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What Do You Know, and How Do You Know It? - 1John 3:10-24

The Apostle John knows the gospel, he knows Jesus Christ, and he knows how we can know Him also. There's a lot we can know without doubt as Christians.

1 John 3:10-24, 5:20

Aug 24, 2014 12:00 AM

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You all are probably aware that one of my best friends in the whole world is the dictionary.  Alistair Begg is a pastor you may have heard of.  He is on some Christian radio stations and he pastors a large church near Cleveland that goes by the name of Parkside Church.  [A rather simple name for a church.  Not very descriptive, but not misleading either.]  

I was attending a pastor’s conference there many years ago when he addressed all of us concerning our need to be good wordsmiths.  That is our calling: to speak, to write, and to communicate clearly the truths of Scripture.

During the course of his own ministry, Pastor Begg told us he used many dictionaries and eventually began to collect dictionaries, which must be an extremely lonely hobby.  I’ve never heard of anyone else who collects dictionaries.  Surely there is no such thing as the Association of American Dictionary Collectors. is a website where people can submit all kinds of questions, like “How do you spell congradulations, is it congratulation or congradulation?”  I suppose they didn’t have a dictionary handy.  
Someone else asked, “What is a person who collects dictionaries called?”  And the answer is: “There is no source [for] who a person is that collects dictionaries.”1  So Pastor Begg seems to be alone in the world in his dictionary collecting.

Dictionaries are enormously useful, especially to those of us whose job is to use words to clearly communicate the Scriptures.  In our study today, we are focusing on one primary thought or idea which we all assume we understand.  Teenagers are perpetually accused of possessing this peculiar skill, this ability to know things.  In fact, we who are no longer teenagers often accuse teenagers of being omniscient.  They know EVERYTHING.

But my question is, what does it mean to know something?  How do we know that we know?  Do we really know everything we think we know?  How does anyone really know anything?  This is normally the realm of philosophers and theorists, of which I am neither.  But it is a legitimate question: How do we know we are here in this room?  And by that, I do not mean how do we know we are here and not somewhere else.  What I mean is, how do we come to actually know anything at all?  What is knowledge?  What does it mean to know?

Contrary to some people, I do have access to a dictionary and I know how to use it!  But before I give you the dictionary definition, let’s look at our text for today found in 1 John 3, verses 10-24.

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother.  And why did he murder him?  Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous.  Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.  We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.  Whoever does not love abides in death.  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.  Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.  And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him.  And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
(1 John 3:10-24 ESV)

It is not a coincidence that John uses the word “know” so often in this text.  And not just in this text, but throughout the entire letter.  

1 John 2:3-4  And by this we know [ginosko] that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.  Whoever says “I know [ginosko] him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,
1 John 2:5-6  but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.  By this we may know [ginosko] that we are in him: [6] whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
1 John 2:18  Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know [ginosko] that it is the last hour.
1 John 3:1  See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know [ginosko] us is that it did not know [ginosko] him.
1 John 3:2  Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
1 John 4:2  By this you know [ginosko] the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
1 John 4:6  We are from God.  Whoever knows [ginosko] God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know [ginosko] the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
1 John 4:7  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows [ginosko] God.
1 John 4:8  Anyone who does not love does not know [ginosko] God, because God is love.
1 John 4:13  By this we know [ginosko] that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
1 John 4:16  So we have come to know [ginosko] and to believe the love that God has for us.  God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
1 John 5:2  By this we know [ginosko] that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.
1 John 5:15  And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
1 John 5:18  We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
1 John 5:19  We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

What is he communicating to his readers, and by extension, to us?  Simply this: We as followers of Jesus Christ know with certainty particular spiritual truths. There are some things we don’t know.  In 3:2 he says, “What we will be has not yet appeared . . .”  We don’t fully know what life will be like in Heaven.  We don’t know everything.  But on the other hand, John says in verse 20 God does know everything!  He is omniscient.  We are not.  Even so, there is much in the spiritual realm which we do indeed know and this letter explains many of those things.

Why all this emphasis on knowledge?  Because, according to most conservative scholars, John was dealing with the very beginnings of what would eventually be known as Gnosticism (from the Greek word “gnosis” meaning “to know”).  So what did the Gnostics know?  Briefly, Gnostics believed:

“The unknowable God was far too pure and perfect to have anything to do with the material universe which was considered evil.  Therefore, God generated lesser divinities, or emanations.  One of these emanations, Wisdom desired to know the unknowable God.  Out of this erring desire the demiurge, an evil god, was formed and it was this evil god that created the universe.  He along with archons kept the mortals in bondage in material matter and tried to prevent the pure spirit souls from ascending back to god after the death of the physical bodies.  Since, according to the Gnostics, matter is evil, deliverance from material form was attainable only through special knowledge revealed by special Gnostic teachers.  Christ was the divine redeemer who descended from the spiritual realm to reveal the knowledge necessary for this redemption.”2

“Since . . . matter is evil, deliverance from material form (i.e. salvation) was attainable only through special knowledge revealed by special Gnostic teachers.”

