Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I John 2:3-6 Knowing God vs Knowing about God

(Crucifixion Lucas Cranach 15th cent- on the cover of Thoma a Kempis Imitation of Christ)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

I John 2:3-6 (TNIV)
3 We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. 4 Those who say, "I know him," but do not do what he commands are liars, and the truth is not in them. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

Calvin abridged: Having treated the doctrine of remission of sins, he comes to the reasons that belong to that doctrine and that depend on the doctrine. First he reminds us that the knowledge of God, derived from God’s Word, is not without effect, but obedience is elicited from it. He then shows what God requires from us, which is the chief thing of life which is to love God. It is common to make the knowledge of God into frigid speculations so that the heart of the faith is gone and people proudly show off their speculations. John concludes that those who don’t keep his commandments don’t know him. Plato denied that “the beautiful” which he imagined could be known. So Plato asks how is it possible to know God and not be moved by feeling? Nor is it in God’s nature that to know God is to immediately love Him. Rather the Spirit illuminates our minds, and inspires our hearts with a feeling that goes along with our knowledge. The true knowledge of God leads us to fear him and to love him. The doctrine of the gospel is a lively mirror in which we contemplate the image of God, and are transformed into his image (cf. II Cor. 3:18). Where there is no pure conscience, the knowledge of God is an empty phantom knowledge. “If we keep his commandments”- Some say that since no one keeps all of the commandments purely, there can thus be no knowledge of God in the world. But John consistently has pointed out that all are guilty before God, but he means that we strive to form their life around the will of God. For whenever Scripture speaks of the righteousness of the faithful, it does not exclude the remission of sins, but on the contrary begins with it. Faith is not dependent on works even though good works is an evidence of faith. Having certainty of faith depends on Christ’s grace alone. But piety and holiness distinguish true from theft-like knowledge of God which is imagined and dead. For Paul said those who are in Christ has put off the old man (Col. 3:9). 2:4-“He that says, I know him but keeps not his commandments is a liar” God is not known by plain imagination, since he reveals himself to our hearts by the Spirit. Hypocrites boast of a faith they do not have. What he says would be a waste if there were no false and proud professions of Christianity made by people. 2:5- “if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them” John defines here what a true keeping of God’s law involves, namely to love God. The meaning of the passage is “to love God in sincerity of heart is to keep his commandments.” Moses said the same thing in Deut. 10:12: “Now, O Israel, what does the Lord require of you, but to fear and love Him and to walk according to his commandments” (also cf. Deut. 30;19,20). The law which is spiritual, does not command only external works, but especially asks us to love God with our whole heart. Brotherly love flows immediately from the love of God (as we shall soon see). Whoever wants to be approved by God must have all his doings directed to this end [loving God]. If anyone objects saying no one has loved God perfectly; I would reply it is sufficient to aspire to the measure of grace given to us. The definition of the perfect love of God is the complete keeping of the law. To make progress in this, as in knowledge is what we are called to do. We know we are in him by God’s love. No communion with God can be without love for God. 2:6- “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” He doesn’t simply command us to imitate Christ, but calls us to be united with him. A likeness in life and deeds with Christ will prove we abide in Christ.

There is a famous statement in Zwingli that says that the fate of Socrates, Plato and Seneca was better than the popes. He also inferred that all truth is from God and therefore those who found truth are also given that from God and must be close to God. So every good and holy man and faithful soul from the beginning of the world to the end may be in heaven (this would jive with our common post-modern viewpoint). Calvin agreed that there is something good about striving for good according to what we know. But for Calvin the main thing is not striving or being good as much as loving God. He notes here that even Plato felt that he could not know God. For Calvin it is not just externally living like Jesus as much as being in union with Him by faith. Knowledge of God is not just knowing about God, but knowing God in an intimate sense. The Pharisees, scholastics and medieval theologians knew about God, but they were missing the intimacy with God- the communion with Him. This also was a key difference between Zwingli and Calvin- Calvin left a lot of room for the Holy Spirit to unite us to Christ, while Zwingli recognized a common union we have as human beings. Calvin begins his Institutes speaking of the knowledge of God, and his key thought is that it is possible despite our sin to know God. The knowledge of Socrates and Plato I would contend is but shallow knowledge about God compared to a deeper union that Calvin inferred. It is too easy to read about God but not be in relationship with Him. We are called to seek Him, not just seek things (or knowledge) about Him. There is a difference say between knowing about the president by reading about him and actually knowing him.

Prayer: Lord, help us to not just talk about you, but to live like you. Help us not just to be good, but to be in communion with your person.

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