What does it mean to be a Christian? It means much more than going to church and trying to be a good person. In fact, it means acknowledging that we can’t be a good person on our own. We need Jesus to help us.
The risen Lord can’t be a historical character that we read about, but a person whom we know as much or better than any other person. We can’t see him. We can’t touch him. We can’t hear the sound of his voice. How, then, do we know that we know him?
“Now by this we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:5, NKJV)
Much of the passage this verse starts echoes what Jesus taught the night before he was betrayed. I have recently written that when Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he was making a promise. John is not. He intends obedience as a test of whether we know Jesus at all.
Obedience cannot mean having a checklist of commandments to measure ourselves against. Honest people will always recognize failure to measure up to any checklist. That’s how so many of the Pharisees missed the point of the gospel entirely.
Jesus’ new commandment
Some of them asked, “what’s the greatest commandment?” Jesus said it is “Love God with everything you have.” The second greatest is, “Love your neighbor as your self” (See Mark 12:28-34). Not long afterward, Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment: “that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34).
How is this a new commandment? Because reference to self-love is no longer required. The way Moses expressed the commandment, people had to think of themselves, notice how they loved themselves, and love others the same way.
(The self-esteem crowd gets this wrong, by the way. It is not a commandment to love ourselves. We already do. And it certainly doesn’t assume we must have self-esteem in order to love God and neighbor.)
Jesus said to look at his love instead. In other words, he took away the imperfect, flawed measurement for loving others and gave us the perfect measurement.
The old way is a commandment of the law. It has no power to help us live up to it. It condemns our failure. The new way is a commandment of grace. We measure our love for others against his perfect love for us. That means we have to pay enough attention to notice how Jesus loves us.
In his first epistle, John says the new commandment is true in Jesus and true in the believer. The darkness of the cloud out of which Moses came with the law is gone. The darkness of this sinful world with its temptations to self-centeredness is gone. The light, Jesus himself, has driven it away.
We see by the light if and only if we respond to it in love–for God and for neighbor. Our love will not be perfect, but paying careful attention to God’s perfect love and relying on the power of grace, it can become more nearly so.
And that’s when and how we can know that we know Jesus, the risen Lord of glory.