Monday, May 20, 2013

The Mark of Obedience

Have you ever seen cattle being branded? Me neither. But the branding iron leaves a mark. It marks the cattle as belonging to someone. There's a sense in which that's what John the Apostle is talking about in his letter, 1 John.

Branding and earmarkingEach of us may at times have doubts about our faith. You may ask, Am I really a believer? Has God really saved me? In 1 John, he wants to help provide assurance of the grace and hope available in Christ. So he describes what demonstrates the life of a real believer: the mark of faith, the mark of obedience, and the mark of love. These things will mark you for who you really are in Christ.

The central question that many of us may ask at certain points of doubt is: How do we know for certain that we are God's children, that we are His and He is ours? God tells us how:

This is how we are sure that we have come to know Him: by keeping His commands. The one who says, "I have come to know Him," yet doesn't keep His commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2.3-4, HCSB)

In other words, someone who says that he is a believer, but doesn't do what God says, is actually lying, and perhaps only deceiving himself. So John says, Do what God tells you, and it shows that you belong to Him.

That's the positive sense. But here's the negative sense:

You know that He was revealed so that He might take away sins, and there is no sin in Him. Everyone who remains in Him does not sin; everyone who sins has not seen Him or known Him. (1 John 3.5-6, HCSB)

This means that a person who truly knows God does not purposely and intentionally continue in sin. That's not the pattern of her life. Instead, a true follower of Jesus will, once sin is realized, confess and repent of that sin, and not continue in it. But continuing in sin—living in sin as a pattern of life—shows that we are not walking with Him and that we have never really known Him (v. 6).

Ultimately, it's a matter of staying close with God throughout each day ("remaining with Him"), and living life as He would live it, making the choices He would make. He shares it this way:

But whoever keeps His word, truly in him the love of God is perfected. This is how we know we are in Him: The one who says he remains in Him should walk just as He walked. (1 John 2.5-6, HCSB)

If you say you know Him, with His Spirit in you, then you will live each day (that is, "walking") the same way Jesus lived. This is the What would Jesus do? question.

Of course the real question that matters for all of eternity is, What has Jesus done? He lived perfectly and yet died in our place. He then rose from death. He's the supreme reality of both obedience and love. And a genuine believer in Jesus will want to live, love, and yes, even obey as Jesus did.

I realize that in my last post I said I would talk about the mark of obedience in one post, but after seeing how long it was running, I had to break it into two. The next post will look at how John specifically describes the difference between real followers of Jesus, and those who are not.

Take courage that you can know that you are His.