A mother was out walking with her 4-year-old daughter when her girl picked up something from the ground and started to put it in her mouth. The mother tells what happens in her own words: “I took the item away from her and I asked her not to do that.” My daughter quickly asked, “Why?” “Because it’s been lying outside, you don’t know where it’s been, it’s dirty and probably has germs,” I replied. At this point, my daughter looked at me with total admiration and asked, “Wow! How do you know all this stuff?” I thought quickly and said, “All moms know this stuff. It’s on the Mommy Test. You have to know it, or they don’t let you be a Mommy.” We walked along in silence for 2 or 3 minutes, as she pondered this new information. “Oh…I get it!” she beamed, “So if you don’t pass the test you have to be the daddy?” I smiled and replied, “Exactly.”
The Apostle John wrote this short letter, toward the end of his life, because he was worried these young Christians would not pass the maturity test. He were picking up some dubious practices contaminating Christianity with Greek religion.
They thought that God was only interested in the spiritual world. Some advocated a severe ascetism while others favoured over-indulgence. You can imagine which was more popular. Scandals about vicars and prostitutes not only sell newspapers. Mixing Christianity with health and wealth has always found plenty of gullible followers.
In the 1st Century they were called Gnostics. They also taught that God could only be known through secret rituals and mystical experiences. John wrote to remind believers that Christianity is about knowing God through Jesus Christ. Without Jesus there is no Christianity. The historical bodily life, death and resurrection of Jesus was essential for us to have an authentic relationship with God.
The Bible says “He [Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2).
Jesus gave his perfect body to save us, dying in our place. We get to know God, by walking with Jesus day by day, not through some mystical experience. We are promised,
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)
We cannot enter God’s presence without the cleansing blood of Jesus. So how do we walk with Jesus? By walking in the light of his truth, in his will, in his way. John uses the same continuous present tense in verse 9. This is one of the most important verses in the Bible.
“If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Think of this verse like taking a continuous shower – an ever cleansing shower of beautiful clear warm water, cleansing you, purifying you, bathing you in forgiveness. This is how we can know God because this is how we walk with God. Continual confession leads to continual cleansing and continual forgiveness. On his terms and in his way, as a daily moment by moment experience.
In chapter 1 John is concerned to show how we can know God – by walking with him. In chapter 2, John develops this idea of ‘walking’ to answer the question: How can I know that I know God? How can I know that my experience is authentic and not counterfeit? John gives us three maturity tests: Three simple questions to help us assess our maturity.
1. The Authenticity Test (2:3-6). Is there integrity in my walk with Jesus?
2. The Paternity Test (2:7-11). Is there love in my heart for God’s family?
3. The Purity Test (2:15-17). Is there faithfulness in my behaviour in the world?
1. The Authenticity Test: Is there integrity in my walk with Jesus?
We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:3-6)
Notice the number of times John says “we know… we know…” How do we know? Verse 6, “This is how we know…” “Who ever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus walked.” The most vital evidence of a relationship with Jesus is integrity. Integration between my words and actions. In his book, “Visioneering.” Andy Stanley says,
“Moral authority is the critical, nonnegotiable, can’t-be-without ingredient of sustained influence… Moral authority is the credibility you earn by walking your talk. It is the relationship other people see between what you say and what you do, between what you claim to be and what you are… Nothing compensates for a lack of moral authority: No amount of communication skills, wealth, accomplishment, education, talent or position can make up for a lack of moral authority.”
“We will not allow ourselves to be influenced by those who lack moral authority in our eyes. Inconsistency between what is said and what is done inflicts a mortal wound on a leader’s influence. For this reason, moral authority is a fragile thing. It takes a lifetime to earn. But it can be lost in a moment. And once it is lost, it is almost impossible to restore.”
If Jesus dwells in your heart by his Spirit, then you will stand out. If you live with Jesus, others will notice. If you love Jesus you will do what he says. You will walk your talk. This is not rocket science. But to make it crystal clear, John elaborates on this first test with two more. If we walk with Jesus what else will happen?
2. The Paternity Test: Is there love in my heart for God’s family?
“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness…
Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.” (1 John 2:9-11)
As we walk with Jesus we find we are walking alongside his other adopted brothers and sisters also. If we love him, and his love has consumed us, we will love them also in the same way. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). That’s the second test. How should we relate to our brothers and sisters in Jesus? What will that look like in practice? John Maxwell has written a book called “There’s no such thing as Business Ethics” He claims every management principle he teaches is from the Bible.
Maxwell offers these ten rules of respect which he recommends leaders live by and ask their people to do the same. They are based on Jesus command in Matthew 18.
1. If you have a problem with me, come to me (privately).
2. If I have a problem with you, I’ll come to you (privately).
3. If someone has a problem with me and comes to you, send them to me. (I’ll do the same for you.)
4. If someone consistently will not come to me, say, “Let’s go see him together. I am sure he will see us about this.” (I’ll do the same for you.)
5. Be careful how you interpret me – I would rather do that myself. On matters that are unclear, do not feel pressured to interpret my feelings or thoughts. It is easy to misrepresent intentions.
6. I will be careful how I interpret you.
7. If it’s confidential, don’t tell. If you or anyone else comes to me in confidence, I won’t tell, unless (a) the person is going to harm themselves, (b) the person is going to harm someone else, (c) it involves a child who has been physically or sexually abused. I expect the same from you.
8. I do not read unsigned letters or notes.
9. I do not manipulate; I will not be manipulated; do not let others manipulate you. Do not let others try and manipulate me through you.
10. When in doubt, just say it. If I can answer it without misrepresenting something or breaking a confidence, I will. These ten principles have become indispensable to me and I expect our staff and serving teams to follow them.
I take a persistent refusal to do so as a sign of a person’s resignation. Think how our relationships with one another would be improved if we loved one another in this way.
The Authenticity Test (2:3-6) Is there integrity in my walk with Jesus?
The Paternity Test (2:7-11) Is there love in my heart for God’s family? Thirdly,
3. The Purity Test: Is there self-control in my relationship with unbelievers?
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
In these verses John defines more clearly what he means by the “world”. He is not thinking about possessions or money. These things are neutral. Instead, he is talking about our personal attitude to them. “the lust of the flesh” = all that panders to our appetites. “the lust of the eyes” = John lived, as we do, in a society in which debauchery and violence are the norm in gratuitous entertainment.
The advertising industry feeds on our physical, mental and emotional hunger for fulfilment, for security, significance. But they can never satisfy our deepest needs. If lust speaks of wanting something we don’t have, “the pride of life” describes the arrogance that often comes with having what others crave for. All of these are short-lived, John warns, “but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
How can I know that I know God? It will be evident in three ways: In my integrity, in my love and self-control. Think of this passage as a test – not a mummy test or a daddy test but a maturity test. The Lord gives us the answers along with the questions because he wants us to pass. Jesus wants to ensure we stay on track for the ultimate test when he returns. His return on judgement day should hold no surprises. The questions will be the same. Is there integrity in my walk with Jesus? Is there love in my heart for God’s family? Is there self control in my relationship with unbelievers? May you indeed pass the test and have the assurance that you know that you know God and so enjoy him for ever.