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By This We Know

Obedience and doctrinal conformity have a negative connotation among some in these freethinking days of religious liberation and denominational decline. Obedience appears to some people to be synonymous with legalism or an affront to the sacred creed, while doctrinal orthodoxy is likewise deemed too narrow and often confused with the imposition of personal opinion. In a religious world where so many would rather feel saved than experience any intellectual satisfaction about it, we should not be surprised that obedience becomes endangered and suspect. Obedience, however, is essential to the genuineness and endurance of real faith.



I. The Whole Duty of Man

A. What The Preacher Learned

1. in Ecclesiastes, the Preacher recounts his experimentation with life’s pursuit of happiness

2. he samples partying, acquisitiveness, labor, and love, only to discover later in life that religion was the answer (Ecclesiastes 12:1-2, 6-14)

3. God has always communicated his will verbally to man, allowing us to know what he expects, and thus even whether we are presently saved or lost, and what our eternal prospects are


B. The Gospel Is to Be Obeyed

1. the gospel is a message of grace, inspiring an acknowledgement of sin and a decision to live by faith

2. it is an invitation to be answered, a lifestyle to be adopted and imitated, and a covenant to be obeyed

3. obeying the gospel is described three times in the New Testament, and each time, the writer predicts that people will balk at doing so

a. “And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel” (Romans 10:15-16).

b. “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, … in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (Second Thessalonians 1:6-8).

c. doing good is not optional, especially to the saved (First Peter 4:17-19)


C. Knowing We Are Saved

1. few people have the confidence to pronounce themselves saved, and for good reason

a. few will be saved! (First Peter 3:18-22; see also Matthew 7:21-23)

b. personal salvation is not assured until judgment, for “to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (Romans 2:7; see also First Corinthians 3:15)

c. confidence in salvation can quickly turn to overconfidence, leading to complacency and apostasy; “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off” (Romans 11:22)

2. there is, however, an earthly state of salvation that respects the need for constancy without pessimistically doubting the relationship with God (Hebrews 10:35-39)

a. “By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:19).

b. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

3. repeatedly in the first letter by the apostle John, the reader is taught that certain things about salvation and our fellowship with God are more than feel-able – they are knowable and even testable


II. By This We Know

A. That We Know Him (First John 2:3)

1. “Do you know my Jesus?”

2. is the answer purely emotional, subjective, and physically experiential; or is it just as much objective and according to our interest in complying with his commands?

3. zeal without knowledge is not evidence of saving faith (Romans 10:1-4)

4. the same writer even commanded personal examination (Second Corinthians 13:5-7)

a. “Let a person examine himself” (First Corinthians 11:28)

b. “But let each one test his own work” (Galatians 6:4)


B. That We Are In Him (First John 2:4-6)

1. this is the essence of true discipleship – walking in Christ’s footsteps 

2. not deluding oneself with torrents of emotion that do not match the truth

3. “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12).


C. That We Are Loved And Should Love One Another (First John 3:11-18, 5:1-5)

1. Christians are direct recipients of the greatest sacrifice ever made, the greatest demonstration of love imaginable, and it should become natural that we function according to gratitude (First John 4:19-21)

2. affection for others and a willingness to help them was the illustration inspired James chose to distinguish saving faith from idle belief (James 2:14-17)

3. those who love Christ’s brethren choose to be their servants, not their masters, troublers, discouragers, or bystanders (Philippians 2:4-7)


D. That We Are Of The Truth (First John 3:19-22)

1. any talk of obedience will produce complaints that the spirit and emotion are being stripped away from faith, but John is showing a sense of salvation should result from a trustful lifestyle, rather than being divorced from it

2. here he speaks of the power of a well-instructed conscience to remind the believer of right and wrong, opportunity and omission, and the preferable value of an eternal weight of glory – “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

3. a well-trained conscience is a powerful companion

a. “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (First Timothy 1:5).

b. “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience” (Romans 13:5).

c. “Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things” (Hebrews 13:18).


E. That We Abide in Him and He Abides In Us (First John 3:23-24, 4:13-16)

1. people love to talk about having the Spirit inside them, but even his residency is dependent upon trusting obedience to the Spirit’s will 

2. John proposes a doctrinal test for those times when Gnostics denied the incarnation of the son of God

3. today, many doctrines are subject to error and consistency with the Bible is essential (John 14:23-24) 


F. The Spirits of Truth and Error (First John 4:1-6)

1. for that reason, we must be able to distinguish truth from error, and false teachers from those who labor honestly in the word of God

2. again, the distinction is not based in the attitude or earnestness of the teacher, but in a subjective examination of what he teaches (First Corinthians 2:11-16)



Knowing that one is saved is a complicated business, but the Bible gives us insight so that we can have confidence about our relationship with him. It is more than just a feeling, but an objective testing of oneself and the usefulness of his faith.

Questions for Review

  1. What is the whole duty of man?
  2. What kinds of pursuits did the preacher explore before true faith?
  3. What becomes of those who do not obey the gospel?
  4. How can we know that we know him?
  5. What should Christ’s love for us inspire in us?
  6. What distinguishes obedience from legalism?
  7. What distinguishes holiness from perfectionism?

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