Suppose I want an apple. I’m not near a grocery store, but I know of a field nearby that has fruit trees in it. I walk over to the field and discover that there are different types of trees in this field. It’s an easy question, but how do I determine if I am picking and eating an apple or a fig? You go and examine the tree. You pick off a piece of the fruit. You look it over, examine it, cut it open, etc. Doing this provides you assurance that you are about to eat an apple, rather than another type of fruit or something else that is growing on the trees in that field.
The same is true in our Christian lives. We have many commands in the Scriptures to examine our faith:
- “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” Philippians 2:12
- “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” 2 Corinthians 13:5
How do you know that you are a Christian? There are not many more important questions we can ask ourselves and determine the answer than that one. If I fail to examine and get the wrong fruit, it will still probably taste OK. But if I think I am a Christian but actually am not, that has eternal consequences.
I think at times we all will face doubts. It could be during a season of testing and trials, or during a season of an ongoing battle with a particular sin. It is certainly possible, even probable, to know Christ and have doubts at times. But as Danny Akin writes, “It is also possible to profess Christ and be a liar.” Jesus himself said there will be people that think they are Christians, but in reality are not (Matthew 7: 21-23).
This is one of the primary reasons God gives us the book of 1 John. This short book is written to people who needed confirmation. They needed to evaluate their lives to determine whether they stood in relation to Christ. Throughout this letter, he gives at least eleven different ways to know that you are, to use John’s language, born of God. How can I know that I am a Christian? Here are some tests to use to examine yourselves, John says.
I want to look at each of these over the next several weeks as a way for you to have a grid with which to work through and examine your faith, to work out your faith.
The first way that one can know they are born of God according to John is that they keep His commandments. 1 John 2: 3-4 states,
- “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
- Later, in 3:24, John writes, “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him.”
The first test as to whether you are born of God, that you are a Christian, is to ask whether you keep his commandments. Do you listen and obey what He says in His Word? This is really a rather simple test on the surface. If you love God, you will obey Him. Because you know Him and what He has done for you in the person and work of Jesus Christ, your response is to delight in knowing Him and delight in obeying Him. Rather than seeing God’s commands on the whole as burdens, you now see them as blessings. They aren’t restrictive, but life-giving.
The word 'keeping' used here by John conveys the idea of guarding. Do we keep and guard God’s commands as precious?
While not perfect, if God’s commands are, on the whole, a delight to you, and you see the joy they offer when obeyed, then this should provide you with great assurance! This is because Romans 8:8 tells us, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Paul doesn’t mean here by flesh all people who have flesh, but those in the flesh rather than in the Spirit. The Spirit doesn’t live within them; they haven’t repented of their sins and trusted Christ.
If you are not a Christian, God’s commands are burdensome. They aren’t life-giving, but joy-reducing. Only those who understand the radical grace of God offered freely in the gospel of His Son, and have been changed by that grace, can obey God’s commands and delight in them.
So, take a few moments this week and examine yourself. Work out your salvation in this area. Do I obey the commands of God? Do I, on the whole, want and desire to obey the Father? Or, if you are honest with yourself, do you want to have some fire insurance from hell so you will say you believe in Jesus, but have no real desire to follow Him, submit to Him, and obey Him? If that is you, 1 John would tell you that you should have very little assurance that you actually know and love Jesus. Heed the warning in verse four of chapter two: you might at this point be a liar, or be deceived. You might claim to have something you really don’t.
Be honest with yourself in this evaluation, but also receive the grace of God. No one is perfect at any point during their Christian life. If you have a genuine desire to obey Christ, even in the tough areas for you personally, then be assured. The desire that exists to obey, even when we fail, should also be a sign of great assurance for you. Wanting to obey is huge! This text would tell us that if you say you love Jesus but don’t obey him, and have no desire to obey or submit to Him, then you might be a liar.
The first test John gives us to know if we are that good tree bearing good fruit is: Do you keep his commandments? Do you see his commandments as right, rejoicing your heart, and as pure, enlightening your eyes (Psalm 19:8)? If so, take great heart today – God is continuing to work in your heart and life, shaping and molding you into the image of His Son.
 Daniel Akin, Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John (Nashville: Holman, 2014). 4.