2:3 “And by this we know that we have come to know Him: if we are keeping His commands.”
How can we be sure we have Jesus as our advocate and are right with God? If we are keeping His commands. “Legalism!” some cry, but knowledge of God cannot be divorced from fellowship with Him and obedience to Him (Clark 52, Westcott 45). John is combating the Gnostic heresy of secret knowledge without obedience by presenting TRUE knowledge: “we know that we have come to know Him” – this is a knowledge gained through past experience which still exists as a present possession, according to the form and tense of the verb here (Dana 29). Also the word “keeping” is a “watchful heed to an object which claims, so to speak, a living observance; a service not of the letter, but of the Sprit” (Westcott 47). This is not mere legalistic obedience, as the NIV seems to connote. John goes on to state the same principle negatively, applying it to the case in hand:
2:4 “The one who says, “I have been knowing Him,” while not keeping His commandments, he is a liar, and there isn’t any truth in this!”
The Gnostics who indulged their fleshly appetites said, “I know God.” John points out that they are inconsistent if God is holy and righteous (Dana 29). Not honoring God’s standards of righteousness is breaking fellowship with Him, and anyone who leads a double life, confessing Christianity on Sunday and living in sin the rest of the week is a liar–they don’t know God.
John underscores this point again by stating the converse, “There isn’t any truth in this.” All the major English translations have rendered the Greek near demonstrative pronoun here as “him” assuming that the antecedent is “the one who says,” although the antecedent could be the phrase “I have known Him.” I tend to agree, however, with the former rendering since the word “liar” is the nearest noun, so the idea literally is, “in this [liar] the truth is not.” John will build on this point later to warn his readers not to listen to the teachings of such a person.
2:5 “But whoever is keeping His word, truly in this man the love of God has been perfected; by this we know that we are in Him.”
John continues his thought from v.3, where he states that our assurance of knowing God is found in our obedience to Him, followed by v.4, which is a negative application of this principle. Now in v.5, John gives a positive example illustrating his point, then closes with a recap of his thesis. The positive example is that of the man who is “keeping” (notice the continuing-action Present tense here) God’s word.
“The opposite to the vain assertions of false claimants to the Christian name (“I know God”) is not given in a counter-assertion, but in action (“keeps”). This phrase “keeps His word” expresses not only fulfillment of specific instruction, but also heedful regard to the whole revelation made by Christ as an active and living power” (Westcott 48). Clark (56) translates it “keeps His doctrine” rather than “His word” because the word “logos” is defined much more broadly than “word/morpheme.”
By this parallel structure, we see that John means the same thing when he says “keeps His commands” in v.3 and “keeps His word” in v.5. And when we keep God’s word, John assures us “truly”–without a doubt–that the love of God is “perfected” in us. At any rate, this love is “perfected/completed” in us when we keep God’s word/commands. The verb is in the Passive voice, meaning we don’t perfect ourselves, but God perfects us. “Teteleiotai” is also in the Perfect tense, meaning that this perfection is something that happened in the past and has continuing results.
Its meanings can be expanded to: “perfect, complete, fulfilled, attained the goal, fully developed, fully executed, reached the end, consummated, or completely organized” (Pershbacher). Westcott adds (50) that this word means continuous growth, vital development and advance to maturity, but not the attaining of a definite end, as there is another word with the latter connotation. There is some debate as to whether “the love of God” means God’s love to us or our love of Him (Dana 31).
While it may not make a great difference, Westcott (48) maintains that the genitive (“of God”) after “agape” in the New Testament is subjective, indicating, in this case, that it is the love which GOD has. What this is describing is the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification.
“By this we know…” Since the original Greek manuscripts don’t have punctuation, there has been disagreement as to whether there should be a period or a colon at the end of v.5. I believe that the chiastic structure of v. 3-5 necessitates this last phrase of v.5 recapping the first statement of v.3 and ending the whole paragraph. Westcott (58) agrees, saying that v.6 shifts from the concept of assurance to that of obligation, and Dana (31) also agrees that it is keeping God’s word that is evidence for knowing God and being “in Him.”
By Nate Wilson.