We know we have come to know him because we obey his commands.
1 John is full of simple statements like these. Sometimes they seem circular or shallow, and other times they seem profound and rich with meaning. The more I considered this one, the more profound it seemed.
Many of us would be quick to clarify that John is not advocating legalism. I think that is correct, but you have to ask, what is he talking about then? He is not saying that we have to obey God’s commands before God will accept us, yet he is tying together obeying God’s commands with “knowing him.”
It is clear that knowing God comes before obeying him. Perhaps disobeying God reflects a gap in our knowledge. To me this is a fascinating revelation, because it speaks to a tired Christian dichotomy of what you should do when you sin.
Repentance is a proper response to sin, but repentance cannot mean simply trying harder not to sin. Trying harder not to sin does not work. But neither can we take sin lightly. John makes it clear that our obedience to the commands of God is intimately tied with our relationship with God. It almost seems like he views them as the same thing.
So if we realize that we cannot do nothing, and yet focusing our efforts on obeying will not work, what option is left to us? Where should we focus our efforts? We should focus our efforts on knowing God.
We should seek to know the one we have offended. We should seek to learn more of who he is and what he does. We should seek to experience his grace, mercy, discipline, love, joy, peace. John says that knowing God will lead to obeying his commands. Encountering God can transform us in a way that personal discipline cannot.
It’s also worth noting that our highest joy is found within God’s commands, not outside them. When we know God, when we understand his heart that loves us and wants us to be happy, we can see that his commands are not meant to be burdens. If we see them as burdens, we do not understand the heart behind them (we do not know God).
I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. I will lift my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.
1 John 5:3