not keeping it. In the new covenant, we are given the means by which to keep the commandments. Under the old covenant, the only incentive was to avoid punishment. In the new covenant, the incentive is love, which comes from a regenerated heart, and a new spirit, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to help us. In the old covenant, you were legally bound to keep the law, but you didn’t have the resource to keep it. In the new covenant, you have the all the resource you need, which is the power of the Holy Spirit in you.
That’s where the modern charismatic movement misses the boat on the purpose of the Holy Spirit. They think the Holy Spirit is given to give us a feeling, an ecstatic experience which validates that we know God. But in fact the Holy Spirit is given to give us the power to keep the commandments of God, to be our Helper that we might do the deeds of God.
Notice also John says in vs 8, that he is “writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.” Now what is he saying? I submit that when he speaks of that which is true in Him and in you, He is speaking of the Word of God. Another analogy which we saw earlier in Ezekiel talked of sprinkling clean water on you. That is another reference to the word of God as evidenced by Eph. 5: 25 “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” Sanctification, holiness, which is keeping the commandments, comes as a result of the washing of water with the word.
So we are able to keep the commandment because we have the cleansing power of the word of God at work in our lives, which John says means that the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. The word of God is the truth, is the light, which makes the darkness, the sin and ignorance flee. Peter speaks of this in 2Peter 1:19 saying, “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
Peter goes on to say the subsequent verses that the scripture is given by the Holy Spirit. So we see there how the word of God is used by the Holy Spirit to work in us, which in produces good works from us, so that we keep the commandments.
So the evidence that you know God, the evidence that you have fellowship with God, the evidence that you have the Spirit of God, is that you keep the commandments. John has made that very clear. It’s not in some feeling you have, or some experience you had, or some claim that you are on intimate terms with God and He talks directly to you. The evidence that you know God is that you walk according to the word, that you keep His commandments.
Now last week we concluded that all the commandments were able to be summarized in what Jesus said in response to the lawyer. That the foremost commandment was to love God with all your heart, and the second was like it, which was to love your neighbor as yourself. He said, on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. So love is the summary of the law. It doesn’t diminish the law, but in fact, it encompasses all of the law, and the prophets, so all of the Old Testament. Paul speaks of this law of love in Rom. 13:10, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of [the] law.” So in both the Old and New Testaments, love is the summary, the fulfillment of the law.
So keeping the commandments, especially the law of love which is the summary of the commandments, is a test by which we may prove that we know God. John gives us two tests, both a negative test and a positive test by which we may know that we know God. He states the negative first in vs 9 “The one who says he is in the Light and [yet] hates his brother is in the darkness until now.” John goes back to this metaphor of light and darkness to illustrate our relationship with God. It’s almost a restatement of chapter 1 vs 6, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and [yet] walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” So to hate your brother is darkness. To hate is sin.
Back in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus equates anger towards a brother with the sin of murder. Matt. 5:21-22 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty [enough to go] into the fiery hell.”
Now vehemence, or anger towards a brother may be the manifestation of hate. When we think of hate we tend to think of it that way, a violent, vehement, anger towards someone. But hate is actually broader than that. Hate may be disdain, contempt. It may not manifest itself outwardly at all. It may just be an attitude of contempt for someone, as if they were beneath you, as if they are not worthy of your attention. That also may be considered hate.
But I would suggest that hate in the usage of this verse is even broader and seemingly more innocuous than that. I would suggest that hate in this context may be the opposite of love. Hate is the opposite of love. We can see that in the next verse, as John contrasts love with hate. He is contrasting the man who hates, versus the man who loves. So hate is whatever love is not.
That being the case then, it is necessary to define love if we are to define hate. In vs 10, we have the introduction to the law of love. John says, “The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” The word love is from the Greek word agapaō. It’s a very familiar word for most Christians, I’m sure. But nevertheless, let me give a synopsis of the word as a refresher so that we might be able to better define what love is not.
Agape is a divine love, the kind of love which God has for the world, which was manifested by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So this love is a self sacrificing love for another that puts their good above your own. In the KJV it was translated as charity.
In 1Cor. 13:4-7 Paul gives an even fuller account of love, saying “Love is patient, love is kind [and] is not jealous; love does not brag [and] is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong [suffered,] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
That sets love at a pretty high standard. It’s the law of love. Jesus said in John 13:34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Jesus loved us with an unconditional, sacrificial love. And we are to love one another like that. We are to love our brother like that.
So based on that definition of love, hate then is what love is not. Hate is not caring about the better good of your brother but only caring about your good. Seeking your own interests and not seeking your brother’s best interests is hate. Hate is being unforgiving towards another. Hate is being provoked towards another. Hate does not act becomingly towards another. Hate is being jealous of another. Hate is arrogance towards another. Hate rejoices in unrighteousness. Another way of saying that is hate condones unrighteousness.
So John says the person who says he is in the Light, that says he is a Christian, he is in fellowship with God, and yet he acts in any of those ways which are the opposite of the way love operates, then he is actually in the darkness. He is in sin. Love is righteousness, but hate is sin. Such a person who hates is in sin. And sin has no fellowship with God, even as darkness and light cannot coexist at the same time.
John continues on that theme in vs 11, saying, “But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” Sin has blinded his eyes so that he doesn’t know where he is going. I think that’s a reference to what we spoke of earlier about the conscience being calloused, being seared continuing in sin. Notice here John speaks of not only being in darkness, but walking in darkness. That’s a continuing life style. To continue in sin is to harden your heart, sin builds up a callous on your heart which keeps you from feeling remorse or guilt. And so in their sin, their heart becomes hardened, calloused, and they continue on in the way of darkness, believing a lie, and not knowing that where they are going is the path of destruction.
But in contrast to the person who hates, John presents the person who loves in vs 10. “The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.”
To abide means to continue, to dwell in the Light. This is fellowship with God. To be in the Light, and to dwell in the Light. It’s to walk in the light. And we do this by walking in the word. Psalm 119 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” To walk according to the word is to walk in the Spirit. This is how we stay close to the Lord.
And because we are in fellowship with God we love our brother. We love because He first loved us. Abiding in the Light produces love towards one another. Love is the manifestation of our faith. It’s the product of our love for God. Jesus said if you love Me, then you will keep My commandments.
And abiding in the Light and loving one another, gives no cause for stumbling in us. What that means is our life is not a stumbling block to one another. Because love is giving preferential treatment to another. It’s not holding a grudge, it’s not being jealous. All those things Paul says love is not back in 1 Cor. 13, those are things that end up being a stumbling block to the other person. A stumbling block causes them to fall into sin. Being a stumbling block to others is the result of hate. Its the result of selfishness, not love. But when we love the way Christ loved us, then the stumbling block is removed. And the other person is edified.
So if we abide in the Light, we love one another, and do not put a stumbling block in front of them by our behavior, but we actually encourage and strengthen and edify one another. That is the fulfillment of the law, and that is the evidence that we are in fellowship with God. I pray that you are walking in the Light, as He is in the Light. That you walk by the Spirit, and in the power of the Spirit within you are being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ as we obey Him, and keep HIs commandment to love one another, even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.