Only by means of special knowledge through special teachers can we be saved from our material bodies and live forever as pure spiritual beings with God.  This is precisely why John says in 2:26, I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. And in 3:7, Little children, let no one deceive you. John was fighting for the truth and against false teachers, some of whom had formerly been in their midst, in the fellowship.  He reinforces what the true believers already know to be true regarding the Lord Jesus and their own salvation.  He says repeatedly to them (and us), “By this we know,” and “Therefore we know,” and “We have come to know.” We know, we know, we know.  We are not ignorant.  We are not agnostics.  We don’t need special teachers with secret knowledge to initiate us into the higher realms of spiritual reality.  

But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you.  But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. (1John 2:27 ESV)

By this we know.  What does that mean?  What does it mean to know?  Here is a definition:

1. To perceive with certainty; to understand clearly; to have a clear and certain perception of truth, fact, or any thing that actually exists.  To know a thing precludes all doubt or uncertainty of its existence.  We know what we see with our eyes, or perceive by other senses.  We know that fire and water are different substances.  We know that truth and falsehood express ideas incompatible with each other.  We know that a circle is not a square.  We do not know the truth of reports, nor can we always know what to believe.3

Here are some of the things John says we as believers know or can know:

1.    We know that we know Christ if we keep His commandments. (2:3)
2.    We know we are in Christ if we consistently walk in His ways. (2:5-6)
3.    We know it is the last hour. (2:18)
4.    We know when Jesus comes again, we shall be like Him. (3:2)
5.    We know who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil. (3:10)
6.    We know we have passed out of death into life. (3:14)
7.    We know murderers and people who do not love, do not have eternal life. (3:15)
8.    We know love because Christ loved us and laid down His life for us. (3:16)
9.    We know we are of the truth. (3:19)
10.    We know Jesus Christ abides in us. (3:24)
11.    We know when things that are being taught are from God, and when they aren’t from God. (4:2)
12.    We know how to discern between true and false teachers. (4:6)
13.    We know those who love God are of God. (4:7-8)
14.    We know we abide in God, and God in us. (4:13-16)
15.    We know we love the brethren. (5:2)
16.    We know God hears our prayers and will grant our requests. (5:15)
17.    We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning. (5:18)
18.    We know that we are from God (5:19a)
19.    We know the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. (5:19b)

God has not left us in the dark about our own salvation, about who He is, and about the world around us.  We KNOW all these things John has mentioned.

But the question remains, HOW do we know these things?  HOW have we come to believe all these things are true when the world around us thinks all of this is foolishness?

Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him.  And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:24 ESV)

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ.  He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20 ESV)

We know the truth of the gospel because God has caused us to know it.  Because His Spirit has taught us these things and lives within us.  Because Jesus Christ came and gave us this unnatural understanding.  It is a supernatural knowledge we have been granted.  These are things unbelievers cannot comprehend.  

So when an unbeliever or a skeptic asks you, “How do you know all this is true?  Why do you believe all this Christian stuff?”--You can read 1 John to them--Or you can tell them it is God himself who changed your heart and mind and caused you to know Jesus Christ.  The spiritual knowledge we have has been graciously and mercifully revealed to us and granted to us.  

There are many things we do not know.  I don’t know how to solve the crisis between Israel and Hamas.  I don’t know how to stop ISIS from slaughtering everyone who dares to disagree with them theologically.  I have some ideas about how to stop that, but I won’t mention them now.

I don’t know exactly what should be done about our border with Mexico.  I don’t know how to stop the spread of Ebola in Africa.  I don’t know the best way to deal with the Russian/Ukrainian conflict.  I don’t know what should be done to improve race relations in St. Louis and elsewhere.  I barely know how to balance my checkbook!  There’s a LOT of stuff that baffles me, and it doesn’t take much.

But I do know this: God has done a work in my life and in my heart to cause me to believe these things written here which I never would have believed otherwise.  Not only has He granted me this faith, but His Spirit has worked in me in such a way as to thoroughly convince of the truth of the Gospel message and of the Scriptures.  I have been fully persuaded to believe these things by God Himself.  I now know His word is true.  He has convinced me of it.  I trust you also have been persuaded.  

Is this your experience?  Do you know these things to be true?  Do you perceive with certainty; do you understand clearly; do you have a clear and certain perception of these truths?  Do you know this is real?




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