Wednesday, July 16, 2008

When Love Comes Full Circle

This past Sunday we came to these words from the Apostle John during our Bible Study:

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. (1 John 2:3-5a)

When the Apostle John says that the difference between those who truly "know" God and those who do not is that the former "keep his commandments" what does he mean? I know plenty of non-Christians who appear to keep the commandments better than some Christians.

The answer to this is that "keeping the commandments" does not mean obeying God's law perfectly. Otherwise we could become sinless and Christianity would be nothing more than a "moral improvement" religion.

But John tells us that "whoever keeps his word" is not one who becomes perfect but one in whom the love of God is perfected. Big difference. "Keeping God's commandments," then, involves much more than external conformity to rules. Fellowship with God involves a loving relationship with Jesus rather than a checklist of things to do.

Those who know God will obey him out of genuine love for him. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). Obedience, when it is motivated by duty rather than love, is not what God is looking for. But imperfect obedience, when it is motivated by love rather than duty, is “keeping the commandments.”

That must be the kind of commandment keeping that John has in mind because he says that for the one who “keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.” The commandment keeper is not the one who never breaks any of the commandments, but the one in whom the love of God has been brought to completion. It is this “love of God” that makes the difference between the true believer and the unbeliever, between the holy and the unholy.

When John refers here to the “love of God” he does not intend to differentiate between God’s love for us and our love for God. He simply wanted to address the effect that God’s love has now come “full circle.” He loved us first, chose us, and reconciled us to him by grace. But God’s love for us has worked to create a genuine love for God in us that is now expressed in obedience to his commandments. Now we obey because we want to obey. This is what the love of God is intended to do: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3).

So assurance of fellowship with God is found when we find ourselves conforming to the commandments of God because we find those commandments to be our desire and not merely our duty. That is the difference between the true Christian and the non-Christian. Only God can instill this desire into our hearts. An unbeliever may try to live morally or religiously, but he will be unable to do so from love so his obeying will be dry and lifeless.

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